A Hazard to Myself

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A few years ago, our church staff did a Myers-Briggs related exercise. Part of the exercise included noting some well-known people who share our specific personality types. As an INFJ type, I discovered that I share personality traits with both Jesus and Gandhi.

My first thought was that prior to this exercise, I had not known that Jesus and Gandhi took the Myers-Briggs! (Ha) My second thought was one of curious bewilderment, because another, much less noble figure was also identified as an INFJ. His name was Adolf Hitler.

This exercise points out what the Bible says about the human condition. In each of us, there is potential for heroic love and potential for unspeakable evil.

I look back on my days in seminary with great joy and awe as I see how God has used many of my classmates for good. Two of them are pastors with me at our church in Nashville. Another of them worships at our church and has spent almost two decades impacting college students at the university where he serves, as well as nationwide. Other former classmates have become authors, teachers, counselors, pastors, and thought leaders.

Sadly, there are also a few from our class whose stories have included adultery, divorce, abandoning their families, using illegal drugs, and leaving Christianity altogether.

It grieves me to see the moral collapse of those alongside whom I had once studied, prayed, worshiped, served, loved, and dreamed about the future of Christianity. It is sad to realize that not all of your friends are destined to finish well. It’s also a bit scary, to be honest.

This reminds me of a story I once heard about a famous pastor, told by his former intern. One time at a staff meeting, the intern recalls the famous pastor telling the entire staff that Satan has the power to tempt him in any number of ways, but that there is one area of his life that Satan will never touch: his marriage.

According to the intern, the famous pastor was caught in bed with a mistress less than one year after that staff meeting.

For pastors and all leaders, stories like these should cause us to pause and humbly admit our weaknesses and temptations. It is not only ancient biblical accounts that tell us how frail we are. It is also the stories of moral collapse “from the top” that happen every single day—even among the most well-intended Christian leaders. There is potential in every leader, even the most virtuous ones, to become caught in unimaginable transgression.

Think about it. If Abraham, the father of all who have faith, could offer his wife up twice to be sexually used by unsavory men in order to save his own hide, aren’t we also capable of protecting ourselves at the expense of others? If Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, could for many years live a lie concerning his birthright, aren’t we also capable of becoming liars? If Rahab, who is listed as an ancestor of Jesus, gave up her body as a prostitute, aren’t we also capable of immoral thoughts and behaviors? If Peter, one of the twelve Apostles and writer of two New Testament letters, could fall into xenophobic, exclusive behavior after Jesus had restored him to ministry because he was afraid of what other xenophobes might say, and if Barnabas, widely known as “the son of encouragement,” could stumble right alongside him, aren’t we also capable of excluding those whom Jesus embraces? If King David, who gave us beautiful worship poetry in the Psalms and who was identified by the Lord as “a man after God’s own heart” could abuse his power by forcing Bathsheba—the daughter of one of his most loyal friends—to sleep with him and then scheming to have her husband, also a loyal friend, killed to cover it up, aren’t we also capable of abusing our power to get from others whatever we want?

To these we could also add many of the titans from church history. John Calvin participated in the execution of a man, whose crime was disagreement with Christian doctrine. Martin Luther made anti-Semitic statements. Jonathan Edwards owned slaves until the day he died. Martin Luther King, Jr. was unfaithful to his wife as he traveled the country preaching from the Bible and leading the Civil Rights Movement.

On the one hand, I find the stories of such leaders strangely encouraging. If there is hope for these, then there is also hope for someone like me. On the other hand, their stories, their foolishness and their sin should instruct us and help us live differently. Their stories teach us the importance of guarding our hearts, because our hearts, especially when we think we are not vulnerable or susceptible to sin, are more vulnerable and susceptible than ever:

“Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed, lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

Are you someone–perhaps a leader–who thinks s/he is not vulnerable? Are you like the person who looks at the acorn and thinks that such a little thing could never become an oak tree, or a forest, or a forest fire? The sin in our hearts is the acorn. It has the power, if not crushed, to germinate, to become a sprout, and then a tree, and then an entire forest.

This is in part why Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount not only against adultery, but against lust in the heart. This is also why he warned not only against murder, but against a grudge in the heart. Because every adulterous fling begins with a “harmless” thought or glance, and every murderous rampage begins with an itty bitty grudge.

So then, wherever our hearts are vulnerable, it is essential to crush the acorn before it becomes a sprout; to dig up the sprout before it grows into a tree; to chop down the tree before it becomes a forest; to plow the forest before it takes over more and more land.

God said to Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door, and you must master it.” Master the sin, Cain, lest the sin gain mastery over you. Crush the sin, Cain, lest the sin end up crushing you and those around you.

As the wise Puritan, John Owen said, “Always be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

And then there is Pink, the rock star, who sings words that should be a daily refrain for every leader—or human being, for that matter—who is self-aware

“I’m a hazard to myself.
Don’t let me get me.”

God have mercy on us.

God protect us.

God save us from ourselves.


Scott’s latest book, A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us-Against-Them
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20 responses to “A Hazard to Myself”

  1. Maureen says:

    My first name can mean bitter or beloved, and I can choose to act accordingly. Our words can be healing or destructive. This is a thoughtful, helpful post. Sober-minded vigilance is always necessary this side of heaven. No one is above a fall.

  2. Lee A. Baker says:

    It has been many years since I first realized that every person has within him/her the bud of a Hitler. What has always concerned me about this is how little power has to be acquired to bring that bud into bloom.

  3. Dianne Tant says:

    Great post Scott! thanks. for being “open” about our “christian leaders” and sin

  4. Khuliso Ramaano says:

    Thank you for this Scott! Not only is this a great warning to our leaders, but a great warning to everyone!

  5. […] from others whatever we want?” You can read more by clicking the following link: “A hazard to myself (Don’t let me get me)” I rate that this warning is not only limited to Christian Leaders, but every single individual […]

  6. Penne says:

    Scott, I found your blog after reading your guest post on Ann Voskamp’s e-mail this morning, and I loved what you had to say, speaking into our challenging time with grace and truth. As a fellow INFJ, I felt an immediate connection with you. I’m part of a number of INFJ Facebook groups, and have been disturbed by the willingness of so many to embrace what I would call the darker side of our personality. It should concern us that we carry the potential to damage so many, rather than lead with love and forgiveness, even though that can be such a tremendous struggle in the face of hurt and rejection. How dangerous our pride is. I am so thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness, that I can fling myself into his arms when I am faced yet again with how broken and unworthy I am. If we could only extend that same kindness that God shows us to those around us, what a different world we would live in. We are all in need of saving – every moment of every day.

  7. amy says:

    Wow. This is a fascinating post on many levels, thank you! I’m an INFJ as well. Recently, I have experienced a few incidents that have caused me to reflect on how we all walk a thin line between saint and sinner. I love the visual of crushing the acorn — that would make a good lesson for teaching children the importance of spiritual warfare.

  8. Mike says:

    I’ve always prayed for God to use me despite myself hoping not to become a special needs Christian.

  9. Mike H says:

    John Owen and Pink! Get down with it! Sending this to my Celebrate Recovery Leader, hope she passes it on to the team. We cite that 1Cor10 verse every week.
    G’bless
    Mike

  10. Tammy Bullock says:

    YES!!!

  11. Heather says:

    So true, so true. I think often of Solomon, and how he was the wisest man in all the earth and yet he was led astray by foolish decisions. Many, many stories of Bible people remind us that we are all human and we are all capable of falling and failing. It’s why we have to guard our hearts and minds so carefully. And the first step in that is to be aware that we are capable of it. As soon as you think you are beyond temptation in some area, you’ve already opened the door to it and made it more probable, simply by failing to guard against it.

  12. Greg says:

    This article was helpful and convicting. Someone once said that the way to defeat sin is to “Let go and let God.” Not sure if that is good advise. No, i know that is not good advise. On the other hand, others may say “discipline yourself with following all rules that God approves of and developing sub rules to assure the main rule box is firmly checked is helpful.” Wasn’t that what many of the pharisees did in Jesus time? No, no- the Christian “trusted Jesus for salvation, trusts Him for his growth, recognizes God’s indwelling Spirit, and gets going with power, love and self-discipline. Fight sin, proclaim Christ and love others-even our enemies- knowing that, and reflecting glory to, this very Jesus who is the One dwelling within our hearts by His Spirit to empower us for such things! I’m unsure of my personality type. I sure know that regardless of this, that all glory for anything good done through this broken clay pot as myself is gladly given to Jesus who’s power and love by His Spirit fills it. Through Jesus, “all things were created.” And Jesus recreated the Christian, taking his dead heart of stone and making it alive like a real heart of flesh to illuminate Him and His glory and goodness. What a privilege.

  13. Julie Harrison says:

    So, so true! This also speaks volumes of why we should forgive others, an area in which I struggle. If these godly Biblical characters and these leaders of today can fall into such sinful ways, those common people in my life can also make mistakes and fall (as do I on a daily basis). I should understand the human nature and remember that we are all hazards to ourselves and forgive more easily. Thank you for this message.

  14. Jim Douglas says:

    Scott-great words and timely advise…but for the grace of God go I…

  15. John King says:

    Brings to my mind words from the wise sage Bernard P. Fife…”nip it, nip it in the bud!”

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