Monday Morning Insights

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    How should a pastor deal with temptation?

    How should a pastor deal with temptation?

    Each year as I research and write content for MMI, my heart is saddened by the same story:  pastoral moral failure.  It seems that only the names and locations change.  Mostly, it's sexual sins.  Sometimes financial. But always incredibly disheartening and always terribly devastating to the body of Christ.

    All of these 'falls from grace' start with one thing:  temptation.  When temptation enters the life of a church leader, it is always a cross roads.  And it seems like, if pastors and church leaders could just learn to respond to temptation correctly, we could eliminate many of these tragic falls and save a lot of face, save a lot of marriages, and keep a lot of churches from tremendous amounts of hurt and damage.

    Here's my solution this morning.  I've shared this clip here before, but it's one of my favorites.  When it comes to temptation and the acting out of those things we are tempted to do, you really only have to remember two words:

    Seem rather harsh?

    Well, the Bible says that we are to FLEE from temptation.  Rather, actually, we are to STOP IT, before we ever START IT.

    But that's not how temptation works many times, is it?  It is so easy to get drawn into something.  And once you're there, it's easier the next time, and the next time.

    STOP IT.

    But my wife doesn't give me much attention.  

    Oh no... we're not going there.  STOP IT.

    But you don't know how stressful my job at the church is.  

    We're not going there either.  STOP IT.

    Here's what I see... the longer you keep sinning, the worse your excuses get.

    The grand-daddy of excuses came in the most recent GQ interview with Ted Haggard.

    In essence, Haggard says... I visited a gay prostitute and bought some crystal meth so that I could use it to make my sexual self gratification last long while I watched porn.

    There are so many times that he should have just STOPPED IT.

    But he was molested as a child.

    Oh no... we're not going there.

    But the church is so unfair and judgmental.

    Oh no, we're DEFINITELY not going there.

    Pastor, if you've recently succumbed to temptation.  I have two words for you:  STOP IT.

    Is this an oversimplification?  Absolutely.

    Can all sin and temptation simply be solved by STOPPING IT?  Probably not... a good dose of a counselor (who is not Bob Newhart) is probably necessary.  But the time to stop making excuses and continuing in the behavior that will most definitely rob you of your job and your family is now.  STOP IT.

    Flee from the temptation.  Turn around and run from the temptation as fast as you can.

    Even in the most severe temptation... even if you're the most deprived person who has fallen to temptation in the past, God has a plan and a promise:

    There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear, but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted abouve that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of excape, that ye may be able to endure it.  I Corinthians 10:13.




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    1. Jim F. on Mon, January 31, 2011

      Love the video - I watched it a few weeks ago and it made me laugh but as you point out so well it is Truth.

      Sometimes it is simply about Stopping doing the thing that is tempting you or getting away!

      Thanks for the smile and thoughtful post!

    2. Serving Strong on Mon, January 31, 2011

      I’m saddened by reports of moral failure as well. Thank you for posting on the topic. It’s so needed for staying strong in ministry.

    3. Leonard on Mon, January 31, 2011

      RUN!!!!!  I think we get mixed up in our responses to sin and Satan.  We stand against temptation and run from Satan.  The bible teaches us to run from temptation and to stand against Satan. 

      I also believe we forget to look at what those who went before us did with temptation.  Jesus faced it through scripture.  Others faced it through accountability.  Many faced it through a pursuit of holiness.  These are not bad things. 

      Isolation kills spiritual vitality.  I will not thrive if I live this life by myself.  Facing temptation for me personally has much to do with removing the places temptation enters my life.  Filters on my computer, avoiding environments where I could or would be tempted, not getting involved with improper relationships. 

      Keeping in the light and never telling myself I can handle it… 

      Just a few thoughts, thanks for the question.

    4. Matt on Mon, January 31, 2011

      �Choosing to Change in Five Days�
      Day one: I went for a walk down a street. I fell into a hole. I didn�t see it. It took me a long time to get out. It�s not my fault.
      Day two: I went for a walk down the same street. I fell into the same hole. It took me a long time to get out. Why did I do that?
      Day three: I went for a walk down the same street. I fell in the same hole. I got out quickly. It is my fault.
      Day four: I went for a walk down the same street. I saw the hole. I walked around it.
      Day five: I went for a walk down a different street. I can�t handle it when I go down that street. Every time I go down that street, I feel something sucking me down that hole! I�m not going down that street anymore! I don�t like what happens on that street. And when I get there, I can�t handle it. I don�t want sin to reign in my body so I�m not going down that street anymore.
      -James MacDonald, “I really want to change so help me God”

    5. carpathia on Mon, January 31, 2011

      The video reduced my counselings sessions to five minutes and increased my income! lol

      I think one problem (and not an excuse) is the isolation system pastors allow themselves to fall into. Can’t talk to your congregation or people with think you are spiritually weak and possibly fire you, or can’t speak to fellow pastors for similar reasons. Pastors need to get aggressive about forming friendships with other pastors; not just power lunches, but spending discretionary time together. I personally see the developing of these friendships to be one of the most powerful weapons against temptations that cause leaders to fall.

    6. Matt Morton on Mon, January 31, 2011

      Couldn’t have said it better. Taking thoughts captive before they get out of control would do a great deal to stop temptation before it overtakes us!

    7. Bob on Mon, January 31, 2011

      Experienced the fall very early in ministry. A gracious God rebuilt my life and ministry career. I learned many lessons through that experience, not the least of which is this: Our reaction to temptation reveals what is already in our hearts. Here’s another tip from someone who has been there: Ask God every day to take that desire out of you. When I do that, I find that I’m not so conflicted about whether I should run.

    8. Eric on Tue, February 01, 2011

      Bob. Sorry to hear about your fall. Good to know you have used that experience to be wiser in your life and ministry. 

      I personally think all great leaders have overcome some failing. That’s part of great leadership. King David was a great leader and had great failures. We need to learn from both.

      We pastors sometimes forget that we are susceptible to sin and sexual temptation. When we think we are “untouchable” we become easier targets. Knowing we can fall makes us a bit more alert.

      I once heard advice that it is better to be considered a prude than the alternative. Wish I could claim it. One Sunday at church the youth heard me mentioning kissing my wife. They groaned in mocking disgust. I walked away actually pleased with their reaction. smile

    9. stvnhthr on Tue, February 01, 2011

      One of my all time favorite Mad TV videos.

      Leonard above got it right, isolation breeds an atmosphere for sin.  Hard to believe but it is easier in a Mega-Church to be isolated than in a small church.  Everyone assumes the Pastor is doing something important and is wise enough to have accountability.

      So accountability is key, but we also need to create an environment where restoration is modeled and normal.  I often wonder if the reason why there were so many ways to become defiled in the OT was so all the Jewish people would get used to seeing each other outside the camp in repentance mode. 

      first guy:“Why you here?”
      second guy :“I ate shellfish, I just can’t control myself around shrimp cocktail.  You?”
      first guy: “accidentally touched this dead squishy thing.  I feel stupid about it, but it is good to know I’m not the only one who makes mistakes.”

      Now days repentance, discipline, and reconciliation are seldom seen in the church and when it is seen it is handled poorly.  I know of several cases where a brother was run out of the church with good cause but no plan for restoration and their being brought back put into place.

      Accountability needs to be exercised and forgiveness has to be plentiful.  We need to do a better job of creating a safe environment for brothers who sin to be restored.

    10. stvnhthr on Tue, February 01, 2011

      I guess my previous post could sound like I support cheap grace.  I want to make it clear that grace is extremely expensive, but Christ purchased it for us so we can use as much as we need with those caught in sin.

      We�ve created an environment like the carnivorous Pitcher Plant in the church.  A Pitcher Plant lures its prey in with the promise of sweet nectar, once inside the insect can�t turn around or it will get stabbed with sharp hairs, or other difficult to maneuver obstacles so the only real option is to keep going forward and deeper into the trap.  By making forgiveness difficult and grace scarce we create a spiritual Pitcher Plant where the promise of the forbidden nectar is more appetizing than the reality of the unforgiving church.  If God is quick to forgive and restore so should we.  Imagine if a brother caught in sin looked back and saw instead of sharp pokers keeping him trapped but rather dozens of hands of forgiven sinners reaching down to help them out.

    11. stvnhthr on Tue, February 01, 2011

      note to self:  I should not post while trying to watch three kids off school on a snow day.

      In the above illustration sin is the trap, not the church, but the church sometimes augments the attraction of sin rather than provides a safe path out.

      geesh I feel silly

    12. Todd Rhoades on Tue, February 01, 2011

      No problem Steven… I see you’ve found the blog!  We have some interesting discussions here!

      We should get together for lunch before the next home group.  Give me a call or drop me an email if you’re interested.  My treat.


    13. Mark Simpson on Tue, February 01, 2011

      Besides “stop it” I think we should all see the simplicity of the answer.  All that we do, stems from relationship.  A close relationship with Jesus, and with my wife, would make any alternatives absolutely and immediately abhorrent.  “I fear God” also means I fear doing anything that would hurt our relationship.  The same goes for my wife.  Take that relationship away or let it become distant, and all kinds of sin and the discombobulated excuses that accompany it, will grow quickly strong.  Be so close to Him and your spouse and, well, . . . you wouldn’t even think of it!

    14. toddh on Tue, February 01, 2011

      Good as the “stop it” advice seems on the surface, it’s just not how people work - be they Christian or otherwise.  Seems like sage advice - if you shouldn’t do something, then just don’t do it.  Makes sense.  But no matter how much you tell that to me, I’m still going to eat too much at dinner tonight, and then have a nice snack afterward.  Then I’m going to play video games until the wee hours of the morning, even though I know I should go to bed and get more than 5 hours of sleep.

      My friend the smoker still won’t be able to quit, and his friend the alcoholic will still keep drinking.  We’ll all keep lusting after women.  And so on.  Wouldn’t it be great if “stop it” was the answer?  If we could all just be super-rational and not do stupid stuff?  That would be great, but it’s just never going to happen.  There’s got to be a better way to deal with our brokenness and propensity to do and say stupid things, even when we know better and wish we could stop it. 

      Hmm… I think I remember the apostle Paul wishing he could stop doing all the stupid stuff he did, but ultimately failing…  hmm…

    15. rbud on Wed, February 02, 2011

      Simplistic? Yes, but conceptually palatable. It’s kind of a Homer Simpson approach to problem solving, until to get to the line, “We don’t go there,” which highlights the rationalizations we often use for poor behavior.

      On another note, I get a little disconcerted for the way religious folks toss around the phrase “fall from grace.” Following Biblical teaching, it reflects an incorrect understanding of grace and improper use of the phrase. It seems to me we could find some better expression for sin behavior.

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