Saturday, July 15, 2006

Outnumbered and Surrounded by Enemies

I receive a free monthly magazine from The Voice of the Martyrs. An organization that works with Christians persecuted for their faith, around the world. In an ironic twist, it seems more often than not, that these persecuted Christians are doing more to share the love of Jesus with non-believers, than those of us who live in free countries.

The following is taken from an article from a recent edition of the magazine. (It should be noted that in Egypt it is illegal to convert to Christianity).

One Egyptian Christian approached two imams of a large mosque. He told them “I want to know about the truth and talk about Islam. The imams were delighted and told him to come to the mosque the following day at one o’clock.

The next day when the Christian walked in, he was surprised to see the two leaders sitting there with 10 of their students, or disciples. The Christian prayed, “Oh God, help me find a way to talk to them.” He was outnumbered and surrounded by enemies. Sitting down on the carpet with the group, he addressed the imam with the traditional term “beloved.” The imam stopped him. “You cannot call me that!” said the irritated leader, “I cannot love you as a friend.” The Christian opened his Bible to Matthew 5: “But my holy book, the Bible, commands me to love you. Jesus said we should love our enemies.

The imam’s disciples were watching this discourse with great interest. One of them turned and asked their leader, “Why can’t we be a friend to him?” Another asked, “Why does God say we must hate him, but his God tells him to love us?” The imam stood up, furious, and tried to speak, but his anger, or the hand of God, caused his voice to choke up. He put his hand on his own throat, his face turning red, then whirled around and left the room. The Muslim disciples moved closer on the rug, clustering around the Christian. They asked questions for the rest of the afternoon. They wanted to know more about this power to love your enemies. Some still meet with this bold brother.

To get your own subscription visit The Voice of the Martyrs website.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Spiritual Accountability Questions

The following is the letter from Chuck Swindoll I mentioned in my last post. I think it lists some great questions and I plan to use it as a guide in my accountability group.

Being creatures with blind spots and tendencies toward rationalization, we must also be in close touch with a few trustworthy individuals with whom we meet on a regular basis. Knowing that such an encounter is going to happen helps us hold the line morally and ethically. I know of nothing more effective for maintaining a pure heart and keeping one’s life balanced and on target than being a part of an accountability group. It is amazing what such a group can provide to help us hold our passions on check!

Recently, I was encouraged to hear about a minister who meets once a week with a small group of men. They are committed to one another’s purity. They pray with and for each other. They talk openly and honestly about their struggles, weaknesses, temptations, and trials. In addition to these general things they look one another in the eye and answer no less than 8 specific questions:

1. Have you been with a woman (or man) this week in such a way that was inappropriate or could have looked to others that you were using poor judgment?

2. Have you been completely above board in your financial dealings this week?

  • Are you honoring God with your money?

  • Tithing regularly?

  • Getting out of debt?

3. Have you purposely exposed yourself to any explicit material (pornographic and/or sexually suggestive material) this week?

  • Have you held on to or fostered any impure thoughts?

4. Have you spent daily time in prayer and in God’s Word this week?

  • Where is the Bible you are reading?

  • When do you have your time with God?

  • Do you keep a prayer list?

5. Have you fulfilled the mandate of your calling? In other words, have you fulfilled the responsibilities God has called you to as a member of His body and witness to the world?

  • How is your service for Christ going?

  • Have you done your part of fulfilling the Great Commission by sharing how to become a Christian with someone or discipling other believers?

6. Have you taken time off to be with your family this week?

  • What have you done to show your wife she is cherished?

  • What have you done to show your kids they are special and unconditionally loved?

7. Is there anyone you need to ask for forgiveness from or anyone to forgive?

8. Have you just lied to us?

Authenticity and Accountability

The past month has found me right in the midst of a move to a new home (hence the reason I haven’t posted in so long). As is inevitable in any move I began looking through old files and I came across a letter from Chuck Swindoll. As I read it I began to think about the hundreds of pastors and church leaders I’ve worked with from all over the world and two of the biggest obstacles to their work.

One of the biggest chasms between many pastors and their congregants is a lack of authenticity. So often it seems that a pastor will preach from the pulpit about how everyone else should live their life, but then never takes the time to explain the struggles he is facing in his own life. This often causes the church-goer to believe there is something wrong with them if they are struggling with something that seems to affect no one else. Over time this syndrome will cause many to view the pastor as having a “holier than thou” status and eventually they will walk away from the church disgruntled.

The other half of this deadly combination is a lack of accountability. Quickly eroding the trust and credibility of the pastor and just a small step away from becoming full blown hypocrisy, lack of accountability will cause the most moral of men to eventually fall. One of the most destructive things to happen to a church is moral failure by a pastor. Perhaps the single best method for preventing moral failure is accountability. (Anyone remember Proverbs 27:17?) Far too often a pastor is so busy tending to people that he fails to forge accountability relationships with others, however these relationships are absolutely vital if one hopes to have any defense against the giant bulls-eye painted on him by the Devil.

Becoming authentic and honest from the pulpit will require a tremendous amount of courage (at first) and the solicitation of feedback from trusted peers, but it can be done and it will become easier over time. Gathering a friend, or small group of friends, together to help hold each other accountable is much more difficult. It may even seem terrifying at first. Revealing your deep innermost struggles and temptations to another person may leave you feeling vulnerable and awkward at first. But with the right person (or group of people) and an atmosphere of trust and confidence, one can establish a line of protection against moral failure that will be exponentially more difficult for the Devil to penetrate.

Although I have written specifically about pastors, that by no means excludes any of us from needing to exhibit these characteristics in our own lives. How will those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus, come to have one if they look at our lives as inauthentic or holier than thou? How will they view me if I continually have moral failures and do little to prevent it from happening again? For me personally, authenticity and accountability are two areas I could do much better in and I plan to make an intentional effort to improve them starting now. How about you?