Who Can We Trust?
Who Can We Trust?
From the editor:
Here is another sermon from one of our featured preachers, David Anderson. Anderson uses the story of Samson and Delilah to explore issues like relationships, community, confession, and accountability.
One of the most important steps in dealing with our sin is the step in which we admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. It is only then that we are entirely ready to have God remove all the defects of our character. This step is perhaps the most difficult one, because now we're talking about involving other people in our stuff. At first we just make an admission that we are powerless and that we need God's help in our lives. Then we invite God to help us walk through our struggles. So it's just you and God, and that's tough enough—looking in the mirror and looking to God and being honest about your stuff. But now you are inviting other people into the process, and that can get scary. I want to talk to you about the risks and rewards of involving other people, and the requirements of getting the right people in your personal space. That is the question we have: Who can we trust?
Inviting others into our struggle
Three old sisters live together. One is 96, one is 94, and the other is 92. The 96-year-old woman draws some bathwater and is about to step into the bathtub, but halfway between the tub and the floor she stops. She's confused and can't remember whether she's getting in or coming out. So she cries out for help, and the younger sister who is 94 says, "I'll come help you." She's coming up the steps, but halfway up the steps she gets confused. She can't remember if she's going up the steps or coming down the steps. So she cries out for help, and the 92-year-old, the youngest of the three sisters, is at the kitchen table. She laughs and says, "I'm glad I don't have a memory problem like my two older sisters. Knock on wood." And she hollers up to the two sisters, "I'll be right up to help you both as soon as I find out who's at the door." Get it?
You're going to have people in your life who may not be perfect. They may have some problems. Maybe they're memory problems, maybe they're age problems, maybe they're character problems. But it's good to have people in our lives. It's good to have someone with us when we cry out for help, whether in the tub, whether on the steps, whether at the kitchen table. We all need a community of people to help us get through our stuff.
Have you ever met anybody who could not apologize, could not admit they were wrong? Some people can't simply say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong, I screwed up, please forgive me." They refuse to take responsibility for anything they have contributed to in a problem or situation. They can't be honest about who they are and what's going on in their life. And then to take it to another level, sometimes people finally get to a point where they can say to God and to themselves, "Okay, I'm wrong," but it's hard for them to ever say to the people they love or to people they hurt, "I'm sorry, I was wrong, please forgive me." It takes a level of humility to be able to do that. But there is no other step more important for our long-time release and peace of mind than admitting to others the exact nature of our wrongs.
Whatever our addiction, sin, or habit may be, our bondage has taught us that we cannot live with other people, that we must live alone with our problems and our character defects, and if anybody were ever to find out then the shame would be so great that it's better to live in isolation than to live in community. But this step requires that we talk to someone about it. This step requires that we go to the next level, and we must admit the nature of our wrongs to someone. But risking our private information with other people is a risky business, whether it's AA, an NA group, whether it's your spouse or a life group leader or a pastor, whether it's your BFF or your PYT. Only the older folks would know what that one is. I thought we would build a bridge between the two generations. If you don't know what a PYT is, ask somebody. But whoever it may be, as you share, you've got to realize there are some risks.
The risks of sharing your problems
We need people in our lives with whom we can share our issues. I refer to this inner circle of people as the board of directors for my life. This is a community of trust. But it carries risks.
You will view yourself differently. The first risk is that you will view yourself differently after you disclose your wrongs. It can depress you if you finally get a glimpse of yourself not the way you see yourself, not even the way God sees you, but the way other people see you. When you begin to view yourself through the window that other people see you through, it begins to show you an angle of truth about yourself that some of us are not capable of handling. It can crush us. It's hard enough admitting to myself. It's hard enough admitting to God. But if I begin to disclose to other people some things about myself, then I might begin to see myself through their eyes. Some call this the Johari window, this window through which we have a blind spot. We see ourselves in many ways, but we're not quite sure what we look like until we see ourselves through someone else's eyes. We may not always say it, but sometimes we think things like, If she only knew what she looked like, she wouldn't have worn that. If he only knew what he sounded like, he wouldn't have said that. The idea is, when they look in the mirror they see something different. But when you begin to see yourself through the eyes of other people, that is not the only view that matters, but it is a view that matters in the collection of views that you have. We have blind spots, and sometimes you need someone to tell you about yourself. One of the risks we take is that we begin to view ourselves differently, and that could actually hurt us and cut us deeply.
For instance—this is a little lighter—how about if you were in a meeting, and no one ever told you you had something on your nose? You never knew about it. Then a couple hours later you go to the restroom and look in the mirror. You think, Oh my gosh. The last two hours while I was in front of people I had something on my nose, and no one told me? That can be tough. It's embarrassing. In some ways, when you get a view from other people's standpoint, it can be embarrassing. It can be tough, and it can crush you if you're not prepared for it. So this is a difficult step.
One time I had an embarrassing moment when I was in a board room with some people. I was with BridgeLeader Network, we were consulting with a top company, and the top executives in the company were in the room. I was the one facilitating the discussion. A woman who was the senior vice president of this Fortune 100 company was talking, and I noticed something right there on her nose. So I'm thinking, I know what I'd want someone to do. I'd want someone to tell me. I didn't want to call attention to it, so I brushed my nose so she could see. We went through these hand motions. She never got it. So when we got to the break I went over to her and said, "You have something on your nose." She pulled out her mirror and looked, and she said, "Oh, that's my mole." Oh, the embarrassment. I needed a Southwest Airline commercial right there. "Want to get away?" Yes! Beam me up, Scotty, right now. I don't know what I said, but it was difficult in that moment.
You will be viewed differently by others with whom you share your defect. Here's the second risk. When you begin to share character stuff with other people, they now get to see the shadow side of you, which exposes you and they can use it against you. And that can change the view they've had of you. Here's the good thing: at least they now have a realistic view of you. But the risk is that the shadow side of you now can be used against you.
You will be vulnerable to others. Here's the third risk you ought to know, and that is, you now become vulnerable, possibly losing everything you have gained. It'll be open season for others' criticism, others' judgment, and maybe even others' betrayal. So you've got to watch out for that. In fact, we find in one passage of Scripture a man who had a secret and someone was trying to get that secret from him. Many of us have secret areas in our life that we are grappling with, and there are some who want to get that secret out of you. The reason may not be because they want to help you or pray for you. For some people it's just because they're nosy. So if somebody doesn't have a reason to help you, they're not a part of the solution. You need to consider: Should they be a part of my community of trust, my board of directors for my life?
Samson had a secret. You can find him in Judges, chapter 16. Samson was a judge. Before the kings, there were judges of the people of Israel. Samson was one who had the Spirit of God upon him, but he also had some issues. And someone was trying to get his secret, the secret to his strength. Judges 16:4 reads:
Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, "See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him." … So Delilah said to Samson, 'Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued."
Hello, right? Us guys can be really strong, and us guys can be really weak. So she says, "Tell us your secret so we can tie you up and subdue you." Well, he gets a clue that this may be sinister, so he says in verse 7, "If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have not been dried, I'll become as weak as any other man." Thongs were like string. Sure enough, later in the verses it says that men were hiding out in the room while Delilah tied Samson with string, and then they jumped out and tried to get him, but of course he was too strong and he broke it. So verse 10 says, "Then Delilah said to Samson, 'You have made a fool of me; you lied to me'"—like she wasn't lying to him—"'Come now, tell me how you can be tied.' He said, 'If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I'll become as weak as any other man.'"
So it says that men hid in the room again while Delilah tied him. "She called to him, 'Samson, the Philistines are upon you!' but he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads." So again she was taken. In verse 13 she tries again: "'Until now, you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied.' He replied, 'If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric on the loom and tighten it with the pin, I'll become as weak as other men.'" So she does that and again it doesn't work. So now here comes the guilt trip in verse 15: "Then she said to him, 'How can you say, 'I love you,' when you won't confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven't told me the secret of your great strength.'"
I'm about to read the next two verses. All the husbands in the room, I would strongly warn you to discipline yourselves and resist the desire to say anything. Verse 16: "With such nagging"—I told you to resist—"she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death." This is in the Bible. "So he told her everything." What did he tell her? "'No razor has ever been used on my head,' he said, 'because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.'" So of course Delilah does this. She puts him to sleep, guys come in, and they shave his hair. He wakes up, and it says in verse 19, "Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. Then she called, 'Samson, the Philistines are upon you!' He awoke from his sleep and thought, 'I'll go out as before and shake myself free,' but he did not know the Lord had left him."
Notice what he says: "I'll shake myself free." Each time he was tied up from something lesser. First it was a string, then it was a rope. He's always broken himself free. So he wakes up and thinks he can do it again. I can break myself free. But notice what happens this time: "But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison." So he moved from string to rope, but now he is in bondage in brass shackles. He woke up thinking he could free himself. He felt like he had the ability to free himself. But what Samson didn't realize was that he was as weak as other men. Over and over and over again he says, "I will not be as weak as other men," but now he's finding out that he is as weak as other men.
You are only as strong as your weakness will allow. Your strength is only as strong as your weakness. The saying is: A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Another saying is: You are only as strong as what discourages you. In the 12 steps we're talking about sharing our weaknesses. There are risks to sharing our weaknesses.
The rewards of sharing your problems
But even with all the risks of sharing our weaknesses with other people, there are some rewards that come with a community of trust, a board of directors of your life. The most important thing is, the chairman of the board needs to be the Lord Jesus Christ. Make him first the CEO of your life. But when we have a relationship with God it's not just God and us, it's God and us and others. Someone says when you are born again, you're not only born into new life but you're also born into a new family, the body of Christ. So we have to do life with other people, we cannot do life alone.
But what are the rewards? What happens if I share my character flaws, my defects, my weaknesses? I already gave you three risks. Let me give you some rewards.
You are freed from the power of isolation. Isolation kills, and the devil knows it. He knows that if he can get you alone, off into a dark room, into a lonely corner, if he can get that one sheep off from the other 99 into a thicket, if he can get you in your basement, in your bedroom, in your closet, out in the woods somewhere all by yourself, drinking alone, smoking alone, whatever it may be if he can get you there, he now has got you cornered. This is why addictions have so much power and bondage. This is why sin has so much power and bondage, because when we bear it alone, the enemy has a heyday. The reality is, he's whipping some of your tails really good. It's not because God has left you alone. It's because you believe the lie of isolation, that you can trust no one. So therefore, you won't. But if this step is going to work then we've got to admit to someone, somewhere what's going on in our lives, or else we feel more like an actor than a person.
My mom used to always say, and maybe your mom said it too, confession is good for the soul. Almost every religious tradition has confession as a part of its practice. There's something healing about when I'm able to share with someone what's going on in my life. An AA member once said this: "If you skip this step or do it halfway, it will come back to undercut your sobriety and freedom."
Let me tell you about my community of trust, my board of directors for my life. First of all, there is my wife, and I share with her everything. Then there are my elders, and we as a group come together early in the morning every week and pray together on our knees and share with one another and care for one another. And we dare one another to live the way Christ would want us to live. But I also have some musketeers, a few guys I get together with whom I share stuff with and they share their stuff, and together we've walked a road for multiple years. That sustains us when we're going through the deep stuff. I also have friends around the country who aren't part of our church. I can call them at any time. That's what you need to help you get through this stuff.
You are free to experience the power of forgiveness and grace. Here's a second reward. We all need to hear, "You are forgiven." We all need to hear that God has enough grace to cover this as well. Romans 5:20-21 say this: "But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Where sin increases, grace increases all the more. God's got enough grace to cover what's going on in your life. It may not feel like it today. You may be thinking, God doesn't have enough grace for this. Yes, he does. Where sin increases, grace increases all the more. God has enough grace for your habit, sin, situation, brokenness, discouragement. God has enough grace to get you through it.
First John 1:9-10 say this: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives." When you share with your community of trust, the board of directors of your life, people who cheer you on and care about you, you then are free to experience the power of forgiveness and grace. Not only do you need it from God, but you need it from people around you as well.
You are free from the power of sinful pride. Reward number three is, when I share my stuff and you share your stuff, it frees us from the power not only of isolation but of sinful pride. When we have experienced God's forgiveness and grace, when we have come out of isolation, then we can experience this freedom from the sinful pride that Samson had when it says he awoke from his sleep and thought, "I'll go out as before and shake myself free." How many of us have felt that? I've got enough willpower; I'm going to shake myself free from this addiction. I'm not going to do this anymore. I'm not going to fall to that one more time. We feel like this day we are going to lick it, and it licks us over and over and over again, because like Samson we cling on to sinful pride and think, I've beat it before; I can beat it again. Samson woke up to find that his strength was not there. We're getting seized and our eyes are getting gouged out, and now we find ourselves in bondage and bronze shackles where we cannot break the ropes nor the strings.
You are free from the powerful bondage of your addiction. This is the fourth and final reward, and the greatest one of all. You are free from many things, but here you are free from the power of the addiction. Finally, because you have shared it with others who care about you and who are there for you, it's helping to give you the strength to be free from the addiction. When you want to pull out that package of cigarettes, you pull out your cell phone and call somebody who is there with you, and they talk you through it.
Whatever it may be, whether it's cigarettes or alcohol, drugs or pornography or sex, whatever it may be, you can be free from the bondage of it—but you will not be able to shake yourself free all by yourself. You just can't do it.
Samson was strong, but he wasn't that strong. This is why Galatians 6:1-2 say, "Brothers [and sisters], if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual"—the word you is in the plural in the Greek and not the singular—"you people who are spiritual should restore him [or her] gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." That verse says that when someone gets caught in the bronze shackles, you who are spiritual, meaning a group of people, need to come together. It's going to take a team to get somebody out of what they're stuck in. They can't shake themselves free; they need help to break free from what's got them.
It takes a team. It takes a board of directors of your life. It takes a community of trust. It takes a prayer group. It takes a men's ministry. It takes a women's ministry. It takes a life group. It takes some trusted friends to do like the paralytic man's friends did, come alongside and each one take a part of the mat. The four men carried up the man who was laid out, it says in Mark chapter 2. They carried him through the crowd and they took him up to the top of the roof, because the crowd was so big, and they opened up the thatched roof and lowered the man down right to the feet of Jesus. And that's where the Lord met his need and said, "Your sins are forgiven; pick up your mat and walk." We need those kinds of friends, friends that will pick us up and carry us. "You who are spiritual." It takes a team.
It says in that same text, in Mark chapter 2, that seeing their faith—not the man's faith on the mat but the faith of the four friends—seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, "Your sins are forgiven."
We can have faith for friends, we can have faith for family. When someone's caught in something sometimes they don't see it, they don't know it, or they do see it and know it, but they just can't get out. And what they don't need are people walking by and saying, "If you hadn't done that, you wouldn't be in that mess. That's the bed you made; go ahead and sleep in it." They'll kick dirt on you while they walk by you. That's not Christianity. Christianity is being like the good Samaritan, who comes alongside and picks up the one who is laid out. The Christianity your Savior asks you to live is when people are free from the bondage of their addiction because those who are spiritual understand they must restore one who cannot restore themselves. And then in case we get judgmental, he throws a word in there—make sure you restore them gently.
I love the next phrase. He says, "Watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." See, that's a good word right there. You must watch yourself and have a sober view of yourself, lest you fall to the same thing. The same proclivities that got that person stuck could get you stuck if you had the same story they had. You would fall in the same way if your drama script were written differently. If not for the grace of God, there go I. So when you restore him or her gently, make sure you watch yourself that you too don't find yourself tempted, which means you have the same ability to fall in the same way or in a different way that has you just as stuck as the person who you are looking at right now. Some people have an uncanny ability to see everybody else's problems and sins except their own. Some people have the spiritual gift of seeing the splinter in everybody else's eye and not the log in their own eye. Jesus says, "Judge not." The reason he says it is because he knows from which you came. You experience his grace; he wants you to extend his grace. You experience his mercy; he wants you to extend his mercy. So the thing that's going to free you from your habit, from your addiction, is when you have those who are spiritual around you who can help break you free in a gentle way, understanding their own proclivities and temptations to do the same thing or something similar that would have them just as stuck. And therein comes the next verse, which says, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ," which is the law of love.
How to build a board of directors in your life
We've said a lot so far. We've talked about having a community of trust, a board of directors of our life, people who we can lean on. We've talked about the risks, and we've talked about the rewards of having this circle of people, but how do you find them? What do they look like? Jesus had his three and his twelve, but how do you find them? Who are you going to get on your board of directors of your life? Who you going to get in your community of trust? Who you going to share your stuff with? Where do you find them?
One gentleman came up to me after the last service and said, "I thought I had a board of directors in my life. I thought I had that kind of trust until I fell along the wayside and everyone on the board of my life left. I'm having a hard time, because who can I trust? How can I pick someone else when I've already been betrayed and abandoned?" You share something and they walk out on you. Remember, that's one of the risks. But I looked at him and said, "But now you have better wisdom and discernment of the kind of people you want to have around you, don't you? Had you not gone through that you wouldn't know this."
I'm going to give you some criteria as you establish a board. Let me give you some requirements. And let me also say that you should try to be the kind of person you want on your board. Ask yourself, Can I be trusted? You want people to be there for you, show up for you, call you, email you, pray with you, hold your confidence. Can you be that for someone else as well?
They must love you enough to be truthful with you. That's the first one. The Bible says, "Speak the truth in love."
They must know how to pray for you. These people desire to know you outside of your persona. They want to know you when you have makeup off, when your hair is not done. They love you whether you're fat or skinny. They love you whether you're righteous or unrighteous, healthy or unhealthy. And they know how to pray for you, because they know you and they haven't gone anywhere. They're praying now much more specifically for you. So they must love you enough to be truthful, and they must know you enough to be prayerful.
They must know grace for themselves. I don't want anyone on my board who hasn't gone through a wilderness experience, who hasn't experienced some grace and mercy in their life. If they haven't experienced it, they can't be on my board. I need somebody who's gone through something. Even if I don't know all the details of it, I need to know that the grace of God has shown up in their life so strong that if I'm caught in anything that grace is going to flow to me to help restore me. If you've not gone through a situation where the grace of God had to manifest itself, the mercy of God and the forgiveness of God has had to come through, you haven't been through your wilderness experience yet, and I'm going to have to wait before I have you at that level of closeness. I cannot risk being stepped on, spit on, or left for dead. I've got too much work to do for the kingdom. I need someone to pick me up and say, "You have a mission you've got to accomplish. Stop licking your wounds and get up and do what God called you to do. The devil's doing nothing but laughing at this. How long are you going to feel sorry for yourself? Come on, let's get going. What do you need from me to help you get back on your feet? This is a hospital; we'll bind you up for a while, but you can't live here. Everybody's got to leave this hospital. You've got work to do. Don't move in, don't bring your suitcases, don't bring your furniture. You can't live here. It's temporary. Get yourself healed, but then get out there and do what God has called you to do." Those are the kind of people you'd better get on your team. Those are the kind of people you need—not fair-weather friends, but ones who have gone through something. And when they've gone through something, you know you've got somebody, and you better hold onto them. If you find somebody who knows the grace of God, who has been through something and has come through their storm, don't let them go. You need them. They're good people.
They must want your success more than your failure. You need people who are going to cheer you on. They're not jealous of you. If they're jealous of you, they'd be like those mean girls in the movie—they'll smile at you and talk nice, but give them a chance to talk behind your back, it's over. You've got to have people you know have your back because they want your success more than they want your failure. These are the kind of people I'm talking about, the people in your community of trust.
They must be willing to share their pain and hold your confidence. Of course you want people who want to hold your confidence, but you want people who are going to share their pain too. One preacher said it like this: "You don't want to cut your wrist alone." When we were kids, we would cut our finger, and our friend would cut his finger, and we'd put them together and make a promise, and we were blood brothers. Anybody know about that? In other words, I don't want to share my stuff with you if you're not going to share anything with me. If I'm going to have you close in my life, you have some vulnerabilities, and I have some vulnerabilities. But we walk together, and where two walk together and God is the Lord of them, he covers that relationship. We are not stuck in isolation; God is with us. What a men's ministry, what a women's ministry we would have if we could build that kind of connection. What a life group ministry we would have in our church if we could build those kinds of covenants.
Let me end by reading to you a letter I got this week:
Thank you. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your willingness to confront sin with a spirit of grace. I have wrestled with a specific sin since I was in high school. Sometimes I would go weeks or months without struggling, but eventually I would stop relying on God and try to conquer the sin on my own, until now. Thanks to the sermon on Sunday, I finally fully disclosed my secret sin to my husband, who responded with compassion and grace. Telling him my sin was so freeing. 2009 is, by God's grace, the year I break free.
To see an outline of Anderson's sermon, click here.
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David A. Anderson is the founder and senior pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, a multicultural congregation in Columbia, Maryland.