The devastatingly seismic event of a leader's unveiled compromising once again has forced every thoughtful pastor to his or her knees. But if I am truly discerning, I will be more at prayer during these days than at reading or conversing about the report of a brother's dismal failure; careful to examine myself, and wise to evaluate afresh my personal perceptions of the price of leadership. Together, we are standing now, in pain over a friend's self-immolation, his having played with fire and been horribly burned. But there are none of us who will not confess to having been at least tempted by the notion that a brief exposure to sin-with-impunity is possible.
That illusion only succeeds in gaining traction within our reasoning to the degree we are duped to even momentarily see sin as an action quickly discharged and then set aside. But sin has an abiding point of residence, rooted deeper than in my deeds—it issues from my heart. And it can succeed with the most sincere among us, because our hearts are so easily deceived. In the folly of our own ignorance we treat the cleansing of our hearts by God's grace in Christ as though it immunized our hearts against recurrent, destructive infection.
I've had my own encounter with the hypnotizing power of the serpent's eyes, when the heart thinks it's on track, and it has set forward on a course of sure derailment. I have related the testimony of my near-disaster in my book The Anatomy of Seduction, mindful that in God's majestic grace He kept and delivered my soul from evil. Though by His divine mercy I can still say in the 52nd year of our marriage that my dear wife Anna is the only partner I've ever had in any way and for all these years, I regret having bordered sin's destruction to an edge as closely as I suddenly found myself drawn. I make that observation to assure any reader that I hold no sense of superiority above the basest sinner or most tragically fallen. Rather, I am humbled to have been kept from ruin by my heart's having been shaken from its stupor before my deception succeeded.
In Ezekiel 34, the Lord directs the prophet to lift his voice "against the shepherds of Israel … who feed themselves" (i.e., indulge their tastes) rather than serve their flock with fidelity. The same chapter proceeds with this theme, later confronting the shepherds with these words in verses 18 and 19: "Is it too little for you to have eaten up the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the residue of your pasture—and to have drunk of the clear waters, that you must foul the residue with your feet? And as for My flock, they eat what you have trampled with your feet, and they drink what you have fouled with your feet." They are words that are filled more with God's grief than with His anger, a statement that proceeds to describe His heart and hope by providing an ultimate shepherd who will bring deliverance by reason of his absolute refusal of selfish indulgence.
Standing as we all do, shaken and humbled by the frightening discovery of our own potential for failure seen in the person of our brother, Ted Haggard, we would be wise to look into the troubled waters of the moment and reflect on how we may be contributing to the "muddying" ourselves.
For 50 years as a pastor and church leader, I've sought always to speak the truth in love, minister the Word in purity and demonstrate grace to every person. I make that observation, not as an affirmation of my righteousness, but as a preamble to a brief series of reflections which I hope will seem neither harsh nor legalistic, but which I believe to be important as I examine my own heart, here beside a stream to which I hope to add no pollution.
With an eye to keeping deception at bay and living in God's revealed Word and law with grace and peace, I tender these propositions. To my own soul, I say:
"Soul, beware if you suppose that God has instituted fewer laws by reason of His grand display of grace beyond measure.
"Soul, beware if you are tempted ever to see 'being forgiven' as God's standard for practical righteousness, rather than His gift, granting us positional justification in Christ.
"Soul, remember that you are vulnerable to reproducing failure if you refuse to regularly review its lessons and suspect you have finished being schooled by them.
"Soul, remember 'obedience is better than sacrifice,' because there would never have needed to be sacrifice if there had never been disobedience."
Keeping these things in mind, this shepherd hopes to never "feed myself" while trampling on what is meant to nourish Jesus' flock. Keeping these things in mind, I trust to always live in the river of His grace, but that I may never pollute the stream.
Jack Hayford is the founder of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, chancellor of The King's College and Seminary and the president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.