Megachurch Pastor Resigns Over Moral Failure: what does it mean?

moral-failure2Another famous preacher has fallen.

Moral failure is what they’re calling it in the news.

It is my single biggest fear. Perhaps it’s because I have witnessed the cultural aftershock every time a Christian leader falls into scandalous sin. It could be that I’ve been up close with one too many people who felt the pain of a moral failure first-hand. Or perhaps it’s because I have come alarmingly close to far too many “failures” of my own. I could fall tonight.

I feel this. I can only imagine what my pastor-brother is going through. It pains me to think about the conversations he had to have with his wife and children. I hurt for his family and his church and the Ft. Lauderdale Christian community. It breaks my heart.

Some people want blood: Shoot the offender. Here’s another example of mega-religion gone bad. Others call for a pardon. Let he who has no sin cast the first stone, we say. Nobody’s perfect; God understands. There are no easy answers.

What constitutes a moral failure anyway? Why are some sins more “scandalous” than others? Funny you never hear about a pastor being disqualified for arrogance or gluttony or gossip; just sex or fraud. Does it make a difference if he came forward and confessed instead of being caught? Do we treat this differently if he was a small group leader in a church? What about a drummer in a church worship band?

Here are some random thoughts directed toward our little tribe to chew on in a moment like this.

1. Sin is no joke. It always kills. It always hardens the heart. It always deceives. It always has consequences. It’s not that God won’t forgive. Of course he will. It’s just that the longer we delay our repentance the greater the gravitational pull of our darkness. I think about the children of professing Christians who are forced to silently watch their parents make decisions that violate the will of God. They will pay a price for years to come. I’m not throwing a stone. I can sympathize with the restlessness of a cheating husband. I have seen the pain of the scorned wife. I relate to the allure of materialism. Here’s the point: Deal with your darkness. It’s not just going away.

2. Sex sins are different. Enough of the idiotic cliché that says a sin is a sin. Let’s get real. When we sin sexually, it’s different. The apostle Paul said that when a man sleeps with a prostitute he becomes one with her. There is some sort of a soul-tie that happens when we engage in sexual sin. It messes with your soul. If you have been in sexual sin, I beg you to repent deeply and quickly. This often means reaching out for healing.

3. You’re not wired to thrive as a lone ranger. I’m always reminded of how inspiring the life of David was – until his friend Jonathon died. While he was a nobody, and while Jonathon was around, he was slaying giants and writing scripture and living boldly. But post-Jonathon he’s a different story. He commits adultery and murder and a governmental cover-up; he numbers the people and his family falls apart. Position, success, and prominence are too dangerous to endure on your own. It seems we have a need to be deeply known and deeply loved AND deeply accountable – especially when we ascend to our “thrones.” I always wonder if a fallen pastor had any Jonathons.

4. We have to rediscover the forgotten discipline of confession. When we confess our sins to God he forgives us and cleanses us (1 John 1:9). But when we appropriately confess to each other we have the opportunity to be fixed: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, THAT YOU MAY BE HEALED.” (James 5:16) What sort of friend should you goto to confess? Someone who would actually respond with a healing prayer.

5. A warning to fellow pastors: One of the most dangerous things about ministry is that it can be learned. With enough talent and hard work, you just might get good at this. What a pity. One of the saddest verses in all of Scripture for me involves Samson, who had been on a slow but steady decline away from God. When his hair was finally cut, he got up to shake himself just like he had so many times before, but he did not realize the touch of God had left him. Don’t become a professional.

6. A plea to people who love their leaders and elders: Pray for them! Of course we believe in the priesthood of all believers. But let’s be honest. This is a career path unlike others. If a salesman has a moral failure, we shake our heads and move on. If the president has a moral failure, he obviously gets to keep his job. But in this line of work you lose everything. And don’t forget Mondays. Just ask a pastor what their soul goes through for about 24 hours following intense ministry every weekend. Pray.

7. It’s easy to get cynical when you hear about another Christian failure. But cynicism is soul-laziness. You cannot love people and be cynical at the same time. Choose love.

8. We have to become more fluent in grace. Most Christians functionally believe that the saving work of Jesus will forgive them, but it’s going to be their own hard work and striving that will grow them. Somehow we MUST come to grips with the reality that the same work of Jesus that justified us is precisely what we need to sanctify us. We need to learn to APPLY the gospel of amazing grace.

Beware, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called “today”, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13)

Did you catch that? My heart gets hard! Your heart gets hard! But we have the power to melt each other’s hardened hearts. The grace of God through the people of God has no equal. This means it’s not too late for this fallen pastor in south Florida. And it’s not too late for you.

 

Start with why

Why?I’m thinking about the Why? question this morning.

Everywhere I turn I hear another mission statement for some group.  “This is what we are about.”  Even when you meet new people, the first thing you hear about is what they do for a living. It’s not that what is not important; it’s just that what never clicks until you hit the why.

Why is like fuel.

One of the most famous stories in Hebrew Scripture is about a little guy named David that takes down a big giant named Goliath. That’s the what. Everybody knows the story. But the question is why?

Great stories always start with why.

What we find behind-the-scenes is an errand boy bringing some food to his older brothers serving in the army of the king. When he arrives the whole camp is shaking in their boots. Goliath is taunting and the people of God are afraid.  So David shows up wide-eyed and fired up, fully assuming that someone is going to step up to the plate and take out the pagan bully. To his surprise, there are no volunteers, only excuses.  When he calls his brothers on the carpet, they try to shut him up and send him away, but they only stir his passion further. Finally, he utters the kind of words that have the chemistry to change history:

Is there not a cause?

And the rest is history. Give me a man with a cause over a man with a skill any day of the week, because a man with a why will always find a way. Give me a woman with a cause over a woman with a mission statement. Give me a student with a cause over a student with “potential”.

Your cause answers your why question. Your cause addresses the holy sense of discontent that God uses like a clue for your call.

What drives you crazy? What is it that you simply cannot overlook? What injustice is too much to bear? What potential, if left unrealized, won’t let you sleep? It’s a clue. Are you searching for your purpose? Chances are, it is wrapped around the why question. And the answer to that why is loaded with some of your deepest frustration.

But it’s also confirmed with some of your deepest joy.

So go for it. Do the hard work of the soul and get down to the why?

Are you tired of growing weary? Start with why? Are you sick of going in circles?  Figure out the why? Are you fed up with fruitless meetings? Begin with why? Is your business stagnating? Get back to the why? Are your employees underperforming? Communicate the why? Are your students bored with your lesson? Serve up some why? Is your marriage in a rut? Rediscover the why? Are you considering marriage? Identify the why? (And please don’t tell me your why is “it’s better to marry than to burn.”)

Why?

Write it down. Talk to God. Journal about it. Dialogue with your team about it.

And THEN you’ll be ready to answer the what question. But a what without a why will eventually suck the life right out of you.

Look at Jesus. Why would he live the kind of life we should have lived and die the kind of death we should have died? “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) We were his why.

Go get your why.

You are in the gifted program

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Earlier this week I had a conversation with a little boy who was tested for the “gifted program” in his elementary school. Ever experienced this? They take the kid into a room, give him a barrage of tests to assess his mental aptitude, and make their recommendations. My heart broke to find out the boy would not make the cut. You’re not gifted; you’re just normal.

It got me thinking.

Scripture says that you have gifts. Some of these gifts are what we call natural talents. Some of these are acquired skills we pick up along the way. Still others are supernatural abilities that become activated when we start walking with God. It’s quite accurate to say that if you belong to Jesus you are in “the gifted program”.

Don’t underestimate your gifts.

When you are using your gifts, it feels like life.  When you do something else, it feels like strife.

Blessed is the man who does not waste his life trying to do things he was never wired to do. Blessed is the woman who accepts the reality that she has only been called to do a few things.  When she gives herself to those few things it feels like life.  When she tries to do something else it feels like strife.

Blessed are you when you wrap your life around your gifts.

This is one of the reasons I love the David story so much.  I know we usually see the pictures of pint-sized David with an under-sized slingshot taking down the super-sized giant.  But before he ever dealt with Goliath he had to deal with himself. On his way to the battlefield we find a scene that’s almost comical: Size XL King Saul tries to lend his massive armor to a size small David. Nice idea with a fatal flaw.

It didn’t fit.

I wonder how many of us live lives that don’t fit.  We go to school and major in subjects that fit someone else.  We apply for jobs with all kinds of benefits, but they fit someone else.  We join churches and clubs and organizations that plug people into positions that fit someone else.

There was nothing wrong with Saul’s armor. But it didn’t fit David. There is nothing wrong with being a teacher or an engineer or an organizer or a manager. Unless it doesn’t fit.

Are you living a life that fits?

He gave gifts to men. -Ephesians 4:8

Apparently one of David’s “gifts” manifested itself with a slingshot. And when it was time to take down the giant, he did not need the armor of men; he had learned how to roll with the gifts of God. There is something about the gifts of God. They’re always enough.

It’s almost counter-intuitive because we assume that our greatest achievements will come from our greatest labor.  Yet when we start flowing in our gifts it usually feels so natural that we wouldn’t even call it work.

We assume our greatest progress will come by working on our weaknesses.  Yet our greatest potential lies not in improving our weaknesses, but in really developing our strengths.  Your greatest contribution won’t come in trying to learn Saul’s armor, but in mastering the slingshot that has your name on it.

I know your slingshot doesn’t seem as impressive as someone else’s armor.  I understand that your mind may seem insignificant next to someone else’s genius. I realize that there is a little boy in every one of us that longs to have somebody tell us we are gifted. Well, someone has, so resist the urge, drop the armor, and pull out your slingshot.  Because when you wrap your life around your gifts you will come alive.  It fits.  It’s life.   But when you start trying to fit into a life that is not your own, it’s strife.  Frustration.

I dare you to believe the truth:

When you use your gifts:

God is most glorified.

You are most satisfied.

And others are most edified.


* For more ideas on how do discover your gifts and focus on your strengths may I suggest: (1) Jump into community. That’s where your gifts will rise to the surface. (2) Talk to elders or leaders in your life and ask them to pray with you about your giftedness. (3) Read more about giftedness. Check out 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4 for some lists of spiritual gifts.

Playing it safe is folly

fear1What if playing it safe is stupid?

Many, many Christians are atheists unawares. These words have been ringing in my ears all day long. Regardless of what we say we believe, what do our lives reveal about our true belief? The deepest (and truest) parts of me long to pour myself out for the name and fame of the Lion of the tribe of Judah-Jesus. Not the tamed and domesticated Mary had a little lamb, his fleece was white as snow-Jesus.

Every time I hear someone describe the church as a safe place to run and hide from danger, I am sure they are not reading the book of Acts.

And I long for what I read about in the book of Acts.

Nietzsche was wrong. Nobody killed God; we’ve just domesticated Him. We’ve made Him too safe, too dull, too predictable. And the church has followed suit. Few things disturb me more than church – loaded with potential – yet domesticated beyond the point of holy recognition.

I keep thinking about how so many Christians approach Scripture. Did people spill their blood to bring us a Bible that would be treated like Chicken Soup for the Soul? Do we see the stories of holy Scripture as a distant narrative of a fairy tale promised land in an age long gone … or as the active invitation into the life of God and His great drama of the ages? Why are all these average Joes with questionable character and weak moral fortitude used to change history? It’s incredible.  Prideful, lustful, fearful, self-consumed people have this encounter with an invisible God who dares them to live beyond themselves. As if to say, there is no excuse for you and me not to jump in the story.

Everybody is going to die. Few people really live.

Everybody deals with fear. Few people truly opt for faith.

Everybody goes to church. Few people ever become church.

Everybody says they believe. Few people actually try to move mountains.

So let’s go for it. As I sit here at my desk preparing for our annual vision meeting this weekend, my heart is stirred. I long to pour my life into the things that will pass the eternity test. I long to be a part of a movement of people who invest in things that will pass the eternity test. I long for us to subordinate our lives and possessions and desires for the sake our King and his call on our blood-bought lives. When we stand to give account for what we did with our freedom and our time and our possessions and our education and our opportunities, I want to hear these syllables: Well done.

Yet I often wonder if I have what it takes. I’m afraid. I often wander from the God I love. I’m sinful. I have doubts about a vision that includes realities I have never seen with my own eyes. I’m prone to worry about money, and human opinion, and the embarrassment of failure. It would be easier to settle for safe.

But something deep says, if we’ll go all the way, we’ll never be sorry. No playing it safe. No Christian atheism. No fear.

I beg you to pray with me that we will not settle. Pray for us to have wisdom. But then pray that we will have the guts to believe.

For eternity,

Mike Patz

Especially for leaders – questions I ask during a fast

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Questions I ask during a fast, directed especially toward our leaders:

How can I bring the most GLORY to God through my life, family, job this year?

When I’m at my best, what do I BURN for? What desire is so strong I’d be willing to overcome the obstacles?  What do I know I am called to do? What would I take a bullet for? What orders have I received from God? God’s will is often wrapped around our purest desires. Pray and meditate long enough to be crystal clear about this burning purpose.

Is the goal/purpose/desire specific enough to WRITE IT DOWN? Put a date on the desire. (“I intend to multiply our microchurch by summer … I intend to open a fair trade restaurant with the greatest atmosphere anyone has ever seen by 2020 … I purpose to establish a daily, organic, enjoyable prayer life in the next 40 days … I intend to write a book by Dec 31 … Our microchurch will raise the money to build 2 more children’s homes for rescued slaves by Christmas … I intend to plant a church, start a business, invent a widget by …) Write this out and pray about all through your fast.

Have I clarified what I will GIVE UP in return for this burning purpose? Something will have to be cheated. Choose to cheat wisely. I suggest starting by cheating your time with television, movies, internet surfing, wasteful social media. Fast and pray about money and time and possibly unfruitful relationships that will hold you in the land of futility. Cut off the cable to work on the burning desire at night? Skip Facebook to have time to tutor a kid at Lincoln Middle School? Wake up one hour earlier to develop a revolutionary prayer life? Clarify this in prayer this week.

Have I WRITTEN OUT a plan to pull this off? Write out a specific plan about this burning purpose, and start working on it today. The plan does not need to be the final draft. You can modify it 100 times, but get the ball rolling.

 …….

Let’s make our fasting more than starvation, and fully engage in God-centered purpose. Specific prayers get specific answers. General prayers get general answers. So go for it.

For more thoughts on fasting click here.

‘Twas the night before Elections

‘Twas the night before elections…

And I can’t shake the words of Abraham Lincoln. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Should we have such a concern?

There is a parallel thought in the book of Joshua. Commander Joshua is on the verge of his signature victory over the city of Jericho. The walls are about to come down and word is about to spread, but not before he has a life-altering encounter with a mysterious being standing with a sword drawn. Joshua’s mama didn’t raise a fool so he asks the rational question:

“Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” (5:13)

Good question. Whose side are you on? Is God a Democrat or a Republican?

The response is priceless: “No.”

No? What kind of an answer is No? What do you do with No? When it’s the angel of the Lord, you listen to rest of the message: “But I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” (5:14) Translation? I have not come to take sides; I have come to take over.

I am praying today for God’s will to be done on the earth as it is in heaven. I pray for God’s people called by God’s name to humble themselves and pray, and turn from our wicked ways. I pray for God to heal our land. I pray for the politicians that will give us the best shot of being on God’s side. I pray for our future president to have a Joshua-type encounter with God. I am fully aware that my country may be a drop in the bucket in the global plans of God; I am aware that our sins are many; I am aware that God will not gloss over injustice and innocent bloodshed; so I pray for mercy. I plead the blood of Jesus over my sins and the sins of my nation. I pray for my country to be a place where God might say, “Now I have come.”

By all means, vote. But enough natural.

You have not because you ask not. Get off the computer, put down your smart phone, and pray.

Come, Jesus. Take over.

Indian observations … under-promise, over-deliver

Photo credit http://www.trekearth.com

In just a few weeks we will have our beloved Indian justice-working, slave-freeing missionary Sam with us in Gainesville. To start to prepare our hearts, I thought it might be good to post my initial reaction to my trip to India back in January:

India.  An under-promising, over-delivering Church.

You need to know what a great work is being accomplished in India.  I am so used to American pastors and ministries overstating their ministries and exaggerating their results.  It’s the marketing mentality, and I get it. Our culture is inundated with advertisers.  But something beautiful happens whenever I meet people that seem to under-promise and then over-deliver.  That is the case with the work in India with missionary Sam.

I felt this at our first stop at an orphanage we provided for rescued children.  The home itself was beautiful.  The children were adorable. God’s presence was tangible.

But I expected all of that.  What I did not expect was to find out this home is right in the middle of a region where there are no churches or Christian influence.  I came to find out the home is more than an orphanage; it is also a church plant.  The director is more than a children’s director; he and his wife are also pastors.  Church planters in a region where Christians are severely persecuted.  In fact, they are very much in touch with the fact that they will likely give their lives for the cause of Jesus.*  Stunning devotion.  They just asked for nothing but prayer.  It was a very sobering train ride out of that area.

As we moved on to the second home I noticed that this facility was attached to a church as well.  So I struck up a conversation with missionary Sam and asked him if this is always the case, and the answer was yes.  In fact, as we described what we do with microchurches he informed me that they have several thousand microchurches connected to the work they are doing.  As we moved from city to city it became increasingly clear that their work has been exceptionally fruitful.

I mention all of this to report what is happening, but also to stir our hearts. Not once did they ask me for money.  Not once did they parade their results to solicit more support than we have given them.  Had I not been there we would have assumed that their main deal is rescuing a few children whenever they can.  But missionary Sam explained to me that they believe deeply in the power of the Church – against whom the gates of hell will not prevail.

That’s enough for now.  Just a quick discipleship challenge to all of us to follow their lead and:

1 – Embrace humility. Under-promise.  Over-deliver. This is a hallmark of a great leader.

2 – Recognize God has one plan for this fallen planet: Church. Let’s be who we are.

3 – Pray for our brothers and sisters who experience danger first-hand.

*Note: Since our trip in January, this leader was indeed attacked and injured for the cause of Christ. The home was endangered and the future looked uncertain. Thankfully, Missionary Sam responded and the group was secured and restored.