It had been two years since I had preached. A friend of mine had asked me to share with his congregations a few things I had learned.
Moments before I stepped back into the pulpit, a thousand thoughts ran through my head. Not surprisingly, hardly any of them were good. The majority of them were about how I had committed adultery two years before. How I had been immediately dismissed from my church, the fallout in my marriage, my isolation from everyone around me, my self-loathing and the pitiful state I had been in since that time.
Since that time, I had remarried, found a church that was willing to restore me and been somewhat able to restore myself. If I had learned anything that I could share with the people who were now looking at me as I stood behind the podium, it was that God’s grace was much bigger than I had ever known when I had served as a pastor.
I preached that day from John 8 – the woman caught in adultery. Yeah, I know. Stupid, right? Actually, that passage had spoken volumes to me in the past two years.
Here’s a woman, caught in the act, cast down at the feet of Christ. On the other side of Christ was the crowd, ready of cast stones, ready to judge her for her sin. The only friend she had in the world that moment was Jesus. In those minutes that raced by during that sermon, I tried to relate how Christ showed all the people in the crowd that they weren’t any better than that woman. All of us are in dire need of forgiveness.
It had only been thirty minutes, but I stepped down for the invitation, exhausted. I didn’t expect much. Just a couple of verses of “Just As I Am” and then maybe we’d hit the Chinese Buffet after church.
I bowed my head as everyone sang the obligatory verses. Then a hand on my shoulder. “Bro. Ray, I’m visiting here today. I’m a deacon in another church. I’m about to tell you something I’ve never told anyone. I committed adultery ten years ago. I needed to know that Jesus could forgive me. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone. Would you pray with me?” Absolutely.
Right after he walked away, another hand on my shoulder. A middle aged woman, “I have to tell you something. I’ve been in a bad, adulterous relationship for a long time. I’m going to go break it off today. I just needed to know there was hope. Would you pray with me?” Yes.
My favorite story in the book of Acts is in chapter 16. Paul and Silas are preaching the gospel and after an incident, they are unjustly beaten within an inch of their lives and jailed. They didn’t complain about their pain or situation, but sang hymns of praise to God. The result? The salvation of the Philippian jailer and his family after they saw the power of God.
The moral of the story is that even in the midst of the worst of times, God is still in control and has a plan and purpose for our pain and suffering.
I realize there’s a huge difference between a pastor who chose adultery and the missionary work of Paul and Silas. After my affair, I had to make a conscious decision to repent and move toward God. There were days that the consequences of my sin – the sin that I chose – were awful. And I accepted that. I knew life wouldn’t ever be the same, but I also knew that despite the path I had chosen, God could take my mess and make it into His message.
That day, after preaching that message, I started to get it figured out a little. Almost like God was telling me, “You can’t ever mess it up enough that I won’t get the glory for it.” Reminds me of a familiar verse, “God causes all things to work together for good . . .”
After the service that day, I wept as I told my wife Allison about what had happened. We remembered the days of the past but looked forward to a future where God would lay things out the way He wanted.
She said, “There’s no hole too deep that we can dig that God can’t dig us out of.”
I said, “Yeah, but I don’t want to find out again.”