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

NextGen Roundtable & Panel @ #SBTCAM17

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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!

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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

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“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

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

Preaching: From God & Before God

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“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