Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sin in the Camp

A few days ago the people of Knoxville were shocked to hear of arrests that were made in a sting operation. It was conducted by various law enforcement entities and had been given the codename: "Operation Someone Like Me." In it 32 people were caught and charged with various sexual crimes. Among them were two “pastors.” One was a volunteer “creative pastor” who led worship at Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge (associated with the Assemblies of God) and the other was the Children’s Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Karns. Of course the media focused almost exclusively on the two ministers. When the news broke, my phone almost melted, first from those who were making sure I had heard, and then from other leaders determining how to respond and from people wanting to ask my thoughts.

I feel I need to comment (and perhaps “vent”) a bit. There’s a cycle I find I experience when I hear this kind of news:


Let me explain (and hopefully encourage you who are struggling as well).


Like the water of a creek in a flash flood, my emotions tend to rise and jump the banks whenever something like this happens. Honestly, my first response is outrage. Words like “stupid,” “hypocrite,” and “jerk” come out of my mouth. I start thinking in ways I should not think, like imagining having two minutes alone in a room with the offender. I’m a dad. I’m increasingly sickened by the drift in our culture and the church. How can someone waging the battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil—yea, leading God’s people in battle—be so reckless and depraved. I'm mad enough at the world over issues like the sex trade industry, but this is the church! My blood pressure rises when I think of how these things hurt the gospel and I take it personally. However, I quickly realize that this initial reaction is wrong. If I am going to be mad, I should be angry at sin. Sin that I too commit in different ways.


Next I experience sorrow and heaviness of heart. Of course I think about the accused offenders’ wives and kids. How devastating. They must feel utterly betrayed. According to rumor, the Grace Baptist guy’s wife didn’t have a clue. I grieve for her. What’s worse (if possible)? Every kid thinks his or her dad is the best. He apparently has three kids ranging from kindergarten to teenager. The proverbial rug is pulled out from under them profoundly when this kind of sin is exposed, and it forms a wound that may never heal. I also think of the churches these men have served. They are right now reeling. A staff member at Grace told me everyone is quiet and numb, as if someone unexpectedly died. I also think of the setback we as the Church Proper in Knoxville will face because of this. I have already had conversations with unbelievers who promptly brought this up to me upon learning I was a pastor. Just when I feel that we are making some baby steps in becoming the humble, sincere, loving body of Christ that offers a clear alternative to the world—this happens. Already I have seen snarky comments online highlighting this as yet another example of Christians’ arrogance, corruption, hypocrisy, etc. This is indeed a setback and it saddens me.

Then, after I think of all the people these men have hurt around them, I think of them. They have essentially destroyed their own lives. They will bear the shame of perversion and corruption and self-serving immorality. They will never again work in ministry. Period. Which makes any education or experience they have gained utterly useless. All that money and sacrifice is for nothing, except to serve as a mockery. They will live with the guilt of being the ungrateful swine before whom many pearls have been cast as they have been surrounded by things of God and godly people. Their lives are also about to radically change. Prison is not a friendly place for child-sex predators or soft men in general. I’ve been there (not as an inmate). Pedophiles and child abusers hide in fear and stay in the chapel and anywhere there is supervision. They are routinely beaten and raped. Even the prisoners have an understanding of hierarchy regarding sin, and they’re considered the lowest of the low, especially among those who were abused as children themselves. They essentially exist as dead-men walking around with targets on their backs, friendless and terrified. They are to be pitied. It is sad.


This next emotion comes unexpectedly to me. I begin to reflect on our church and our staff and our volunteers and our processes. Are we doing everything humanly possible to insure this does not happen at Providence? There are three basic aspects of this. 
1. We must properly vet people before they are placed in positions of leadership. We do this in a number of ways, including background checks, looking at applicants' social media, proper interviewing, checking references (both those given by the applicant and those we dig up ourselves), and spending enough time with them to give the Holy Spirit opportunity to let us gain a sense of their spiritual health and sincerity.
2. We must shepherd them while they are leaders. This includes accountability, encouraging spiritual growth, giving reminders, and encouraging opportunities for confession of sin and grace. Yes there are some ways we can police our staff’s internet usage and computers, set policies for male/female and adult/child interactions, etc, but we should be more about the positive aspects of spiritual growth and healthy community that will allow us to see “red flags” before sin takes root.
3. We must have a plan to deal with a revelation of secret sin should it happen to us.

Of course when I think through these things I second-guess everything. I feel the worry that we are not doing enough. 

That always leads me to pray that God would spare us—starting with me—from such things. I have said this before and say it again now: I would rather God kill me than allow me to hurt the church, my family, myself, and God by some sinful scandal. I know my weaknesses and my greatest fear is that I would fall prey to some scheme of Satan to ruin my reputation and shame the name of Christ. Again, I pray that God will kill me first. And I pray that by his mercy God will spare our church from this kind of crippling scandal—be it through me or someone else. I’ve been at churches rocked by leadership scandals. They sometimes never recover. 

The scary thing is that we can do everything humanly possible to prevent these things, but human beings are sinful. And Satan is a great deceiver who has millennia of experience. So we are wise to fear. This might keep us humble and reliant on God who alone is able to preserve us and grow us and even conquer through us. This is why we should pray fervently and constantly to this end. Fear is good if fear drives me to pray.


It is when I realize my frailty and God’s might that my heavy heart is relieved and my soul rejoices in his greatness and wisdom and glory. He is able. He is undefeated. Our God is completely in control and even uses these instances of human failure to bring about his will. He always has and he always will. My mind is right now flooding with historical examples of this! God used the scandal of Achan after Jericho (Joshua 7) to humble and focus Israel in order to conquer the Promised Land. God used the scandal of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) to purify the church in the early stages of its growth and cause “the people [to hold] them in high esteem” (Acts 5:13). God used the scandals of European popes and the church’s corruption to bring about the Protestant Reformation that saved the church and the gospel. I could go on.

The word “worship” conveys the attribution of worthiness toward someone. It literally means “to kiss toward” in homage and humility, as a lowly subject would bow before a great king and kiss his feet. I understand worship as an act of complete surrender to God who alone is worthy. Brokenness is the beginning of true worship. The fact that I am so unworthy leads me to the glorious truth that he is infinitely worthy of my awe and my all. Rejoicing springs forth from that soil. I find my worth in him who is and find my purpose in his. I find my joy in pleasing him. This is a satisfaction with which the world and Satan can not compete!


Therefore, we can not be discouraged by news of human scandal. Angry? Hurt? Disappointed? Perhaps. But never discouraged or defeated. We are to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). The church, with all her flaws, is still Christ’s bride; and hell’s defenses cannot overcome her or her mission. We must lovingly, wisely, and aggressively denounce sin, treat the wounds of others, demand justice while offering forgiveness for the repentant offender, and positively hold up Christ as the answer.

What cannot happen? Satan can't be allowed to use his victory in the personal life of an Achan or an Ananias or a Leo X of our day to discourage and defeat the rest of us. No. The rest of us must rise up to clearly provide an alternative (accurate) picture of Christianity to the world—a Christ-picture. With measured words, we must acknowledge anger, sadness, and fear; with humility we must worship; and with determination we must carry on in our mission—his mission.

1 comment:

Phil B said...

If we define sin as "missing the mark" (as I think I've heard you define it before), then this post is definitely "ON the mark," a literal bulls-eye of the reactions many of us go through when we hear this kind of news. I identify with your statement on "fear" because the thought always runs through my head like this: "If it can happen to an ordained minister, then surely it could happen to me as well." Porn and temptation are everywhere (anyone watch the "Dancing with the Stars" final last night? I had to avert my eyes several times), and it's just so easy to let a momentary glance turn into a fixed gaze turn into my thoughts heading in directions I really don't want them to.

Our only hope through this, I think, rests in two areas:
1. Accountability to our closest friends, people who will ask us the tough questions every week about what's going on in our lives. For me, the questions my buddy L always asks of me, and me of him, is "How's your eye discipline? Any slips lately? How's your connection to your wife?" Without this, I'd just continue to wallow in shame and defeat.

2. Quick confession when sin happens. We ALL sin. We ALL fall short. It's how we react to this that makes a difference. A quick text to my buddies that just says "Pray" is our code for them to join the fight against temptation, and when we fail in that, we know that our next Friday breakfast is going to involve breaking down what happened.

Even as I type this, the devil keeps hitting me with the word "hypocrite" because he knows all too well my failures. My only response back to that accusation is simple: "I plead the blood of Jesus Christ." As the old hymn goes, nothing else can wash away my sin, so it's the only response I need to have.