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How To Keep First Things First, Part 2

From the series Balancing Life's Demands

Setting priorities, putting first things first is important. The question is how do you keep those priorities in place? Chip explores the essential elements that must be in place in order for you to be able to keep your priorities in line over the long haul.

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Message Transcript

How can some of the most committed, gifted people in all the body of Christ, both in Bible times and our times – how in the world can you get off track?

And hopefully, in your heart of hearts, you’re saying, “I don’t ever want to get off the track, and I don’t know how I could get off of track, but gosh, if Paul thinks he could get off track and if all those people in the nation of Israel got off track, and some people that were my heroes got off track, I guess I could. But how? What happens?” You and I underestimate the power of our own sinful passions.

Paul will pick up the story, after reaching in and giving us his spiritual view of those children of Israel. Then, in verse 6 through 11, he explains. “Now these things happened as examples” – or a type – “for us” – those things he just talked about – “... that we should not crave evil things as they craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord” – or test the Lord – “as some of them did and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as” – notice the repetition – “an example, and they are written for our instruction, upon which the ends of the ages have come.”

I want you to circle the word example – first line and in the last – and I want you to realize his point is, “I’m making the example.” Now, if we had a lot more time, and for some of you that really love to do Bible study, did you notice, a lot of these phrases, he is pulling out the whole big stories of the Old Testament, right? And so, let me do some quick Bible study with you.

I want you to put a line under “crave evil things”. What he’s saying is, there are passions. In fact, it’s an intensive form. There’s a word for cravings or lusts or passions. This has a prefix. It’s an intensified form. So, he’s saying they had supercharged lusts and passions and drives that they fulfilled outside of God’s plan.

And then, he goes on to say – put a box around the word idolaters. At the heart, always at the heart of us falling away from the living God is, we make someone or something the idol, or the god, in His place. And guess what, it can be your mate. Are you ready? It can be your ministry. Yes, it can be your money. It can be a car. It can be another woman, another man.

But anything or anyone that takes the rightful place of your loyalty and allegiance is an idol. He’s saying we have passions, we have drives, we’re tempted in the world to satisfy them in different ways. And so, what’s he say? He says they come out as idolaters, as some of them did.

Then, notice, he’s going to – I’m going to ask you to put a – gosh, have we done lines? We’ve done boxes. Let me give you three more boxes, because I don’t know whether we ought to do lines, circles, or boxes. But when he says, “Nor let us act immorally,” put a box around “act immorally.” That’s the lust of the flesh. Skip down and put – it’s hard to put a box around, but, “try” – or test – “the Lord”.

He’s talking about the story of the envy of Moses. That’s the lust of the eyes.

And then, put a box around the word grumble. That’s the pride of life. We want that power.

And all I’m telling you is, this is just so basic, and he’s giving us this picture. He says you constantly underestimate the power of your own sinful passions. I don’t care how much Bible, how long you’ve been a Christian, on certain days, at a certain time, you have these desires, and different windows in different seasons, and it can be difficulty or loneliness or travel or pain or sickness or some unresolved anger or an injustice, and in that window of time – you know, maybe only one out of a hundred thousand times you would act on that lustful, sinful passion, but he says, you better understand that you, David, and everybody else – you can fall off and make mistakes that you’d regret the rest of your life.

But it’s an amazing thing, is when we know there’s going to be – my behavior’s going to be brought into the light, it really helps me not go into the darkness. I mean, when you know and you’re not going to pretend, and you’re not going to fake it.

In fact, I made a note to myself. Did you ever wonder why so much sin occurs late at night and away from people? So much sin occurs in very dim, dark rooms; so much sin occurs out of town, often among people who don’t know one another well, when people are all alone, and when people are under great stress.

Every one of those things has you in a place where there’s not accountability; there’s not the sense that – the lie is, you won’t be found out. The truth is, your sin will always find you out, and my sin will always find me out.

And so, all I’m saying is… You know what? I’m trying to persuade you. Are you starting to get persuaded? I’m trying to tell you that you can’t live without this. I don’t care what new lines – you say, “Ah, you know what? I’m going to put first things first. I’m going to develop that discipline. It’s going to be in this area and that area, and I’m going to honor God.”

I implore you to say, “Who is going to go there with me? What group of guys can I do this with? What group of women” – as a woman – “can I do this with?” And in cases, “What set of couples could we dream some dreams together and, in appropriate ways, be very honest?”

The fourth reason is because we constantly overestimate our ability to handle temptation. We underestimate the power of our passions or our sinful passions, and we overestimate our ability to handle temptation.

I mean, some of you – and you don’t mean it like this – but just in your subconscious, you’re just thinking, I would never do that. I would never do that. I mean, I’m past that. Those things don’t affect me. I mean, we’re just friends. It’s platonic. Those kind of movies, I know some people struggle with them, but not me. They’re a little bit racy in places, but, you know...

Or, it could appear this way, but we’re both very mature Christians, and I’m sure nothing would ever come of this relationship. What’s Paul say? He applies this passage: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

You might jot down Hebrews 3:13; it’s one of my favorite passages. It says, “Encourage one another day after day, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” You know, the word deceitful means you don’t know; you don’t get it. And notice, it’s about your heart. It always starts there. Your heart gets hardened. In fact, Jesus said that is the core reason for divorce. He says men’s heart, women’s hearts, they get hardened. And that’s why we’re to be tender hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven us.

“But encourage” – do you get that? “But encourage one another.” And encouragement isn’t, like, high fiving, “Oh, you’re wonderful; I’m wonderful. Isn’t life happy?” This word is that parakaleo. It’s translated in some places as the word for the Holy Spirit, it’s “one who comes alongside.” Encouragement is you come alongside another person, and sometimes it means you tell them really hard stuff. Sometimes it just means you listen in support, and sometimes you just say, “I’m so proud of you.” But it’s doing life together. It’s caring.

I just want, in my heart and mind, to just say to myself, “Chip, on any given day, in the exact right circumstances, you are capable of sin beyond your wildest imagination. So you need to make pre-decisions about where you’ll go and what you’ll do and who you’ll hang with, and you need to have a group of people that you can surround yourself with, that love you, that you invite into your life, and say, ‘You know what? You know, here’s my heart. Here’s my life. Here are my motives. Here are my struggles. This is what I’m going through in my life. Where’re you going?’”

And if you don’t have that, you’ll start faking it. And you’ll have these temptations, and you’ll have thoughts, and you’ll feel like, Well, I can’t – well, actually, it leads to the very next and last reason.

The fifth reason that we need biblical accountability is we naively believe our struggles and temptations are unique. See, I need it because I think, well, whether I like it or not, I’ve been a pastor for, like, twenty-five years, and, you know, people view me as a Christian leader, so I guess I’m a Christian leader. And then, I have this profile of Christian leaders, I bet they never struggle with this, and I guess now I’m a Christian leader, so if I ever struggle with that, something must be wrong with me.

Wrong. I’m a man. And you’re a man, or a woman, or a student. And no temptation has ever taken me, or ever taken you, but what is common to man. But God will, with the temptation, provide a way of escape that you might be able to endure it.

One time, someone said, “You know, I don’t know how you do it, Chip, because sometimes when you talk, I feel like you’re just talking to me, like you’re reading my mind.” This verse is my preaching verse. Now, this may sound crazy, but any area I’ve ever struggled with in my life, I make this assumption – so does everybody else. Ha! And then, you know, I’ve told you I’m insecure, just like everybody else in this room, and I’m not overly vulnerable. I’m just thinking to myself, Let’s see, if every guy I’ve ever met, apart from the comatose guys, struggle with lust at some level, every woman I’ve ever met, at some level, struggles with self-image. Okay, everyone gets overextended. I mean, everyone has unresolved anger issues in your marriage. Everyone has, at some season in your marriage, you had problems with communication, sex, in-laws, and kids. Right? I mean, duh!

So, I don’t think it’s not, like, “Ohh,” I mean, you know, when you start talking about a few of those things, they’re like, “Oh, gosh, what’s wrong with him?” You know, what I get is, “Ehh, he’s one of us.” And you know what you need? You need people that you don’t have to have pretense with.

I wrote down a couple things, and I’ve been in some good men’s groups and some good brothers, and you need to be able to say to someone, “You know what? I know it may not sound very spiritual, especially in our church and our denomination, but I think I’m clinically depressed. And I’m not – could you help me know – I haven’t gone through when and how and why is medication good or not good, and how long, and who did you talk to, and...?” There are people that are clinically depressed, and they don’t have anyone to talk to, because it’s the unpardonable sin in their little group.

Or a guy says, “You know what? This is really weird, and it only happened once, and it just flashed through my mind, but it scared me to death. I had a homosexual urge. Do you know what that is?” “I don’t know what that is. I mean, ahhhhhh!” You know?

Or, “I was just driving one day, and as I was driving down the road, and I was just feeling kind of low, and I just thought, You know, I’m just sick of all the pressure. And I was just – I was driving real fast, and there was a curve coming, and I just – I don’t know why, it came out of the blue – I just thought to myself, I think I’ll go straight. I think I’ll just floor it. I got some insurance. I’m not down; I’m not depressed, but I’m just – I’m just sick of life.” And as you’re going, these thoughts are going through your mind, and you think, Oh, well, I’d never do that, but it’s kind of getting closer, and then, you – oh – you know?

Good, godly, amazing, committed, Bible study teachers, leaders, moms, grandparents, men, women, you have some of those thoughts. Well, welcome to the human race.

I remember, I was teaching a series on spiritual warfare, and as I was studying that – and there was a lot of that in California – and I remember praying, and one of the things that God took away early and miraculously – some things I’ve really had to work through – I just remember, like, three weeks after I was a Christian, God just went – bing!­ – and I quit cussing.

And I’d tried before. I had a bad mouth, you know, locker room and all that jazz – and I just quit. So, I hadn’t cussed in twenty years. And I was praying, I mean, before the throne of God, and it was just stuff was going through my mind. It was like, What’s happening to me? You know? Gosh, is this God saying, “You’re not a very good pastor anymore”?

And you know, my initial thought was, I’m going insane. What’s happened to me? And then, I thought, Wait a second. Hold it. Temptation is not the same thing as sin. Temptation means there’s an opportunity to be lured away, in some way.

You know, looking at a very attractive woman and going, “Wow! Very attractive,” is not the same as lusting for her. And you know, as a mature believer, I can say, “Lord, sunsets are beautiful and the trees are beautiful, and she’s beautiful,” and that’s look number one.

Now, I want to thank You for what You made beautiful for me – Theresa.” But I’m not going to beat myself up all day because, “Whoa!” I’m a man. God gave me eyes, and they’re attracted to certain things, when a woman is beautiful.

And ladies, do you have to feel bad every time you see a beautiful room decorated, and you’re first thought is, That would look so good here, but we’d have to remodel. We just did that four years ago, and...? You know, the sin is when you start planning and figuring out how you’re going to get your husband into doing that deal, right?

But the point I want to make is, because we naively believe our struggles and temptations are unique, we start to hide the ones that we think we’re too mature or we shouldn’t have. And I just want to go back to, secrecy is where the enemy will bombard you with doubts and struggles and condemnation.

You know what? When you have a struggle, let me tell you what the Spirit does. Tchoo! It’s specific. It’s sin, righteousness, judgment: “Repent, because I love you.”

Condemnation is vague: “You’re a terrible person. You know, you’re a lousy this; you’re a lousy that, you know? Why God put you on this?” It’s general. It’s vague. Condemnation makes you not like you, not like God, and not want to pray. Conviction is a light shining on something that needs to be addressed, and you lift it into the light. And just like bacteria out of the darkness, when the light hits the bacteria, whoo! And so that the fellowship can be restored.

If you confess, agree with God, about your sins, He’s faithful and just to – what? Forgive, release you of all your sins, and cleanse you of all unrighteousness.

What’s he say about this biblical accountability? He says, what’s the summary? “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” See, at the heart of it, at the heart of it all is that I end up, me worshipping me. It’s really not about the sex; it’s about the ego. It’s really not about the food; it’s about the ego. It’s not about the business and the work; it’s about the ego.

At the end of the day, the core of sin is going to come back to, in any and all of these, is God gets taken off the throne, my way, my control, my agenda, a world system, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life, promising me security, significance, value, and worth, apart from God. I bite on the bait; I make an idol. And then, Paul says, “And if that happens, then, I get disqualified.”

Disqualified from my relationship of eternal life? No. Disqualified as a useful vessel of honor, and disqualified, not only of use by God, but bringing incredible, incredible pain in the lives of others. There’s no such thing as private sins.

Every sin I commit, every sin you commit has ripples. Some of them you may never see, but they have ripples. Even the ones that no one else has found out about, they have ripples.

So, I have given you five reasons to say, “Dear God, I not only want, I am committed to having biblical accountability in my life.” Paul needed it; I need it. 1 Corinthians 10 outlines clearly we all need it.

So, how do you get it? How does it work? Let me give you some practical, I guess that I call them spiritual, tips on getting there.

Number one, it begins at home. When we talk about accountability, too often we jump into places outside. Start with the people that you live with. I think there are appropriate things, as men, better off to share with men, and women with women. I am very super open with my wife, but there are certain things that, you know what? My wife is not a man. She doesn’t really understand. And I need some guys that I can share that with, and her vice versa. But I think you’ve got to start in your home, your marriage partner or your roommates.

I mean, they see you. See, in those accountability groups, man, it’s smoke and mirrors: “Oh, yeah, you know, yeah, yeah.” Tell you what, you don’t do that at home. It’s like you left the dishes here, and you didn’t clean up this here, and you said that over here, and, you know, you’re saying all this spiritual jazz – I’m living with you. It’s not matching. So, you start at home.

Second, it’s an atmosphere of love: tender, compassionate, someone who’s rooting for you. You don’t need to become and you don’t need a spiritual Gestapo: [German accent] “Azoo! So, you didn’t read your Bible today, huh? You blew it!” I don’t need that. I want people to be straightforward, but I want someone who really loves me. They’ll be tough when they need to be tough, but even when they’re tough, I want to see a little tear, or their eyes getting watery when they have mustered up the courage to confront me about something they know could split our relationship, and they’re being really tough. But I can feel, behind the toughness, man, they love me.

Third, it must be voluntary and by permission. There is no need for another junior Holy Spirit in your life. You have One who has the job. And so, people who come to you, and, “I would like to be your accountability partner, and I can help you grow.” Thank you, no.

And by the way, I think this is one you need to really negotiate. It is really hard. Some of you are in these, semi-imbalanced relationships, and you’re the wife, and you’re in the Bible, and you love God and you’re going to church, and your husband’s sort of not so close.

And, as he gets up, here’s a Bible passage opened, and here’s a CD by so and so, and, “By the way, honey, I’ll pick up your favorite meal if you just go to church with us, and…” And just forget that jazz. Let God work.

You let your chaste behavior and how you live say, “I’ll tell you what, if this loving Jesus makes you love me the way you love me, then honey, you just keep going to church, and I might even check it out.” Let God, and vice versa. So, it’s got to be by permission. We don’t go out and hold other people accountable.

Four, it must be specific, not generic. I mean, this sort of, “Hey, why don’t we meet, and we all have coffee?” And, “So, how’re you doing in general?” “Oh, I’m doing pretty good in general. How are you doing in general?” “I’m doing pretty good in general. So, what do you think of those Falcons?” “At our place, they actually won a game! Amen!” Or, “Hey, you think the Cardinals are going to be any good this year with that quarterback change?” Or, “I don’t know, have you seen the last Southern Living magazine? I thought it was so cute, the way that...” You know. And, “Isn’t it good to be in these accountability groups? It just makes me feel warm all over.” You know? And then, we kid ourselves, thinking that something’s happening. It needs to be specific.

You might even put some things in writing and say, “You know what? As we meet together, these are the things we want to cover.” I have a fellow – he’s that dad figure – and I’ll never forget, I was in Dallas, and he has permission, and we talk on a regular basis, and he’s real funny. He has a flattop and kind of looks at me like this and he said, “Okay, while we wait on our food, are you ready?”

And you know, it’s like a game show or something. I said, “A.C., man, what are you doing?” He goes, “Well, are you ready?” I said, “Yeah.” And he takes his wallet, and he has this little laminated thing, and – real small print – and these questions. “Question number one: Have you, any time, since we last met, been on the Internet and watched anything inappropriate?” “Question number two.”

And, I mean, he goes through my thought life, my time, my money, my ego. And then, the last question, after it was, like, five basic areas, he goes, “Question number six: Have you lied to me on questions one through five?”

And you know what? He knows me, and he’s kind of goofy. He knew it’d be uncomfortable. He knew it’d be the kind of thing that it’s always awkward. But guess what, I’ve got a safe place to go.

Anybody ask you those questions? You asking anybody those questions? According to this passage, until the day you take your last breath, and I take my last breath, there’ll be struggles in those areas, right? So, it needs to be specific. And by the way, every time, it doesn’t need to be hardcore, “All right” – you know? But you build relationship and you build trust, but it’s, “We’re going to be specific about some things.”

[He skips point 5: It must be regular, not sporadic.]

My rule of thumb is, no more than four people, unless there are unique relationships of closeness that allow for more. And I think two is not great, because we start getting blind spots for one another. I mean, it’s okay. I think mentoring relationships are great, but for accountability, there’s something healthy about having someone listen to stuff and say, because what you do is, you’re vulnerable when you’re really being open, and you only have one set of eyes looking at what’s going on. I want to couple set of eyes. So, I have relationships with a handful of people like this.

The conclusion: Making sincere commitments is tough. Keeping them is next to impossible alone. There’s hope. Many start well; few finish well. You can be the exception. You can be the exception. There is no temptation taken to you, there is no trial taken to you but such is common to man, and with that temptation, God will provide a way of escape. And I’m telling you, the way to escape is that a cord of three is not easily broken.