Saturday, January 30, 2016

One Great Hindrance To Spiritual And Emotional Health

At our recent Missional Association lunch our church planters were discussing the critical need for pastors to have friends who will hold them accountable.  A fellow pastor shared how he was meeting regularly with a small group of fellow pastors they called "holy friends". This group's definition of a holy friend was really poignant. 
"A Holy friend is someone who challenges the sins we've grown to love, affirms the gifts we're afraid to claim and helps us dream the dreams we could not otherwise dream."
Wouldn't it be great if we all had a friend or group of friends that would do this!  How much healthier would we all be?

I believe the lack of "holy friends" in a Christian's life is one of the greatest hindrances to a spiritually and emotionally vibrant life. Men tend to have this void more than women. Men usually form friendships based on activities. Our conversations usually consist of sports, politics, family and sometimes religion. But seldom do men get to a level below the surface conversations. I admit it is very difficult to share your weaknesses and failures to another. And yet we all need a friend or friends with whom we can declare our aspirations, disclose where we struggle and divulge our fears. We all need "holy friends". "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another" Prov. 27:17. To be spiritually mature we need comrades with whom we can be real and honest, guys we can trust, who will pray for us, who won't condemn or gossip but lift us up and encourage us to be more like Christ. 

The Bible emphasizes how critical relationships are to each member of the body of Christ. The term "one another" is only one word in Greek and is used 100 times in 94 New Testament verses. Galatians 6:2 counsels us to bear one another's burdens. Ephesians 4:25 admonishes us to speak truth to one another.  Colossians 3:9 instructs not to lie to one another and 1 Thessalonians 5:11 exhorts us to encourage and build up one another.  James 5:16 exhorts us to pray for one another.  Spiritual maturity is best achieved through relationships.

Pastors have a unique dilemma in this regard because they find opening their life up to church members a dangerous proposition. Unless a pastor has close friends outside of his church or a group of fellow pastors he meets with, he can find himself all alone and susceptible to using unhealthy escape mechanisms like drugs, pornograpy or affairs to deal with the pressure of the ministry.  Let's face it, pastors and all Christian men and women need holy friends.

Some churches try to organize men's and women's small groups to facilitate these kinds of relationships.  But it's very difficult to program this level of openness and commitment. It almost always happens organically. But you can be intentional about finding and developing this level of relationship.  Here are some suggestions and I'd love for you to share any other ideas. 
  1. Take it slow.  Look for friends that you already have and be their "holy friend". Discuss the possibility of a "holy friendship".  Set aside a regular meeting to discuss personal issues. 
  2. Keep your discussions confidential. Agree to tell no one, not even your wife, what you disclose in your meetings and honor that covenant. 
  3. You be a holy friend and open up first. As you share deeper, this should encourage your friend to open up.  If it is always a one sided discussion, then you probably need to look for another "holy friend". 
  4. Focus not on the sin, but on the reason for the sin. Talk about why you feel the need to do what you do.  
  5. Set goals and guidelines and ask about them each time you meet.  Be honest and transparent. You can only be held accountable to that which you reveal. 
  6. Give permission for your accountability partner to kick your butt when you need a butt-kicking. 
  7. Seek progress not perfection.
  8. Don't focus totally on the negative. Discuss dreams and aspirations. Affirm and encourage each other. 
  9. Keep the circle small. Many find it more beneficial to have three persons meeting for accountability. But the more you add beyond three the more difficult it becomes to have everyone at the meetings consistently. Consistency is critical to success. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Thank God you didn't win the lottery!

I didn't win the lottery, but I confess I didn't even buy a ticket. I guess I'm a party-pooper cause it seems every one of my friends played the lottery.  I must admit there is a great temptation to buy that lottery ticket, especially when everyone you know is talking about how they are going to win, almost giddy with anticipation, waiting to hear their numbers called. And I have heard many of my Christian friends describe what they will do with the money when they win. They really believe that God is going to facilitate their winning and they all say they intend to give a lot of it away.

So, I do feel left out of being part of the experience. This may be the only reason I would consider buying a ticket. But I never have and there is really one big reason I don't play - I don't want to waste my money on something that would absolutely destroy my life. Yes, you heard me, if I won, the money would change my life, but only for the worse.  It doesn't matter if the pot is 2 million or 40 million, winning would ruin me. (This is another thing that perplexes me. Why is it when the pot reaches an enormous amount do people decide to join in.  It's as if 25 million is not enough, but when it reaches 40 million then I think I'll play.)  So I figure for me, there are only two scenarios that could happen if I buy a ticket.

1. I don't win, so I've just thrown my money away.
2. I win and destroy my life.

I've talked to a lot of Christians about the lottery and most think I'm being a killjoy. But here is why I say winning the lottery would ruin my life and probably your's also.
1) I know that I am not prepared to be a multi millionaire and very few of us are. The burden of even giving all that money away, not to mention investing and spending it wisely would crush me. Most people who win, lose their friends, destroy their marriage and end up miserable because they can't handle all that comes with being very wealthy. That life of a rich person from down here looks wonderful, but in reality, it is nothing like what we think.

If you earn your money by hard work, you have a better chance of managing the money and its affect on your life because you have acquired it over time and adjusted over time. That won't exempt you from the negative affects of having an excess of money. But when you acquire it all at once, you have little to no preparation, mentally, spiritually or financially to deal with all of the change. If you think you have stress in your life now, you can't imagine the weight and worry you'll suddenly experience if you come into millions of dollars. You may think you can handle it, but that is almost as big a fantasy as winning the lottery. 

2) I believe the Bible and Jesus.  The truth is as Jesus says, money and wealth can turn your heart away from God. Get rich quick Schemes will lead us away from trusting God as the real source of our financial security.  In other words, the more money you accumulate, the harder it is to trust in almighty God and the easier it is to trust in the almighty dollar.  

Matthew 6:24 ; 
 No one can serve two masters. He will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.
1 Timothy 6:10;
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Hebrews 13:5
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.””

These are wise words to consider for all of us, whether we play the lottery or not. Never think money will be the answer to your problems. None of us are exempt, especially if all of a sudden you go from earning a modest income to having millions.  And when it comes to the lottery, if you believe that you are going to win and believe you could handle the large payout if you should actually win, you are living in a make-believe world. 
Or think of it this way. We have already won a lottery so to speak just by living in this country and this time period. I am rich by world's standards and I have a hard enough time devoting myself to God as it is without having millions more to deal with.    

So when you feel the urge to spend that one dollar, or one hundred dollar bill, on a chance to ruin your life, think again. And be thankful to God!  Not playing or not winning may just have saved your life. 

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