I have sinned gravely. I confess.
In Psalm 32:5, David said that when he tried to keep quiet about his sin and keep it hidden, it crushed his bones and his whole body wasted away. How I know the feeling . . .
You may have heard of my sins. You've probably heard of sins I've actually not committed too. Oh the sins we commit together in wondering and speaking of one another's sins.
I've come to realize that our sins are often not the real issue. We all sin. We sin daily. We sin in word, thought, and deed more than we want to admit. That hate you feel? It's a sin. That racist remark and thought? A sin. That lustful second glance? A sin. That judgment you just made? A sin. The attitude about not wanting to be in church? A sin. The overeating you've been doing? A sin. The lack of generosity in your heart? A sin. The lies you tell others . . . and yourself. A sin. The substitute words you use for "curse" words? A sin. The hobby you run to for comfort instead of the Comforter Himself? A sin. The lack of prayer and Bible study in your life? A sin. The fact that you've not shared the Gospel message of Christ with a lost soul in years? A sin. I can continue.
The Bible says none of us are holy, no not one. It doesn't matter how you dress or what the name of your church is; you're still not holy. Call yourself sanctified if you want, but then don't ever say God is still working on you for to be sanctified is to be finished.
I. Am. Not. Finished.
I finally fell off the potter's wheel and after resisting His attempts to reshape me for years, I had nowhere else to go but back to the wheel. I've been back on the wheel for about three months now. It's painful. The kneading and the prodding I can do without. The up's and the down's are enough to cripple a man. The high's and low's have made me literally wonder if I was losing my mind some nights. From the darkest places of wondering why I'm still here to the tear-stained moments of leading a worship song knowing I'm the last person that should be telling anyone how to find His presence . . .
And I've discovered that my sins and your sins too are typically just the outward signs, actions, and behaviors that spring forth from a deeper, fallen place in our hearts. Most sins are symptoms of something greater lurking underneath; an unfinished business; an unhealed wound. We act from our heart and Jesus said it is out of the abundance of that heart that we speak. The Bible states that our hearts are actually evil and all types of malice and mischief comes from within. How I know it to be true . .
I used to think I knew my sins. I knew my struggles. I thought I could defeat them. I would shift my behavior. I'd fast for 21 days or more. I'd pray more. I'd read more. I'd give more. And each time I'd feel better and my sins would decrease if not end, but they would always return. Somewhere still in my heart was a root that still existed, a hurt that had not healed. Pride set in. It started with, "I can handle this." Then, "I can fix this," I thought. Finally, "I can live with this." The pain and the issues you refuse to confront become part of the fabric of every decision you make in your life. No matter how hard you try not to hurt someone, a wounded heart will eventually attack.
The Bible states in 1 Peter that all sin can be categorized into three areas: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Every sin we commit falls into those categories. The lust of the flesh seeks pleasure. The lust of the eyes seeks prestige. The pride of life seeks power. From pleasure, prestige, and power, all sins originate and often intertwine. Deal with your lust problem with that woman only and you'll find a new woman to lust for. The sin of lust is a symptom of the idol of pleasure in one's life. And it continues.
My sin, my greatest sin, has been the pride of life. I've never put my pleasure ahead of others. I've always been a giver. I have a big heart. I root for the underdogs. I give without being asked or prodded. When I love, I love hard and love with all I have. I become blinded in that love, unable to hear or see what others may say or view. I become focused on trying to be all I can be. It's not that I don't want pleasure. God knows I do, but I've not wanted it at the expense of others. Some of the greatest pleasures are seeing others light up with the feelings of love.
Again, my sin, my greatest sin, has been the pride of life. I've never really been about prestige. I've never had riches. I wouldn't know what to do with them if I had them. Most of the money I've made, I've spent on people. People who were family and people who were not. I've invested it in my churches and ministries whether I ever saw the payback from it or not. All the debts I've ever accumulated are from giving rather than collecting. That's just me.
No, my sin, my greatest sin, is indeed the pride of life. Deep down I've known it. I've felt it for some time. The rat race of trying to keep up. The wearisome facade trying to act like everything was okay when the reality was I was so confused, so hurt, so broken. I was operating out of routine and out of what I knew instead of what I felt. I've been able to learn a lot through the years. I've done ministry for 18 years now. I grew up in church. I started teaching Sunday School when I was 12. I preached at the nursing home when I was 15. I led my church choir at 16. I also preached my first sermon in church at 16. In terms of "holiness," I had no business doing any of it.
I knew how to be a professional minister. I knew how to work with numbers, stats, and predictions. From my education and psychology background, I learned how to manipulate situations to get the desired results needed to move forward. I regret to admit that I manipulated people along the journey for what I called the "greater good." Amazing how we overlook sin if we think we can achieve a righteous result.
Don't get me wrong. My heart was never not in what I was doing. In fact, it was too much into it. It was so into it that I began to overlook things and people that mattered the most in my life. To mask the hurt of years gone by, I worked harder. I've always wanted to be wanted. I don't know why that's been a deficit in my life. I've never felt I was good enough. I've never had a high self esteem. I've always felt something was wrong with me. I'd give my heart freely and often have it returned bruised and battered. I wanted someone to love me for me, but because I wasn't comfortable with me, I'd always go above and beyond to try to convince them to love me for other reasons.
What kind of hurt you ask? How much do you want to read?
I won't pretend to think that I'm the only person with wounds and hurts. I won't pretend to think I'm the only person that has endured church hurt, broken promises, and the like. But just because I'm not the only one doesn't mean I didn't endure it. Here is the short, sanitized version of my ministry history . . .
In my first real church appointment as a staff minister, I was told to leave when I questioned the pastor on why our church was having 15-20 messages in tongues most services with a few services having as many as 30-40. Apparently, the Bible didn't matter. At my next church, I was told to leave because I broke off a relationship that I felt wasn't right. I was told that I wasn't hired as a single minister and wouldn't be kept as one. At my next church, I broke off an engagement that was clearly not right. The leadership of the church went on a six month campaign through town spreading rumors and lies, stalking me, taking pictures of trucks that looked like mine to try and make it seem I was in places I never went to (they forgot you can't change your license plate day by day . . .). Ironically, all of these people were in leadership in these churches. They spoke in tongues, fell out in the Spirit, and were considered spiritual authorities by the congregation. I just couldn't understand how people with more of the Holy Ghost (based on the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Ghost in the Church of God) than the average Christian (those blessed Baptists, Methodists and the like) could act just as bad if not worse. (By the way, I still can't and I'll speak to that another time.)
After three straight experiences, I quit ministry for a time. I was hurt. I didn't handle things the right way after a third straight hurt. I'll be the first to admit it. I was young and stupid. Not much has changed except my age.
I got back into ministry in another church in another town. I met my ex-wife at that church. We hit it off and got engaged really quick. Instead of coming alongside of us and helping and counseling us, more Holy Ghost filled people attacked. Some took turns as watch dogs sitting outside my house and her apartment to make sure we didn't see each other after certain hours. Rumors swirled that we were only engaged because she was pregnant (that "pregnancy" lasted five years). It got so bad, I sent her back to live with her mom the last several weeks of my tenure that lasted six months when I resigned.
We got married and moved to Florida with a promise of a certain pay package and church situation. It was anything but that, but being 9 and a half hours away from home in another state and married, my pride wouldn't let me admit that we may have made a mistake. In the two towns we lived in being married, I would drive around and pick up people's trash that I thought I could salvage and resale. That was how we made it many times. After constant abuse and lies, we left Florida and found ourselves at another church. There, I made a connection with one of the greatest men I ever knew. He became a friend and mentor to me. He was also being roasted by some of the spiritual leaders in the church. My parents would eventually begin working at the same church with me and would get the same treatment. After walking in on a closed door meeting called by the spiritual leaders of the church in which they were downing my pastor, I lost it. I ended up preaching a message on a Sunday night in which I literally told the church where they could go and where they could stick their . . . well you get it. I kind of signed my exit slip.
We left and replanted a new church in Perry. Starting with single digits, we saw the church grow to 200 over the six plus year tenure. But those years took a toll. I tore out closets on the church stage and was told I had let the demons of the church out that had been locked away in those closets from revival services in the past. One woman physically assaulted my ex-wife in our social hall. Another man who was a drunken abuser threatened to hurt Rylee because I had helped his family get away from him. I was met in the Pizza Hut parking lot by a former member standing in between me and my truck who claimed to have a knife. I had another guy fabricate receipts to try to prove I had stolen money. At the house of one of my best friends that passed away, another man stood outside saying he deserved to die because he was living in sin and God finally judged him. I could go on . . .Lies and lies and more lies. We tried to leave but I was told I wasn't qualified for churches that were open . . . churches that had people interviewing who had never pastored, hadn't held license nearly as long as I had, and had no college degrees.
We finally made it to Hazlehurst where God grew the church from a handful of people our first Sunday to well over 200 in three years. Because I wouldn't allow the services to be constantly interrupted with tongues and prophecies, my family started being attacked. I was met in the back after one service where three had just been saved and was told by a lady that God was very displeased with me and the church because we had silenced Him. I was floored. Another man who loved to prophesy, (but to this day I've never seen any come true), started his attacks after I quit letting him speak out. The church was experiencing the revival these people had supposedly prayed for, but because it didn't come the way they wanted it, they attacked it. I received more threats to my family over those years. I lived with the constant criticism that I wasn't spiritual enough.
At the end of last year, some attacks started getting to my family. I had a long sit down with my ex-wife in our living room where I told her I felt like I was done. I needed to get out. To her credit, she felt the same way. We were hurting. The abuse we had endured from city to city, church to church, spiritual person to spiritual person had taken a toll on us. I felt it. I think Billie did too. The truth is, we should have gotten help. We did talk about it, but I felt at the time if it got out that we had sought counseling or help, we'd lose our church and be crucified. I mean we were getting attacked for not letting people yell in tongues. What in the world would be said if it got out that our marriage was hurting?
Again, pride of life showed up. I had a reputation to protect. I was being told over and over that I was a rising star in the Church of God. One overseer told me he could pick me up and drop me in any town in South Georgia with a building and a microphone and I'd be running 100-150 in a year. I only wish people really believed in me that much . . .
What I felt was that my marriage was broken. Pride had caused me to just keep plugging away at building churches, fighting the next fight, fixing the next problem, finding the next solution to the next situation, loving the next person. I tried my hardest to make sure I didn't have myself married to the church and did a pretty good job at turning down things later on to make sure my family came first. But this deep down desire to feel wanted, needed, and appreciated kept rearing its head. I was tired of being beaten and lied to. I was tired of hearing it from "God's people."
Before it was all over, numerous people would go on a crusade around town, stalking, taking pictures, and calling different people to spread rumors of things I was supposedly doing. They did the same thing against an innocent teenage girl. We were completely innocent of all the lies and rumors. There was no truth to anything. I'll freely admit, I didn't necessarily help myself in many ways, but in my mind, I was done and didn't care and I saw too much healing and growth in her life to give up. People didn't care that she had just been through hell. They apparently had the gift of discernment along with a few others but were devoid of the basic fruits of the Spirit.
The stress, fighting, rumors, lies, and betrayals were too much. I found out that some of the people closest to me in my life had been behind much of the talk, and I felt abandoned and devastated. My pride kept me from getting help. My pride kept me from reaching out to people that might could have saved me. But then again, I didn't know who to reach out to. I didn't trust my denomination. Some of the rumors and stalking originated from inside a pastor's office. I had a hard time trusting a denomination that had wanted me to go help rebuild a church earlier in the year telling me I was the man that God had said should go. I later found out, four other guys got the same speech before me and had turned it down.
I made decisions in April, May, and June that I'm not proud of. I crashed. I couldn't take anymore. I tried to pray but part of me was angry at God. "Why do you keep letting this happen in my life when all I've done is try to help people and love people???" I was angry at church. Two churches restarted. Two churches grown to 200 people. Two churches where I took out personal loans to rebuild them. Two churches with countless hours and time spent from not just me, but Billie and my girls. And all I kept getting were attacks.
It's said that if you keep getting the same thing everywhere you go, then you might be the problem. I began pondering that and realized that in my case, that probably had some truth. I'm the no nonsense kind of guy. I want to call a spade a spade. I don't blame everything on God and I don't think the devil is hiding under every rock. I believe in grace and second and thousandth chances. I had similar results in every place I went. There was great growth, great attacks, and then I'd leave unsettled and wounded. In some cases, I retaliated. I've found that most churches are more interested in catering to the goats who pay the bills and run the place than the innocent sheep trying to find the Master. I've made a ministry out of beating back the goats and trying to elevate sheep. What gives me right to classify people? I don't know. Maybe it's more of those sins I mentioned earlier. . .
Pastor Joe Q. Smith always loved to remind me of the scripture in James where it says, "The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God." I don't like that verse . . . but it's true. I take and take and take and when I can't take anymore, I tend to explode and I don't care who gets hurt in the explosion. It's not right and I'm praying for that to heal in me.
In the end, my pride, my need to keep up the facade, my need to feel wanted and important cost me. I was ministering from bankruptcy and scraping the bottom became scraping away flesh. I was bleeding inside and no one knew. I didn't want to admit I was weak. I didn't want to admit I actually needed something or someone. I always "had it together." I wanted so bad to be wanted by others and my pride had me blinded to the reality that I already had two precious, little girls, Daddy's girls, who wanted me more than their next breath . . .
To be clear, I'm responsible for my own actions. I don't tell my stories to excuse anything. Some people want to know why this and why that. Many are going to give their reasons why they did what they did and said what they said, but reasons without rationale and remorse just become excuses. I also understand that some are going to always stand in judgment because they can't fathom a day that they would ever sin in such a way. Ever looked at a woman with lust sir? Jesus said you committed adultery. We're all sinners my friends. We're all sinners.
I've been called a lot of things. Fake. Liar. Conceited. Manipulator. . . to name a few. To be fair, I've played those parts all too well more times than I care to admit. Haven't we all? But what I can say is this, even in my wrong, my heart has always been sincere. I sincerely wanted to help people. I sincerely loved people. I sincerely sacrificed for people. I sincerely tried to offer grace to everyone. I sincerely tried to follow God and His leading in my churches. And I sincerely knew when I was wrong. When I made promises and commitments to people, I sincerely meant them. Being manipulated includes being made to believe lies for the manipulator's immediate pleasure without commitment. Words do matter. While I have been guilty of manipulating situations and at times people through the years to get what I felt was a good result, for those that I have loved with all my heart, there was never any manipulation for pleasure or selfish gain.
It's time for me to turn the page. It's time to let go of the past. I've wrestled with this for weeks and months. I was too weak to slam some doors. They had to be slammed for me. And having been shut, I've been forced to come face to face with reality . . . the reality I didn't want to see. I know that if I am to do that, the Bible speaks of making restitution where it is possible and I know that my decisions have hurt quite a few people, so if you'll indulge this sinner for a few more lines . . .
To those I ministered to . . . I'm sorry I disappointed you. I'm sorry I let you down. I preached to you about being honest with God, and I refused to allow myself to admit to Him that I was broken inside. My pride kept me from getting help and ultimately bitterness and hurt sprang forth and manifested itself in sins that I'm ashamed of. Never doubt the Word of God that I delivered. God has spoken through a donkey before and God knows He's used this one more times than He should have. If I told you I loved you, I did. I meant it. If I told you I believed in you, I did. I meant it. I still do. Don't let my sins be a foothold for the enemy to make you question what God has done in your life. We all fall, but we don't have to stay down.
To James & Debbie Evans . . . I'm sorry you've had to deal with talk and mess because you opened your hearts and arms to me. In a time where I was completely broken and hurting, you brought me in. You showed me the same grace that Jesus showed the woman caught in the very act of adultery. No one else was reaching out in that way. I was ready to give up and quit on everything, but you remained steadfast in your love and grace. People called you to down me and you defended me. I wasn't completely honest with you in the beginning and you forgave me. You are the very epitome of what a pastor and his wife are supposed to be. I would not be here today had you not rescued me. Thank you for giving me grace and letting me heal with a guitar in my hand crying out to God as maybe David did after his many failures. You're hidden treasures in God's Kingdom and I love you both dearly.
To Robert Wigley . . . You have been one of my greatest encouragements behind the scenes. You helped bring clarity to my questions. You did all you could to save me from the storm that was wrecking my whole life. Your words that you loved me and cared for me no matter what made me get up and keep going more days that I can ever tell you. You were and have always been my favorite teacher in school, but you are now and always will be one of my favorite pastors because you showed a pastor's heart to a broken soul when you absolutely had nothing to gain from it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
To my parents . . . I'm so sorry I disappointed you. It's the last thing I've ever wanted to do. You're two of the greatest blessings in my life. You have stood with me and supported me though I've given you every reason not to. I've tried to live my life in a way where I've never had to come back and ask you for anything. You've already given so much through the years. I've been humbled though and you've been there yet again for your son. Thank you for still believing I have worth and not giving up on me. I love you more than you'll ever know and I will make you proud again. I promise.
To you and her . . . I won't say your names out of respect, but I will say publicly that I'm sorry for anything and everything I ever did to hurt or disappoint you. It was never my intention. I sincerely loved. I sincerely acted. I made sincere commitments. Thank you for believing in me when so many had stopped. Thank you for being some of the only people that stood with me when things went crazy. And while there is so much I regret, there are things I most certainly do not regret as well. I wish to God I had done things differently for sure, because I know all too well that sin only brings death. But God is a specialist at resurrections and I pray the best for you both.
To Billie . . . I ask your forgiveness for not being a better man. I should have swallowed my pride years ago and admitted my shortcomings and got help for me, for us. Maybe, just maybe, the God who can change all things could have done something. Decisions we both made hurt each other greatly and over times those hurts led to irreconcilable differences that quite honestly were there from the start. Things, ministry, and pressures took a toll on us both and revealed the cracks. They changed us. We became different people in many ways. Or maybe we just finally became who we really are. I'm finally healing and I pray that you will as well. Thank you for giving me Rylee and Charlee. I'll always be indebted to you for that.
To Rylee and Charlee . . . I type this with tears streaming down my face. I'm so sorry I let you down. While I was out trying to save the world and everyone in it, I should have been at home playing Barbies and making Elmo sing to you. I should have been washing your hair instead of counseling with someone who didn't really want to change. I should have been telling you a story as you laid your sweet head down at night instead of trying to figure out the next church budget or sermon series that might, just maybe, excite the people enough to give so the church could do things. I'm so sorry that I didn't pay more attention to the reality that your need for me was greater than anyone else's. I'm so sorry I let church, people, and my own pride hurt you and disappoint you. You both are the greatest treasures in my life. I can't live without either of you. You are my heart and my soul, and I will spend the rest of my life making sure that your need for me is the first thing I focus on every day. I love you more than you will ever, ever know and I will protect you with everything I have and everything I am. You're Daddy's Girls and there's nothing I won't do, no place I will not go, no mountain I will not climb, no sea I will not cross, no problem I will not confront to protect you, find you, and love you. Forgive me my sweet baby girls. Daddy loves you. You will be for the rest of my life, the two most important people in my life.
To my Savior, Jesus Christ . . . I have no words to express Your grace and forgiveness that I've experienced. Heal me. Change me. Begin in my life something new. Make beauty from my ashes. Work all things together somehow for my good. I'm humbled by Your love and confess my sins and condition before You openly. Forgive me and use me again for Your glory.