A Quick Response To Public Failure

Tpublic-sinhe unconfessed sin of the believer is always unpleasant. It always dark, dirty, and filled with hurt. Quite naturally, something so awful loves darkness and secrecy. But eventually the secrets will come to light.

And when a Christian’s sin comes out into the open, its effects can extend well beyond an individual heart or home. The nature of a person’s sin can require that society, employers, and the government take action. The consequences of a believer’s sin can lead to the arrival of a pink slip, a legal summons to appear in court, or flashing blue lights in their yard. And when sin becomes public knowledge, the evil desire that once could have been addressed with a quick prayer now appears to be fearfully out of control. The whole local community of believers can feel hurt and dirty.

But thankfully things are not out of control when a believer sins publicly. The Scriptures are full of narratives that recount the public failures of God’s people. Abraham had an affair, Moses struck a rock in front of thousands of people, and King David conducted a census. The Scriptures have a lot to say about we should respond to public sin. And the message is very hopeful!

Three Ways to Respond:

1. We call our brothers and sisters to repentance.

First, we accept what has happened. We call sin, “Sin” and acknowledge that sin comes with real consequences. Sin has to be addressed. The man who embezzles money from his employer should make restitution.  When Zacchaeus stole from people, he offered to make restitution. Jesus did not absolve him from the consequences of his sins (Luke 19:8).  And when David decided to number the people of Israel, God judged David and killed 70,000 men (1 Chronicles 21:7-17).

Second, we need to encourage our brothers and sisters to action. Sorrow is great. But, tears do not save nor do they mean someone is truly sorry. Our friends may only be grieving the fact that they have been publicly humiliated. As Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 7: 9-10:

 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

How do you tell the difference between real and fake sorrow? True sorrow over sin, true repentance always leads to action. When Zacchaeus repented of stealing, he promised to return four fold what he took and he promised to give up to half of his goods to the poor. His covetous greedy heart was replaced with a kind, generous one. His repentance was defined by action. As Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Zacchaeus did just that!

Similarly, David cried out to the Lord and said, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly” (1 Chronicles 21:7b).  And then, David went out and offered sacrifices for his sin. Both men took action to revealed a repentant heart.

If our sister has embezzled money from her company, we must go to her privately and encourage her to take action. We must encourage her to repent. She should confess her sin to those whom she has sinned against and to God. And then she must stop stealing and make restitution. She must repay the stolen money. Repentance leads to practical change. We must call our brothers and sisters who sin to pursue repentance.

And third, we must forgive. Once a brother and sister repents of their sin, we must extend them forgiveness. We must  forgive them as Christ has forgiven us (Col 3:13).  Forgiveness means that we will no longer dwell on a person’s sin, we will no longer talk about their failures, and we will no longer allow a few actions to determine how we relate to our friend. In short, we will stop trying to punish the person for what he or she has done.

Practically this means that when we wake up, we no longer meditate on why George got fired from his job. We no longer discuss Sally’s road to prison over coffee. And we greet Jim with the same smile that we showed him prior to him repenting of his affair. To forgive, “means to release a person from punishment or penalty.”  If we love Christ, we must be quick to fellowship with those who used to be thieves, adulterers, and liars.

2. We need to love our brother and sisters caught in sin.

The world is quick to judge and hold grudges. The church should be the opposite. Yes, we should take sin seriously. Yes, we should call our brothers and sisters to repentance. And yes, we should practice church discipline if they refuse to turn from their porn addiction. But we should always be quick to extend love and mercy.

We should freely extend mercy to those who have sinned publicly both before and after they seek forgiveness. We should make our friends meals, care for their families, and give them opportunities to prove their repentance. We should not make an embezzler the church accountant, but it would be great for us to get her a job at the local factory. It would be great for us to rent her a house at cost so that she could begin to repay her debt. Regardless of the severity of the sin, there is no limit to the nature of our forgiveness. We are to forgive our brothers and sisters “seventy-times seven” (Matt. 18:22).

And, we should readily remind our brothers and sisters that they are not their sin. If they have repented, they are no longer defined by their sin. The adulterer is no longer an adulterer, but a fellow brother in Christ who has been redeemed from his sin by the blood of the cross. He is a justified sinner just like everyone else in church.

3. We need to be careful.

Anytime we encounter sin, we must avoid the temptation to wag our little finger. We must avoid the temptation to puff up our chest and say, “I would never do that.”

Friends, we could all do that. If Noah can get drunk, if Abraham can let his wife marry another man, if Samson can sleep with a prostitute, and if David can kill a man, we too can mess up and mess up big time. Our ability to avoid the newspapers is not based on our moral aptitude or will power. Notice what Paul says in Galatians 6:1

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

We should go to those who have fallen. We should encourage them to repent. We should work to see them restored. We should strive to see them become active members of our church again.

Those who are doing well should help those overcome be sin especially public sin. As Paul says in I Thessalonians 5:14 “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

But we must do so in humility. We must engage the hurting, realizing that the power to change people is not found in our works, wisdom, or methods. We are not stronger than our fallen friends. We are just as vulnerable as those we help. We need to point our own hearts to the gospel just as much as we point our fallen friends to the God of heaven.

And we must make sure that we are quickly confessing our sins. We must regularly examine our hearts. We must regularly confess our sins. We must take our own sin seriously and flee from it. We must watch ourselves and make sure we have allowed sin to get a death grip on our heart. If we do not, we too will be exposed one day.

Final Thoughts

Public failure is, well, public. And it is unpleasant. But such sin is not the end of the story, of anyone’s story. We don’t lock up our friends and throw away the key. We keep ministering to them. We keep calling them to repentance. We keep loving them. And we keep watching our souls.

Why Don’t They Get It?

why-dont-people-get-it“Why don’t they get it?” is a question we often ask as parents. Why don’t our kids understand that crawling off the sofa, sticking Cheetos up their noses, and driving their cars via their knees while texting never ever ends well? Why? Why?

But if we are willing to be honest; it is not just the kids that we wonder about. When we look around our churches, we can be tempted to ask them same question. “Why don’t they get it?” Why doesn’t Sally see that her complaining is super unhelpful, why doesn’t Jim realize that criticizing other peoples’ kids produces nothing but useless conflict, and why doesn’t Susie understand that her constant attack on sugary drinks is not leading people any closer to Christ? Why don’t people understand the beauty and glory of Christ like we do? Why don’t people get it?

The easy answer is, “they cannot get it.” Apart from Jesus’ divine revelation none of us can get it. No one can understand spiritual things on their own. In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus heals a blind man in Bethsaida. But he does not heal the man in the usual way. He first touches the man’s eye and then ask if the man can see. The man responds in verse 24 saying, “I see people but they look like trees, walking.” Some people have assumed that the man did not see at first because he lacked faith. His faith was only powerful enough for a half healing, if you will.

But this is not what is going on. No mention is made of the man’s faith. And Jesus is more than powerful enough to overcome a little unbelief. Look at all the miracles Jesus performed for the disciples benefits. They were not exactly the most ardent believers as Jesus began his ministry.

Rather Christ performs the miracle in stages because he wants his disciples and us to understand an important lesson. We do not lead ourselves to Christ. Jesus is showing us that salvation and spiritual knowledge comes exclusively through him.

The man starts out blind in the narrative. Christ touches the man’s eyes; he begins to see. Jesus touches the man’s eyes a second time and he fully sees.

Right before the miracle in Mark 8:21 Jesus directly asked his disciples, “Do you not understand?” In short, he asks them,  “why do you not understand who I am and what I am about. Why don’t you get it?” The disciples have seen Jesus perform bunches and bunches of miracles. And yet they don’t get it. They don’t understand who Jesus fully is.  So, why don’t they get it?

Well, Jesus doesn’t leave us in suspense. He answers his question with a miracle. Jesus shows them that spiritual knowledge comes only through the miraculous power of Christ. Through this miracle, Jesus teachers the disciples that they are blind and that they can only see when Christ gives them sight. And by working in stages, Jesus shows his disciples that people can be a different parts of the spectrum. Some see vaguely. Others see clearly. But both have encountered the living God and have received their sight from him. Both can only see what they see via God’s help.

What does this mean for us?

First, we must embrace humility.

The reason we get something, the reason we don’t struggle with complaining, bad language, or credit card debt is not because we are something special. We have not worked hard enough nor been bright enough intellectually to earn this standing. We have received mercy through Christ Jesus our savior. We have the understanding we have because God has caused our blind eyes to see. We are started out just as blind as everyone else. We must not forget where we came from.

And we must know where we are going. We are on our way to perfection in heaven. But we are not there yet. And though God has granted us some spiritual wisdom and insight, we have not arrived. Remember Peter. In Mark 8:29, we see that Peter final gets it and declares that Jesus is the Christ! And then Peter turns around and tells Jesus to abandon the gospel. In short great growth is meet by great failure.

The same is true of us. We should want to be peaceable, kind, and out of debt. But the moment we place our hope in our nice words, or our generous giving, or in our budget, we become prideful and prone to sin. If we measure our success by our own standards and fail to realize that God also wants us to love our spouse better, to stop judging others eating habits, we still have some serious blindness in our own souls. In short, God wants us to conform ever part of who we are to who he is. This is a lifelong task. No one has arrived. No one sees perfectly this side heaven.

Second, we must extend mercy to others.

The reason we handle complaining better than our kids is not because we are superior people. We avoid the whininess of life, because God has been gracious to us. He has opened our eyes fully while our kids see only vaguely on their way to saving faith. Instead of condemning people as stupid, worthless, or worthy of punishment, we should extend mercy to them. As we discipline our kids for the hundredth time, we don’t blow up in anger telling them that we were never as reckless as them. Rather, we discipline them in love, telling them that we know obedience is hard. Instead of shouting at our cranky family member, we should endure their prideful boasts knowing that only God’s mercy keeps us from committing the same sin. And when people at church fail to see theology the way we do, we do not beat them into submission with logic. Rather, we lovingly point them to the Scriptures trusting God to work in both of our hearts.

Because here is the great truth. If God begins to open people’s eyes, he will give them full sight. He will not leave them half blind. We very well may not be God’s intended agent of change in someone’ life. But God is still working. Instead of trusting in our arguments to give sight, we must appeal to God to work. He will make the blind see!

And If we truly understand that we all begin our spiritual quest blind, we will stop asking, “Why don’t they get it?” And we will start asking, “Why do I get anything?”

S0, what question are you asking?

Two Ways To Ruin Your Kids Spiritual Life

backpackI was an idiot – enthusiastic – but an idiot. On my first day of college, I bounded off to class. In all honesty, I more lumbered about campus like John Bunyan’s Christian, carrying every single book for every single class in my backpack. I must have been toting around at least 70 lbs. of pure academic pain. Who knew, you didn’t have to take every book to class? Thankfully, by the end of the first week, I figured out that my zeal was a little misplaced. I discovered the beautiful truth that carrying five to ten pounds of pens, textbooks, and notebooks was more than adequate.

Often in our zeal to live out the gospel, we can be tempted to lay heavy burdens on our kids. We can become focused on secondary things such as our kids’ media consumption, their bedtimes, their education, their clothes, and their friends. We praise our little ones for embracing our schedule, for wearing the right clothes, and for having the right friends. We praise them for meeting our standards. And in the process, we may subtly swap out the gospel for our traditions. Instead of experiencing joy, our kids will begin to  feel weighed down because they are carrying all of our traditions around with them.

In Mark 7:1-13, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for burdening their followers with extra biblical principles. The Pharisees were substituting the commandments of God for the commandments of men. They were holding the Jews to extra biblical standards of cleanliness. And at the same time, they were downplaying the conviction of the law.

Jesus took exception to the Pharisees because they were missing the heart of the gospel. They were turning God’s free gift of salvation into a pay-for-play scheme. The Pharisees thought people could reach heaven through good works.

Jesus disagreed. He proclaimed that God cared about the heart. The child who doesn’t watch TV is no closer to heaven than the kid who watches TV 18 hours a day. The girl who dresses modestly is not closer to salvation than the gal showing off her navel piercing. Salvation is a matter of the heart and not a matter of following conservative family values.

Are we guilty of having swapped traded out the gospel for our traditions? Have we burdened our kids down with a bunch of extra traditions? How can we know?

We typically add burdens to our children’s lives by holding them to ridiculously high standards and/or by downplaying the significance of the Bible. Let’s Take a look:

Ridiculously High Standards:

First we need to ask ourselves are we adding to the law of God? In Mark 7:5, the Pharisees were demanding that the Jesus’ disciples follow the priestly code of conduct. They wanted the disciples to achieve a certain level of human cleanliness that God did not demand of them.

We need to make sure that we are not demanding more from our kids than they are able. We cannot hold children to the same standard that we demand of our pastors. We cannot expect grade-schoolers to be fully hospitable, peaceable, gentle, content, and sober-minded (Tim 3:1-7). Our kids cannot live up to these expectations. And if we punish them for not achieving the character of an elder, we will break their spirit. We will weigh them down, causing them to view every sin as a crushing defeat.

We must not do this. We must extend grace to our children, expecting them to get angry and expecting them to be selfish. We must see our children’s childhood as a time of training and formation, patiently helping them to grow in faith. We must not expect our kids to already be pastor material.

Downing Playing the Bible:

Second, we must not devalue the Word of God. The Pharisees were more concerned with ceremonial washings than with people honoring the parents. As long as your hands were clean, they thought a person could ignore his parents suffering and still be considered godly (Mark 6: 8-13). The Pharisees were seemingly crazy.

What about us? Do we devalue the Word of God? Are we more concerned about our kids clothes than whether or not they lied to their teacher? Are we more concerned about our kids’ media time than their constant outburst of anger? Are we more concerned with applying our traditions and then applying the Scriptures? What do we care about most? This is hard to wrestle with. But to raise of kids in love, we must get this right. We must be more concerned about our kids’ heart issues and their obedience to God than their conformity to our traditions.

Now admittedly these things can go hand in hand. God can often use our standards and rules to draw out our children’s heart. The child that rejects our view of modesty has heart issues. Her disobedience maybe driven by a fear of man and by a belief that her friend’s opinions matter more than God’s love. But the ultimate goal is not just to get our kids back inline with our standards. Our ultimate goal is to see their hearts changed. Our ultimate goal is to see our daughter abandon her fear of man and put her trust in Christ. Our ultimate goal should be to see our daughter’s heart more closely knitted to the heart of Christ.

And now back to our question: “Parents, have we burdened down our kids with traditions or are we seeking to reach their hearts with the gospel?”