Leaders Who Sin

Burning Question:  How do we decide what sins are “acceptable” or are sufficiently repented of in order for someone to lead in church (i.e., help with Vacation Bible School, teach Sunday School, sing in choir, etc.)?  Also, if sin is sin to God, aren’t our sins of impatience or losing our temper easily at home, gossiping, etc. just as bad, although more easily hidden?

Say a child disobeys his parents and the parents decide to discipline the child as a response.  We would all agree that the parents’ response is expected and necessary. However, the way the parent disciplines will be dependent upon the type of disobedience displayed by the child.  To take away privileges and rewards for two weeks may seem completely fitting for one type of disobedience but would be dramatic overkill for a lesser offense.  All disobedience is equal in the eyes of the parent in that no disobedience is ever good, yet the consequences of disobedience are determined by the specific, individual nature of each act of disobedience.

Now take all of this, and apply it to the Burning Question above.  Within the context of church ministry, all leaders are hardened sinners with a long history of offenses before God.  There is no leader in any ministry at any point on the globe that does not have a long track record of disobedience against God and man.  Yet God still offers redemption, forgiveness, and an offer to use the life fully yielded to Him.  With that being said, we have to be certain that we do not use our struggle against sin as an excuse for our sin.  We must be intentional about living a life of personal holiness that we might be glorifying to God and most useful to Him (2 Timothy 2:15).

Leadership in the local church carries tremendous responsibility and is not to be taken lightly.  Yet some areas of leadership and service carry such great responsibility that grave sin can result in enormous consequences for the one who sins and the church, as well. Therefore, it would seem to be wise for churches to consider the personal walks of those who seek to lead.  In my opinion, there is a difference between service and leadership . . . all believers are called to serve God and He has even prepared good works in advance for us to carry out (Ephesians 2:10).  But leadership is not automatic and is not a “right” for any and every believer.  Perhaps this is why so much emphasis is given to those who serve as pastors and deacons, that their walks with God be proven in advance (1 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Timothy 3:10).

Some areas of leadership and service simply create greater opportunity to benefit others when handled properly, or greater opportunity to hurt others when handled poorly.  At the end of the day, any sin in the life of one who claims to follow Jesus hurts themselves and others.  But just as some crimes today are considered minor in offense and others major, so some sin also carries the capacity to be minor in its consequence, and other sin more major in its consequence in the lives of others.

Maybe the following considerations would be helpful when action is considered in the life of a church leader who has embraced sin:

  • Has the leader sufficiently repented of and addressed the specific sin?
  • Is the sin dealt with specifically in Scripture?  If so, would the same response be acceptable in the present case?
  • How many people are affected negatively by the nature of the leader’s sin . . . will they be caused to stumble or to become confused by what is acceptable for a follower of Christ (Romans 14:13)?  How greatly is the name of Christ and His church brought into reproach because of the leader’s sin?

There is no clear formula in Scripture that dictates the proper church response to any and every sin in the life of a leader.  Humility, prayer, seeking wise counsel, and dependence upon Scripture and the leadership of the Holy Spirit are all important in responding properly when sin invades a leader’s life.  In light of all that is at stake, may our aim be that of          1 Peter 1:16 . . . to be holy, as He is holy.

Advertisements

Voices and Hands

MercyMe

MercyMe (Photo credit: susieq3c)

Burning Question:  Why is the church so quiet and no acknowledging of God’s Word with “Amens” and raising of hands?”

As a collection of individuals who have their faith in and surrender to Christ as their common bond, every local church has its own personality.  Usually, this personality is experienced pretty quickly by those who visit.  Some churches are very warm and hospitable while others are  . . . ahem, a bit cooler, for example!  Wrapped up in a church’s personality is also what could be called a “style of worship”.  Not so much style as it relates to music selection, but rather how a church expresses worship to God.

You may have worshipped with churches that were very expressive in worship and engaged in an almost ongoing conversation with the speaker or pastor throughout the message.  I remember my first experience with this in a small church where I served on staff years ago.  One man in particular, who had such a genuine passion for Christ, was not at all shy about voicing his approval when the pastor made a strong statement worthy of consideration.  You have to be careful here, though, because pastors have a tendency to speak longer when there are a lot of affirmations from those listening . . . kind of like “sic ’em” to a bulldog, if you know what I mean!

Actually, there is some biblical evidence of this kind of thing in the Bible.  Nehemiah 8:6 speaks of how the people lifted their hands and proclaimed “Amen, Amen!” in response to Ezra’s reading of God’s Word.  And this was a little over 400 years before the New Testament church was implemented.

So why not more affirmations and hands raised in church today?  It may have a lot to do with the personality and  worship style of that church family.  It may have something to do with the individuals actually in the worship service and whether they are close to or far from God, whether they are engaged or distracted, whether or not they are still captivated by the incredible-ness (yes, incredible-ness!) of the Gospel and the mere fact that God has adopted them as His own.

Probably any pastor or speaker would say that it is a real encouragement to hear and see people engaged as they hear God’s Word proclaimed, but it is not an absolute necessity.  We have to remember that God is not impressed with any outward expression of our worship.  He always has and still today looks at the heart.  What matters most is that the heart is engaged authentically as one worships God and responds to the proclaiming of His Word.

Children and Divorce

Child 1

Child 1 (Photo credit: Tony Trần)

Burning Question:  When there has been a divorce/separation, how do you help children and teens through it?  How do you get the right attitude?

Separation and divorce have an effect on children in ways which cannot be avoided.  Though Mom and Dad may feel that they are justified in their decision to part ways and though there may even be biblical support at times for separation or divorce, children will merely experience the results of divorce/separation and will likely not be able to process the reasons behind it.  To view statistical insight into the effects of divorce upon children, see this well documented article by Amy Desai.

Obviously the best solution to any situation within marriage which would cause a couple to consider divorce is to resolve that situation and make needed adjustments to create a healthy, loving, Christ-centered marriage.  Divorce may appear to bring freedom, however, in reality it only serves to create a new set of issues in need of attention . . . and many of these issues pertain to the children affected by the divorce.  An article which is extremely helpful in assisting children through the troubling waters after divorce can also be found here.

In order to get the right attitude in helping children after divorce, one must be certain to stay close to Christ and to spend consistent time in God’s Word.  This is important because His truth will counter and replace the negative emotions such as unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, etc. which often present themselves.  Also, this article gives great insight into practical ways to work with a former spouse to insure that the children are cared for in the best way possible after a divorce.

Polygamy and the Bible

Random Numerals

Random Numerals (Photo credit: andymangold)

Burning Question:  Why are “great men of the Bible” in the Old Testament permitted to marry many women when God’s design is for one man and one woman to be joined as one flesh?

What a great question!  This is probably a question that many have wondered, at least from a curiosity standpoint.  But let me mention that even though this is not an issue that is prevalent in our country today, it is an issue on the mission field.  With that in mind, you may appreciate the humble approach of John Piper here.

Some of the greatest and most prominent men of Scripture actually had more than one wife at one time.  The most obvious examples would be Solomon (with a whopping 700 wives from a variety of backgrounds) and his father, David (who had at least 8 wives and some believe as many as 12)!  But just because a practice is captured on the pages of Scripture does not mean that God condones or directs that practice to take place.  In Genesis 4 for example, Scripture tells of Cain’s murder of his own brother, Abel.  We never equate the inclusion of this horrific sin in Scripture as God’s permission to commit murder.  So, just because polygamy is referenced in Scripture and just because some of the “heroes” of the Old Testament practiced polygamy does not imply that God was in favor of it.

In fact, Deuteronomy 17:17 gives God’s specific command not to multiply wives and even includes His warning of what will happen if one doesn’t follow His command.  Sadly, Solomon’s life is Exhibit A as to the truth of God’s warning (see 1 Kings 11:3-4).  And we can’t afford to forget the very structure of marriage which God put in place back in Genesis 2:24, that marriage is comprised of one man and one woman.

Does God allow a person to make their own choice and commit sin?  Yes, He does.  We have been created with the will to choose whether we will obey or disobey Him.  Does God ever condone sin, including polygamy?  No, He doesn’t.

Punishment and Discipline

Discipline

Discipline (Photo credit: Grotuk)

Burning Question:  Do you think God punishes us with bad health because we have fallen? 

The key word here is “punishes”.  In the life of the believer (one who has turned from their sin and surrendered their life to Christ), we are assured of being in relationship with God.  This relationship is rooted in His unconditional love for us and we are blessed to have His grace applied to every area of our lives.  However, His love for us is not an allowance for us to rebel against Him and knowingly sin.  When we choose to sin against Him, His love drives Him to discipline us for our sin.  Discipline is much different from punishment.

Punishment is for the purpose of making another pay for their wrong, regardless of whether that person learns to do right or not.  Punishment is not concerned about the person being reformed or changed but is merely concerned that they “get what is coming” for the wrong they have done.  Romans 8:1 tells the believer that there is no condemnation upon those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ.   Jesus took their punishment for them (see John 3:16).

Discipline, however, is for our ultimate good.  Discipline carries with it the overarching aim of instructing and changing the life of the one disciplined.  God disciplines those He knows (Hebrews 12:6-7) because of His love for them!  How could loving God allow His child to embrace sin which will devastate his life without ever confronting that sin in His child’s life?

When we ask whether God punishes us (believers) with bad health because we have fallen, it would appear that He does not operate this way.  However, there are times when He will discipline the wayward believer in order to bring them to a place of repentance and restore a close walk with Him again.  When this happens, it is always under the watchful care of a Heavenly Father who loves us more deeply than we could ever imagine.

One final note . . . sin always carries consequences.  Be careful not to confuse the consequences of sin with the punishment of God.  If a person lives a life of sexual immorality but then turns from that lifestyle to walk in relationship with God, only to find that they later are diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, that disease is not necessarily God’s punishment but rather a natural consequence of that sin.

Sin carries consequences and deserves the punishment of God.  God in His love brings forgiveness through Christ.  His love compels Him to discipline those He loves for our ultimate good.

Forgiving Ourselves

Head in Hands

Head in Hands (Photo credit: cellar_door_films)

Burning Question:  I know in bad relationships you can feel guilty about sins and we ask God to forgive us.  It is hard sometimes to forget the past and move on with your life.  What are some things we can do  . . . I know pray about it and ask God to give us strength to move on. 

Sometimes forgiving ourselves can be the last hurdle which keeps us from running full speed in the grace of God.  Scripture is clear that God’s forgiveness which comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ is complete and sufficient to cleanse us from every sin in our lives (see 1 John 1:9).  Psalm 103:12 tells us that God removes the sin of the Christian as far as the east is from the west.  This is an interesting concept because we realize that east cannot be measured from west.  God’s forgiveness through Christ is literally immeasurable in scope and when we are in relationship with Jesus, God chooses to no longer hold our sin against us!  In fact, 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that Christ became sin for us so that we could have His righteousness applied to our lives.  What an absolutely incredible truth that we have the capacity to have every sin wiped clean and be replaced with Christ’s perfect righteousness in us.  And all because of the forgiveness of God!

If God is willing to treat our sin that way through Christ, then we should be willing to see our forgiven sin in the same way and forgive ourselves.  No, it’s not cheap grace which gives us free license to sin all we want because of His forgiveness.  We are called as believers to turn from our sin (repentance) with sincere hearts.  Rather, forgiving ourselves of sins which God has also forgiven us of is a mature, biblically based response which reflects God’s action toward our sin.

What can we do to move forward in God’s forgiveness?  First and most importantly, we must be certain that we are in relationship with Christ, for this is the only way to receive the forgiveness of God which we all need.  Second, we must seek to live in a way which keeps us out of sin.  We cannot expect to feel pure and clean if we continue to spend time embracing sin in our lives.  Third, we must saturate our lives with the truth of God’s Word.  To spend time in the Bible each day is invaluable because it allows us to replace the lies which we are prone to believe (such as not feeling worthy of forgiving ourselves) with the truth which God says about us.

Wedding Rings

Wedding rings

Wedding rings (Photo credit: SParadisPhoto)

Burning Question:  I’ve noticed many people, including some in our church who are in leadership positions, who are married not wearing their wedding rings for various reasons.  What are your thoughts?

I could jokingly say that the men I speak to have told me that they are ashamed to wear them, but that may overload the jewelry stores with husbands scurrying to buy themselves a wedding ring to wear!  No, most would say that it gets in the way of their work as they work with their hands or that (clear my throat here), it just doesn’t fit anymore!

Wearing a wedding ring is a cultural and not a biblical issue . . . but it is a pretty big cultural issue!  The wearing of a wedding ring or choosing not to wear a wedding ring communicates something in today’s culture.  For one, it screams, “I’m taken!”  Or better, it screams, “I’m gladly taken!”  It would only be understood that to some, the lack of a wedding ring could possibly suggest, “I’m available.”  Alright guys, now don’t rough me up in the hallway the next time you see me because I insinuated that you are looking for someone despite the fact that you are married.  But, is your wife sure of that?  Does she wonder why you don’t wear your wedding ring?  Does she wonder why it seems so insignificant to you to be publicly identified in the most culturally relevant way as a married man . . . and married specifically to her, no less?

We don’t read of wedding rings in Scripture and I don’t have the energy to find some passage and twist it into an application for why you should wear your ring.  But let me share a passage for you to chew on and then apply to your situation.  In Song of Solomon 8:6 (now there’s a marriage book!), we read of Solomon’s bride asking that he make her “like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm.”  In the Old Testament days, seals were marks of identification and possession.  She was asking her husband to make a public display of his love, and their marriage.

So let me just suggest this.  Just get the ring (or let your wife pick it out) and wear it proudly.  It may not be comfortable and it may get in the way and you may even have to take it off from time to time to get some work done, but just honor her and proudly wear that ring to say to all who see you, “I’m taken!”  Better yet, “I’m gladly taken!”