weekend Broadcast

How To Keep First Things First, Part 1

From the series Balancing Life's Demands

Whatever happened with those new year’s resolutions? Still working out? Still on that diet program? Well, getting started is one thing but soon the real question is: “How do you keep it going?” Join Chip and find out how to keep first things first.

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Message Transcript

Putting first things first is one thing. Keeping first things first, now, that’s a whole other thing. So, we’re going to talk about, well, how do you keep first things first? The problem is, many start well, but few finish well. It’s one thing to make a commitment and to really mean it. It’s quite another thing to keep it sustained, over a significant period of time, so that those things that you know you want to do, you know God wants you to do, you find yourself little by little by little putting a week together into a month, and a few months into a year, and a few years into a decade, and a couple of decades – and that’s how you leave a legacy.

I mean, that’s how life really plays out. It’s what I’m doing today, with a view to God’s calling, His purpose, and legacy in my life. And whether it’s scanning – you know? You can look – read the characters in this book, and a lot of them start well. I mean, I’m reading through right now, just my personal devotional time, just in – it’s 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and I’ve got news for you. There are a lot of kings that start well, but I can only find a handful that finish well. Samson starts well, doesn’t finish well. Solomon starts well, doesn’t finish well. Demas started well, didn’t finish well.

In the second half of life, some people that we all have admired seem to – something happens. A lot of churches start well, don’t finish well. A lot of businesses. I mean, remember the book In Search for Excellence by Tom Peters?

There were ten companies he profiled in that book: This is excellence. I could be mistaken, but at least nine out of ten of those currently are out of businesses. They started well. In a season, they were doing some things well. But it wasn’t sustainable. So, that’s really, you’re kind of looking at me like, Well, gosh, I’m glad there’s the good news for this session, you know? No one else is finishing well, but somehow... Right? That’s the problem. In fact, closer to home, a lot of marriages start well, a lot of parenting starts well, a lot of it doesn’t finish well.

And now that we’ve got the problem isolated, what’s the solution? I want to suggest that the solution, apart from your own relationship with God – there’s no quick-easy, but for people who really want to follow Christ, for people that want to honor God, for people who want to balance their life and do things God’s way, for His glory and for their good, and for others, the two words I would give you is biblical accountability. Biblical accountability.

Let me give you a definition. Biblical accountability is enlisting the support of those who love me, to help me keep my commitments to God. In other words, it’s biblical. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. It’s not simply accountability. That’s, in some ways, a negative word, too. This is not getting a group of people that harass you.

This is not getting a group of people that you can meet with on a regular basis to make you feel guilty. This is not calling it “We’re involved in accountability group,” but everyone goes about, oh, a little past the first, superficial layer, but you never really get down to what’s really going on. This is where you ask, you invite people into your life, and you say, “This isn’t about expectations of other people.” This is where you say, “I want to be...”

In my case, “I want to be a man of God. I want to be a great father. I want to be a great husband. I want to be, in the eyes of God, a great pastor and a great friend. Will you help me keep my commitments to God? I don’t want to fulfill your program. I don’t want to fulfill what you think. I’m asking you, would you enter into my inner world, because of our relationship and our trust – will you help me keep my commitments to God? I’m going to open my life. I’m going to be honest; I’m going to be vulnerable. I’m going to share my victories; I’m going to share my struggles. Will you help me?” That’s biblical accountability.

And I’d like to suggest that there is no way to fulfill anything we’ve talked about without it. It’s powerful. Ecclesiastes 4:9 through 12 says, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity” – notice that – “pity the man” – pity the woman – “who falls” – and you know you’re going to fall – “and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three is not quickly broken.”

We have an American, individualistic mindset about spirituality and walking with God that is rooted somewhere deep in the heart of John Wayne. “All right, Pilgrims, it’s me –” that’s not a very good imitation, by the way, either – “and God, and I’m going to do it all by myself, you see?” That was a little bit better.

I want you to know that every New Testament command that I can find is in what’s called, grammatically, the second-person plural: “Hey, be this kind of a husband, you all men. Be this kind of a wife. Walk in purity, you all.” Second-person plural means, you can’t do it alone. It is – it’s not hard, it is impossible to be a man of God, a woman of God, the kind of husband, the kind of pure single person, the kind of employer, employee, church member, elder, deacon – it’s impossible, impossible to do what God’s called you to do – you, God, your Bible.

You need people. I need people. But not people that are at a length, not people that know you superficially, not people that you let in on just certain things, and the real deep struggles and the secrets and the difficulty and the pain and the hurts never get out on the table. You were never designed – it is impossible for you, and impossible for me, to make it apart from other people.

We all agree. I mean, at this point, I love your faces. You’re telling me, “I agree with that.” Intellectually, everyone agrees with biblical accountability. I mean, you know, back to, you are your brother’s keeper. Our experience affirms it works. Some of you will look back, and you could say, “You know what? I would not be the person I am today, apart –” and you’re either thinking of a real close friendship, a mentor, a small group, a season, at times, that it was just like, wow, man, there was connection, open honesty, you were motivated.

History affirms – I mean, we’ve got the Moravians, the Wesleys, the Korean movement, the small group movement – I mean, they didn’t call them “Methodists” for nothing. It was their methodology. You were in a small group. You shared. In Methodism, people would meet twice a week, and they would have corporate confession: “This is where I sinned this week.” We ought to reintroduce that, see how it works.

The Moravians did something very similar. If you see the mushrooming of the Church in Korea, built around the small group movement of holistic small groups, really ministering to one another.

In fact, the world has learned it. They know that overcoming certain things – you know, if you go to AA – right? – if you go to ALANON, if you go to Celebrate Recovery, if you go to Weight Watchers, if you go to Jenny Craig – I mean, what has the world learned? People don’t make lasting change unless they are together with other people, loving, encouraging, and holding one another accountable.

And yet, the great majority of all the Christians do not have or experience biblical accountability. I mean, what do they do in group counseling, rehab centers? Have you ever been through, or have you ever been around someone who’s been through, a twelve-step program? Unbelievable. I mean, the level of honesty. I’ll never forget this. Power of accountability.

We started a Celebrate Recovery program – Santa Cruz is where I pastored for about twelve and a half years. I mean, if you had an addiction, we had you in our church. It’s a wild, crazy, crazy place.

And so, we started this, and this guy I’d never met came up afterwards, and he had a notebook in his hands. He says, “Excuse me.” I said, “Hi.” He said, “Could I do my fourth step with you?” And I said, “I don’t know what the fourth step is.” He said, “Well, I go to the Celebrate Recovery here” – and it was on Friday nights, and a whole group of people that hadn’t made it quite to church yet, and they were making a lot of progress, doing worship, and God was working. And I thought, You know, I should know more about this. So, I said, “Sure.” He said, “Well, it’ll take two hours.” I said, “Well, why don’t you get with my assistant; we’ll figure it out.”

So, we blocked off from two to four, and later that week, he came in, and he came over and sat down. He goes – I mean, no like, “Hey, how you doing?” “Are you ready?” I said, “Yeah.” I said, “What – exactly what is the fourth step?” “It’s a total moral inventory, where I go back through my life and try and discern, and I’ve asked, it’s not the higher power here, we believe Jesus is the Higher Power, He is my God, and I’ve asked God to reveal to me anything I’ve ever done to hurt anyone, at any time, and I want to own the responsibility for what I’ve done, and stop blaming anything or anyone, including God, and you’ve got to get specific.” I said, “Okay.” And he had a yellow pad, all handwritten. He goes, “When I was seven years old” – and he started. “When I was eleven years old...”

And I mean, he told me stuff, I’m thinking, I would not... You know? And I’m thinking, Here I’m a pastor of a church. I have staff meetings. We talk about vulnerability, and you know, I’m thinking, I think we’re doing, like, a C-minus, in terms of honesty and vulnerability, compared to this guy. And that’s why those secrets get out, and strongholds are broken. We need one another.

Well, if we agree we need one another so much, we know it works, question: Why don’t more believers have authentic, biblical accountability that allows you to sustain the discipline in the arenas that God is revealing to you, that you know you want and you long for Him to change in you? And I would like to give you five reasons why accountability is essential for spiritual success.

And what you’re going to find is, we’re going to start right where we were in the last passage. I’m going to make the case that the apostle Paul, one of the greatest Christians – if not the greatest Christian – of all time, is going to say, “Here’s my greatest desire, and here’s my greatest fear.” And his greatest fear is that he would blow it. And then, he’s going to teach us, through 1 Corinthians chapter 10, the necessity and the reasons for biblical accountability.

And then, at the very end, I’m going to say, “Okay” – you know, have you ever had someone say, “I think they’re trying to sell me. I think they’re trying to persuade me right now, but I’m not sure”? I want you to know, I am. Okay? No holds barred. I’m going to try and convince you, from Scripture, and by, I pray, the Spirit’s energizing power in His Word.

When I get done, in about twenty minutes, going through these passages, I hope you’ll go, “I’ve got to have biblical accountability. I mean, whatever it takes, I’ve got to have it.” And then, I’m going to give you just a little game plan, some practical ways to get it operational, and then, the ball’s in your court. All right? Here we go. Five reasons accountability – biblical accountability is essential for spiritual success.

Number one, because we never outgrow the need for personal accountability. We never outgrow the need for personal accountability. And you say, “Chip, well, where do you get that?” Well, let’s listen one more time to what the apostle Paul said.

He says, verse 24 of chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you win. And everyone who competes in the games” – those Olympic games – “exercises discipline or self-control in all things. Well, they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we do it an imperishable. Therefore” – application – “I run in such a way, not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air” – clear-cut goal – “I buffet my body and I make it my slave” – discipline – “lest possibly after I’ve preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

Paul’s greatest desire? Great use for Christ. Paul’s greatest fear: “I think I might, myself, get disqualified. I’ll get off track.”

Here’s the principle: If Paul had those concerns, how much more should we?

I’m thinking to myself, Can you imagine – I mean, if it was possible – can you just imagine, what if the apostle Paul just showed up in the flesh.

And can you imagine, sitting down across from him? It would never enter my mind that this guy, down deep in his heart, is concerned that, someday, some way, through subtle deception, he might no longer be God’s man and walk with Him. But that’s what he’s telling us, right here.

Leaders are among the most susceptible. And by the way, the more responsibility one gets, the more accountability that you need. Leaders have more time alone than others. The more you lead – and by the way, it can be in your family, it can be in your church, it can be in your company – people start assuming you’ve been in the Lord a long time. People go to you for wisdom, and this and that. No one asks you the hard questions anymore. In fact, it would be embarrassing to ask some of you people the hard questions, because you’re so mature. You’re so godly. You would never have those thoughts, right? Mmmmm! Wrong.

And so, we never outgrow the need for personal accountability. And the greater the responsibility you have, either spiritually, family-wise – and by the way, when I say “leaders”, ladies, don’t click into that. Some of you, “Well, I do most of my leading at home.” Is that not, like, the most important leadership role? Isn’t that all future generations? So, I need this; you need this. There’s great pressure as you lead, and, therefore, great opportunity for compromise. So, the first reason is, you never outgrow it.

The second reason that we need biblical accountability for spiritual success is because past successes are no guarantee of future faithfulness. Past successes – and this is very subtle. “I’ve been walking with God for years, I read my Bible, I pray, and I go to church. My family’s done this and, you know what? I’m a man, or I have a few little struggles here and there, but I’m not having big problems with the Internet. I mean, hey, you know? Lighten up, guy. I mean, I’m just – I’m okay.” Past successes are no guarantee of future faithfulness.

And you say, “Well, where do you get that?” I get it from what Paul said. After Paul just finishing telling me, “I’m afraid I might blow it,” he reaches back into the Old Testament, and he’s going to go back and look at, wow, let’s take a look at the Israelites, and let’s get some lessons from them about people that had some pretty cool experiences.

I mean, they had some past success. How’d you like to be on the “I-went-through-the-Red Sea Team,” and got a T-shirt at the end? “Hey, I was there!” Or the “I-was-on-the-manna Team,” forty years, you know, little picture over here, a little logo that says, “I ate special kind of bread for forty years and never...”

Or – or how about, “I was on the ‘I-watched-Korah-get-swallowed-up Team,” you know? Remember that part? Or remember the group that has a little insignia of a snake? “Remember when those people were grumbling, and the serpents and…?” “Oh, yes, I was on the ‘Fire-by-night-and-the-Shekinah-Glory-by-day Team.’” Do you realize how many amazing, overwhelming, supernatural experiences the children of Israel had?

I want to tell you something. Write this down. Your spiritual experiences will not sustain you. God’s works will not sustain you. Only His ways will sustain you. And this isn’t in the notes, but jot down Psalm 103:7. After that great introduction about not forgetting and blessing the Lord, there’s almost a weird verse, because it’s like, where does this fit? It’s the hinge of that psalm. And after he talks about remembering all of God’s works, His works, His works, His works, His works, and then, after verse 7, it’s all about His character, His faithfulness, His love, as far as the east is from the west, you know, all that – there’s this funny verse: “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.” God’s acts. You know, He healed your boy of cancer. They came through the car wreck. You didn’t go into bankruptcy.

I mean, these amazing acts, we could pile them up, God has done so many things, and yet, two months later, two years later, you have a crisis, what happens? “Oh, God, where are You?” It’s no different than the Red Sea and the manna and the serpents and all the rest. It’s His ways that sustain you. That’s why Moses wasn’t saying, “God, give me one more great experience.” He said, “Lord, I want to see Your glory. I want to know You. I want to know what You’re like. I want to know Your heart.”

So, he reaches back in the Old Testament, and notice the connecting word: for. He’s giving a reason. He says, “That I should be disqualified.” Because Paul’s looking back and saying, “If those people, with those amazing experiences can get disqualified, who am I?” He says, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, they all passed through the sea; and they were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea; and they all ate the same spiritual food” – the manna – “and they drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”

Underline the next word: nevertheless. “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.”

Walking with God in the past is no guarantee that you’ll walk with Him in the future. Yesterday’s experiences do not make you useful for tomorrow. There is no such thing as spiritual autopilot: “We’re now have, we’re at thirty thousand feet. If you can lean back, put up your tray – boop! You will walk with God until you die.” Wrong. You’re either growing or shrinking spiritually. For all of us.

You could tell me stories of some of your great heroes – a pastor, a mentor, church leader – that, somewhere in your spiritual journey, they were, like, “Whoa, hey, someday, some way, I want to be…” And right now, they’re a moral failure, right? We all have at least one – I’ve got more than a few – of people that I will tell you, far more gifted than me, loved God far more than me, who are not only not in the ministry, but they’re not married to the same person, or involved in horrendous things.

I mean, there are people that have led thousands of people to Christ and had amazing impact, who, somewhere along the line, thought there was a new set of rules for them: It doesn’t really apply to me. I’m under a lot of pressure. I have a little more freedom than other people. And boy, it’s sad.

The third reason is because we constantly underestimate the power of our own sinful passions. I mean, it begs the question, you – well, how?

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.