Ted Haggard Aftershocks and the Seismic Shift

27 01 2009

God is shaking the church in Colorado Springs…again.  It’s brutal to be going through the controversies of Ted Haggard all over again.  I hate to see our wonderful city and our many great churches subjected again to the feeding frenzy of the media. The aftershocks of the earthquake that occurred two years ago are still being felt.

You need to know something.  I really love our city.  I love the people of Colorado Springs.  I love the beauty of the mountains rising so majestically that any window looking west can see them.  I like that we care about our families so much that we constantly vote for pro-family policies.  I like that we are blessed with one of the lowest crime rates in the country for cities of comparable size. 

Liz and I moved our family here 14 years ago to plant Mountain Springs Church.  During that time we have seen a lot of churches rise and fall.  As a pastor, I have gained life-long pastoral friends and seen others leave their churches.  Some of our experiences have been really sad; most really joyful.  Probably one of the most shocking and distressing experiences of my pastoral life was the revelation that my friend and fellow pastor, Ted Haggard, had been having an ongoing sexual relationship with a prostitute in Denver.  It rocked the city; it rocked the church; it rocked my life.  It was a moral and spiritual earthquake for our city and for our churches.

The tremors of the aftershock are being felt once again.  On Saturday the story of another allegation against Ted Haggard hit the newsstands.  I was with the new senior pastor of New Life Church, Brady Boyd, drinking coffee as the story was breaking.  He was leaving our meeting to field questions from the press. 

This coming week will not get any better.  This Thursday night, Ted Haggard will be on Larry King and has already recorded an Oprah Winfrey Show.  He is promoting an HBO documentary of his fall, airing on the same night.  And once again, our city and our churches will be subjected to the litany of questions and demeaning remarks that reflect a skeptical public and a weary pastorate. 

As a pastor of a church in Colorado Springs, I’m experiencing mixed emotions.  On the one hand, my heart goes out to Ted, who was always a good friend to me.  When I was starting MSC, I could always depend on him to help with a word of advice or encouragement.  That’s why I was ready to defend him to the press on that fateful day in November, 2006.  I was dressed and ready to leave my house and hold a press conference when the news came from Ted, “Don’t defend me.”  I broke down and wept.  Even to this day, Ted has a special place in my heart and I often pray for his complete healing. 

But I’m conflicted because I’m also really ashamed.  I’m ashamed for the Church.  I’m hurting for the evangelical Church.  I’m saddened that the Church allows this kind of sin into her midst.  It’s not even this story, but the many spiritual earthquakes that keep rocking the Church.  Controversies of sin and rebellion within the Body of Christ abound.  The lack of accountability; the lack of holiness; the lack of true Biblical scrutiny is, quite frankly, discouraging.  It is sobering and frustrating.  As a pastor, I want to learn everything that can be learned from this event.

I find myself being led back to the scriptures, to the apocalyptic letter of John—the Revelation.  For solace and instruction from my Lord and Savior, I meditate upon Jesus’ words to the Laodicean church:

“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’–and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked– I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”  Revelation 3:17-20

God’s view is so different from our own.  Here was a church that had everything—wealth and material blessing with no outward needs.  This was a “full” church; an obese church.  This must have been a church with a bottom line in the black.  Yet God saw things differently.  God said that the Laodicean church was “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”  God saw poverty, when the Laodiceans saw wealth.  When the church of Laodicea looked in the mirror they saw a stylin’ wardrobe; when Jesus looked in, He saw nakedness. Jesus just doesn’t cooperate with our tastes in style.  

Jesus’ way of thinking is a seismic shift from our own.  Seeing as Jesus saw has never been easy.  Loving as Jesus loved has never been natural.  It was not easy in the first century, and it isn’t any easier today.  God doesn’t ask us for our opinion.  He tells us what He thinks and He invites us to join Him in His vision and plan.

God’s uncommon view is almost always the opposite of ours…in everything.  To see as Jesus saw is a paradigm shift from anything that comes from the world.  We look at things externally and God looks internally. We look at budgets and spread sheets; God looks at motives and content.  We hype and promote our agenda and God looks for humility and tenderness.

Imagine Jesus as a counselor.  In our passage Jesus gives us a glimpse into His heart for the Church, the “called out” ones. This is the Chief Counselor counseling His beloved people.  His words echo through the centuries and are as apropos today as they were then. 

First, Jesus says to us in verse 18, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”  Jesus is not sending them to the streams of Pactolus, nor to the mines of Potosi, but He invites us to Himself, the pearl of great price.  He says that we must buy His gold.  It is the best gold, the refined stuff.  This is the stuff that has been through fire and come out gleaming and splendid.  Jesus is the refined One who went to Calvary, died, and rose again—He is the pure gold we all long for.

But how do we get it?  It is the gold that Isaiah cries out for, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)  The first seismic shift of Jesus’ counsel to His beloved followers is to “come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden.” Jesus wants His people to come to Him and buy of Him.  He is our gold; He is our garment.  He is our covering and our true riches.  Jesus wants to once again be Lord over His Church!

Secondly, Jesus gives further counsel in verse 19, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”  Repentance means to turn around, a 180 degree seismic shift from our old ways, our natural ways, our forsaken ways.  Jesus wants our hearts to change with a new attitude and new lifestyle.  Repent from sin and be zealous for good works.  This is not about a belief sized up by platitudes and religious sounding creeds, but a real walk of love and compassion.  Jesus intercedes for a church zealous to do good works.  Jesus cries out to His people longing for hearts that are completely turned over to Him.  Jesus wants us to forgive and care for the broken, but be balanced with holiness and integrity.  He is on the move looking for leaders whose hearts are for Him.

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.”
(2 Chronicles 16:9a)

This is the heart of God for the Church and her leaders.  This is the people and the pastorate Jesus longs to comfort and empower!  This is my prayer for pastors—that we would set our hearts on being the most holy and loyal men of God possible.  This is the main prayer for my life.

Thirdly, Jesus knocks at the door of His Church, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)  Imagine Jesus being outside of his Church.  Jesus has been shut out of much of His Church today and He’s hungry for fellowship with us again.  He wants to enter the sermons, worship times, and even the board meetings.  He is knocking on the door of the youth and children’s ministry, wanting to come in.

We were created by God to deeply know and intimately love Him.  God loves you and me and created us for relationship, for intimacy.  This is the purpose of the Church.  We are a people called by His name to have an intimate, growing, ever deepening friendship with God.  This is the heart of God and this is why He knocks.

So, my prayers are heartfelt today.  I love this city and I love Ted Haggard, and I love the Church.  We will weather these aftershocks, but let us learn from them too.  It is time for us to wake up and love; it is time for us to wake up and change.  Jesus is calling all of us to buy His gold, repent, and open the doors of our hearts to Him once again.  May this be our prayer.

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,
Steve Holt