The Accountability Group

4 preachers had a weekly tradition of going fishing together. One particular day, they were out on the lake and the boat was unusually quiet. One of the pastors who was usually loud and jovial was hardly saying a word. The others could tell he was troubled. One of them finally asked, “What’s the matter, brother?”

“Well,” the preacher said, “I haven’t told this to a soul but I trust the three of you so I’m just going to be out with it. I have a drinking problem. It started out innocently enough with a couple drinks here and there but now I get drunk every day. I go three towns over to the liquor store so no one will see me. I’m afraid if my congregation finds out, they won’t want me as their pastor anymore.”

The other three pastors offered words of encouragement and challenged him to get help. He looked very relieved to be free of the burden of his secret.

After a pause, a second pastor spoke up. “Brother, your bravery has inspired me to come clean about something. I’ve been addicted to internet pornography for quite some time. I know it’s wrong and I feel awful about it but I can’t seem to control myself. I’m worried that if I don’t get help, it will destroy my marriage and my ministry.” 

Likewise, the other three pastors encouraged and challenged the second pastor.

“While we’re all sharing,” the third pastor said, “I need to get something off my chest as well. I have a gambling problem. It started out as just the occasional scratch-off but now it seems I bet on everything. I go to casinos or race tracks on the weekend and it’s destroyed my finances. I don’t know what would happen if my church found out.”

Again, the other three pastors encouraged and challenged the third pastor. The 4th pastor was silent for a few minutes but finally worked up the courage to speak:

“Brothers, I too have a confession to make. I’m a raging gossip and I can’t WAIT to get off this boat!”

“Whatever is said here, stays here.” This promise is the hallmark of any true accountability group. This joke reminds us of the true damage that can be caused by broken confidentiality and serves as a warning that we should choose our confidants with care. Gossip is a grave sin. Not only does our need to share what we’ve learned (or more often, think we’ve learned) hurt the people we’re spreading tales about, it hurts us. We can damage our friendships with people permanently over the silly compulsion to be “in the know.” Whereas carefully guarding the hearts of your friends and loved ones can deepen those relationships. Next time you’re thinking of rushing off the boat to share the latest juicy bit you’ve learned, you’d do well to remember that loose lips sink ships.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

3 Huts

A pilot was flying over the South Pacific when he noticed smoke coming from one of the many deserted islands below. The pilot flew closer and, sure enough, there was a man there with a great huge beard and tattered clothes sending the smoke signals. He looked like he had been on the island for years so the pilot made an emergency landing. When the pilot landed, the man was overjoyed.

“I’ve been on this island all alone for eleven years and I was beginning to lose hope! So many times I’ve seen planes fly by without noticing the smoke signals and here you are!”

“So happy I could help,” the pilot said, “Why don’t we gather your belongings and get you out of here.”

So the pilot followed the man into the leafy jungle and then to a clearing. In the clearing there were three huts. The man went into one of the huts and came out with a modest armful of belongings and announced that he was ready to return to civilization.

“Did you say you’ve been alone for eleven years?”, asked the pilot.

“Yes,” the man replied, “I’ve not seen another soul for eleven years!”

“Then, if you don’t mind my asking, why do you have three huts?”

The man smiled. “It’s simple really… the hut I just came from is obviously my home. This one next to it is my church. I go there every seventh day to worship God.”

“That’s very touching,” said the pilot, “How about that third hut?”

Suddenly the man’s facial expression got very serious and in a quiet voice he said, “That’s where I used to go to church…”

It’s pretty comical to imagine a schism of one and this old joke has made it into many a sermon about Christian unity. As the old saying goes, “it’s funny cause it’s true.” In most towns in the United States there are more churches than could possibly be needed to adequately seat all the worshipers on a Sunday morning. Too often these churches are not marked by a spirit of cooperation and common purpose but of competition and exclusive claims to God’s favor. Of course there are genuine theological differences between different churches and or course different worship styles speak to different people but how many churches are truly necessary? Far too often these are not the things truly dividing churches. Pride, history, and fear all stand in the way of unity. This parable reminds us of of the absurdity of having two huts when one should do.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Rolling the Die

Two poor fools named Joe and Clyde decided to take what little money they had to a casino in hopes of reversing their fortunes. They put all they had together and decided to play a simple dice game. Joe bet a third of their money on 6 and rolled the die. The die came up 3 and they lost the money.

“You idiot!” said Clyde, “You should have bet on 3!”

Undeterred, Joe pulled out another third of their money and bet on 4. He blew on the die, rolled it, and it came up 5.

“Moron!” shouted Clyde, “Why didn’t you bet on 5?”

Frustrated, Joe took the remaining third of their money and bet on 5. He rolled the die, closed his eyes, and when he opened them saw that the die had come up 6.

Clyde snorted. “6. You should have bet on 6.”

The two poor fools walked out the casino sadly, having spent all their money with nothing to show for it. Joe, especially was sad. He turned to Clyde and lamented:

“If only I’d listened to you, we’d be rich!”

Hindsight is, as they say, 20-20. As this humorous parable shows us, it is easy to look back on past decisions and think we know what we could have done or should have done but there is something circular and self-defeating in that kind of thinking. The person who made those decisions does not have the same wisdom and experience as the person who now looks back and regrets them. All we can do is learn from our mistakes and move forward. The lesson Joe and Clyde should have learned from their misadventure is that it is foolish to gamble with all their money. Instead, they decided that their error was choosing the wrong numbers. Wisdom is not looking back and knowing what choices we should have made, it is looking at ourselves and learning the hard lessons that will keep us from making the same foolish choices in the future. As disciples, we’re called to repent of our past failings and to move forward with transformed lives. We are not called to stay locked into the same foolish cycles, choosing different numbers.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

“Tell Me What You See?”

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip. After a good dinner, they retire for the night, and go to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

“I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes” replies Watson.

“And what do you deduce from that?”

Watson ponders for a minute.

“Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?”

Holmes is silent for a moment. “Watson, you idiot!” he says. “Someone has stolen our tent!”

This old joke is a favorite of mine and I do think it serves as a wonderful parable about human nature. Sometimes we human beings make things way more complicated than they need to be and we miss the obvious. Religion and theology are supposed to help us connect our everyday experiences to a God that is beyond our comprehension. These tools do help us to make sense of the night sky but if we’re too busy looking up at the sky and pondering to notice our neighbor in need, or that our own tent has been stolen, then we are severely missing the point. If we’re not careful, we can over complicate religion to the point where it is useless. The book of James reminds us that true religion is this: “to look after the orphan and the widow in their distress and to keep oneself unpolluted by the world.” Pure and simple… One might even say: “elementary”.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…