Sunday, November 3, 2013

What Happened to My Wife?


(The 3rd part of an on-going series describing life as the father of a severely disabled daughter)

I keep hearing a statistic that disturbs me. Of married couples who have disabled children, 80% end in divorce. Eighty percent. Only 20% of the couples who vowed “sickness or health, better or worse, 'til death do us part” actually follow through on their vows when life gets derailed by disability. Sobering.

I'm disturbed by the number of people who quote that statistic. I'm disturbed by the fact that I have never seen the study that produced such a statistic. But mostly I'm disturbed by how true it FEELS, and how common is the experience of meeting single parents of disabled children.

I get it. Marriage is difficult without the challenge of raising children with special needs. Add an overdose of doctors and bills and responsibilities and fears and worries and losses and pains—the shredding agony of divorce seems easy by comparison. It's easier to ditch. Easier to run. Easier to find attention or medication in the arms of someone free.

The stress of disability brings out the worst in people. It might bring out the best at times, but Shakespeare got it right when he wrote, “The evil which men do lives after them, and the good is oft interred with their bones.” Our bests are forgotten in light of our worsts. Our failures are magnified by the weight of life-and-death.

My marriage is strong and healthy. My wife and I are deeply in love (and she's proof-reading this, so don't think for a minute I'm being overly optimistic!). Yet we have come through deep waters, and both of us agree that the strength of our marriage is due entirely to God's stubborn work in our hearts, His enduring grace, His provision of peace, and His promise of life and joy. If our success was dependent on our own efforts and abilities, we'd be a mess.

We have found we are healthiest when our marriage reflects the Gospel we both embrace as Christians. I mean this: we have learned to accept each other as Jesus has accepted us, to forgive each other as Jesus has forgiven us, to serve each other as Jesus has served us, and to love each other as Jesus has loved us. He gave His life for us; we give our lives for each other. He reconciled us to God; we seek to be reconciled to each other because of Him.When He sees us, He sees redeemed, forgiven, cherished saints. We try to see each other in that same light, and our hearts are able to overcome every failure, every hurt, every broken promise and expectation.

How does disability prompt the kinds of struggles that destroy marriages? I want to focus on two answers—two issues that have stretched me the most as a husband and father. As I have talked to other dads in similar circumstances, I have found these two challenges are common issues in every home affected by disability.

1. A Radical Shift of Priorities

I didn't enter marriage to play second fiddle. I married Deanna to have a life-long best friend; I wanted her companionship and fellowship. I wanted time with her, and I was willing to pour myself into the relationship with vigor and devotion. If any man was going to successfully win over his wife, wooing her affections and earning her adoration, it was going to be me. I was out to prove I was the “Deluxe Model Hubby.”

We both believed our kids would grow best in an environment where they were secure in Daddy's love for Mommy. They were second place to the marriage. We were a united team, devoted to each other, and from that place of love, we would guide our kids with a proper balance of affection and discipline.

Our daughter's disability severely tested our priorities. It's hard to say, “Mommy and Daddy need time together” when one of the kids is suffering. The care of our daughter took first place, by necessity, and sometimes other concerns bumped me down to third or fourth or fifth in Deanna's list. When we got time together, we talked endlessly about doctors and money and the heartbreaks of seeing our daughter's disease progress. It seemed rare to talk about us—what we loved about each other, how grateful we were for each other.

I would come home from a difficult day at the office to a home in disarray. Emotions running high, chores not done, bills that needed attention and the ever-present “Explanation of Benefits” forms to be filed and argued with the insurance company over deductibles and copays. Quiet romance? Thrilling encounters? That feeling of peaceful companionship? Rare, and growing rarer.

I wrestled with bitterness. What happened to my wife? When would she again be mine?

Deanna struggled with extreme weariness and anger. We had moments here and there, moments of sweet love in which we remembered how perfectly we fit together and how privileged we were to have each other. Then the next day, and the list of responsibilities. The medications. The pump. The chair. The van. The appointments. The pressures that came from dealing with clueless people.

Many temptations are born out of spite. We have faced them all, I am sure, weary and testy, sick of taking second place to a disease, wrestling all the while with selfish expectations and painful disappointments.

How did we face this constant tweak of priorities? We fought. Not against each other, but for the marriage. We still do. We fight for our marriage.

We have had several momentous occasions when we looked at each other and said, in essence, if we're going to make this work, we need to change. We need to meet the challenge. Failure is not to be an option. We will cling to God's grace and each other and strive to be one-flesh as God designed.

After 14 years of our daughter's disability, we have learned how to keep our priorities in check. Cathryn's care needs have only increased through the years; they still do their best to sabotage our marriage. They separate us from each other: I do the early regimen at 6:30 AM so Deanna can sleep, she does the night time version after I'm nodding off from the long day of teaching. But we still fight for time together. A short dinner out while Cathryn rests at home, a 45 minute soak in the hot tub, a walk around our neighborhood—we take advantage of every opportunity to get time.

Did I mention the hot tub? God gave it to us through friends who were getting a new one. Their old one needed to go, and we got it. We had to trailer it home, and the Lord laid it on the hearts of a contractor, two electricians, multiple movers, a handyman, and a pool repairman to get it plugged in and working. What a blessing. Every church should have a ministry of providing hot tubs for members of the congregation who have children with special needs.

2. A Strange Reversal of Roles

When it comes to marriage, we're traditionalists. I'm the head of the home and Deanna is the helpmate. (I'm not going to take the time here to defend these roles; just take it for granted that all the negative assumptions you have about such a patriarchal system are not accurate descriptions of our relationship and we can talk about the details later.)

But with disability came something new: Deanna is the boss.

She hates that designation; she doesn't want that role. But practically speaking, she is the one who knows best about our daughter's care. She keeps track of the docs, the meds, the schedule. She is caremeister. I feel like a buffoon trying to help when she can do it faster, better, and with fewer mistakes, if any.

Her desire is to be MY helpmate, but more often than not, I am hers. I'm the one asking, “How can I help you? What can I do? What do you need?”

My vocation is a simple one. I teach music to kids all day long. Easy stuff, even with middle schoolers. Her job? Caring for our precious daughter. Hard. Emotionally draining. Weighty.

She needs me to help. And that's what I MUST do.

How do we deal with this? For years, we didn't. We were both frustrated and couldn't label the source. At some point it dawned on us that we were living in reverse. I wanted to be a godly leader, but I had to constantly defer to her in an issue that was of supreme importance: our daughter's survival. She wanted to be led, but was the “go-to” person for all things Cathryn. The situation couldn't be helped, but becoming aware of the way our God-given roles were being challenged helped us immensely. Our attitudes toward each other radically changed.
We became much more patient with each other, and slower to take offense. I realized that her struggle with decision-making was understandable. She didn't want to be the chief decision-maker. She needed my input and wanted to rely on my ability as a leader. And she realized why I was so sensitive to criticism: I felt talked-down-to and disrespected. But I needed her coaching on how to provide for our daughter.

Little has changed in the way we do things, but much has changed in our attitudes. We do the best we can to honor our God-given roles in the middle of daily tests, and daily we grow more patient with each other. By affirming our roles, we affirm each other and the gifts we bring to the marriage relationship. And as a result, we KNOW we're on the same page. We're just working out the paragraphs.

We've learned that it is possible to respect roles while sharing responsibilities. It's all about how we treat each other, and how we respond when things are not going as planned.

Here are a few things God has produced in our marriage as we have grown closer together. I commend them to you as simple displays of love and small correctors of misplaced priorities:

1. The Quick Apology—the one that flows from a genuine hatred of being the cause of offense or pain.

2. The Affirming Touch—that reassuring nudge or brush or squeeze offered dozens of times throughout the day to communicate affection, desire, comfort, agreement, mutual sorrow, acceptance, or forgiveness.

3. The Kind Word—O, how many couples we see speaking to each other in callused phrases and disrespect. And how sweet the moment when the words of thanks, honor, devotion, and unity flow candidly from a tender heart.

4. The Honored Morsel—No trip to a restaurant goes by without the two of us sharing food across the table and swapping silverware with each bite. It's a simple way we say, “All is well between us, and the carne asada is especially good this evening.”

In Hebrews 13:4, the writer says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all.” When I see honor, I think “value.” Our marriage is valuable, priceless, and worth every effort to preserve and protect. God has blessed us in this endeavor, and though some years have seemed very dark, we are currently enjoying a high degree of unity and peace.

May God continue His stubborn work in our hearts. Only He knows what tests remain for us.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Drastic Reduction


Part 2 of an on-going series explaining what it's like being the father a severely disabled daughter.

Watching dreams die is a hard thing. Dreams inspire our endurance. They give meaning to mundane labors. They energize us with the expectation of reward. And when they die, they seem to take with them some portion of the human soul, leaving in their place a heart prone to self-pity, doubt, bitterness, and despair.

Watching my child succumb to the effects of A-T has been like watching the death of so many dreams, and not just mine. My daughter, my wife, and my other children have all had to say, “I guess we will never get to do...or have...or be...”

Some dreams are pretty silly. I mean, is it any loss that we never get to go waterskiing as a family? Not for us. Our interests lie elsewhere. But what about other life-defining events? Marriage? Grand-children? The ability to walk at a graduation ceremony? Drive a car? Live self-sufficiently? Swim? Eat ice cream without choking? These are lost realities for my daughter, and they affect the whole family as we live each day with her losses.

I grew up under parents who encouraged me to expand, to broaden my horizons, to try new things, to take on new challenges. They inspired me with constant reminders that I “could do whatever I set my mind to.” And they gave me opportunity through such things as music, sports, and a list of hobbies that captured my attention—if only for a time—like model trains, leatherwork, wood-working, scouting, hiking, biking, and skateboarding (which I did well enough to be cast in a low-budget movie).

This made for a wonderful up-bringing, and I took the “I can do it ALL” mindset into adulthood with panache beyond my years. I expected life to turn out big; I believed all the obstacles would strengthen the glorious outcome and I would finish in an enviable place of success and triumph in a number of inspiring venues and endeavors.

Then came the introduction to disability brought on by my daughter's diagnosis. To be honest, it took far too long for me to recognize that our lives, from that moment on, would be more about the loss of opportunity and the restriction of activity rather than fulfillment of ambition and expectation—in short, the death of so many dreams. My expansive view of life was forcibly reduced. Indeed, I have been forcibly reduced, and in truth, I'm grateful for it. But more about this gratitude in a moment...

I remember the time our minivan arrived from Arizona where the wheel chair modification was completed. The first thing I noticed was the missing hitch. “Where's my hitch?” I asked the technician.

“What do you need a hitch for?” was his response.

“The trailer! How're we going to pull the tent trailer without a hitch? How're we going to go camping?”

The tech gave me a funny look, one I have since seen in many other faces. He didn't say words, but he could have. “How're you going to go camping with a kid in a wheelchair?” Zing. A dream dies. And what a dream! I grew up camping. I always camped on vacation as a kid. It's what we did. And I knew I would take my own kids camping and would teach them how to fish and build fires and play Boggle by lantern and cook eggs and potatoes and bacon in one pan and call it “casualty” and enjoy it. But not now. It would have been possible, of course, but so difficult. Too difficult. And how could I think of camping as a family hobby without the whole family present?

I saw that same look in the face of the nurse who handed me our first can of “Thicken-it.” She was answering my stupid questions with a measure of exasperation: “Mr. Achilles, your daughter must never drink untreated fluids again. If she does, she will aspirate. It will infect. She will die.” Ouch. There went all simple dreams associated with drinking—a cup of hot chocolate on movie night, a sip of Martinelli's at a wedding, the convenience of handing a bottle of water to the back seat on a long, hot car trip. Gone. Now our life is run by the schedule of a G-tube and the necessity of a pump. For 12 years.

More than any other face, I have seen that look in my wife as she reacted to my tendency for spontaneity. How many countless, quick ideas have been met with that incredulous expression? “We can't do that. What about Cathryn?”

The death of some dreams has not kept me from coming up with new ones. And God has granted to our family the fulfillment of many wonderful hopes. He's given us new, exciting, and unique opportunities that go hand in hand with Cathryn's disability. But the simple reductions that seem to occur daily continue to put me in my place and remind me that I have a higher calling than my own self-actualization. I have a needy family for which to care, and they need my service regardless of how I feel at the moment. They don't pity my feeling “reduced.” They simply expect me to be there for them when they have need. And I hate failing that calling more than I hate the reduction it has brought to my ambitious life.

I suppose if I were to categorize the reductions, it would look like this:

1. I've been reduced to the day.

I have always been a forward thinker, a visionary. I see things more for what they will be rather than what they are. I never finish one vacation without the next one on the calendar. I am always looking forward. I pass an old run down house and see the restored home and think about how cool it would be to live in a place with such character. My wife has made me promise to never buy such a home, because she is not a visionary, and would not see what it would become. She would be stuck living for years in the way it truly was, all the while losing hope that I would complete the restoration. She's a realist. I need her. She keeps me in check.

But with my daughter's illness, I have had to set aside my tendency for focusing on the future. What future do we have with Cathryn? She will die from A-T. And until she does, she will slowly continue the degeneration process. And when she's gone, what joy will we have in her absence? We have difficult tasks leading to a difficult death and future freedom we do not wish for. What is left but to focus solely on the day at hand?

We still make plans, but they are always made with the knowledge they could change in a moment depending on our daughter's condition.

This is good. Jesus Himself told us not to worry about tomorrow. “Sufficient for the day is the trouble therein.” Boy, that's for sure!

But this reduction has not been a choice. It has been laid on us in love.

2. I've been reduced to the need.

I've always been an ambitious man. Big vision calls for big plans. I don't like sitting still. I want to accomplish significant things during my limited time here.

Guess what I do a LOT of now? Sitting. Waiting. Waiting for Cathryn's meds to finish. Waiting for her doctor to come in the door. Waiting for her to get ready to leave the house so we can go some place together as a family. I sit and wait because the moment I become involved in actually doing something else of value—that very moment is the moment I will be needed. I might be called upon as my household alter ego “Transportation Man” to carry Cathryn to some other location in the house. Or sent fetching the glucose meter from the bag. Or loading the car. Or unloading the piece of luggage that I loaded too soon because it wasn't fully packed yet but I didn't know and I got tired of waiting...

My priorities have all changed. Everything I do now is examined in light of the need in my home.

I love to play golf. I don't do it very often, and never without some kind of invitation. I can't. It would take me from home for hours on end. If there's a purpose behind it—like getting to know my boss who is an avid golfer—I can go. But to initiate it? To plan hours away from home doing something for enjoyment's sake while my wife bears the brunt of our daughter's care? No. No, unless I so desperately need some time away that the relaxation becomes the priority, if only for a short time.

The need dominates everything. But this is good. I have been forced into a situation where I must examine everything I do. I must carefully prioritize my life because I can't afford to short-change my family.

3. I've been reduced toward humility.

Here's why I'm grateful to God for all the reducing. I know enough about myself to see the benefit that has come to my soul. I'm a proud man. Pride colors every part of my being. I am prone to selfishness and ambition. I love being proven right. My pride is fed by success and accomplishment.

Every derailment of my plans dices my self-confidence and smug self-satisfaction by forcing me to place the needs of others first and subject my ambition to the call for loving service.

I know what the Bible teaches: those who want to be great in God's kingdom are to be servants here and now. Biblical leadership is done through service. Spiritual advancement is gained by dying to self, not living for self. “Through love, serve one another.”

God has replaced my dreams—even silly “wish we could all go camping together” dreams—with His plans for me. He intends for me to be a godly man, a compassionate man, empathetic and discerning, careful and sober and loving. He wants me to be filled, not with self-confidence, but God-dependence. And in the process He rewards me with His joy.

If I am ever considered by others to be a humble man—a label I truly never expect—it will be because God has used my daughter's disease to humble me. And since “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble,” the reduction has been more than worth it in every way.

Monday, May 27, 2013

What's It Like?

When my daughter Cathryn was diagnosed with Ataxia-Telangiectasia (A-T), I got accustomed to hearing friends and acquaintances say, “Wow! I can't imagine what you're going through”—which is funny, because it's been years and I still can't imagine it and I went through it. Or should I say, I'm going though it? It ain't over 'til it's over, ya know? And how do I begin to define that “it?” What has “it” been like dealing with painful and difficult things on a daily basis? How do I begin to describe the grief, the numbness, the weariness, the relentlessness, along with the feelings of joy, peace, and assurance that flood our hours, often all at the same time? I do not readily talk about “what I'm going through” but believe me, I'm going through it all the time. It seems every moment I am keenly aware of my daughter's condition, its effect on my family, and the weight it has placed on my own soul.

I won't take time here to explain my daughter's disease. Read all about it at www.atcp.org. I don't want to minimize everything SHE has dealt with while I focus on my own struggles and concerns. She has suffered innumerable losses, yet her endurance has become an inspiration. When I talk about my struggles compared to hers, I sound like I'm filled with self-pity and conceit. She has certainly had a tougher time, and my father-driven wish that I could somehow suffer in her place sounds purely sentimental and worn out. It's true, though. I'd rather suffer than see her suffer. But we each play our different roles in God's drama. She's the sick one. I'm the dad who cares for her and the family. Deanna is the mom and the wife. We each have responsibilities before God. “Each one must bear his own load” (Galatians 6:5). I can't speak from her perspective, but I do have my own. I hope I never minimize hers.

We knew something was wrong with Cathryn by the time she turned 1. She was labeled as “failure to thrive” and we began looking at all the possible reasons. That search lasted 7 years and kept us living with a measure of uncertainty and doubt. What was her issue? Was it something we had caused or could have prevented? At age 8, we learned she was suffering from A-T, and though her condition was finally and accurately diagnosed, the uncertainty continued in a new reality: “Expect death in early adolescence.” At least that's what the medical book said, along with other great phrases like no cure, and no way to stop the degeneration, and the one that has proven so true: unrelenting. She turns 22 in a month.

“God is in this!” I knew. “He has His purposes. He will supply our needs and give us strength. Jesus will be sufficient for us; His grace will satisfy us, and we will give Him praise!” Such were my young and confident responses to the situation. I was going to lead the family to trust Christ through it all. I was up for the challenge and glad to have such a clear assignment from God. He had gifted us with a precious young lady. We would care for her in a way that brought Him glory and honor. We would usher her to death's door with victory.

It was all true.

But as nations learn when they head off to war, rhetoric and saber-rattling eventually collide with cold sober reality. Long battles and weary days test every resolve and every failure is magnified by the weight of life-and-death.

Some folks see difficulty though the lens of personal pain and need to learn how God is still good and sovereign over and through their affliction. Others, like me, embraced God's grace and sovereignty well before any real affliction came to test faith. What have I learned in the process?

I have learned that our wonderful God is good—STILL good, PERFECTLY good—and I can affirm my Savior's goodness with all my heart and still honestly say this whole journey has been unspeakably difficult, sorrowful, painful, and exhausting—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally.

I do not betray the Lord or my faith in Him as I speak thus. The Apostle Paul himself said he was “sorrowful, but always rejoicing” (II Corinthians 6:10). He acknowledged the difficulty of sorrow and pain yet embraced the path to the sufficiency of Christ: rejoicing. These two conditions of the heart—sorrow/rejoicing—are not extremes to be experienced alone. They accompany each other and add weight and depth to each other. The admission that the struggle has been agonizing carries with it the recognition that future glory calls for rejoicing. It is beyond comprehension, rendering every earthly pain insignificant by comparison.

I found that it is not courageous to live dishonestly, to deny the level of difficulty or bury a struggle under cliché. It is best to acknowledge the reality and let it fuel faith. I wish I could say I learned this early and lived it long. But I learned it by experience and failure. Indeed, I am learning it.

Hence I'm beginning a series of blog posts. I plan to open up and share (to a limited degree and in an appropriate way) the struggles my heart has endured in the process of being a dad to a terminally disabled daughter and a husband to her mom.

I will explain how this journey has been a process of severe reduction, a boiling-away of selfishness to minimize me, humble me, and prepare me to be truly useful for God's glory. I've been over the heat a long time yet I see so much that remains to be boiled away.

I will chronicle my struggles with depression, anger, weariness, temptation, and loneliness. I will talk about how this disability has affected my marriage, my career, my finances, my time.

And as a final, necessary celebration, I will take time to reflect on all God has done. It will be my joy to give Him praise, because every difficult circumstance is used by Him to grow my character, subdue my arrogance, and prepare me for His purposes, both temporal and eternal.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

CONCERNING RESTORATION


Can a fallen pastor be restored to ministry?

I have been pretty quiet these past five years about my views on this topic. But as I become more involved in ministry, I get asked what I think about the issue. Here's my view -- and an admission that it changed over time, I hope to be better aligned with God's Word.

The local church's leaders must be “above reproach” in reality and reputation, both within the church and among outsiders. This is not negotiable. God is at work in the lives of all His people leading them to blamelessness. Spiritual maturity is displayed by a life that demonstrates the power of that work. As the leaders in His church live blamelessly, they magnify the integrity and the authenticity of the gospel. (I Timothy 3; Titus 1)

But what of church leaders who destroy their integrity through sin? By all rights, they are “disqualified” from serving as leaders in the church. They are no longer above reproach; they have given cause for accusation and scandal.

Is this disqualification permanent? Or is restoration to leadership possible for one who has fallen? Opinions on this matter vary, as do the circumstances that call for some form of restoration. God has called spiritual people to restore brothers who are caught in sin (Galatians 6:1). Restoration is a part of His plan for the church. But restoration to what?

Some immediate observations:

  • The command to “restore” has no qualifiers. The idea of restoration includes a return to what once was. The Bible does not say, “This far and no farther.” There are no explicit limits set on the level of restoration. (Galatians 6:1)
  • The one passage that mentions “disqualification” gives no explicit time frame or indication that the status is permanent. Furthermore, the passage is Paul's discussion of his own ministry and practice of self-discipline. It is not a primer for dealing with potentially disqualifying sins. (I Corinthians 9:24-27)
  • The lists of qualifications for elders in the church involve character traits and reputations that have been developed over time. They do not indicate that leaders must be sinless; they teach that godly leaders maintain patterns of life that reveal moral, practical, and spiritual maturity. Furthermore, the Scriptures do not divide qualifications into categories as if some sins could disqualify while others do not. (I Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9)
  • The Bible gives examples of men who experienced restoration to ministry, even men who sinned gravely (Peter, John Mark). Yes, there are also examples of God's people receiving serious and immediate discipline, and examples of the church confronting unrepentant leaders. Yet the Bible records men “after God's own heart” who have been restored to God and to ministry, men who turn and “teach transgressors ... so that sinners are converted” to God. (John 21; Acts 15:36-41 with II Timothy 4:11; Psalm 51)
  • A man may well build a reputation for godliness through the way he deals with public sin. Through public repentance and the process of living accountably, he may prove a heart of submission, brokenness, humility, and love for the Word. (II Corinthians 7:8-12)
  • It takes significant time to build a reputation, especially one that has been damaged by sin.

A guideline for restoration to ministry may well be developed from the elements of “calling” that are normally considered for any potential leader moving toward a public role in the church. Are these elements in place in the life of the man being restored?

1. The Desire

I Timothy 3:1 tells us that the desire to serve as an elder in the church is a good desire. Paul even uses in the original language a strong word for “desire” to indicate it is a heavy and compelling force in the life of the leader-to-be.

A man being restored will have that same burning desire to serve the church, though it costs him dearly to pursue it. He may sacrifice time, income, and convenience. He may thrive under burdens that are unbearable to other men. Yet he does this willingly, not under compulsion, and out of genuine love for the Lord and His people.

2. The Opportunity

God sovereignly places leaders in His church in order to equip the saints for service (Ephesians 4:11-14). If a man has no opportunity to fulfill this role, he must wait on the Lord to lead. God may providentially keep a man out of leadership. Indeed, some consequences for sin work against a man's freedom to serve. A convict is not free to accept a call to pastor a church outside the prison walls, though he may have a very effective ministry behind bars. A registered sex offender will never legally work with children again, but he may still witness and serve other “outcasts” in today's society.

God provides opportunity for varieties of service in His church. He may make a way for a man to shepherd His church who once was disqualified from such a role.


3. The Gifts

A man who serves in leadership ought to have certain spiritual gifts coupled with the burden to use them for God's glory (I Peter 4:10-11). The process for restoration may include a time of testing to see that a man is indeed gifted to serve as an elder. He must be apt to teach, able to refute false doctrine, able to shepherd and lead with gentleness and humility, and able to clearly proclaim God's word with power and full conviction. (I Timothy 3:2; I Thessalonians 1:5, 2:3-16)

4. The Reputation

It is possible for a man who has sinned to build a new reputation over time that proves the authenticity of his repentance, the genuineness of his love for God, the power of his passion for God's Word, and the effect of his love for people. The members of his community are best equipped to evaluate his reputation, and should do so with knowledge of his sin and repentance.

5. The Support of Godly Men

As a man is originally called to service by a team of elders, so a man is restored by a team of men who have examined the situation carefully and agreed together that God is leading the restoration process (II Timothy 1:6-7).

A Personal Note

My own view of restoration evolved over time. I initially embraced the view of my seminary without question: for fallen leaders, there was no place for restoration to leadership. It was a reactionary viewpoint. It stood against the permissive and immoral spirit of our day and placed the purity of the church on a high level of importance.

I witnessed the falling of several pastors and watched most of them self-destuct in the process: running from accountability, refusing to submit to authority in the church, and justifying or minimizing their sinful actions. If I was uneasy about restoring any of them to leadership, it was because I saw no evidence of humble repentance, no brokenness, and no submission to process. Yet though I was grieved by their sins, I was also grieved by the way their restorations became fodder in the pulpit. It was acceptable to decry another church’s choice of restoration as loudly—or even louder—than the cry over the leader’s original fall.

In 2001, I argued the following. It is an excerpt from a pamphlet I wrote about church discipline.

2) When people are restored to the fellowship of the church, are they allowed to serve in positions of leadership?

In I Corinthians 9:27, the Apostle Paul speaks about disciplining himself, “so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

Disqualification is a strong word, but an appropriate one. A person who has abused the trust of the church cannot freely serve without hindrance. He is no longer above reproach. Restoration to the fellowship does not mean restoration to leadership. Gross, continual sin disqualifies a man from serving in this way. He must find other ways to serve.

In 2004, I began teaching Pastoral Ministry courses at the Cornerstone Seminary. The subject of restoration came up and I realized my view made assumptions that were undefendable. I began to re-think my stand. As I tried to understand the Scriptures and rest solely on their authority, I was forced to ask:

Is it explicitly taught in the Bible that disqualification is permanent?

Are the qualifications found in I Tim. 3 and Titus 1 descriptions of character proven over time or a list of zones out of which a leader must never step?

Can a fall into sin actually validate a man’s godliness and build his reputation? In other words, is it possible that the way a man deals with sin proves he is above reproach?

By 2005, my view had evolved a bit. The following is an excerpt from the syllabus I wrote for the Cornerstone Seminary Leadership Class:

5b. The Question of Disqualification

When a pastor or elder sins in a dramatic fashion, is he permanently disqualified from holding office within the church?

The Apostle Paul uses the word “disqualified” to describe what would happen to him if did not discipline himself properly. What did his mean?

The Greek word adokimos can mean rejected, corrupted, lit. “Failing to meet the test.” Paul may have been speaking of the eternal reward he would forfeit by faltering in the race. He is most certainly not speaking of salvation. The question of permanent disqualification must be resolved with other verses of Scripture.

Paul’s fear is worth noting! He is not complacent in his God-given role, nor does he neglect his God-given responsibilities.

The following considerations are noteworthy:

1c. The elder who sins dramatically and continually ought to be rebuked publicly.

I Timothy 5:20

2c. Only men who are above reproach can serve as elders in the church. Where a stain of sin has severally damaged the public trust, the man is disqualified from office.

I Timothy 3:2

3c. A man may return to public ministry when his public reputation for faithfulness has overwhelmingly surpassed the memory of his sin. In some situations, that will never happen.

The change in my view is obvious. I had begun to believe it possible for a fallen leader to return to ministry. It all depended on his public reputation. Would believers trust him? Had his character been proven over time?

I came to the following answers to the questions I asked above:

Is it explicitly taught in the Bible that disqualification is permanent?

No. The Bible makes it clear that a man needs to be qualified in order to serve, but to teach that a disqualification is permanent goes beyond the text. Furthermore, extra-biblical examples do not resolve the issue. Modern stories and analogies of consequences abound, but they are not God-given precepts and carry no authority.

For example, a pastor used the story of a severed leg as an analogy related to disqualification. A leg cannot be regrown. Once it has been lost, say, in an accident, it cannot be regained. So it is, this pastor taught, with leadership. Once a pastor falls, he can never be restored. While this makes a point about consequences, it fails to describe spiritual realities. The soul can be restored by God and His Word, and believers grow in their faith and maturity. Old things become new, impure things become cleansed, hearts change, the Lord leads. With God, all things are possible.

Are the qualifications found in I Tim. 3 and Titus 1 descriptions of character proven over time or a list of zones out of which a leader must never step?

They are character traits proven over time. The speak of the quality of a man's life, and the pattern of his behavior. In the same way that I John recognizes a difference between a man who has sinned and a man who is sinning, so the list of character traits chronicle the reputation of a man who is living his life in a pattern of godliness. We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2). A step into sin or a struggle with a particular temptation—met with confession and repentance—does not necessarily negate a reputation of godliness.

Character is proven over time, and that includes the time necessary to reveal a genuine hatred of sin that flows from broken humility.

Can a fall into sin actually validate a man’s godliness and build his reputation? In other words, is it possible that the way a man deals with sin can prove he is above reproach?

Yes. The display of brokenness, contrition, humility, and repentance may do more to prove the leader is “a man after God’s own heart” than if he had never sinned, or more accurately, his sins had never become public knowledge. King David is a great example of this, and his repentance is recorded for all to read in Psalms 52 and 32.

Further food for thought: Each situation demands its own evaluation. Where the Scriptures do not speak, we must avoid blanket proclamations.


Monday, February 4, 2013

PREACHER, GO BACK TO SCHOOL


Stay with me on this one. I'm going somewhere and I don't want to lose you on the way there...

Being a part of our county's education system can be very entertaining. I get a front-row-view of the way our educational elites stumble from one paradigm to the next in search of the fix-all our children desperately need. Less like a pendulum and more like a ball in a racquetball court, our system bounces from theory to theory, practice to practice, focus to focus without landing on any one spot long enough to see its long term effects. When I began as a public school teacher four years ago, everyone was talking about Rigor, Relevance, and Relationship – the three “R's” redefined. The cliché was everywhere and it got old fast. Now nobody uses those three terms together. The phrase went out faster than dolphin shorts. 

Need another example? Mention "phonics" to an educator. Some will respond with a sneer, others with a smile. It all depends on which side of the bounce they were trained.

The new thing, and it's more than a fad, is a set of CORE STANDARDS “bearing down like a freight train on our nation's schools” (to quote my superintendent).

Part of the entertainment comes from watching while the system gets something occasionally right. I have been sitting in a series of professional development meetings at my school and learning all about the coming CORE STANDARDS. Sure, there may be some big picture problems with the move to enforce these on all schools (such as a total loss of local control over a school's curriculum) but right now, I have been applauding what I see.

Stick with me here. This gets good.

One of the focal points of the new standards reads like this: “Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational.”

Wow! “Evidence from text!” Get what this means: the educational elites have discovered that all the efforts to connect students with the text on a relational/emotional level have failed to equip them with what they need most—knowledge! Teachers have focused time and energy on extra-textual elements of reading to the loss of students' ability to comprehend what is actually written.

You know how it works. Students are asked questions that don't need the text for answers. “How did you feel as you read...?” “How do you relate to...?” “Have you ever experienced...?” “How do you think such-and-such made that character feel...” And the end result is sad. Students who have read the book and felt feelings for Phineas or Atticus still don't understand what they have read.

The CORE STANDARDS are attempting to address this by focusing students on—get this—“text dependent questions.” Students are going to be forced to DEAL WITH THE TEXT. I mean, actually understand words and phrases in their correct contexts and with genuine definitions and syntactical (dare I say it?) EXEGESIS! And in today's meeting, the leader showed us a video of students DEALING with a poem from Dr. Seuss. They checked out all the words and started making markings and notes and viola! they had a page of text that looked like Kay Arthur had attacked with all her colored pens at once!

The leader even pointed out that excessive non-text-dependent questions were a waste of precious educational minutes. Yes! So true!

Ok, preacher. Learn what the public schools are learning. Getting people to feel a particular emotional connection to the text of Scripture may be well and good, but in excess, it is a waste of precious sermon time and will not help people comprehend what God's Word really says and means. So please limit the amount of time you spend asking people if they relate to what they have read, or if they have experienced it, or felt it. Get past that pretty quickly and start preaching what it means. Preach grammar and syntax and definition and context and ask text-dependent questions and don't let your congregation escape your “class” without knowledge.

Get it? The schools are. Well, at least for now.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

BIRTHDAY FUN

What a day I had Wednesday! And Monday and Tuesday! Someone should have told me it would be so much fun turning 49.

Monday night was our dinner at Benihana. I had a birthday coupon which they gladly honored and it fully covered my filet mignon and scallops. Yes! I am always amazed at how good the fare is when cooked fresh and simply.

Then Tuesday night all the family was home for carnitas and birthday cake and presents and Apples to Apples and I was worn out celebrating by 9:00.

And Wednesday morning, the actual birthday, I walked into the band room to find this:



The students who stayed late on Tuesday decorated with streamers and banners and writing all over the marker board and balloons on the floor. There was so much stuff floating around, it set off the alarm when the heater came on and and the breeze put it all in motion (I found this out later from the custodian). All day long my students celebrated by singing to me and congratulating me and posting all over my Facebook page.

When I travelled over to Bear River to work with a class of fourth grader (Mrs. Selken's class) they greeted me with a specially written Happy Birthday song and a whole stack of birthday cards.  Here are some quotes:

"Happy Birthday mr. Achilles thank you fo teching us music."
"I hope you have a wonderfull birthday you do somuch things for us and thankyou you are the best Music teacher e v e r  s o  h a v e  a n AWESOME birtday!"
"Happy Birthaday you are a graet theacher." 
 "Dear Mr. Achilles, I like you as my music teacher I like your music it is nice it sounds nice."
 "You have been the best music theacher ever. you tought me many things. you are off the wall!"
"Happy Birthday! Your an awesome music teacher :) Your a good music teacher. Your very funny. You always make me laugh. Its funny when you make funny faces  :P  have a awesome day mr. Achillies!"
"Happy B-day. I hope you had a good one and thank you for teaching me music. I have a lot of fun in your class and I have a question. How old are you turning? You could tell me at class. By the way, im Kaycie, female, your student."
Well Kaycie, I'm 49, but thanks to you and your class I feel like I'm a very happy 49, and all your notes and well-wishes truly warmed my heart.

To be honest, this is the first birthday in years I felt like celebrating. God has been so good to me to surround me with people who care for me and love me and accept me. I am most blessed.

At this rate, I can't wait for 50 to roll around.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Word pt. 2: Breathe on Me Breath of God


Following the Sandy Hook shootings, I was mesmerized by the media's response. For days, the events were reviewed and discussed and bemoaned; it was as if the entire nation had taken a moral punch to the gut that left us dazed and out of breath. The question “How could this happen?” was asked in so many times and ways it clearly revealed an amazing depth to our corporate cluelessness.

As I listened to the radio and watched the news, I wondered how well God would be welcomed to come and speak to the issue. Would CNN give Him the mic, or Fox News break with all other programs to cover a press conference with God? And how diligently would His every word be analyzed? What if the One who knew all things from all perspectives with all wisdom spoke to us in our time of need?

But that's just it: He HAS spoken to us. Highest on the list of the Bible's self-claims is this one:

“All scripture is God-breathed” (II Timothy 3:16)

The words in the Word flowed out from God who specifically chose them—or better yet, created them—to express truth with certainty and clarity. God spoke them. That's the claim: “Thus saith the Lord!” and thus in actual print we see the actual words with actual meanings given to specific people in particular contexts that can be clearly know.

Think about it: we have in our possession the very thoughts of God—His specific words. We know what He thinks. We have it in print.

Would that we apply the same analysis to His words that we might apply to a speech by the president or the head of the Federal Reserve. In that context, we would pay attention to every nuance. Don't the words of God deserve that same kind of careful concern, especially in light of specific events that call for His wisdom?

And shouldn't the church live to unabashedly declare both the words and their ramifications for our world? We have become too apologetic. We hold in our hands the very words of God. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Word



Two articles appeared last week on my Google news feed—one right on top of the other. The first explained the fracas surrounding the benediction at Obama's coming re-inauguration. The inaugural committee had invited Louie Giglio to pray at the event. Louie is a mega-church pastor from Atlanta who has become known for his efforts to end human trafficking. However, someone “discovered” that Pastor Giglio had preached a message in the 1990's affirming the classic protestant teaching about homosexuality. Word got out and he was disinvited from the inauguration. Or he withdrew. It's not clear to me who acted first. The blogs are aflame with comments about this situation.

The second article—I kid you not—was about the Bible on which Obama will lay his hand as he renews the oath of office. It was passed down through his family and has some significant sentimental value to the president.

What a strange juxtaposition of print. The Bible affirmed. The Bible denied. Swear by it, but don't tolerate a man who genuinely believes it.

But it makes a point about the condition of our society...or at least that of our leaders and the ruling parties. For them—for many—the Bible is nothing more than a sentimental symbol. It functions well for swearing-in ceremonies. But not as a legitimate authority for life. It's appropriate for a human pledge, but not as a rule or standard by which to live. Its verses are used randomly and out of context to support agendas of all kinds. The actual meaning of the words has been trashed in favor of experience and sentiment, and the ever-popular “what does this mean to you” method of interpretation.

It has become audacious to believe the Bible, and more, audacious to believe what the Bible says about itself to be true, and even more audacious to act upon what the Bible says. More than audacious. Giglio was called an unrepentant bigot in the press, and he was hardly vocal about his views. His detractors had to dig back two decades to find a clear statement to use against him.

I had the privilege last Saturday of speaking for a disability ministry training event. One of my seminars was entitled “Maximizing the Word: How To Create an Environment Where God's Word Speaks to All.” It was a joy to review with the folks in attendance what the Bible says about itself, and answer common questions about the clarity of the Scriptures, and relevance, and power.

I will post some of my notes here over the next few days. It will be good to recall the clear ramifications of the Bible's self-claims. To me, it is not a symbol, but a life-giving tool, a gift from God, error-free and waiting to be grasped and read and welcomed.

Check back...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sunday Sermon on Revelation 1:9-20

Last Sunday (December 30, 2012) I had the privilege of filling in for our vacationing pastor. Here's the link for the message...

Sermon Audio at Providence Bible Church in Rocklin

Fun Link

I just discovered that my Performance Bio is still up on the Yuba Sutter Arts Council Web Page. I'm one of their "Artists." Cool! Access is here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Quote of the Day from Stephen Charnock

"A Secret atheism, or a partial atheism, is the spring of all the wicked practices in the world; the disorders of life spring from the ill dispositions of the heart."