My guess is that there are not too many people in our info-saturated country who do not have some inkling of the Ashley Madison web hack that just happened recently.
For those who may have missed it, here is the 411: Ashley Madison is a website whose tagline is Life is short. Have an affair. And it does just that. It allows people to secretly hook up and, for a fee, create an extramarital relationship that will present the illusion of satisfaction.
And just recently, a group that calls themselves Impact Team hacked their database and exposed all the names and email addresses of those who had been involved.
And oh the stories that are now accessible to all.
The coming storm
What has caught my attention, though, are all of the articles related to those being found out who are leaders in the church: pastors, elders, deacons, staff. The most recent one that I have read is from Ed Stetzer, titled Up to 400 Pastors Caught in Ashley Madison Hack May Resign This Sunday.
Perhaps your reaction to this is the same as mine. My stomach is nauseated as I play in my own mind the conversations being had in the last week:
Wife: (sobbing) “You did what? We’re done.”
Kids: “Why is daddy now looking for another job?”
Infrequent church-goer: “That’s it. I’m done with this whole church thing. Hypocrisy everywhere.”
Church member: “How are we going to recover from this?”
Marriages rocked. Divorces moving ahead. Kids disillusioned. Churches angry or disbanded.
And as I read the articles, it is hard for me to scroll through the deluge of comments that people make about the topic, where undoubtedly more arguing goes on than prayer over the situation.
My post today is not about how we view or treat those who may have made unwise choices. Consequences of stepping down from positions will be felt. But there is plenty of good stuff out there about how to confront in love, lead to repentance, overflow grace, and restore to community. That is Gospel.
As I write this, I have knots in my stomach thinking about “what if that were me?” And I sit here with the same sober feeling knowing that if I do not kill my flesh daily, sin is there at the door, like a lion, ready to pounce on me.
The apostle Paul articulated his struggle in Romans 7:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25)
Today I desire to make just one plea. If you are a follower of the Gospel of Jesus, take note of whom God takes note.
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
God is omnipresent and omni-aware. He sees all and he observes all. Nothing gets past him. He misses no detail. But yet this verse in Isaiah makes an interesting note about God: God takes special note of a certain type of person. That phrase “to whom I will look” translates that God regards, pays attention to, considers, or shows favor to a certain type of person.
Three characteristics that catch God’s attention
This whole recent scandal with Ashley Madison makes me soberly consider my own heart posture before God, because it scares me how easily my own heart can stray before my holy God. Perhaps these articles for you, like me, are causing you to ask, “How do keep myself from these types of painful experiences? How do I authentically exhibit the truths of the Gospel and overflow them to those around me? How do I keep from making these types of heart-wrenching, foolish decisions?”
Listen to the words of Isaiah.
The one who is humble
The first quality God notices is the heart posture of humility, meaning afflicted, poor, and needy. As Barnes notes,
The idea is, not that God looks with favor on a poor man merely because he is poor – which is not true, for his favors are not bestowed in view of external conditions in life – but that he regards with favor the man that is humble and subdued in spirit.
Pride in my own life always wants to justify, sweep under the rug, minimize, or hide. God especially notes the one who embraces humility.
The one who is contrite
The word “contrite” is not a word in the 21st century that is used with much frequency, but it should be. It speaks of one who is stricken in their spirit or afflicted. It literally means “maimed” or “lame.” It is a spirit that is crushed by sin, filled with a sense of guilt, and desires atonement. It goes counter to the spirit that wants to justify its actions or cast blame or responsibility on another.
In a word? Repentance.
Repentance is not a word we hear much anymore in a society that does not want to own its sins. To repent means literally to have a change of mind. I was going in one direction; now I am doing a 180 degree turn and going in the other direction. God loves a quickness in the changing of a mind and heart. It speaks of one who clearly hears the whispers of the Holy Spirit and only needs a nudge to make a course correction.
Repentance is cleansing. Repentance is healing. Repentance restores life. Repentance is freedom.
I can think of times in my life where my own sin has brought such a weight on me and I shed tears over it and begged God to purge me of the sin and restore me to a righteous walk. And He did just that. And such a feeling of joy and freedom swept over me.
Why do I resist it at times?
The one who trembles at God’s word
What does it mean to tremble at God’s word? It literally means to fear the commandments of God. What He says I must do.
David echoed these thoughts in Psalm 119:
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:15-16)
My problem is that I have read over God’s words so often that they begin to lose their impact. And that is not because God’s word is stale; the problem is my heart is hard. His words are no longer my meat and my drink. And so I begin to look to other things that will be my meat and drink.
And they satisfy momentarily, but they always seem to leave my hungrier and thirstier than I was originally.
Proverbs 6:27 warns:
Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire?
This verse comes at the end of a segment that is talking about adultery but the concept applies to any sin. When God says, “Embrace these things!” I need to beg God to draw my affections to Him. When God says, “Flee these things!” I need to beg God to help me view sin as He does and not dabble with the embers to see if they are hot.
We have become numb at times to what God has says because we do not take the time to see what He does say. Like music playing in the background that we no longer hear, God’s voice becomes white noise.
And please note that these three characteristics are a package – you cannot have two out of three and be mostly OK. Any one of three missing from my life should be a red flag that spiritual disaster may be on its way.
I am truly sorry for what has happened in this scandal and the pain that is still yet to come. I do not stand pointing my finger at those in the proverbial pit but rather get in and help them out, while all the while reassessing my own life, knowing that I am susceptible to all of the pits around me.
I love the song from Casting Crowns, Slow Fade.
It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
Daddies never crumble in a day
Families never crumble in a day
For my life it is a slow fade. Many small decisions – each not necessarily dangerous – but together undo me.
The problem is that it becomes easy to judge my own life by what I am not doing – not involved with the Ashley Madison scandal, not saying this, not doing that.
But the truth is that God wants my heart and the desires that are unseen to others. He wants my frustrations, my failures, my weaknesses, my destructive tendencies, my sin. He wants them all, because the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus drank every single drop of the cup of wrath that the Father held out for his Son when Jesus died on the cross.
There is no more anger from God to His children. None.
And all that is left is pleasure.
Get caught up in that.