By Allen White Most people are well aware of actor Robin Williams’ passing this week. The public outpouring from every sector is tremendous. This man touched a lot of people’s lives. Whether they embraced him as Mork from Ork, or “Captain, my captain,” or a DJ in Vietnam, or a loveable, hope-inspiring doctor in Patch Adams, Robin Williams connected deeply in a lighthearted way with such a broad cross section of people. His inner child was his outer adult, which shows bravery most of us lack. But, pastor, before Robin Williams appears in your sermon, here are a few things to consider: 1. Suicide has had a Personal Effect on Your Congregation. Somehow, someway, everyone’s lives are touched by suicide. For me, it was a friend who took his life during the last week of Bible college, because he lived in such turmoil he could see no way forward. Most people don’t consider suicide, but some do. Some of the people who hear your words will see a friend or loved one in Robin Williams’ coffin. Others will see themselves. If you send Robin Williams to Hell, you are also sending their loved ones there. If you send Robin Williams to Heaven, what are you saying to those whose thoughts venture to suicide in their darker moments. I’m intentionally not saying where to take this, but I am encouraging you to think about this. 2. Finding Jesus is NOT the Cure for Depression. God can heal physical and mental diseases. No doubt. Personally, I have prayed for people who have received miraculous healing. I’ve also prayed with people who received miraculous grace that got them through one day at a time. If Robin Williams had died of cancer or heart disease, we might be more understanding. After all, many physical illnesses are incurable. Mental illness is also incurable. While mental illness can be managed and treated, it never goes away. For some reason, especially in the church, we often judge people who are mentally ill as making poor choices in their lives or somehow not fully trusting in God. It’s almost as if physical impairments can’t be helped, but mental impairments just require people to simply try harder. If trying hard cured mental illness, then mental illness would be cured, because I don’t ‘know of anyone who tries harder to fit in or just function than people who struggle with these diseases. There are plenty of Christians who love Jesus with all of their hearts and have committed their entire lives to him, yet they are Schizophrenic, Bipolar, Clinically Depressed or smitten with another illness. There are also Christians who love Jesus, and they struggle with diabetes, heart disease, obesity and a number of other mostly preventable conditions which are actually within their control. Their deaths may not be imminent, but they certainly will come sooner than they should. Mental and spiritual matters seem more inseparable than physical and spiritual matters. The fine line between the soul and spirit is hard to navigate. Can our souls be saved, while our minds are “lost”? That doesn’t even make sense. We are whole beings. Yet, just as the Apostle Paul prayed for his tormenting illness to disappear, God offered grace instead of healing. 3. The Church Must Do Something. People suffering from mental illness are often misunderstood and stigmatized. As hard as they try, they often don’t fit in. If they have a family, the family often feels like outsiders as well. Where can they find acceptance and understanding? If it’s not the church, then where? What help and support does your church offer to those with mental illness and their caregivers and families? Are they welcome through your doors? When they come, are you prepared to accept them? Will you offer support? Are there organizations in your community that your church can partner with? At a minimum, could you offer a meeting room for a NAMI group for free? Are you familiar with Rick and Kay Warren’s conference at Saddleback called The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church? People with mental illness are exceptional. Certainly every mentally ill person is not a comic genius like Robin Williams, but they are exceptional because they don’t fit into the norm. Institutions are best equipped to serve those in the norm — schools, government, even the church cater to the average Joe. Most institutions are either too small to have resources or are too large to deal with exceptions. Yet, there are families with autistic children (1 in 88 children now) who will never fit into your Sunday school without being a “behavior problem.” Should they just stay home? After all, there are 87 out of 88 to pursue. No one is doing great work with the mentally ill. They are constantly shuffled back and forth from agency to agency. Most will end up in jail or homeless or dead. The church possesses the hope of the world. If anyone should care, shouldn’t it be the church? Begin to equip yourself, and God will use you. Be open. Before you mention Robin Williams, do you truly understand his illness? It’s not easy to reconcile a life that brought so much pleasure to so many, yet was tormented by so much pain. Before you go there, what are you willing to do to help the next “Robin Williams” who walks through your church door? It was probably too soon to write a blog post about Robin Williams. But, so many posts and comments are appearing that are condemning Robin Williams and judging him without truly knowing him or understanding his struggle. I felt I needed to saysomething. This is a tragic loss. If you need a sermon illustration for Sunday, use something else. It’s too soon. Robin Williams affected many, many lives and means so much to so many. A trite sermon illustration does him a disservice. He was a very special person, exceptional even.
Video-based small group curriculum has been with us for about a decade now. Early innovators like Rick Warren and Brett Eastman at Saddleback Church brought the local pastor into the living room. Brett went on to found Lifetogether.com, which has sold about 4 million units to date. Many other video-based studies have followed and have succeeded. With all of the professionally produced video curriculum out there, why would a church want to create their own? While well-known pastors have produced some excellent studies, your pastor’s face on the screen presents some strong advantages for your congregation.
1. Takes the Weekend into the Week. The hustle and bustle of life tends to edge out the Sunday morning sermon after a day or so. While some sermons are remembered better than others, most are long forgotten by mid-week. By providing small groups with studies based on the weekend message, the points made on Sunday can take deeper root. By creating space in the small group to review the weekend message via a short video (no more than 10 minutes), the group has a chance to review the points, ask questions, discuss issues and make a specific application to their lives. Giving groups the opportunity to think about the message and what it means to them causes the group members to retain more. In groups they can involve more of themselves in the teaching. Rather than simply listening and maybe taking notes, group members can wrestle with hard questions and get the encouragement and accountability they need to live out the message. 2. Engages the Senior Pastor’s Teaching Gift. A senior pastor without a teaching gift is not a senior pastor for long. This is the most public and most personal role of any senior pastor. Speaking is hard work. Even the most gifted teachers spend hours gathering material, studying, collecting illustrations, and polishing their messages. Once Sunday is finished, for most pastors, the countdown clock to next week’s sermon begins. The one they worked so hard on for this week is now a thing of the past. But, it doesn’t have to be. What if the pastor could sit down in a living room with his church members and teach them the part he couldn’t get to on Sunday morning? What if in that circle the pastor could share his heart about what the Bible passage means and what it would mean if people started obeying it? A video-based curriculum can breathe new life into a message destined for the archives. Not only will the congregation learn more, but the message will go farther through the group. 3. Elevates the Role of Groups. For most churchgoers, the initial draw to a church is the pastor’s teaching and the music. As hard as the other church staff work in their roles, this is the simple truth. Other than Jesus Himself, the senior pastor plays a highly significant role in the spiritual lives of his congregation. By connecting the small group study to the weekend message, you can leverage the influence of the senior pastor in leading his people to connect in small groups. Once the pastor has created a video curriculum, his next question will be “How do we use this? How do we recruit more leaders? How do we get people into groups?” Don’t you want your senior pastor asking those questions? What’s important to the senior pastor will be what’s important to the congregation. Bulletins, video announcements, website – none of these come close to having the #1 influencer in the church direct the congregation. When the pastor asks for people to host groups, people will host groups. When the pastor invites members to join groups, members will join groups. When E.F. Hutton talks… I learned this lesson about a decade ago. I had spent seven years recruiting and training leaders only to find 30 percent of our congregation in groups. But, the first time our senior pastor stood up and asked for host homes, we doubled our groups in one day. I never looked back. He did all of the recruiting and leading from that point forward. 4. Moves the Weekend Message Beyond the Church Walls. When church members invite their friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives and others to join them for a church-produced Bible study, the senior pastor is introduced to many more people than actually attend the church on Sunday. In homes, workplaces, Starbucks and even commuter trains, the pastor’s teaching goes out to many new people. Often new people will meet the pastor via video before they meet him in person. But, the transition from the living room to the church auditorium now is not quite as daunting. New folks feel they’ve already met the pastor through the weekly group studies. And, don’t tell the group hosts and leaders, but they’re actually doing evangelism. Shhh. 5. Puts Group Multiplication on Steroids. A DVD curriculum is easy to use. In fact, someone who has never led before simply needs to follow the instructions. The teaching on the DVD provides the wisdom and expertise. The questions in the book provide the pathway for a great discussion. Pushing play and reading questions is not so hard. Think about this: every person in your church has friends. The people who are less involved in the church will actually have far more friends outside of the church. What if your church members each gathered a group of 8-10 people for a video-based study featuring your senior pastor? Could a church of 100 members reach 1,000 people? What about a church of 1,000 going after 10,000? What about a church of 13,000 reaching over 100,000? Is it possible? The Bible says all things are possible with God. I’ve created quite a few DVD-based studies in both churches I’ve served at over the last 10 years. If you’d like some help creating your own curriculum, shoot me an email at allen (at) lifetogether.com (For non-Outlook users, replace (at) with @).
NOTE – Today’s devotional presents a disturbing image. If you are highly sensitive, you might want to pass on this one.
If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.Matthew 5:29-30
Joe crept down the stairs into the darkness. They were waiting for him – lined up in various stages of undress. Who would he be with? The variety was like ordering from a catalog. What they promised was exciting and temporary. He knew that he would leave ashamed, but the intensity he felt in this moment erased any thought of shame.
He wasn’t limited to one. They all smiled at him. Not one of them appeared to have had a bad day or were the least bit tired. They didn’t complain about him. They were eager. Much different than the situation he faced upstairs. They were available to him. This was as convenient as picking an apple from a tree.
As midnight came and went, Joe knew he needed to get to bed. Tomorrow was a work day. With the click of a mouse, he quickly deleted his history and prayed for God to forgive him. He would never do this again, just like he had promised last night and the night before and who knows how many nights before that.
After a trip to the bathroom, Joe slid into bed next to his wife. She whispered, “Is everything okay? What time is it?”
He whispered back, “Good night.”
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
As Jim Smith said in yesterday’s post, Jesus wasn’t talking about noticing someone. The first look doesn’t cross the line. Jesus was referring to the second look. If the second look crosses the line into lust, then pornography plunges the looker into the deep end.
Pornography creates a sensation, an escape, and false intimacy. It’s a temporary fix that in this day and age is constantly available. It lures both men and women, young and old.
I’ve heard men complain, “But, it’s not a real person.” Real or imagined, photographed or photoshopped, sin doesn’t take place inside someone else. Sin happens inside of us. Spiritually and emotionally, it’s the same thing.
After it’s all said and done, the user is left feeling empty and ashamed. Pleas to God for forgiveness and promises to abstain might last a few days or hours, but it won’t be long until the user is right back there. No one leaves pornography by himself. No one.
In recovery, folks say, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” Porn is the sickest of the secrets.
In today’s verse, Jesus says that the sin is serious enough that the removal of eyes and hands might be preferred to continuing to sin. Jesus didn’t mean this literally, but he is challenging all of us to remove anything that might cause us to stumble. Blindness won’t cure porn addiction. People can lust after the images already in their heads. They don’t go away. But, an internet filter can certainly keep future images away from you and your family.
Ministries like Faithful Eyes offer software for filtering and accountability. The filter keeps pornographic or violent images away from both your eyes and your children’s. The accountability software sends every website you surf to an accountability partner of your choosing. This should be someone who loves you, but is not impressed with you. If you don’t have that person in your life, ask God to send you one.
So, is pornography adultery?
The dictionary defines adultery as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse.” Jesus redefined adultery to include lust. Lust is “intense sexual desire or appetite.” Jesus’ definition of adultery, then, is “intense sexual desire between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse.” You’d be better off losing body parts than going down that road.
CAUTION – If you struggle with pornography, after reading today’s devotional, it will be more tempting than ever. Find an excuse to stay away from your computer tonight. Spend time with your spouse or with a friend. Don’t face this alone.