Cleaning Up the Mess

I was watching television one day and they showed a duck that had been covered by the oil which had been spilled by the Exxon Valdez, the oil tanker that had wrecked off of the coast of Alaska in 1989. Because of the carelessness of one captain, thousands of innocent animals such as this had been adversely affected. I remember seeing the devastation that had been caused by this terrible tragedy and wondering how they would ever clean up the awful mess.

The reports of that tragic event predicted that it would take years for all of the effects to be known. The captain of that ship had no idea the incredible damage his careless actions would inflict on so many. In fact, it may be decades before the damage is completely cleaned up.

Like the captain of that ship, I did not realize the damage my sinful actions would inflict on so many innocent lives. As I now look at the damage, I wonder how the mess will ever be cleaned up.

Perhaps, that is one of the most difficult parts of returning to the Lord. It is painful to see all the damage my foolish actions caused so many. Occasionally. I hear of some tragic situation that has been left in the wake of my failures, and I am filled with pain and sorrow for that which I caused.

Sin never fails to leave its mark. There are always some tragic consequences that follow, that seem hopeless to correct. There are so many hurts that were caused to so many by the wicked things I allowed into my life. I look at the devastation that I brought to the church I pastored, and I grieve when I realize that there is nothing I can do to fix, all that I caused to break. I think of individuals whose lives I helped to ruin and I am heartbroken at the fact that I must accept responsibility for the damage I caused.

As I have pondered the damage my sins caused, I am left asking the question, what can be done to clean up the mess?

David was king when he fell into his awful sin with Bathsheba. Little did he imagine all the damage his failings would cause to so many. Samuel said it well when he told David that the blood would never depart from his house. David was forced to live with the mess for the rest of his life, but there were some things David did that helped in some ways to clean up some of the mess his sins had made.

I believe that there are some things that can be done. I especially want to apply this chapter to a situation where there has been a moral failure on the part of a leader of a church or ministry. Allow me to share with you some of the things that must be done to begin the cleaning up process.


1. The responsibility must be accepted for the mess that was made. Nathan did an incredible thing when he confronted David with what David had done and reprimanded him for it. Keep in mind the fact that Samuel was the only one who could have done so because of the divinely appointed position he was in. Also keep in mind the fact that David was Godly enough to accept the reprimand of Samuel and accept responsibility for his actions. In so doing he allowed the clean-up process to begin much quicker.

In 1984, I stood in the pulpit of the Miller Road Baptist Church for the last time, with the opportunity of doing what David had done. I failed to do so because I was not yet willing to accept the responsibility for the sins in my life. I was more broken over what I had lost than over what I had done. There is no question that I was not repentant.

Today, I realize that years of precious clean-up time were wasted by my wicked and proud spirit. So much of the mess I had caused could have been cleaned up by now, had I accepted responsibility for what I did then. In fact, I now see that so much time elapsed that there are things that will never be cleaned up in my lifetime. I cannot turn back the clock and undo the hurt that my spirit of selfishness caused to those people after my failings came to light. I believe that most of those people loved me and deeply wanted me to be restored, but I was not yet broken by my sins, so the damage was increased.

The experts involved in the clean-up of the oil spill in Alaska said that delays in cleaning up the oil caused damage that could only be cleaned up over a long period of time. In other words, it was important to get to the mess as quickly as possible to prevent further damage that would spread over the area.

If you think that things are a mess when you first fall, just let them go for a while and you will see that mess cause even more devastation. The only way to avoid more damage is to humbly accept the responsibility for what you have done and to truly repent of your sin.

It is not the placing of the blame on someone that starts the clean-up process, but the accepting of the blame by that one who is responsible. I did not do that; David did. Yes, there was still a mess created by David, but the clean-up began quickly. Had David not accepted the blame there would have been much more devastation.

Saul is a perfect example of this. Had Saul accepted responsibility for his actions, there would have been less of a mess, but instead, the mess was increased by his proud and evil heart. Just as he would eventually go to David and rebuke him, Samuel went to Saul to rebuke him for the evil he had committed. Rather than have open confession for his failings, Saul tried to place the blame on others which only increased the magnitude of the mess he caused.

Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. Proverbs 9:8

I was guilty of much the same thing as Saul.

There are relationships that could have been restored that will probably never be restored in this lifetime because of my stubborn heart. There are bitter nesses that will never be corrected. There are lives ruined that possibly could have been salvaged had I been repentant at that time. I made a mess and I allowed that mess to continue increasing its damage by the years I refused to repent. Much of the damage could have been held in check if I had had a genuine brokenness for what I had done.

When a preacher fails, it is easy for him to be distraught over the loss of his ministry and reputation. This is especially true if he has thrived on what people thought of him more than on the depth of his integrity.

The integrity of a man is not what others think he is, but what he is in the innermost part of his being. Integrity exists in private long before it surfaces in public. A part of true integrity is the desire to right any wrongs that are brought to light in one’s life.

My integrity failed this scrutinous test. When confronted with the fact of my failures, I sought a resolution that was favorable to me rather than making right the wrong at any price. A person of integrity does not ask what it will cost to make a matter right, but will set out to make it right regardless of the cost to himself.

The more integrity a man has, the more he will set out to make matters right and the easier the task will be in cleaning up the messes he has created.

The ability to accept correction is another of integrity’s traits. The man of integrity is able to accept reproof with a humble and searching heart. When that integrity exists, many potentially explosive situations are defused before there is great damage done.

Before I was exposed for what I was, I had several opportunities to right the wrongs in my life. Although, there still would have been repercussions, the damage would have been minimized greatly. At the time, I was more concerned with the opinion, people had of me, than I was with the opinion I had of myself in relationship to God. My lack of integrity did not allow me to accept the opportunities I had to right the wrongs in my life.

The time to right a wrong is when the wrong has been brought to the attention of that one who has committed it. As strange as this may sound, that is not always at the time the act was committed. There are individuals who fall into a sin and justify it for a period of time. I believe that often the Lord allows that sin to come to light to a person or a few people in order to provide the person with the opportunity of making it right without a major explosion or scandal.

There were several times when I was rebuked by a brother for accusations brought against me that could have provided me with the opportunity to make right the wrongs in my life. My integrity was such that rather than accepting their reproof, I found ways of escaping further scrutiny. At that point I allowed my integrity to really be exposed for what it was.

Had I been wise, I would have accepted the consequences for my failures without creating such a mess, but I was looking out for myself rather than for others. Is it not amazing that in excusing ourselves for our sins we often justify it on the fact that we are helping others, yet when the sin is finished it will do the opposite of that which keeps us from making it right. That in itself shows that the real reason we are doing what we are doing is for our own gratification.

In losing my ministry, I would have regained the integrity of my ministry. In disregarding the reproofs of others, I destroyed the very ministry I was so concerned with protecting. My ministry had become my kingdom and as my kingdom grew, my level of integrity remained the same. I began to live for the protection of my kingdom, rather than for being all that God expected, yea demanded that I be.

A man’s integrity will eventually rule his actions. There comes a point in a man’s life when his responsibility has exceeded his abilities. It is at that point that a man begins to be ruled by his integrity. Talent will supersede character for only so long. Integrity recognizes the limitations of talent and ability and yields itself to principle. The man without integrity compensates for his lack of ability by becoming a master of creating false impressions. That man learns how to put on the appearances necessary to accomplish the task.

It is at that point that a man’s integrity will be put to the test. That is why some men reach a point of success then fail terribly. When their opportunities had surpassed their ability, their integrity began to show through the facades they were building. Eventually, everything crumbled. The bigger the ministry they had built, the greater the pile of rubble that was left in the aftermath.

God used the abilities He had given me, but when my integrity or lack of it, took over, I was no longer usable. Saul was fine until his integrity took over and then he was useless.

Do not misunderstand me here. Men of integrity fail the Lord, but the difference is in how they respond when their failures are brought to light. David failed the Lord, but when he was reproved he showed forth his integrity by the way he repented and set out to make right the wrongs in his life.

It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. Ecclesiastes 7:5

The prayer of my life is not that God would first restore me to a place of ministry, but that He would restore me to a place of integrity that I might be fit to minister again. By the way, many of my abilities are now gone, therefore, I must begin with a higher level of integrity than I did as a young preacher.

Let me say here, that it is important for every child of God who seeks to be used of God to be concerned about their integrity. As long as you are tender to rebuke, your integrity can be strengthened. Rebuke is the fire that strengthens the steel of integrity. Every sermon you hear that rebukes you for anything in your life that is not as it should be is strengthening your integrity. The day you cease to accept that rebuke, is the day your integrity has stopped getting stronger.

Preachers must never get to the place where they are no longer under the rebuke of other preachers. Integrity will cease to strengthen at that point. If you can listen to preaching without accepting rebuke with confession and repentance, your integrity is no longer growing stronger. Integrity is the muscle of the soul. Rebuke is that which exercises that muscle and makes it useful.

Oh, the messes that could be prevented or controlled if we had the integrity to accept rebuke with the kind of Godly sorrow we ought to have.


2. Those who are left, must concentrate on the clean-up and forget casting the blame. Here is what unfortunately often transpires when a mess has been created by sin. The person guilty of creating the situation refuses to accept responsibility, so those left to clean up the mess put more effort into forcing the blame than on cleaning up the mess. If the person responsible for the mess will not accept the blame, then those who are left must get on with the matter of cleaning up the mess and allow the Lord to deal with that one who caused it.

There are many tragic situations that could have been cleaned-up much more quickly, if those who had been affected had accepted the task of cleaning up the mess without trying to force the blame on the one who had caused the mess to take place. Tragedy and adversity can either be a building block to victory or a stumbling block to defeat.

The devil would like nothing more than to cause a church to continue in the bitterness of a failed pastor, rather than finding the victory of God’s grace and mercy. There are many churches that still are living in the rubble of a man’s moral failures because they remain bitter over his unwillingness to accept the responsibility for what he did. The devil also delights in transferring an individual’s bitterness towards a man into bitterness towards God.

When I failed the Lord, I intensified my failures by not truly repenting. There are those I wronged who were so bitter at me that they have now become bitter at God. They have been tempted by Satan to transfer the fact that I was a moral phony to believing that somehow God let them down. God did not fail them. I failed God and in essence failed them. Too much of their opinion of God was based on their opinion of me.

God did not fail those who have been left in the wake of a man’s sins. God is still faithful and able to deliver them into great victory, if they will get on with the task of cleaning up rather than casting blame. Please do not misunderstand this point. I deserve the blame for the mess that I caused with my sins, but forcing that blame on one who refuses to accept it will not bring about a resolution. If, as I did, the individual refuses to accept the blame, those who remain must go forward for the Lord in trying to do what is right.

Churches need not be destroyed by a pastor’s failures. They should be able to use that as a testing grounds for their willingness to be a lighthouse for the grace and mercy of the Lord. If he refuses to accept that mercy by confessing his failures and accepting responsibility for the damage he has caused, they should go on in trying to clean up those messes without trying to force the blame on him.

The ideal situation would be for the one who has failed, to humbly repent and to allow the church to restore him to a position of fellowship with the Lord and eventually of usefulness in service to God. I believe that the Miller Road Baptist Church tried to do that with me, but I was not truly repentant, so they could not. I was hurt and angry over losing those things that I valued more, than I valued being pure and right with God, so their sincerest efforts were wasted on and by me.

I also believe that many of those who were left, made every effort to begin cleaning up the mess I had left by my sins and not to try to force the blame on me. Most of the messes that were never cleaned-up were those messes involving me and my relationships and not the church itself. Those who were in leadership at the church sincerely tried to do what was right and honoring to the Lord.

It is never easy to deal with a mess like that which was created by my sins, but there needs to be an understanding in Christian circles of how to deal with the aftermath of tragic sins such as were in my life when I left the pastorate of the church. So little is taught about what to do that much is done in reaction, and consequently mistakes are made by sincere Christians who just do not know what to do. The devastation is allowed to increase by well-meaning people who feel that assessing blame is a part of the clean-up process.

There is no question as to the fact that I deserve all of the blame for the messes left by my sins, but when I refused to accept that blame, it was left for those in charge to clean up the messes, not to force the blame. That does not mean that I should not have been confronted because I should have been, but not for the sake of blame. There is a big difference in confronting a sinner for the sake of attempting to bring them to repentance and in attempting to get them to take the blame.

Samuel was not trying to get David to accept the blame for what he had caused, but to accept the fact of how wicked his actions had been. Only when David accepted the guilt of his sins could he accept the responsibility for the mess his sins had caused.

We live in a blame oriented society. The modern teaching of the secular world is that if we can blame the messes in our lives on others, it will begin making it easier for us to deal with those messes. Hey, it is not dealing with those messes that should concern us. It is cleaning up the messes that we ought to seek to accomplish. Unfortunately, much of the Christian world has accepted this idea as well, and it is causing many situations to remain destroyed.

My sins caused others to suffer. Blaming me, may well make those individuals to feel vindicated, but it will not correct those negative things in their lives. Blame is a poor substitute for correction, and it does not accomplish the same thing.

Let me give you a Biblical illustration of this. Saul’s failures had a terribly adverse effect on the life of David that lasted for many years, yet it did not destroy David. Why? Because David refused to blame Saul for the problems. David simply learned how to deal with the mess he was forced to endure and God blessed him for it. It was not David’s fault that Saul was afraid to fight Goliath because of his lack of faith. David simply did what he felt was right, but the result of Saul’s failures caused David great grief.

David dealt with the mess Saul had made of his life by getting on with doing what he had to do. Never do we see David trying to get Saul to accept responsibility for his failures. Although Saul’s lack of repentance continued to cause David great difficulties, it also, no doubt helped to strengthen David’s faith in God as well as his character.

If someone has left a mess in your life as a result of their sins, use it as an opportunity to grow in your faith rather than seeking to make them pay for what they did, or to accept the responsibility for the difficulties they caused you.

Bitterness is the child of blame. Do not get bitter by trying to cast blame on one who refuses to accept it. Let God do that work in their life.


3. Only the application of the grace of God can cause the cleanup to begin. This is so vital in dealing with the failures of a Christian. There are two ways for the grace of God to be applied in a situation where there has been a devastating moral and/or spiritual failure. Let me give you two entirely different scenarios.

A pastor has a moral failure that devastates a church. He repents and confesses it to the Lord and to those who have been a part of the devastation. He accepts the grace and forgiveness of God by his honest confession of his sins. The church applies the grace of God in their relationship with that pastor and begin to clean up the mess by restoring his life and the lives of others in the wake of his failures. There is no blame to be assessed because he has accepted responsibility for what he has done and what his actions have caused. The process of healing can begin.

A pastor has a moral failure that devastates a church. He does not repent and refuses to accept the responsibility for his actions and the mess they have created. At that moment, that church is at a crossroads that will determine whether or not they allow the devastation to continue to them, or whether or not they will begin the process of cleaning up the mess.

That decision will be determined by whether or not they apply the grace of God to that unrepentant pastor, or seek to force him to accept the blame for what he has done and caused. Their reaction to him may well determine their future more than his.

Many teach a spirit of judgment towards one who has failed, and that may be necessary if that one continues to try to keep their position even after they have failed. Yet the Bible teaches that we are to be forgiving to those who have hurt us. There is a very careful balance that must be sought after in this situation. We must condemn the sin of this pastor, while offering to him our love and forgiveness. This means that we must not use him as the whipping post of blame for what he has done to hurt the church ,or even us personally. We must apply the grace and forgiveness of God to that one who has failed, and begin to clean up the mess that his failures have caused.

I do not expect this to be easily applied by those who have been shattered by the failures of one they trusted, but for the sake of God’s work, we must do our best to do what is right in reaction to that one’s failures. What is right, is not to accept that one’s sins, but to forgive the sinner. Assessing blame is not going to solve the problems caused by that one’s sins. It is only going to prolong the adverse effect of the mess.

It is not the results of sin that we are to address anyway. It is the sin itself. The results may offend us, but it is the sin that offends God. We must be concerned most about what offends God, not what most offends us.

Tragically, most Christians are more concerned with what sin does to offend us than we are with what it does to offend God. We hate its inconveniences to us more than what it has done to hurt our God. In fact, our reaction to the mess of sin can be a great testimony to this world. When the world sees the fact that we hate the sin, but that we are willing to roll up our sleeves to help clean up the mess sin has created, they see how great the love and mercy of God really is.

Let me illustrate. When that oil tanker spilled all of the oil off of the coast of Alaska, there were many who hurled stones of condemnation towards that captain who had caused the devastation. There were others who were equally upset with what he had done, but turned their energy towards trying to clean up the mess. They left the justice system to deal with that captain.

That is exactly what we need to do. God had to deal with me, but the job of cleaning up the mess that I had created, had to be done by some who hated what I had done, but knew getting me to accept the blame was not going to clean up the mess I had caused. They just kept busy trying to salvage lives.

It is easy for Christians to fall prey to the philosophies of society and to forget that we are ruled by totally different principles, those found in the Word of God.

Many churches are destroyed by people who are guilty of doing exactly what their failed pastor was guilty of which is trying to protect the ministry. The clean-up job of a ministry that has been victimized by moral failure, begins with humility and repentance on the part of those who remain and have been adversely affected by the failures.

David searched himself when he was hurt by the failures of Saul. He did not seek to protect the position which was rightfully his. Do not respond to failure with a spirit of judgment, but with a spirit of repentance. Do not seek to salvage the ministry, but seek the Lord to be certain that the ministry is worthy to continue to exist. Allow God to use this as an opportunity to purge the church and to bring about His perfect work in the lives of all of those who have been left hurting, by the one who failed.


4. Do not allow the clean-up to revolve around others opinion, but around doing exactly what would be most pleasing to God. The world is going to think what the world is going to think. Our concern must revolve around what the Lord wants from us. The Lord wants us to be clean. That includes being clean within our hearts.

Many Christians fail to see that many times when these things happen around us, it is the Lord’s way of beginning to do a thorough cleansing within us.

A dear friend of mine who had been hurt deeply by my failures said something to me one day that moved me greatly. He told me how hurt he was when he discovered my failures. He said that for awhile he was bitter at what I had done to disrupt his life and to cast a reflection on his church, but that one day God really convicted him to take inventory in his own life. He said that he found incredible amounts of pride and evil intentions in his heart.

He was convicted by God for the failures he suddenly saw in himself. He repented and set out to clean up those things in his life, rather than worrying about the failures he had seen in my life. He told me that for awhile he had been more concerned with what others thought than he was about being all that God wanted him to be.

May I make a suggestion to every church, family or individual who has been rocked by the failures of one you loved and trusted? Before you do anything else, have an old-fashioned revival of personal cleansing in your own life. Get on your face before God and take advantage of the opportunity to make certain everything is as it ought to be in your heart and life. Confess every sin and repent of everything that God brings to your mind.

Nothing will begin the job of cleaning up the mess of someone else’s failures like cleaning up the failures in your own life.

No matter how hard anyone tried, they could not clean up my failures for me, nor could they force me to make them right until I was truly repentant. But no person can stop you from being what you ought to be, except you. So many messes could be cleaned up better than new, if we all realized that revival begins in our own hearts.

It has been several years now since that horrible tragedy with the Exxon Valdez took place. There has been much cleaning done. I wonder, how many other similar tragedies have been avoided by the lessons learned from that one event.

I made a mess of things. I pray to the Lord that somehow other similar tragedies will be prevented by the mistakes that I made, and that somehow when others do fail, the clean-up will be more successful because of the things God taught me from my own horrible tragedy of sin.