As I take time to write this month’s blog post, I’m aware that it’s possible only a few will actually relate to the topic or be willing to consider it’s personal implications. But I am telling you – it’s real and it’s scary. It’s even with trepidation that I write…so, read on if you dare.
Last month I was in a meeting where my friend said something like this,“There can be no more pedestals in our organization.” He was referring to the number of good men and women of the faith who fall and become what is known as a spiritual casualty. It was a sincere comment related to the number of people whom we’ve looked up to for years, giants of the faith, who in our eyes were elevated to the status of “hero” and placed on a pedestal of high honor…only to fall off. Spiritual heroes who sometime, somewhere, somehow let things go wrong. When news like this hits related to someone you know or have even observed from a distance, it’s alarming, it’s incredibly frightening, and it’s also sad and discouraging.
Why? First of all, when someone who is “in Christ” hurts, we hurt. When a fellow believer is caught in sin or admits to a failure and comes forward, it affects all of us who are in the body. I don’t know about you, but I also feel afraid for myself and for others when these incidents happen, because I’m exceedingly aware of our need to be on high alert. Seriously, we all know things like this don’t just happen overnight, therefore, it should cause each one of us to immediately do a reality check and ask, “Am I next?” What prevents Satan and his demons from making me or you their next target?
I actually wrote this blog post several days ago and was uncertain if I should post it. I didn’t research the topic nor did I have anyone in mind. I just wrote from the heart as God kept bringing me back to my own personal responsibility to Him, my family, the hundreds of people in churches that partner with us, our mission agency, and the ministry partners that are part of our lives. What happens if I succumb to temptation and fall? What would be the ripple effects?
So, instead of putting my nose in someone else’s business or engaging in “spiritual gossip” about someone who recently fell, or even unintentionally contributing to throwing another pastor/missionary under the bus for being a disappointment to the multitudes, let me instead share with you five things that I desire and need to preach to myself. Reminders that I hope will help me stay at the task, remain faithful to the end and avoid becoming the next spiritual casualty.
- No More Pedestals. I’m blessed to have several personal “heroes of the faith” in my life. In addition, I have tremendous respect for the authors whose books I read and pastors whose messages I’ve listened to for years. However, I believe my friend is right. We have inappropriately glamorized and placed ordinary sinful people…because that’s all they are…on spiritual pedestals. My guess is that even in all their greatness and perceived success, they never really wanted that kind of treatment or status anyway. The truth is, the higher we hold them, the further they have to fall. And then it happens — they fall hard, people are hurt, and God’s reputation is damaged. As for me, (not that I’m on anyone’s pedestal or anything) I’m committing to daily preach the gospel to myself as a reminder that I am but a sinner for whom Christ died.
- No More Isolation. Trouble comes when we isolate ourselves from others, and that can so easily happen. We can become so independent that our accountability is gone. It’s even possible to develop a double life, being one person in public and another in private. But we need to live in community with other believers, engaged and willing to bring our own fears, pain, and struggles into the light and get help from those we trust. So, I commit to being the same person in private as I am in public. And when I struggle with something, I will reach out to a trusted friend or brother in Christ with full transparency — no hiding in isolation.
- No More Dry Days. That’s what I call the days when I don’t spend time alone with God, both reading His word and in prayer. You see, I know what it’s like to “lead on empty” — and every pastor reading this knows what I mean. I know the distress of preaching with a heart that’s not right and a spiritual tank that’s running dry. I know the pain that comes from seeking the audience of many, hearing their hurtful criticism one day and their empty praise the next, instead of seeking the audience of one and serving for His glory alone. Being in the Word and in communion with God through prayer is what will carry you and me. You already know this, and so do I, but sometimes we trade our personal quiet time for time in the Word focusing on what we will teach and preach to others. Skipping personal time with God is one sign that you are headed toward becoming a spiritual casualty. It’s often subtle. It’s always blinding. And it’s amazing how long you can go before the cracks are seen – at least by you. Join me in committing to spend daily, regular time alone with God, reading His Word and praying.
- No More Denial. The most effective way to become the next spiritual casualty is to think it won’t happen to you. How crazy are we to possibly think we are immune when in most cases we are just one decision away from failure? Built on the platform of denial is a person who is overconfident and in need of a stark reality check. When life is going well, it is easy to become dependent on ourselves and less reliant on God. We can begin to minister in our own strength and giftedness and be deceived into thinking we won’t fall. Today, I commit to pray regularly for God to do whatever it takes to keep me humble and reliant on Him, realizing that in my own strength I can do nothing but fail.
*At the end of this post is a quick test to see where you are on the spiritual casualty spectrum.
- No More Sexual Escapes. Most of us are afraid to write or talk about it, but I can’t avoid the issue of sexual sin when considering spiritual casualties. Certainly, you’ve noticed how many failures or casualties are related to sexual sin and misconduct. It has to be the number one arrow that Satan employs and all of our eyes and hearts are prone to wander. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard work to stay “in love” with your spouse. It can be extremely hard for singles to abstain. And we can’t bury our heads in the sand and ignore that it’s hard for some who fight the sexual attraction they feel toward those of the same gender. What’s the answer? Well, numbers 1–4 help. So does making a commitment to having no secrets. No lies. In our marriages, let’s be willing to ask the hard questions so we can stay honest and sexually pure in our relationships. Be careful with all types of media and don’t let pornography creep into your life; I don’t care how soft it is…it’s a slippery slope and it only gets harder to resist the further you go. The statistics of men (and yes, women) using porn are staggering. As much as I would like to think it’s not true of believers or those in our camp, I have to say to myself, “All the reports can’t be that wrong.” So, I commit to setting a high standard of purity in my speech, my meditations, my media and viewing habits. I will commit to keeping the love alive in my marriage and boundaries in place to avoid areas of temptation in my life.
As you now know, I decided to go ahead and post this article, and for good reasons. I did it for my wife, Nancy, for my daughters and their precious families, for my parents and siblings, for my trusted, godly and hard-working colleagues, for our ministry partners, our fellow missionaries and a few dear and close friends who come to mind. And, I also wrote and posted it for me. It’s a humbling and scary thing to write and speak this way, especially if you are a fairly reserved person, which I am. It makes me feel very vulnerable, but also highly accountable. I think it’s worth the risk, if only to hold my feet to the fire as I seek to follow Christ.
In closing, I want to encourage you, plead with you, to join me in making these commitments. Let’s not be counterfeits that lead to casualties. Let’s be real, authentic, and passionate for Jesus and what really matters as we strive to finish strong in this Christian life. Most character building happens in private, so let’s spend more time building below the water line. However, we also need to live authentically in community with one another. So, let’s be less enamored with those we perceive as heroes on pedestals, and also less worried about how others perceived us. If you need help, please get it and get it now. Ask God to help you seek those who can help you avoid becoming a spiritual casualty.
*Spiritual Casualty Test – When it comes to finishing strong, you can actually rate yourself. No kidding. Here are four questions and then the correct answers. (Questions adapted from Finishing Strong by Steve Farrar, pp. 40-41)
- Do you spend personal time with the Lord in prayer and reading Scripture at least three times a week?
- Are there at least one or two people in your life with whom you have built a friendship based on trust, confidentiality, and accountability? In other words, do you have a friend who is close enough (that means you can’t con them) and loves you enough to get in your face if he or she needs to?
- Are you currently spending a significant amount of time with someone other than your spouse (someone you work with, or a person you are counseling, etc.)?
- Are you absolutely sure that you will finish strong?
Correct Answers: 1) Yes 2) Yes 3) No 4) No
If you have one wrong answer, you are at risk of heading for a spiritual casualty. If you have two wrong answers, you are moderate risk. Three wrong answers, you are a bad risk. Four wrong answers, you are dead meat.