Monday, September 21, 2009
Cori's surgery was a success and I thank God for her. She is the most beautiful woman in the world and she has taken the firmest of steps to live in a healthy way. Much love, Cori!!!
I also thank God that He loves me enough to make me grow and challenge the status quo in my life. I may have nearly exhausted myself this weekend, but I must remember that my strength comes from the Lord and that He is pleased when I am not ok with staying the same.
So...as I look to this weekend I realize that if I am stretching my faith for great things, I must sacrifice myself greatly! Therefore, I can say truthfully that I hope this coming weekend will stretch me even more!
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Undivided: the Real You Must Be Whole
We were young, we had babies crawling everywhere, and we were considering buying a state-of-the-art baby swing for our backyard swing set. Deterred by the exorbitatnt price for a glorified piece of plastic, we had put it on hold.
Then one day in a neighborhood garage sale, there it was! Between an Arthur Ashe wooden tennis racket and an eight-inch ceramic dolphin, we saw the very swing we’d been eyeing in the kids’ megastore catalog. God had provided – for just $30!
Although I would have gladly paid $50 for the slightly used answer to our prayers, my negotiation mode kicked in. I offered the owner $15, and it was on. Back and forth we went. Then I pulled my ace. I humbly explained that I was the pastor of a small church. “Could you find it in your heart to give me a break?” I asked politely. “I only have $20, and this swing would be perfect for my children.”
She softened and agreed. Feeling triumphant, I opened my wallet. The only bill I had was a hundred.
Why does integrity seem like such a complicated issue? Why do we even have to talk about it? It almost seems like it should go without saying: If you want to fully follow Christ, then integrity is not optional. It’s mandatory. (Even for – perhaps especially for – pastors negotiating for a plastic garage-sale swing.)
As ministers, we’re often vulnerable to integrity lapses during two times: in our greatest successes and in our greatest trials. When God is blessing your ministry, it’s tempting to think you’re above the rules. And when you’re struggling, it’s easy to rationalize sin. Although a minister may never verbally acknowledge or consciously admit to one of these temptations, they’re there:
They just don’t understand what I’m going through …
This is the only vice I have …
This helps me disconnect …
I can’t be perfect …
No one knows about this anyway …
God is still using me …
As with all sin, these thoughts are rooted in self-centeredness rather than in God-centeredness. It’s easy to justify ourselves: I’ve earned _____. The truth is, we’ve all sinned, so all we’ve “earned” are death, hell, and the grave.
What is integrity anyway, and why does it matter? By definition, integrity is a “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” Easy enough. If we follow Christ, we can maintain integrity by living the standards in God’s Word. But stopping with the first definition sells integrity short. Further examination reveals this meaning: “the quality or state of being complete or undivided.”
It matters because if you lack integrity, not only are you impaired in doing ministry to your fullest potential, but you’re also not complete. Your ministry can’t fire on all cylinders. Your intimacy with God is lacking. You struggle to hear His voice. You’ve hindered His blessings. And you’re breaking His heart.
There’s no wiggle room here. Some ministers almost seem to think they can fake integrity: if no one knows about my sin, then it doesn’t count – does it? Consider several other words that don’t mean exactly the same thing, but are directly related to integrity: Authenticity. Opennes. Decency. Honor. Incorruptibility. Principle. Sincerity. Soundness. Virtue. Wholeness. Honesty.
Here’s a useful exercise to test whether you demonstrate a standard of integrity. Describe yourself aloud using the list of qualities above: “Craig has integrity. Craig is authentic. Craig exhibits openness …” (But use your own name. It’s just creepy when you say it with mine.) As you say these, are they true? If it feels like lying at any point, then you’ve got some things to address. Maybe you look wonderful to everyone around you. But are you really just a whitewashed tomb?
If integrity is so critical to fulfilling our role in spreading the gospel, then why is it occasionally lacking in ministry? First, it’s because we have an enemy – simple as that. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV)
If someone’s just skating through life, “believing” in God, but not really actively participating “on the front lines,” they’re no threat to the enemy. However, when you engage, when you’re personally vested in advancing God’s kingdom, when you’re “all in,” guess what? There’s a big target on your back, with your head raised up above the crowd. Keep your guard up, or you’re never going to last.
Second, you can’t do it alone. Read that again: You can’t do it alone. Verse 9 clues us in: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith …” And why? “Because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (emphasis mine). We can’t find integrity without each other – so we can’t go it alone.
That’s why one of our enemy’s most effective weapons is divide and conquer. And we’re often vulnerable to this line of attack. Why? As ministers, we’ve often been let down or burned in relationships. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we often become more cautious, more distant, more isolated.
We should never keep a life in Christ to ourselves. We urge the people we lead to participate in community. We encourage them again and again to get into small groups with other Christ followers. We must practice what we preach. We must open our hearts and invite others in. If we don’t, we’ll always be vulnerable.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV)
These things are probably obvious. I get it, Craig. Integrity’s important. But how do you DO it? I’m glad you asked.
Accountability is crucial. A minister or spiritual leader without accountability is begging for spiritual attack, and always more vulnerable to integrity breaches.
If you’re going to be the real deal, then take bold action. You can’t eliminate temptation from your life. But you can make it harder for it to reach you. With strong accountability, you can make spiritual or moral failure much harder to find.
I try to place significant barriers between me and temptation. Build walls distancing you from sin – not from people. Nehemiah surrounded himself with warrior-masons and rebuilt the city walls, and they simultaneously watched each other’s backs.
Our leaders have agreed on a few practical policies that both protect me from temptation and set a good example for others:
- I never travel out of town overnight alone.
- I have zero access to the church’s finances.
- I’m never alone with a woman besides my wife.
- Two other people review all my Internet activity.
- All outside ministry invitations are reviewed by others.
- Leaders ensure I take enough time off to rest.
When I talk one-on-one to our staff members about integrity, I’ll say, “Tell me, out loud: what are the three most vulnerable areas in your life?” Sharing these aloud with a trusted advisor or counselor is a critical first step toward success. Willingness to expose your most vulnerable points brings you closer to defeating them.
Zig Ziglar says to share your “give-up” goals with everybody. Here are some examples: “I’m going to quit …
… criticizing other ministries.”
… watching inappropriate shows for a quick escape.”
… comparing our church to the one down the road.”
… letting my finances spin out of control.”
… relying on sleeping pills at night and coffee in the morning.”
… holding bitterness against those who let me down.”
Share every goal with your spouse. Review my earlier list of integrity-related qualities. You cannot live true integrity if you’re willing to keep secrets from your spouse.
Sharing (or confession) has two components: Confess to God, who faithfully forgives. Confess to each other to receive healing. Doing only half yields only half the results.
You may even make another step of confession. Invite a trusted Christian counselor into your journey. Several years ago, I swallowed my pride and invited a professional to help me overcome some nagging challenges. Do whatever it takes.
I’ll leave you with some deliberate questions for reflection that have helped me:
- Am I more like Christ today than I was a year ago?
- Am I wholly surrendered?
- Am I carrying a sinful secret that needs to be confessed?
- What am I afraid of someone finding out?
- Does anyone know me? The real me?
Craig Groeschel is the founder and senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv, an evangelical Christian multi-site church with multiple locations in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Texas that feature live satellite video services. Craig is married with six children and lives in Oklahoma.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
He will improve my effectiveness as a father, minister and follower of Christ. It is His power, not mine. Come and fill me again Holy Spirit!