The Friendship Test

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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

Leading Messy People

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“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 14:4, ESV

Whether you are a pastor, church staff member, employer, team leader at work, or a leader in any other capacity, every person on your team is unique. They all have strengths and they all have weaknesses. Learning to encourage them in their strengths and work together through their weaknesses is vital. The proverb implies two options: Either everything under your supervision can be clean, organized, and exactly as you want it, OR you can work with real people. And working with real people can get messy.

But here’s the thing: The people on your team are your greatest resource. Farmers like clean stables, no doubt. And it would be easy to keep the stables clean if the farmer could just get rid of the oxen. But farmers don’t reap abundant harvests because they have clean stables. They reap abundant harvests because they have hard-working oxen all moving in the same direction. Much like this, you won’t reach maximum effectiveness because desks are always organized, your t’s are always crossed and i’s always dotted, and there are never any personality conflicts on your team. You will reach maximum effectiveness because you have quality, hard working team members who are all moving in the same direction toward a common goal.

Sure, there are times when letting a team member go is the right thing to do. But most of the time, before this is even an option, we should look into our leadership first and ask the hard questions. Are my expectations realistic? Have I clearly communicated my expectations? Is this a real issue or only a perceived issue? Do I have the right person in the wrong position?

Learn to appreciate the different personalities of your team members. When the small things aren’t exactly like you want them, be thankful that you are leading a hard-working group of people. Leadership is not about keeping the feeding troughs clean; it’s about getting all of your people moving in the same direction toward a common goal.

I’d rather have a diverse group of hard working team members who work through personality difficulties and other minor idiosyncrasies to be exceptionally productive than a handful of superficially spotless wax-figures who expend most of their energy keeping the stalls clean.

Clean stalls = no oxen. No oxen = no productivity. Value the oxen more than the stalls. Stalls are not your greatest resource, nor should they be your greatest investment. People are your greatest resource, and they should always be your greatest investment.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

I Believe in Christian Teens

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I believe that from within the church God is raising up an army of counter-cultural warriors for the faith. I believe that this generation of born again believers will be sold-out for Christ, not bending their intellect to the whims of cultural godlessness, but unreservedly living out a faith that is firmly grounded in biblical Christianity.

I believe that this coming generation of Christ followers will speak boldly where we have kept silent. I believe that their speech will be seasoned with salt, but unabashedly truthful in witness to the authority, inerrancy, and reliability of God’s Word. Their mouths will not only sing praises to God, but will actively tell future generations of the Gospel-grace of God that is found through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe their conduct will bear living testimony to the joy of doing life God’s way. They will walk worthy of their calling in Christ. They will put to death the cravings of the flesh, and bring to life those actions that are congruous with the holiness of God to which they have been redeemed. Their lifestyles will model the message of Christ that their lips proclaim.

I believe they will love people – all people – like we have failed to love them. Their self-sacrificing, Christlike love will not be bound either by old stereotypes or by current events. This love of theirs, fresh and deep, will be living proof of their loving God.

I believe this new generation of Christians will return to biblical purity – sexually, mentally, and relationally. I believe the curse of sinful sexual temptation, having spiraled out of control in recent generations, will be obliterated as they crawl out of the salacious cultural bed we have made for them, preferring instead to honor the marriage bed as holy unto God.

I believe in Christian Teens.

“Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, CSB)

Grace and Peace,
Tony

Comforted to Comfort

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“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves received from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, HCSB

When I was eight years old I was outside playing in the ditch in our front yard (in Archibald, LA), barefoot of course, and a piece of broken glass became lodged in the bottom of my foot. I screamed and cried. I limped inside and sat on the couch. My Mom has always been sympathetic and sweet during such instances, but Dad was really the softy. He sat down on the couch and wrapped me up in his arms like only a father could do. Together, they removed the broken piece of glass, bandaged me up, and then Dad just held me for a while. There’s something about the strong arms of a loving father that have the unique ability to make a little boy’s world “okay,” when it seems everything but okay.

Since I became a father myself, I have had innumerable opportunities to comfort my own children in their various afflictions. Sometimes I have failed. Other times, my heart hurt for them as I wrapped them up in my arms and administered to them the fatherly comfort I learned at the hands of my own Dad when I was a child. Comfort from all places is usually welcomed. But, again, there is just something special about the strong arms of a loving father.

As I’ve traversed the land of the living these thirty-five years, I have often found myself in a torment of soul that remains unrevealed and unknown to most around me. Such affliction can be a very lonely place, an interminable desert of emotional isolation. Perhaps you have experienced something similar in your walk with Christ. But there has never been such an occasion in my walk with Christ when God the Father – “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” – has not stepped in to wrap me up in His strong, loving arms. Sometimes He removes the instrument of my pain and bandages me up. Other times the object of my affliction cannot be immediately removed, so I find the affirmation and comfort I need by just sitting with Him a while, resting in the grips of His strong arms there in the desert sand.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 teaches that because I have received such comfort in my sufferings, it is my Christian duty (and privilege) to extend this grace to others who suffer around me. The end of God’s Fatherly mercies and comfort is not my own comfort, but the comfort of those God chooses to place in my company. If I selfishly hoard the comfort of the Father and never extend it to others, I abuse the gift of God. However, if I take the comfort I often receive from Him and extend it freely toward others, I allow myself to be used as a vehicle of the Father’s love. If I love broken people with the heart of Christ then I will go to them with the feet of Christ, speak to them with the voice of Christ, and serve them with the hands of Christ. Sometimes I can help alleviate the pain. Sometimes I can only sit down next to them and help them cry. In this way, God the Father extends His love to the afflicted through me. I become the strong arms of the Father, wrapped around another broken soul. [As a side note, how sad (oxymoronic, even) that Christian arms can often be a source of another soul’s affliction, instead of an extension of God’s long, strong arm of comfort and grace.]

What about you, Christian? What comfort have you received from the Father? And how are you comforting others today with the comfort you have received? There is a time to be the child in the Father’s lap, resting in the security of His strong arms. And there is a time to be an extension of the Father’s strong arm, wrapping yourself around others who are in desperate need of the comfort you have come to know.

Grace and Peace, Tony

Unsung Heros of Your Local Church

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“From Him [(Christ Jesus)] the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building itself up in love by the proper working of each individual part.” Ephesians 4:16, HCSB

Have you ever thought about how many things need to be done every single week, just so that you can gather in your local church and have a meaningful worship experience? Sure, your paid church staff members are working all week long to discern God’s Word, pray for you and others, connect with the community, communicate vision, and lead with forward momentum. But have you considered and prayed for all of the volunteers that give freely of their own time, energy, giftedness, and resources to make the worship experience happen every week? Here are a some volunteers in your church that are often overlooked, but are an indispensable part of what God is up to in your church. These men and women are making it happen every single week, and are often overlooked and under-appreciated:

The Children’s Ministry Volunteers. They give up their time in corporate worship every week, once a month, or once a quarter, so that YOU can enjoy the worship service free of various distractions. They spend time on their feet investing in your children while you sit in a comfortable chair/pew and enjoy the worship service. These men and women are Kids’ Ministry Super-Heros. If you want a quality Kids’ Ministry at your church–and if you want to reach young families in your community–it will not happen without faithful, sacrificial, servant-hearted Kids’ Ministry Volunteers.

The Nursery Workers. They wipe snotty noses, change dirty diapers, hold, sing to, and comfort crying babies, and clean up messes that you don’t even want to imagine. Their tools for ministry are Lysol wipes, diapers, sanitary trash cans, vacuums, burping cloths, and goldfish containers. If they are to enjoy the worship or the sermon, it will be from behind a computer screen sometime during the week. Sacrifice. Commitment. Selflessness.

The Sound Man. If you haven’t noticed him lately, that’s a good thing. But every time a microphone squeals, a singer can’t be heard, or an instrument goes haywire, looks of judgment from turned heads unsettle him and make him feel unappreciated. He is faithful to serve in his post every week, as a committed part of the ministry team. But no one ever says much to him in the way of encouragement.

The Musicians. They are gifted. Talented. Blessed. But they give up so much to lead you in meaningful worship every single week. Whether they play instruments, sing on a microphone, or stand in the choir, their leadership in worship each week puts pressure on them that you do not know. They memorize music, work on blending, intonation, and tuning, worship through their own mistakes, sacrifice hours every week for rehearsal, and endure the pressures of up-front leadership, all the while trying their best to maintain a visible appearance of authentic, genuine connection with God.

The Deacons. Every day they come alongside their pastor to prayerfully bear the burdens of hundreds of souls. They give from their own pockets to meet tangible needs in the church. They leave their families on their days off to make hospital visits, or to sit beside the bed of ill or grieving people. They buffer and diffuse the disgruntled remarks of church members, keeping the peace among the fellowship at all costs. And it weighs on them. Sometimes very heavily. Not many people approach a deacon unless they have a problem or want to voice a concern. It’s a shame that they are not more often appreciated for their devoted service to their church family.

The Small Group Leaders/Teachers. Every week your Small Group leader spends hours in study and preparation to bring God’s Word to you in an engaging, timely way. When they’re not studying, they are doing the difficult work of staying connected with group members. They remember the dates and times for your surgical procedures and job interviews. They pray for you and your family tirelessly. They are the frontline of ministry needs for everyone in their group. They lead with much investment. But too often they are overlooked in their service to your church.

The Custodian. This person, though most likely paid (underpaid, honestly), is vital in preparing an atmosphere that is conducive to distraction-free worship every week. Cleaning your toilets, sweeping your crumbs, taking out your trash, and maintaining the church’s ins-and-outs is too often a thankless job. We tend to see it as “honest work.” But to him or her, it is absolutely a ministry. The faithful church custodian’s work is essential to distraction-free worship.

The First Impressions (or “Welcome Center”) Volunteers. Can you imagine putting on a smile and welcoming grumpy people to church every single week, when you have your own problems you’re working through? You ask everyone how they’re doing, pray with them in the hallways, fix their coffee, and clean up their messes; but how often does someone stop to ask how your morning is going? How often do they bring you a donut or a fresh cup of coffee? Overlooked. Unthanked. But such an important service to the church body.

The Flowers/Decorations Team. Everyone has an opinion. Surely that is something you already know. Which colors are supposed to go with which particular season, and which kinds of flowers should and should not be included in the altar arrangement. The selection of cloth on the fellowship table, and the kinds of lights used in the Christmas wreaths. Criticism abounds, but encouragement and thankfulness are usually fleeting.

So Many More. Every single week, your experience at church hinges on countless volunteers who give their time, energy, resources, and more to serve YOU in tangible ways. Space does not permit the detailed mentioning of all other ministry volunteers such as those who volunteer for lawn maintenance, quick building repairs, meal cooking/serving rotations, ushering, security, office-related needs, and more. Each of them is an essential part of your positive weekly worship experience.

I pray that after reading this, you will commit to doing two things:

  1. Be intentional about thanking these people. Pray that God would lay some on your heart today who you can text, message, call, or to whom you can send a personal card of appreciation.
  2. Look for ways to plug in. Your church needs YOU to serve, too. God has gifted you in specific ways whether that involves your time, talents, or spiritual giftedness. He has engrafted you into His church body for a purpose. Your church needs you to be an active part of the volunteer team. You don’t need to have a position or a title. Just a servant heart, devoted to the advancement of God’s kingdom in and through your local church.

Serve Him with gladness,
Enter His courts with song. 
To our Creator, true praises belong. 
Great is His mercy, wonderful is His name. 
We gladly serve Him, His great love proclaim.
(B.B. McKinney, 1959)

Grace and Peace, Tony