In 1984 I looked, perhaps, a lot like you. Although I was a pastor, I lived a life of hiddenness, a life of barely concealed shame: Shame caused by the secret sexual sins that plagued me, sins I would contritely and tearfully confess before God, vowing with all my heart never again to be lured into their sticky web. And then it would start all over again…
I knew the people in my congregation; however they did not know the real me. I could not let them know of my emotional insecurities, my true struggles, or that I, too, was a frequent sinner. And so, I continued to be the perfect, buttoned-down, Sunday-go-to-meetin’ Pastor on the one hand, and the vile, flesh-gratifying, self-loathing sinner on the other. My wife of 15 years knew something was wrong, but she didn’t know what it was. And then, one day, everything came crashing down around me. My sin had been discovered — publicly revealed for all to see! I had not repented; I had been caught! I instantly resigned my pastorate. Many acquaintances were suddenly “not available” when I called. The little church I had been pastoring began to splinter and, within six months of my resignation, had completely disbanded. After a year of separation, my wife divorced me, feeling that she had been completely betrayed and that the marriage bond had been irretrievably broken. In retrospect, the consequences of hiding my sin were devastating.
Wounded and broken like so many others, I stumbled through the doors of a church that understood environments of grace — because of their grasp of the message of TrueFaced. I talked with the Pastor telling him everything about what I had done. To my surprise, he did not reject me, but rather encouraged me to stay and to let God do the work necessary for my healing. I attended service, always sitting near the back, and always leaving immediately to avoid contact with anyone, for that might involve self-disclosure.
After about a year, I decided to get involved in a service ministry at church. As I got involved, our team would sometimes get into deep discussions; and they soon discovered that I had theological training. Their questions and eagerness to learn gave me release once again to talk about the truths of God’s Word! I began to see the power of God’s people trusting me and thus submitting to a strength God had given me and it felt so good!
About a year after joining this team, one of the people on it pestered me into attending a Singles’ Retreat. Although I was single by that time, I had been married for 15 years and I didn’t even really want to think about being single, let alone attend a retreat! But I went. At the retreat, God taught me an important TrueFaced principle: The need to be vulnerable with others, to allow others to see our weaknesses, so that we can be protected in those areas. One night, around the campfire, I broke my cardinal rule: I began to open up. I told the whole group about who I was, what I had done! The response was overwhelming. Immediately, others began to share more openly and to talk about their areas of need. On our way back to the cabin that night, one of the young men said to me, “Stewart, thank you for sharing what you did tonight. I knew from our earlier discussion that you had some theological training, but I obviously didn’t know anything about what had happened to you….” He continued, “I’m going to tell you something that I’m sure you know, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Don’t forget that the Bible says, ‘And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time saying, “Arise and go to Nineveh….”’”
I am not ashamed to tell you that I wept openly at those words. They were like a flood of forgiveness and grace washing over me. You see, when my sin had become known, the thing that really terrified me, was that I thought I would never again be able to do the one thing that I’d dreamed of and trained for all my life: to teach the word of God to God’s people. That night I finally began actually to believe what Paul says: “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” God was not “through” with me!
God’s grace saves people — and not just unbelievers! It saves believers too! It saved me! Today, I am heavily involved in the Adult Education ministry at a church, where I even get to preach from time to time, and my life is filled with people who know and love me and whom I know and love — people with whom I can be TrueFaced!