I accepted Christ as a young teenager. Up until that time, my family had never been to church. Some things had happened in my dad’s life that brought us to church, and I came to know Jesus. I was passionate about Jesus then, and my dad was too. He started on his journey to become ordained and later he ended up pastoring a church. Everything I learned in my infancy as a believer, I learned from him. He’s very smart and I always appreciated his perspective on the scriptures and how he would teach me to apply those things.
So, I moved on up into my adult life still passionate about God. But when I went into the military, my focus shifted. It was a rebellious phase of my life; I was more focused on myself, and I slowly turned away from God. Once I got out of the military, my dad had a similar shift. He and my mom had some issues and I came to the realization that, unfortunately, they were broken too. There were several factors that led to my father’s decision to end his marriage to my mother along with his ministry. As one might expect, I was left hurt and very confused.
When that fall happened, it caused me to question everything that my dad had ever taught me, everything that I had believed. Was God even real? It didn’t help that I wasn’t pursuing God strongly at that point in my life. So, it didn’t take much for me to start questioning my faith and it was easy to just write God off altogether. Especially when the one man I looked up to—the one that taught me everything that I knew about God and his Word and how to apply it to my life—had turned in such a direction. That hit me hard.
It was years before I came back around. Honestly, I don’t know exactly where that turning point was. Maybe it was when I went back to church for my kids that I began to hear the Word again, and began to build trust in another spiritual leader. I’m sure that helped. But even as I did that, I began to understand something new: My faith didn’t need to be based on my dad. It wasn’t based on a man or a spiritual leader that I looked up to. My faith was in Jesus Christ alone. Once I came to that realization, I became stronger, more grounded in my faith.
So when a friend or a leader falls, I am better equipped, due to the mess I’ve already been through. Recently, I’ve witnessed a very close friend, coworker, and church leader blow up their life and their ministry because of a moral failure. Because of my past experience, I have been able to process this in a healthier way.
As a man, I’ve had to process the fact that my mentor and friend made some terrible decisions: Does that mean that everything he taught me was a lie?
As a pastor I’ve had to have too many difficult, pain-filled conversations with hurting people: Should we even believe anything he ever said?
The way I break it down—for myself, as I process, and for the people who are hurting—comes down to the way I felt about my dad and the way I still feel about my dad. His behavior didn’t void the wisdom and knowledge that he was able to pass on to me. Those are facts. He passed the Word down. He shared how we should apply the Word. If all that is grounded in the Word, then that’s good teaching. I still carry a lot of that good, solid teaching with me to this day.
A hero’s fall doesn’t void everything that they said, but it does impact TRUST. That happened with my father and with my mentor: Now we have a trust issue. And so, with both of them, I had the conversation, “Where are you headed? What is your plan?” I trusted they would choose the path of restoration with people that love them. Unfortunately neither did. And when there is no path to reconciliation and restoration, then the trust and relationship remains damaged.
Despite this, my dad and I have both reached out to each other to the extent we are comfortable, over the past decade, to pursue a distant father/son relationship. But the difficulty remains, as part of my process is following through with what he and my mentor taught me—that we seek restoration and seek forgiveness. That requires the willingness of both parties.
When the sin is revealed and the sinner responds with, “I’m moving away from it and I’m moving on,” it’s much more challenging. And that’s what happened in both situations with the two spiritual leaders I’ve looked up to in my life.
Let me confess here that I am still a broken but a healthier person. I have made plenty of bad choices in my life. When I was rebellious and doing bad things, that was part of the lifestyle I was living. So when it comes to forgiving the sin, I get it. We’re all there. We’ve all done bad things. So, I can get past that pretty easily.
The lack of relationship and trust is the part that is hard to get past. But God can still work something good out of the most challenging situation—and to get to what God has for me, I have to first get honest about what I’m feeling. My emotions ranged from grief to sadness to heartbreak; and then, anger.
Not turn-the-tables-over-I’m-gonna-hunt-you-down-and-punch-you-in-the-face anger. Just anger about an unwillingness to man up and accept what you’ve done, so we can start down this difficult—but necessary—road of restoration with people that love you. That anger is legitimate—and it can be spurred on by the manipulation of emotions that people are going through at that time.
So when that happens, I step away from it. And I begin to process with a question: What have I learned? Their actions are not all of what they’ve taught me. And I turn to the Bible with another question: What does the Word say? One thing that I lean into is Ephesians 6, when Paul talks about the armor of God. He says that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.
Both of these spiritual leaders in my life had very dark backgrounds. One went through a lot of tough military service in the intelligence world through combat, and the other experienced life in gangs and prison. I know that with my dad, there’s some PTSD issues. As they struggle with those demons, I always wonder if that’s what spurred their falls. Was there perhaps never complete healing? Had they never fully submitted to God? My questions may never be answered, but they can inspire my prayers for them.
Deep down, I want to see people healed, especially when they are caught in sin. I remind myself that what they’re doing is being motivated by the flesh—but we don’t wrestle against that flesh. Our battle is spiritual. That’s where I find my comfort: In knowing that I want people to find God in a more powerful way, and that He still has a purpose for their lives.
There have been times in my life where I’ve had to say goodbye to real heroes; friends that gave their lives for honorable causes, like freedom. We mourn our loss, but celebrate their lives. In a situation where a hardened heart leads to rebellion, we’re stuck. We still grieve, but it can seem more heartbreaking, because we can’t celebrate their departure.
But what we can do is remember what is good and true. Both of these spiritual leaders in my life pointed me towards a God that is always good. He is praiseworthy and trustworthy; He is love, and He is kind. As the writer of Hebrews shares with us, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and we can trust Him with our whole life. That’s what I remember, and regardless of the circumstances, that’s what I choose.