CP#28: Confronting Sin

Lesson #28:  Confronting Sin

One of the most difficult things a leader has to do is confront sin.   This past week I preached on Joshua 7 where the sin of one man, Achan, brings “trouble” upon the entire community.   In most sermons like this, mine being no exception, the main focus often rests with Achan–the man who hides his sin and destroys his family.  What many who read this passage often ignore, the one thing the church planter needs to pay special attention to, is Joshua–the leader who has to deal with it.

If the biblical pattern for God’s leader’s is any sign, then the church planter should expect sin to rear its ugly head.  It happened to Moses and Joshua in Israel and in happened in the early Church with Peter, James, and John (See Acts 4).   The leader will have to decide whether or not they are going to confront the sin.  Confronting sin means more than just pointing a finger at it; it means removing it.  Joshua never hunted down the sin like some sort of “purity mercenary”, but when impurity revealed itself, he dealt with it with all impartiality.  What I mean is, like Joshua, the sin needing confrontation rarely comes from critics outside the church, rather, it comes from within the family, often with dear friends, even other leaders.  It is very difficult to confront sin, especially in those we love,, because we wrongly view confrontation as unloving.  I would argue it is not only unloving to allow people to be comfortable in their sin, it does not glorify God.  But we can also fail to glorify God in the confrontation itself.  Below are five ways I have managed to screw this up as a leader:

1.  Minimize the Sin:  This is where the sin is not taken seriously.  Instead of calling it what it is, the sin becomes “redefined” as an unfortunate character flaw but–anything but rebellion against God.  If it isn’t truly rebellion, then it isn’t sin that needs to be confessed or repented of.  It becomes behavior that can be managed…or not.

2.  Excuse the Sin:  This is when we justify sin by blaming it on something outside of the heart.  This includes but is not limited to personality, experiences, circumstances, or a bad day.  Excusing sin like this makes the individual out to be a victim, powerless to reform.  Unfortunately, such an approach denies the power of the gospel to transform.

3.  Ignore the Sin:  This is when the leader pretends he doesn’t see the sin.  I grew up with five dogs in our house.  The dogs were “potty trained” but occasionally they would leave a present.  The “rule” was whoever saw the poop cleaned up the poop.  Strangely, no one ever saw the poop–we ignored it.  Like poop, sin cannot be ignored and it cannot be wished away.  Eventually it will stink and make you sick.  Either clean up the mess now or clean up a bigger one later.

4.  Mis-identify the Sin:  Similar to minimizing sin, when you mis-identify sin, you fail to go beyond the surface of the behavior to the heart.  Confronting someone like this usually goes very badly because you end up addressing something that might be irritating but not necessarily sinful.  For example, a person failing to tithe may evidence selfishness OR simply ignorance of how the Bible calls them to sacrifice.  While they may need to be confronted and coached, they may not need to confess and repent.

5.  Over-exaggerate the Sin: This is when the leader overreacts to something sinful to the extent that we lose the forgiveness of the gospel.  In other words, they fail to lead with the gospel when we ignore sin AND when we try not to.  This leader must have a firm grip on gospel sanctification before confronting sin.  Without this, you will view those you confront as hopeless sinners and they will view you as a helpless pastor.

Know that no leader can or should confront sin unless his own sin has been confronted.  Jesus makes it clear that we cannot help anyone get a speck out of their eye until we remove the log from our own.  But once it is removed, we are expected to perform surgery, to be brutal with sin and, as Jesus commands, to cut off that which causes us to stumble personally and corporately.

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Joshua Six and Six Different Sermons

Last week I preached on Joshua 6, The Battle of Jericho.  The more I study and preach God’s Word, the more I learn how deep you can drill it for truth.  With every sermon I preach, I am forced to emphasize one part of the text, one verse, or one them at the expense of another.  Deciding what to emphasize is difficult as it means certain death (-cide) to whatever you choose not to emphasize.

Joshua 6 is no exception.  I could have preached six unique sermons out of this one chapter, all emphasizing a different and equally powerful truth.  As I personally have heard a hundred sermons over my life asking, “What is your Jericho?”, focusing on God’s victory over impossible odds, I choose instead to focus on God’s Holiness.  Of course, if you are really going to hit God’s Holiness than you are required to really hit man’s sin.  This can often end up sounding like a fire and brimstone type of sermon that will either empty your church or empty people’s hearts of their self-righteous pride.  That should probably be the desire response to every sermon.

When you are left to choose between God’s Power and God’s Holiness, there really is no way to lose. But, I thought I’d list five other ways that I might preach Joshua 6 should I ever get the opportunity again:

1.  Big Damn Wall: A sermon focusing on that ONE BIG thing that is impossible without God.  Life presents us difficult trials that, from our perspective, seem hopeless.  God puts us there so that we will have to depend on Him. Trials are not always suffering, but that place you don’t want to be because its difficult to move, change, or decide.

2.  Blood on my Hands:  A sermon focusing on the fact that God made the warriors complete the fight.  In essence, God wants  men to see firsthand the idolatry that sin causes and the brutality required to expunge it.

3. A Citizen of Jericho: Though I touched on this in 2nd service, this sermon would focus on the reality that I am a “Jerichoian” in this story. The sin is not out in the world…it is in my heart.

4. Shut up and March: When Brent Rood came and preached about wilderness, he spoke about silence.  What he said was that if you can still talk, whether it is to complain, argue, or even explain–then you are not probably in wilderness yet.  Wilderness is where you have nothing BUT God, where you march silently because everything else has failed.  Silence is not only demanded by God, that we might experience his presence, but it is even used by God to “force” us to follow.

5.  I am a prostitute: This sermon would focus on the fact that God saved a prostitute–someone who sleeps with a lot of men.  If you think about it, God could have used a myriad of occupations in this story, but this is the one he perfectly chose.  In view of books like Hosea, and much of the Old Testament, the choice makes sense as a perfect description of idolators like you and me.  Jesus is the perfect husband but, the truth is, we sleep with a lot of saviors instead of Him.

Regardless of the title and focus, all of the sermons preach the same thing–Jesus.  In short summary: I am bad.  Jesus is good.  I worship me.  Jesus wants me to worship Him.  I am want to kill God because I am dead in my sin.  Jesus saves me by submitting to death and gives me new life through his resurrection.  I still struggle with sin in this foreign land. Jesus still fights until He comes to bring me home.  Amen.

Four years old & Pregnant

I love Damascus Road.  I look forward to being with them, enjoy laughing with them, serving them, caring for them, and being loved by them.  Damascus Road Church turned four years old this week, on November 4th.  We’ve seen this newborn baby church grow into a potty trained toddler.  And now, this four-year old is about to do it all over again and launch a new plant in Mt. Vernon.  Amazing.  Humbling.  Crazy. As such, I have spent a lot of time with Jesus this week, listening to him remind me about how wonderful and horrible this journey has been.  In the last four years, I have learned more about God than the previous 32 years combined.  I have also come face to face with my own depravity.  The only way I can even recognize the many GRACES of God is to, at the same time, recognize my own weaknesses, mistakes, and sin that made that grace necessary.  Matthew 16.18 has never rung more true for me.  God has built his church despite me.

Providentially, Spurgeon’s devotional, Morning and Evening has the following written on the anniversary of Damascus Road Church:

“For my strength is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12.9…A primary qualification for serving God with any amount of success, and for doing God’s work well and triumphantly, is a sense of our weakness.  When God’s warrior marches forth to battle, strong in his own might, when he boasts, “I know I shall conquer my own right arm and my own conquering sword shall get unto me the victory,” defeat is not far distant…Those who serve God must serve him in his own way, and in his strength, or he will never accept their service.”

In four years, I have learned that I am not a savior who can save anything–though I have tried.  I have learned to depend on God for his strength, and that His strength often comes through individuals who love Jesus and make sacrifices in service to him.  And though there are countless people God has used to build this church, I wanted to thank a few who I believe helped hold the trowel in building a firm foundation the early in the first couple years:

Aaron & Kandice Wartes:  Aaron and Kandice were one of the first couples who signed on to the core team.  No offense to those who joined the early team, but I was fairly convinced that our group would be a ragamuffin troop of kids who always got picked last on the playground.  When Aaron and Kandice’s called and said, “we’re in”, I was filled with a renewed confidence in God’s providence.  From there, Aaron and Kandice did a lot–they still do.  Aaron volunteered to lead the kid’s ministry when no one else did.  Unlike the average Acts 29, college-aged church, our was immediately filled with families.  Aaron led a ministry he had never led, and I am grateful to God for him.  If I was Paul, he was Barnabas–quieting critics and encouraging me all the way.  His bride did music, ran our finances, and challenged me with questions like, “What is the difference between missional and seeker sensitive?”  I love them both very much.

Brad & Kim Loomis: Brad and Kim were one of, if not the first couple that signed on for this crazy trip.  Brad was, and is, and amazing musician.  Having led worship for youth and kids, he was now burdened with the amazing privilege of leading a new church in worship every Sunday.  In the early years, we spent many days dreaming together, envisioning what Damascus Road might look like and imagining how music worked into that mission.  Brad is an amazing song writer and, as a practice, he would present new songs to the elders by singing them to us.  It was awesome.  I’ll never forget the time I preached on Psalm 46 and told Brad that it might be cool to write a song using that Psalm some day.  He surprised me and played it that week.  His bride Kim has the same artistic gift and, though didn’t appreciate my shout out one Sunday, wrote her own songs.  We still sing some of them today.  Brad and Kim were important builders in the foundation that is Damascus Road.  There are all kinds of permanent fingerprints from the Loomis family on the Road, from the music we sing, to the Green Damascus Road Street sign in the commons, to the coffee maker that sits in my kitchen.  I love them.  I miss them.  And though God decided that we take separate roads, I will always be thankful that we began on the same one.

Debbie Quire: Debbie Quire is a good friend that I don’t get to see too often anymore.  It has been several years since God moved her into a new community, but her influence in the early years will always be remembered.  Debbie was the first one to lead our ministry to women.   Debbie Quire was there to be the voice that protected the leadership from the handicap of “manishness”.  She knew the women, served the women, and made sure the elders of the church cared for the women.  I am forever thankful, not just for the time and energy she put into ministry, but how she ministered to me.  She constantly encouraged me to take risks, to lead boldly, and to unapologetically preach the word.

Matt Nickel & Rachel Nickel: The first wedding I ever officiated was for Matt and Rachel Nickel on September 9, 2006.  On Sunday, September 10th, Damascus Road Church held its first Sunday morning gathering (a breakfast).   September 9th was the first day that I actually felt like a “real” pastor, signing their marriage certificate made me feel “legit”.   It was Matt and I, perhaps more than any other, who sat up late at night, drinking too much coffee, and dreamed about a new church.   It was Matt who gave me books to read that totally offended me theology, but challenged by missiology.  It was Matt who would throw out the hard questions like:  “Should we have membership?”  or “Can we play secular music on Sundays?”  It wasn’t the answers that were necessarily important, but with his encouragement, we made sure we asked the hard questions–and we had some fun.  All the creative ads, cool websites, emo style garage services, and edgy events were a part of Matt’s (and Rachel’s) handiwork.  My best and most lasting memory, however, is sitting up late at night (or early in the morning 1am), on the night before we launched publicly at the Elementary School on Nov. 4th.   We were trying to figure out how to put our “lights” together for the stage…we didn’t have a clue.  We laughed, drank coffee, and debated about whether anyone would show up the next day.  Little did we know…

I am thankful for all of the “stones”, the people, that God has built into a monument to Himself.  I look forward to seeing more stones added to the pile as we grow and take the gospel deeper and farther.