A couple of days ago there was an explosion in my house. The people in my family are “bottlers” meaning when something makes us angry we bottle it up and hope it goes away. That way we don’t offend each other or hurt each other’s feelings, right? Sometimes it works and problems go away. Other times, anger builds up until it can’t be contained. When you mix bottled anger with a lack of sleep, stress from work, and other pressures and concerns of life, you have a very volatile situation. All it takes a spark and KABOOM!!! Words are yelled, feelings are hurt, the dog runs for cover and rest of the day is ruined.
But this isn’t supposed to happen to me. I am supported by a local church as a spiritual leader. People look to me for spiritual guidance. I stand at a pulpit every week in order to encourage people to live according to the pattern described in the Bible. It’s not fake. I don’t say anything I don’t believe, but sometimes I just fall short of the very standards I preach.
Father’s Day was the next day. I had my message already prepared, but before I could deliver it to others, I was forced to digest a lesson in humility. If my own household is in disorder, how am I fit to lead God’s household. I would be speaking to people who I needed to listen to. I’ve been married 25 years. My children are now adults, but it remains to be seen if the faith I tried on to pass to them will take root and produce fruit. Each week I speak to those who have been married twice as long. They have seen the fruit of their faith in their children. Who am I to speak to them? Do I have anything to offer in my flawed condition.
If perfection is the standard for leadership, then clearly I’m not qualified. The only one to achieve perfection was hung on a cross hundreds of years ago. But just maybe that’s the whole idea. God has continually worked with the flawed to accomplish his will. In the Bible, we can read songs of worship written by a man who was an adulterer and a murderer; yet he goes down in history as a man after God’s own heart. A good portion of the New Testament was written be a man who sought to murder disciples of Jesus. God preserved humanity through a man whom after being saved from the great flood gets so drunk that he impregnates his two daughters. I could go on and on. God works through sinful people. He doesn’t have much choice; we’ve all sinned.
So, how do I handle my screw ups? How do I maintain a sense of self-worth when I continually fail to measure up to my own standards? We all do things we regret, but there are proper and improper ways of dealing with that regret. Paul wrote, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Cor 7:10). So below I will go over three improper ways of dealing with our sins followed by three proper ways.
- We shouldn’t trivialize our sin. We do this in a couple ways. One is to look at the sins of others as being worse than our own. The other is to simply think of our sins aren’t so bad. This can be done no matter what the sin is too. “So I watch a little pornography, I’m not hurting anyone.” You can always find ways of justifying your actions, and still manage to think of yourself as morally superior to those around you. Even those who go as far as murder can still manage to justify their actions. One of the accusations I hear against the church on a regular basis is that it is full of hypocrites. The problem isn’t that church members sin. The problem is the self-righteous attitude that comes from those who consider everybody else’s sins as worse than their own.
- We shouldn’t hide our sin. You can try to hide sin all you want, but you can’t hide your sin from yourself, and you can’t hide it from God. When we confess our sins to God, and repent, we are promised forgiveness through the blood of Jesus (1 Jn. 1:9). But forgiveness doesn’t always resolve the issue. It was James who told us to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other (Jam. 5:16).” But James wasn’t saying to do this for the forgiveness of sins. He said to do this “so that you may be healed.” Sometimes you don’t just need forgiveness from God, you need it from people too. You need to know that people can love you even if they know your flaws. Hiding sins isn’t dealing with them. In fact, it may only keep you in bondage.
- We shouldn’t give up. It’s really easy for me to think, maybe I should just shut up. I’m so flawed that I don’t have anything to offer to anybody else. The humility here is actually a good thing, but the application couldn’t be more wrong. All of us have something we can offer to somebody. Sometimes we give encouragement; other times we receive it. The same is true with correction, love, and service. To shut up is to give up. To speak up is to hold yourself accountable. There may be people faking, but that can only go on for so long before something must give. The fact is when you start speaking up, your words will get you to measure up.
Now for the beneficial ways of dealing with our shortcomings.
- Admit our own sinfulness. We don’t like to consider our own sins; we’d much rather look at the sins of others instead. This is why Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Mt. 7:3-5). We don’t get the right to look down on others. Maybe their sins have caused more pain than our own, but the fact remains: we’ve all sinned. As a result we must be humble in our assessment of others, and we must be loyal in our desire to change.
- Confess our sins. Instead of hiding our sins, we need to confess them. Not just to God, but to another person. By confessing your sins, you are forcing accountability and you are literally releasing yourself from the chains binding you to the sin. It works just like blackmail. You can keep your sins hidden, but it will cost you–a lot. By coming clean and dealing with the consequences, you can’t be blackmailed anymore. We think if people really know us, they won’t like us. Although this is true in some cases, there are many people who would welcome you with open arms. A while back, I had a friend speak to me about his addiction to pornography. I had another who admitted to an affair. Both were active in the church. Should I have looked down on them? Absolutely not!!! Fist of all, these people honored me with one of the greatest gifts that be given. They gave me trust to the highest degree in revealing their deep pain. Second, these men had taken the hardest step in dealing with their sin. Not only were they saying they could trust in me, but I knew I could trust in them as well. We must be careful who we reveal ourselves to. Some people are not mature enough to handle it. However, the outcome is quite worth the risk.
- Learn from our sins. Most of my greatest lessons have been taught through my greatest mistakes. If they weren’t so painful, I would not have learned. Sometimes your mistakes may cost you money, a job, a spouse, a child. Sin cost plenty. I quit drinking after my second DUI back in 1987. I was fined heavily, I was jailed, I was hospitalized for a 6 week rehabilitation program, I lost my license for several years, and I almost lost my job. BUT I LEARNED!!! I could have killed somebody. I don’t know if I could have recovered from the remorse if I did. A drunk driver killed my cousin’s child. It could have just as easily been my daughter or son killed. It could also just as easily been my son, my daughter or myself who did the killing. No matter how much our sin cost us, the important thing is to learn. God will forgive our sins, but there are still consequences we have to face. Consequences are like the tuition we pay for the lesson. You’re going to pay the tuition, but will you learn the lesson?
I have seen the ugliness of sin first hand. I have personally broken most of the Ten Commandments, and those I haven’t broke I’ve contemplated. When most people hear of crimes on the news they think of the criminal as a horrible person. My first thought? That could have been me.
We all continue to make mistakes. Some of those mistakes hurt people and the ones we love very much. The guilt and shame can be overwhelming. I guess that is what I love about Christianity. In Jesus we find forgiveness. compassion, and direction. In the church, in spite of all the flaws, you can still find companionship, forgiveness, love, encouragement, accountability, and so much more. You just have to open your eyes and take some risks. We’re all just sinners helping other sinners on a road to righteousness. We all have moments of weakness, but we have moments of strength too. The whole trick is working together.