Pastor John, you took a leave of absence in 2010. It was eight months away from the ministry altogether. You said it was a soul check over all the parts of your life: marriage, worship, fathering, pastoring, public life — all of it. Now three years later, are there any lessons from the leave that you’d like share with us here?
The conference that we did, “Acting the Miracle,” really came out of that eight month leave because it was built on the text Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.” So God saves us by his grace. We don’t save ourselves by our works, but we are saved for good deeds. We are created in Christ Jesus for good deeds, so we act out the fruit of our salvation, and our acting is a miracle because God is doing the willing and the acting.
We do it. We do the acting. We do the kindness. We do the patience. We do the purity, the love. But God is the one willing it and doing it, and so we are acting the miracle. We are not puppets. We have wills, and muscles and minds and puppets don’t have any of those. But when we exert our wills, when we think with our minds, and our muscles produce an act of obedience, it says, “God is doing the thinking and the willing and the acting in us.” And so we are acting the miracle.
Attacking All Sin with Ferocity
Now that was not new going into my leave of absence. Here is what was new along that line. I had all my adult life ferociously fought the sin of lust — sexual temptation — and I say ferociously or fiercely because Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away . . . if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29–30). I mean, that is really serious.
But what I had not done, and this was the discovery — It was huge and remains a very important discovery — I realized in that leave of absence that I did not attack with tearing out the eye and cutting off the hand fierceness, in the same way, my sins of irritability, frustration, anger, self-pity, sullenness, and pouting. I mean, I discovered how irrational I was.
I had formed the irrational sense — maybe I didn’t articulate it — that, well, those sins are just who I am, right? I am just bent that way, you know, towards being moody, or being sullen, or easily getting frustrated or irritable, or having a hair trigger. I am just wired that way. As if I am not wired to have lust. I mean you see the irrationality of it.
All Sin Damages Relationships
I mean, I was excusing not making war on those kinds of sins with anything like the intensity that I made war on my lustful sins. In fact, I used to develop all kinds of little acronyms like A.N.T.H.E.M. and so on to fight. I never created one of those for self-pity, and I stood back during that leave and I said, “What is wrong with you? Why don’t you see these relationship-damaging sins of yours in the same seriousness?” And when you state it you can almost see why, because it sounds funny. Like what if I preached a sermon and I said to men, “Make war on pouting.” They would all say, “What?”
"Self-pity is just stupid, evil, wicked, unmanly, unspiritual behavior."
Make war on pouting, guys. I mean, we come home and our wives don’t welcome us the way we hoped they would, or they don’t want to go where we want to go tonight, or they don’t do sex the way we hoped they would do sex, or they don’t fix the favorite food, or they criticize us when we got enough criticism at work today.
And we just kind of slink off to the den with our shoulders bent over, licking our wounds, and saying, “Oh, poor me,” like a little puppy. That is just stupid, evil, wicked, unmanly, unspiritual behavior. And we need to make war on it just as seriously as we make war on lust.
God Helps Us to Kill All Sin
So there it is, Tony. That is the key lesson that I got. God has resources for killing all sin. We make so much out of pornography and so much out of lust that we forget that the same seriousness, the same ferociousness and fierceness, should go into attacking our personality sinful traits of irritability, or frustration, or anger, or self-pity, or sullenness, or pouting.
And so here I am, three years later, and I think God has given me some new measure of triumph in my marriage and in my relationships so that I do treat the first whiff of self-pity now somewhat like the way I treat the first whiff of sexual temptation.