The Friendship Test

matheus-ferrero-228716

Do your friends pass The Friendship Test?

In the age of Facebook and Instagram friendships, we tend to value quantity over quality. Many boast that their friendships are ten-thousand miles wide while failing to realize that most of them are no more than a half inch deep.

The nation of Edom was godless and vile. They were prideful over many things – one of them being their friendships. They had low friends in high places. But they would find out the hard way that godless friendships ultimately lead to ruin.

“Everyone who has a treaty with you will drive you to the border; everyone at peace with you will deceive and conquer you. Those who eat your bread will set a trap for you. He will be unaware of it.” (Obadiah 7, CSB)

The Edomites thought they had solid friendships with the nations around them. But Edom was a godless nation, and its friendships were with other godless nations. They learned the hard way that when friendships are not Christ-centered and God-honoring, they fail when you need them most. Godless friends may seem to be in it for the team, but when it comes down to the wire it’s really all about me. As long as there is some reciprocity in the friendship – as long as I am getting from this relationship as much as you are – we’re okay. But as soon as I feel like you’ve got the upper hand, I’ll turn on you to protect my own interests emotionally, relationally, or physically.

You don’t need friends like that. You need friends who are family. Friends who sharpen you instead of dull you. Friends whose very presence brings out the best version of you. Friends who challenge you when you need to be challenged and encourage you when you need to be encouraged. You need these kinds of friends. And you need to be this kind of friend to them.

The Friendship Test… 3 practical questions to help you evaluate your friendships:

  1. When we are together, do I find myself honoring God with my thoughts and actions? Does my presence encourage them to honor God with their thoughts and actions?
  2. Have I given my friends permission to tell me things about myself that I may not want to hear, but need to hear? Do I have permission to lovingly tell them things about themselves they do not want to hear, but need to hear?
  3. Do they know me deeply, love me sincerely, and interact with me biblically? Do I know them deeply, love them sincerely, and interact with them biblically?

If you don’t have some solid friendships for which you can answer a resounding “YES” to those three questions, you may find yourself surprised in a day of trouble. It’s not wrong to have a lot of friends. But don’t substitute quantity for quality. Take to heart the proverbial wisdom of an ancient, wise king:

“One with many friends may be harmed but there is a friend who stays closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24, CSB)

Grace and Peace,
Tony

NextGen Roundtable & Panel @ #SBTCAM17

NextGen.Forge

Pastors 40yrs. and younger… have you signed up yet for the TX NextGen Pastors’ Roundtable Discussions and Dinner at the Annual Meeting? Monday, Nov.13 2017 at Criswell College in Dallas, TX you have the opportunity to hear from and interact with some of the SBTC’s leading personalities as they discuss and take Q/A on several core competencies of pastoral ministry. Small group “roundtable discussions” will be from 3:30-4:45 pm (you can choose 2 of the 6, see below); your wife is invited to join the women’s session at the same time.* Then, from 5-6pm, NextGen pastors and wives will come together for dinner in a large group setting where we’ll hear from SBTC President Nathan Lino and a panel of the presenting pastors, facilitated by SBTC Director of Evangelism Shane Pruitt. The first 200 to preregister will receive free pastoral resources.

Visit www.sbtexas.com/nextgen to register today! And be sure to share this with your NextGen pastor friends, whether they are currently SBTC or not; this is a great opportunity for them to get connected to the gospel-centered, Christ-exalting movement that is the SBTC. We’d love to get as many TX NextGen pastors together as possible for this. All costs are covered by churches participating in the Cooperative Program, so there is no fee or charge for you at all. We hope you’ll join us for this TX NextGen event as we kick off the SBTC Annual Meeting this November. Can’t wait to see you there!

nextgen-roundtablespeakers

For the Churches,
Tony Wolfe
Director, Pastor|Church Relations
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention

*Regretfully, childcare is not provided for this event. Our apologies. We’ll work on it for next year. 🙂

We’ve Never Done It This Way Before

ross-findon-303091.jpg

“We’ve never done it this way before.” The old joke is that these words are ostensibly Baptistic and are the usual evidence of an impending church decline. It is true that refusal to change our methods while the culture around us constantly shifts is a sure death sentence for the church; the message of the gospel never changes, while our methods of delivering and embodying it do. Change is hard. There is something characteristically human about refusing change in favor of the comfortable or the familiar. But the nature of the church’s mission demands that we are ever ready to step into new territory, embracing necessary, biblical change for the glory of God and for the sake of the gospel.

The Israelites faced a similar dilemma under Joshua’s leadership. As they prepared to break camp and cross the Jordan River, God’s instruction was to allow the Levites to lead the way carrying the ark of the covenant:

“After three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people: ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God carried by the Levitical priests you are to break camp and follow it. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between yourselves and the ark. Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go, for you haven’t traveled this way before.’ Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, because the Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow.'” (Joshua 3:2-5, CSB)

“You haven’t traveled this way before.” Those words may have caused a church split in some of our contemporary congregations. But not in the Israelite camp. They trusted the Lord’s leadership and stepped into the waters of the Jordan River with faithful expectation that God would deliver on His word. They were not disappointed.

Pastor or church leader, here are a few important, applicable things to learn from this text:

  1. New does not always mean bad. Several times in Scripture, God indicated that He was doing something new: a new song in Isaiah 42:10, a new name in Isaiah 62:2, a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31, a new heart and a new spirit in Ezekiel 11:19, a new commandment in John 13:34, a new creature in 2 Corinthians 5:17, a new Jerusalem in Revelation 21:2, and all things new in verse 5. I wonder how many times we miss what God is doing in us and around us simply because we associate new with bad. Can you imagine the painful disappointment on the scene, should the Israelites have responded to God, “No thanks, God. We’ll stay on this side of the Jordan because this is what’s familiar. We’re comfortable here.” God said, “You haven’t traveled this way before” (v.4). But what was ahead of them was infinitely more glorious than anything behind them.
  2. Wherever He leads us, God goes before us. The Israelites, at this point, had a concrete historical example of this truth from the pillars of cloud and fire which went ahead of their fathers (Exodus 13:21). Here in Joshua Chapter 3, God’s presence is again going before them as the Ark of the Covenant leads the way into uncharted territory. Whatever is new – ahead of you as a congregation – if you embrace it with faith and step into it from a heart of obedient surrender to God’s will, you’ll not find yourself alone there. God Himself has cut the path ahead and He will be with you every step of the way.
  3. Don’t get ahead of God. Necessary change is good, but often effective, biblical change takes time. The instructions were for the Israelites to keep a distance of about a thousand yards between them and the ark: “Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go,” (v.4). Substantive change in the church needs to be approached with care, always keeping our eyes on the Lord. Here’s some advice: if you see change ahead but you can’t see God in it, don’t go there. Or at least slow down a bit. Wait for God to give vision and clarity for the road ahead. Here’s the deal… wherever you go, the destination is not the prize; God’s presence is the prize. Church, if you can’t see God in it, slow down. Wait for God to give vision and clarity. Don’t get ahead of God.
  4. Before stepping out into the unknown, get spiritually prepared. “Consecrate yourselves,” said Joshua, “because the Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow,” (v.5). Sometimes we follow God’s lead in faith but we’re not spiritually prepared to receive what He has for us there. The church of Jesus should be stepping into every tomorrow with the expectation that “the Lord will do wonders among” us. So let’s be sure to stay prayed-up, cleansed from sin, and restored from unrighteousness (see 1 John 1:9). Don’t even think about following God into the unknown if you’re not spiritually prepared to meet with Him there.
  5. Don’t be so committed to yesterday that you miss what God has for you tomorrow. “The Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow,” Joshua reported. But while the guiding presence of the Lord was evident in the Ark’s procession, it wasn’t exactly like the pillar of cloud or smoke they knew only a generation before. And while the waters of the Jordan River stacked up for them to cross, it wasn’t exactly like the parting of the Red Sea. In fact, even Joshua himself, though being used powerfully by God, was unlike Moses in many ways. But that’s just the thing. Churches are often so committed to what God has done in their yesterdays that they completely miss Him in their tomorrows. Tomorrow will not look exactly like yesterday. The music will change. The architecture will change. The particular English translation of the biblical text with change. The outreach and in reach methods will change. No, you’ve never done it that way before. But that’s good… because God’s doing a new thing. If your expectation of tomorrow is that it will mirror the things of yesterday, you’ll never step into the Jordan River. And you’ll never step foot onto the promises that God has ahead of your church.

So, embrace the new things God’s doing in your church. New doesn’t always mean bad. God will never lead you where His presence does not go before you. Make sure you don’t get ahead of God. Be spiritually prepared, expecting every day for God to do a fresh, new work. And don’t be so committed to how God has worked in the past that you miss what He’s up to in the present and what He’s leading you toward in the future.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

Preaching: From God & Before God

ben-white-197680

“For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. Who is adequate for these things? For we do not market the word of God for profit like so many. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-17, CSB)

Pastor, the weekly privilege of preaching God’s word to God’s flock is no small task. Some would say it is the most significant, most valuable thing you do every week. After hours of studying the text and praying for the Holy Spirit’s discernment, wisdom and anointing, God gives you the awesome responsibility of representing him and re-presenting his word before a group of people who have gathered to meet with him and to hear from him (not with you or from you). The message of Christ is a matter of “life” and “death”, writes Paul; the gravity of the Sunday morning hour should be an occasion for sincerity and awe.

“Who is adequate for these things?” asks the apostle, rhetorically. “No one” is the appropriate response. Apart from the calling of God in Jesus Christ, not one of us is educated enough, dynamic enough, faithful enough, or eloquent enough to represent God and re-present his word every week. Apart from Christ, the preacher brings absolutely nothing to the table. There is no room for boasting or pridefulness in the pulpit. The gravity of our weekly task would completely devastate us, apart from the call of the Father, the redemption of Christ Jesus and the anointing of the Spirit.

“Profit” is a dangerous motive for preaching God’s word. If the question is “what might I gain from preaching today?” you have failed before you have begun. What is it you hope to gain from preaching? Money? Acclaim? Admiration? Experience? The preacher is only prepared to stand in the pulpit when he seeks no such earthly reward. Our only gain is found in our humbled obedience to God. In the words of Richard Baxter, 17th Century preacher, we must walk off the stage each week able to say with integrity: “I preached… as a dying man to dying men.”

In verse 17, the apostle offers a single guiding thought that may do us all good as we prepare and preach every week: “as from God and before God.” Is this message a message from God? Am I preaching it today, as if God himself is in the room watching and listening? Biblical preaching is not biblical preaching if the message is not from God and before God. Preach the word, trusting the Holy Spirit to do the work of conviction in listening hearts. Deliver every word with sincerity, knowing that the Author of your message is in the room, listening intently as you deliver his message to his people.

When Paul meditates on the gravity of his preaching task, he comes to the conclusion that on our own, none of us are “adequate for these things.” But you can stand in the pulpit every week in humbled, impassioned obedience to God when the message you have prepared is “from God” and is being delivered as “before God”.

Grace and Peace
Tony

 

King David, Absalom, & the Pastor’s World

ben-white-292680.jpg

Having lived in the senior pastor’s world for five years and in the associate pastor’s world for 13, I can say from experience that being called of God to shepherd his flock can often be a daunting task. It was in the pastorate that I experienced some of the most joyful moments of my life. It was also in the pastorate that I experienced some of the most wearisome moments of my life. There were times when I lay down on the floor of my office with my face planted in the rug (and if I could have gotten any lower, I would have), begging God through streaming tears to intervene, to vindicate, or to deliver.

In those moments God sometimes brought a comfort I did not understand. But other times, he simply reminded me of my calling – a pastor is who I am because a pastor is who God called me to be. There were many times in the pastor’s world when the only solace and comfort I found was to just remind myself that I was called of God. Now in a position where I have the honor of serving and supporting pastors and churches across the state of Texas, I am reminded every day that resting in the sure calling of God is often the pastor’s only consolation. As it should be.

When God calls a pastor, he calls the man first to himself, then to a people. Loving and serving God is generally easy. But loving and serving the people to whom he has called you is… well, let’s be honest… people can be hard to love. Pastors are often slandered and subverted, defamed and denigrated. It is difficult to love and serve people who go to such great length to destroy you. But in moments of dejection and despair, the pastor is to rest secure in the solace of God’s calling. He is to remember that God has called him first to himself, and secondly to the people under his care.

King David had been called of God, from shepherding sheep in the field to shepherding an entire nation spread across the land of Israel. David was a good boy. He had the heart of a lion and the courage of a warrior. But as you read 1 and 2 Samuel it becomes obvious that the only reason David was fit to be king over Israel was because God had called him to it. He was God’s anointed. God called David first to himself and secondly to the people of Israel. God could have anointed anyone king in Israel, but he chose David. That’s it. That calling from God would prove to be David’s only solace many times throughout his life.

Take, for example, 2 Samuel Chapters 15-18. David pardoned his son Absalom from banishment after he had killed one of his brothers for raping his sister (Jerry Springer would have eaten this up). Upon his pardon, Absalom surreptitiously positioned himself between the people of Israel and their king, David. Over the course of a few years Absalom “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” with his silver tongue and his charming demeanor (2 Sa 15:1-6). In short, David had been sabotaged by his own son. Absalom undermined God’s anointed and stole the kingdom away. I guess some people just have that (un)spiritual giftedness about them. Most pastors have, at some point, had a member of the flock clandestinely smooth talk his or her way into the hearts of the other sheep. It wasn’t long before the people of Israel called Absalom their king, and David was forced to abscond. By verse 30, we see David at the lowest he had ever been – having escaped his arrest in the city, yet held prisoner by his own depression in the mountains.

I’ll be honest, pastor: Absaloms will hurt you the most. The people you think are for you – you have served them graciously and poured your heart out for their benefit, even when they did not necessarily deserve it. They’ve taken you to lunch and have slipped you a $50 bill here and there, “for you and your sweet wife”. They have spoken your praises from the well-lit platform, but planned your demise in the dark corners. And one day you are blindsided by the realization that all along they’ve been playing you like they’ve been playing everyone else – and you will be the one to fall. That hurts, pastor. I know.

To add insult to injury (literally), as David continued his retreat a man named Shimei walked beside him assaulting him verbally and physically, from Bahurim all the way to the Jordan River. That’s about 15 miles! 2 Samuel 16:5-14 details Shimei’s special ministry to King David – a ministry of defamation, slander, and physical battering. Thank God for Shimei’s, right? Those people in your flock, pastor, who have the uncanny ability to kick you when you’re down. Like blood-sucking leaches, they wait to make their move until you are weary and drained; they capitalize on your disheartened exhaustion to latch on and suck from you the last bit of life you have left.

You know the ones I’m talking about. You spent all day Thursday in crisis marital counseling sessions then committee meetings. You got a call Friday afternoon just before you finished nursing home visits to inform you that one of your young families had been in a car accident – off to the hospital you went. Saturday morning one of your deacons knocked on your door at home because “we need to talk” – a two hour conversation that revealed the urgent need for three hours worth of follow-up. Sunday morning immediately before the worship service began, one of the children’s workers stopped you in the hallway to complain about supplies going missing from her closet. Absolutely drained, you preached your sermon from the end of 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 with lackluster. And the first person to catch you after the service (he may wait until Monday Morning, if you’re lucky) is Mr. Smith who takes the liberty of criticizing your sermon, attacking your devotion to the pastorate, and questioning your ability to lead the church. God bless you, Shimei.

At this point, King David just wants to give up. Can I tell you a secret? There were a few times in the pastorate where I honestly felt that way, too. But here’s what’s great about resting in the call of God alone: in Chapter 15, David was sabotaged by a smooth talker… in Chapter 16 David was defamed by a slanderous accuser… but in Chapter 17 David was delivered by the Lord’s decree (v.14). As it turned out, David’s enemies had been plotting against him in the dark corners, then defaming him on the high hills. But the whole time, God was for David because it was he who was anointed. It was he who was called. The war that David’s enemies incited brought about their own destruction. In the end, because David rested in the call, God subverted the subverters. He slayed the slanderers. He demolished the defamers.

Pastor, I have no doubt that you know how David felt. You live in the pastor’s (shepherd’s) world, too. You will spend entire seasons of your pastorate dealing with the surreptitious scheming of smooth talkers and/or enduring the malicious verbal barrage of flagrant fools. But if you’ll remember that God has called you first to himself – and if you’ll trust in his faithfulness to you in every circumstance – you will see God take you from defamation to deliverance in a way that brings him great glory and always works out for your good.

David was sabotaged. David was slandered. David was defamed and demoralized. But in the end, all that matted was that David was anointed by God. This is the beauty of life in the pastor’s world. Difficulty, dejection, and despair will, at some point, find you. But remember while your face is buried in the tear-stained polyester of your office rug that in the end, pastor, as long as you are faithful, all that matters is that you have been called by God.

Grace and Peace,
Tony