“Fight fire with fire!”

I’ve always thought that was such a stupid statement.  Adding fire to fire only creates an inferno that’s even harder to put out.  No, you fight fire with water.  You fight with fire’s opposite.  You find fire’s neutralizer.  Water douses the flame.

___

Several years ago, back in my college days, I had several friends who attended a campus ministry at a local church where it was discovered that the college/high school minister had been sleeping with students in his college ministry.  Seriously.  He would lead these vulnerable girls to Christ, then have sex with them.  As certain key leaders in the ministries of other organizations (myself included) found out about this, they went to the pastor of the church to inform him of his staffer’s sin and plead with him to take action.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the pastor said he already knew.  His college minister had already “confessed” the whole thing to him, and pledged to stop.  What was even more surprising is that the college minister would remain on the staff, as if the whole thing had never happened.  “We need to show him grace,” the pastor said.  Then he scolded those confronting him that they were Pharisees merely intent on spreading gossip and that even the girls involved had been instructed to remain silent and not become “divisive.”

Now, I am all for forgiveness of sins.  I’m all for the restoration of fallen leaders, whenever it’s possible.  The way that many “Christians” treat people caught in sin sickens me more often than not.  I say that to make it clear that I’m not approaching this from a point of legalism, nor do I find any solace in seeing people face the consequences of their sins.  But to see this pastor treat his college minister’s sin like it was…nothing – I was floored.  There was no discipline, no counseling, no meetings with the church’s committees or deacons, no counseling to help these now spiritually-wounded young girls.  This pastor simply allowed the guy to remain in staff position, where he would still be leading girls he had had sex with.  In short, it was a cover-up – a scandal this pastor and this minister tried to keep out of the view of their congregation, too afraid that knowledge of it would destroy their church.  The pastor continued preaching.  The college minister continued teaching/leading crowds of students – as if nothing had ever happened.

This is the point that you might be tempted to argue, “What’s the problem?  He confessed to his pastor, and he was forgiven.  Now you really ARE being a Pharisee.”  Honestly, I’d love to be able to say everything worked out, in spite of our fears.  But the truth is, there was no repentance.  There was no discipline.  The college minister committed a sin – maybe even a crime – and had to face ZERO consequences.  So what do you think happened next?

Sadly, the college minister did not cease his sin, but continued to pursue girls in his group sexually, eventually sleeping with several more.  Once more the pastor and his minister were confronted, only this time the pastor become angry enough that he practically began screaming at these community “Pharisees” to get out of his office.  “You Pharisees don’t know how to forgive people!”

Eventually – as is normally the case with any scandal – these girls whom the minister had been sleeping with (and then told to keep quiet) broke their silence and started talking about what had happened to them.  The church found out about the scandal, and overnight, a thriving community of about 300+ people dwindled to a small church of less than 20.  The reputations and future hopes of two ministers lay in ruins.  And girls who had been led to Christ – then led into a bedroom – ran away from this whole “Christianity” thing, bitterly wounded and doubting anything that had ever been told to them about Christ and what it means to be a Christ-follower.

___

You can’t fight fire with fire, and you cannot fight sin with sin.  But too often I see people try.  People sin, and rather than fall on their knees in repentance, they run straight into more sin.  In the above-mentioned church, they tried to fight sin with cover-ups and angry accusations of legalism, as if by doing so the problem would eventually just disappear.  Instead, the very thing they were trying to avoid happened, and the church and their careers lay in ruins.

People who fight sin with more sin often fall into a sickening spiral, usually becoming either (1) isolated or (2) accompanied by a bunch of “yes-people” who validate their position.  There is a lesser chance of repentance.  There is often more and more cover-up and denial of wrongdoing.  Hearts become increasingly hardened.

And the scariest part?  I think it’s epidemic:

  • I’ve seen many people lie to help keep a previous lie from being exposed?
  • I’ve seen pastors and other church leaders living in adultery who, rather than face their sin, attempt the impossible task of trying to live two lives – one open, and one secret.
  • I’ve seen people privately (and publicly) bash their friends or family members (or even their church leaders) then go to an open forum like Facebook or blogs like this one and talk about how great their walk with God is that day.
  • I’ve seen people in leadership fail to be good stewards of their ministry, then blame everyone around them for their failure.
  • I’ve seen more “Christian” marriages than I can even count at this point spiral towards divorce wrapped around weird justifications like “God wants me to be with another man” or “this is the only way I can be closer to God.”
  • I’ve seen more and more Christian young people run into pre-marital sex, but instead of repenting, justify their behavior behind countless excuses like “it’s normal in today’s culture” or “but we love each other.”
  • Scariest of all:  I’ve seen Christians get so wrapped up in the web of their sin, that they begin to question – or even re-write – their entire belief system about God and scripture just so they can find a way to keep their sin a justifiable part of their lives.
And the one thing I’ve seen in virtually ALL of these circumstances is that things always get worse for the people involved.  Fighting sin with sin never ends well.  I’ve seen it divide churches, destroy leaders, wreck marriages, tarnish reputations, and tear apart friendships previously believed to be able to withstand anything.
____
Let me be clear about why this troubles me so much.  Basically, it comes down to this:  When we attempt to “fix” sin through our own means – a means OTHER than repentance (the confession and turning away from our sin) – we actually deny ourselves the very real power of restoration that God’s grace provides.  Don’t miss how important this is:  In our attempt to AVOID the consequences of our sins, we are – in reality – DENYING ourselves the very power which could heal us.  Instead, we inexplicably place our faith in our own “ability” to cover and hide and justify our sin, rather than put our faith in a God who promises to forgive us if we confess our sins to him:
 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.   – 1 John 1:8-10.
You fight sin with repentance.  You’re going one direction (sin), then you choose to turn around and go in another (not sin).  There is no other way, because only the grace that comes with repentance heals the damage sin has done in our lives.  Bam!  That’s it.  Don’t be deceived by our Enemy into believing that another sin is ever the answer.  We have to hate sin as much as God hates it.  We have to confess from it, turn from it.
For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.   – 2 Corinthians 7:10.
Worldly sorrow gets us nowhere.  A lack of repentance leads to spiritual death.  You cannot sin, remain unrepentant, and then go around talking about how great your walk with God is, thinking you’re just basking in his love and his “overlooking” of your sin.  That is nothing short of being delusional.  Yes, God loves you (absolutely!) – BUT have no doubt that God is weeping over unrepentant sin (after all his own Son died for it).  He wants us broken, on our knees, desperate to purge ourselves of the sin in our lives:
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.   –  Psalm 51:17
I believe He is desperate to see His people quit putting our faith in ourselves and religious platitudes and truly get on our knees and repent, so HE can restore us.  Why would we deny ourselves that kind of a restoration?!  Why would we trade the power of God that can transform us for the idol of our own power?
____
One more thing:  If we want to see repentance, then we – as Christians, as leaders, as churches – need to get better at making this easier for people to do.  Throughout history, we have perverted this call for people to repent into a license to abuse them spiritually over everything from homosexuality to the consumption of alcohol to whether it’s appropriate to wear jeans to church.  No, we need to be the first people in line rejoicing when people truly repent and the first people to pick them up when they fall to help them get going again:
  “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive.”      – Luke 17:3
___
Repentance is not an optional component of our faith.  It is the water with which we douse the fire of sin in our lives.  It is not the act of saving ourselves.  Rather, it is the means by which we allow the saving power of God’s grace and the transforming power of His Spirit to transform us into the kinds of people he wants us to be.  Why would we settle for anything else?

There have been three times in my life that I’ve been utterly embarrassed.  (Okay, there are probably more, but these are the ones that stick out).

THE WRONG BATHROOM:

I was once at a high school football game at a stadium I hadn’t been to before, and I made the simple mistake of using the women’s bathroom instead of the men’s.  It was empty when I went in, so I had time to get good and “situated” before I heard the sound of girls entering the room.  In a panic, I attempted to flee, only to meet more girls face-to-face.  I remember frantically searching for a way to explain myself, and I wound up blurting out:  “I was in here looking for my brother.”  Almost as soon as the words were out, I realized I’d just made an even greater idiot out of myself.  I’m in the WOMEN’S bathroom, looking for my little BROTHER.  That’s when I did my best Napoleon Dynamite and just ran away in shame.  (Fortunately, I never had to encounter those people again).

THAT’S A…HAND???

I was on a long road trip with some friends in college, and it had turned dark.  Most of us were sleepy, so we were contorting ourselves to try to get comfortable in the seats of this small SUV we were riding in.  At one point, I remember leaning up against the window, and stretching my hand out to the seat in front of me.  My hand felt something odd on the back right side of the seat in front of me, so – being curious and extremely sleepy – I started poking at it, honestly thinking it was a deformity in the seat.  Suddenly the “deformity” yanked away, and I realized it was the hand of the girl riding in the front seat (whom I barely knew).  I can only guess she thought I was trying to simply grab and hold her hand.  AWKWARD.  We never spoke of it again.

THE WORST

I was at church once a few years ago, and I walked up to a couple of my friends conversing in the back of the auditorium.  I looked at one of the guys and – simply to make small talk – said, “Hey, leave him alone.  He doesn’t have any money.”  We chuckled and went about meeting and greeting people in the room.  BUT… it turns out the one guy was indeed actually asking the other guy for a loan to get through some tough times.  I ask you… how to you recover from that kind of utter foot-in-mouth moment?

___

Embarrassing moments often stick with us because they strike at the heart of our character.  Maybe it’s good to have our ego bruised once in a while, lest we become too “full” of ourselves.  Sadly, however, embarrassing moments often strike down our confidence and can stick with us for years – maybe even making us live in fear of future embarrassment.

But, as Christians, we can’t live in constant fear of making a fool out of ourselves for the right reasons.  We must not be afraid to live a life the way Christ wants us to live it.  We must not be afraid to tell people, “Yes, I believe in a risen Savior.”

Yes, there are things that should embarrass us.  We should cringe horribly when people – claiming to act in the name of Christ – do crazy things like picket funerals of fallen soldiers or badmouth other denominations.  We should be embarrassed when prominent leaders fall into sin – NOT to beat up the the one caught in sin, but to become increasingly vigilant that we do not make such mistakes ourselves.  Maybe this could be called a “righteous” embarrassment – which, simply, is learning from your mistakes and sins and being much more careful in the future.

But when we become embarrassed about our faith – even to the point of denying our faith, in whole or in part – we forget the real humiliation that Christ suffered on a cross for our sins.  We forget the sacrifices of so many saints before us who made it possible for us to believe today.  And we forget that we have a mission – not to hide our faith from the world – but to proudly proclaim the gospel to all who need to hear it.

In the Message translation of Proverbs, Solomon writes:

Practice God’s law—get a reputation for wisdom; hang out with a loose crowd—embarrass your family. (Proverbs 28:7)

Also in the Message, God tells Israel in the book of Isaiah:

Don’t be afraid—you’re not going to be embarrassed. Don’t hold back—you’re not going to come up short. (Isaiah 54:1)

I read this to mean that God has got our back, if we are doing the work he has called us to do.  The question is:  Are we trusting in our own confidence… or are we trusting in God’s strength?

It is always worth pondering…

Have you ever felt like you have let God down?  That in spite of all that he’s done in your life, you have still turned your back on him.  That you’ve neglected the gifts he’s given you.  Maybe even…denied Him.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with this daily.  Sometimes, it’s because I’m overwhelmed by how great a sinner I still am.  Other times, it’s because I look at myself and I see wasted potential – that, though I haven’t denied Christ directly, I’ve denied the power of Christ by neglecting to nurture the gifts he’s given me when it comes to my career, my family, and even how I relate to people one-on-one.

Then I re-read this:

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?[e]

   “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

   “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

   “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

   “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

   Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

   Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

 “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.”   Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”   (John 21:15-19)

For years, I’ve read this and thought, “Ouch… that is harsh.”  As if Jesus is saying to Peter, “Okay, buddy… you denied me, so guess what.  One day you will have to die for me.”  It almost reads like Jesus is scolding Peter.  (And given Peter’s response of “What about him?”, it’s easy to think so).

But the more I reflect on this passage, the more I feel like Jesus wasn’t trying to discourage Peter, but encourage him.  Don’t think so?  Then bear with me a second.

Peter, in spite of repeated promises that he would never deny Jesus, did – in fact – deny Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted he would.  Seeing what was happening to Jesus – being arrested and held for trial – it’s safe to say that Peter’s loyalty was overshadowed by sheer fear that he would face the same consequences.  So he denies Jesus, and now Jesus – resurrected from the dead – is walking with him down the beach, posing a simple question:  “Peter, do you love me?”

Can you imagine what Peter is feeling?  On the one hand, he’s certainly thrilled and amazed to see his Savior alive again.  But on the other, he’s carrying around this incredible guilt at his denial of Christ.  And he’s obviously defensive and scared about what Christ is telling him will happen to him.

But you have to look deeper:  Peter denied Christ to save his own skin.  Yet here is Jesus, telling Peter that one day he will – in fact – die for Christ.

Jesus is telling Peter that even though his character and loyalty failed him, and he denied Christ in the past, that one day he will not run or deny Christ, but die for him – that even though he’s failed to live up to his faith in the past, he will not fail in the future.

“Peter, one day, you will be the kind of man you want – and I designed you – to be.”

I hear those words encouraging me, because I’ve denied Christ.  I’ve denied his power in my life.  I’ve denied what he’s designed me to be.  I sin.  I wimp out in my faith.  I cower in fear when confronted.  I neglect the gifts he’s given me.  And looking back at this track record, I think I’d be scared to death if Jesus called out to me and said, “Kevin, do you love me?”

But I pray to hear the same thing Peter heard – that one day I will have the courage and the will to be the kind of man of God I’m designed to be.  All that is left for me to do is to decide:  Shall I dwell in a mediocre faith, too immobilized by fear and selfishness to truly make a difference?  Or will I choose to truly love Christ, and do whatever it takes to make the message of his love known?

Songset from Sunday, June 19

Posted: June 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

Just finished up week 3 of “At the Movies,” with “True Grit.”   Here was the songset from Sunday:

  1. Salvation – Charlie Hall
  2. Jesus Saves – Carlos Whitaker
  3. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (traditional/our own arrangement)
  4. Came to My Rescue – Hillsong
  5. He Loves Us – Jesus Culture

One of the things I think God has been hammering into my brain lately is the difference between a worship leader and song leader.  While this may be oversimplified and maybe “song leader” isn’t an adequate concept, it’s a least a starting point to think about the differences:

  • A song leader leads from the stage.  A worship leader leads both onstage and off.
  • A song leader tries to get the crowd to sing.  A worship leader tries to get a crowd to worship.
  • A song leader presumes the crowd should “get into it.”  A worship leader realizes it is his/her job to engage the crowd and lead them into what worship is.
  • A song leader attends.  A worship leader serves.
  • A song leader is the star of the show.  A worship leader attempts to be transparent, so only Christ is visible.
I think the heart of this is that anyone with a modicum of talent can stand in front of a crowd, play a song, and attempt to get a crowd to respond.  But leading must be so much more than that.

First, your life offstage MUST reflect what you are attempting to convince people to do when you are onstage.  People can always spot a fake, especially if they encounter you outside of the church walls and realize that your life – your convictions, your behavior – do not line up with what you claim to believe.

Second, you have to know your crowd – personally and spiritually.  If they are not lifting their hands, if they’re not clapping, if they’re not singing along – ask the question:  Are you LEADING them to do so?  Do you ask them to?  Do you let them know what freedom to worship means?  Better yet, do YOU, as a leader, look excited to be engaged in the act of worship?  It’s too easy to blame the crowd.  It’s much harder to examine how you lead.

Finally, how is your own walk with God?  If it’s lousy, then your effectiveness as a leader often wanes because what your claiming to celebrate is actually elusive to you.

    “These people say they are mine.
   They honor me with their lips,
      but their hearts are far from me.” – Isaiah 29:13

We must begin leading in our own lives by leading ourselves into the act of worship.  If we do not make time  – on our own – to worship and pray and read the word of God, then we not only are suffering spiritually, but we are also denying ourselves the power that drives worship.

And anything less than worship is merely singing.

Songset from Sunday, June 12

Posted: June 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

Songset from week 2 of the At the Movies series (“The Social Network”):

  1. We Stand – Lee McDerment
  2. Your Love Never Fails – Jesus Culture
  3. Change – Taylor Swift
  4. Sometimes – David Crowder Band/Passion
  5. Revelation Song – Jesus Culture

Sometimes, as worship leaders, it is far to easy to neglect the importance of the people you share the stage with. Developing a good, “serving” relationship with your team is important.

Have you ever had band members quit your team, and you’re dumbstruck by their decision to leave without warning? Yep, I thought so. Have you listened to band members’ ideas, nodded your head with a “that sounds good” comment only to forget what they said within a week? Yep, I thought so, too.

A worship team needs to be about much more than simply pulling off the worship set without a hitch. It needs to be a TEAM – even a family. Everyone onstage must embody the communal worship we are trying to lead others in – meaning, if the band is not a community that worships, how can it lead a community into worship?

Here are some things I believe God has been drilling into me lately about the dynamic of a worship team.

1. Empower your worship team. Give them a voice.

I hate to admit it, but I’m a little put off by many popular worship bands that are named after the band leader. That said, I still love the music of many of these guys and am certainly not hung up on the simple naming of a band, but it makes me think about our role as worship leaders: (1) It’s not about an individual. You are not the star; Jesus is. (2) Everyone on the team matters. So be willing to listen to how God is leading them to worship. Be willing to experiment with the kind of creativity in worship that can emerge when more than one mind is involved in planning a worship set. Doing this can build friendships and make your members feel like their actually appreciated more than just the instrument they play. Sure, as the leader of the team, you have the responsibility to “focus” the team so that ideas line up with the vision of the church or even just the specific needs of a given Sunday morning. But let your team know that their ideas – that their input – matters. And, well, that brings me to number two:

2. Your band is not doing you a favor. They are there to serve our Lord and Savior.

If your ego has grown so big that you think the band is rallying behind you – and not Christ – then, when they leave your team, don’t go whining to your lead pastor about how your band members had no “vision” for the ministry. It’s up to us to give them the vision. Obviously, sometimes those in your band might not have the right vision or right heart no matter how hard you try, BUT, make sure that doesn’t happen because you haven’t told them or modeled the vision for them. We must keep Christ out in front. We must follow him, and lead others to him. Because if we just want these guys to “help us out,” well – to be blunt – we’re just not that cool. So make sure that it’s clear to you and your team, that they’re not there to serve you, but Jesus Christ – always. Which brings me to number 3:

3. Squash language that says “I’m just a volunteer.”

First – yes, for most of us, our worship teams are made up of volunteers. They are people that have other jobs and other responsibilities. To serve on your team means that they are giving up time they used to spend doing something else. They can have wacky schedules, they can get sick, they can cringe when you throw a difficult set at them, and so on… But nothing pains me more to hear the phrase, “I’m just a volunteer.” (maybe that’s my fault – see #2).

It’s our job as leaders to be sensitive to the needs of our team members and treat our volunteers well (versus abusing their willingness to serve). But it is ALSO our responsibility to make it clear that serving is a privilege and and honor – NOT to serve with worship leader “x” in church “y” – but as people saved from death and hell by a risen Savior. It’s not, “I’m just a volunteer,” but “I’m a servant of my Savior.” There is no higher calling.

A worship team needs to be more than simply a group of musicians who share a stage together. If you want to lead the larger community of the church in worship, your team needs to be a worshipping community.

I pray that I can improve these things in how I lead my own team (who all ROCK, by the way!).