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

Exercising Wisdom on Social Media

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Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter can be a great blessing at times. But in some ways they have done untold damage to the art of interpersonal interaction. Not only do people generally feel more secure behind a keyboard than face to face, but also, important aspects of effective communication are easily lost. Very little of communication consists of the actual words you choose. Most of communication has to do with the inflection of your voice, facial expressions, body language, history with the listener, and the listener’s personal emotions at the moment. So we’ve come up with emojis, gif’s and other cyber-tools to simulate actual relationship. It’s good. But it’s not the same. So, effective communication on social media takes work.

Here are four suggestions from Proverbs 18 (CSB)…

  1. Choose your words wisely. (v.4) “The words of a person’s mouth are deep waters, a flowing river, a fountain of wisdom.” Since most of communication on social media will inevitably consist of the words you choose, choose them wisely. Be sure they flow from your head, not just your heart and your fingers. Read back over your words before you post them. Ask yourself, “Could someone take this differently than what I am intending?” People will assume that your words are flowing from the deep places of your life. So, be sure they communicate what you intend.
  2. Don’t try to pridefully show off what you know. (v.2) “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.” Do you remember that time you won an argument on Facebook? When that other man/woman finally wrote in your comments, after hours of debate, “Oh yes, you have finally convinced me; I completely recant my previous convictions and am totally convinced of your opinion.” No? You don’t remember that? Me either. It seems that no matter how much I know about a given subject, or how opinionated I am about it, those who disagree with me will disagree with me and those who agree with me will agree with me. Pridefully showing off your opinions is a foolish endeavor, especially when it is done at the expense of seeking understanding from others.
  3. Entertain both sides of an issue before you jump to conclusions. (v.13, 17) “The one who gives an answer before he listens — this is foolishness and a disgrace for him… The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” In case you have not noticed, even our news media outlets are opinionated, often developing and reporting stories from predetermined platforms. When an accusation is made, do your homework before you choose to agree or disagree. Forbes did a piece on this tendency of ours not long ago. Turns out 59% of social media users will share an online article based solely on its title, without ever even opening the link (Forbes article here). This means 59% of us are not really interested in the facts; we want to give an answer before we listen. As it turns out, there really are at least two sides to every story. Be sure you’re informed before you develop an opinion and share your thoughts on it.
  4. Cool down first. Disagree later. (v.19) “An offended brother is harder to reach than a fortified city, and quarrels are like the bars of a fortress.” Sometimes the best thing you can do is shut down the computer or put your smart phone back in your pocket. We are wired to think negatively first. I can’t tell you how many times I have read something, gotten upset, then read it again later only to come to the understanding that it meant something completely different than what I originally assumed. If you must disagree with someone on social media, don’t do it in anger. Cool down first. Allow your mind some time to circumvent the issue/statement. Fortified cities have fallen faster than offended men’s opinions. Step away. Keep calm. Then you’ll be in a better state of mind to understand and address the issue.

Who would have known that Proverbs written thousands of years ago on papyrus and scrolls could be so applicable to 21st Century life on keyboards and smart phones? God’s Word is never irrelevant. It’s always right on target. “I pursue the way of your commands, for you broaden my understanding,” (Psalm 119:32).

Grace and Peace,
Tony

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

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

 

The SBC/SBTC Movement

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Having the privilege of visiting with many Southern Baptist pastors and churches has given me a renewed encouragement and sense of kingdom-expectation within our denomination. For too long Southern Baptist churches have carried the stigma of being “stuck in their ways” with regard to church life. But there is a fresh wind within the SBC, stirring pastors and churches who still hold to biblical inherency and solid Baptist doctrine, but are experiencing a new season in the movement of gospel initiative. As it turns out God is still on His throne, the gospel of Jesus Christ is still the only path to salvation, and the Bible, in its 66 Books, is still inerrant and infallible. The Southern Baptist Convention is a denomination who understands that the church can hold firmly to these things while widely varying its methods of church life together.

The Southern Baptist denomination is replete with healthy diversity: diversity in ethnicity, church polity, outreach methodology, discipleship methodology, worship style, and the list goes on. There is no single ‘face’ of our denomination; the faces of Southern Baptist life are as varied as the geographic and generational landscapes we navigate. Part of this fresh, new wind is an understanding that there is such beauty in diversity: it carries with it a “Look Like Heaven (SBTC)” kind of approach to church life together. But not just in ethnic diversity – in worship style, too! Any given Sunday, you can walk into a Southern Baptist church somewhere that emphasizes old hymns, contemporary songs, hip-hop and rap Christian worship, yee-haw backbeat TX singin’, or soulful gospel music. And the methods of discipleship are as varied as the methods of worship style. Some SBC churches employ a traditional Sunday School model, some Home Groups, some Cell Groups, some one-on-one mentorship programs, and more. Every SBC/SBTC church decides for herself what methods and styles help her to be most successful in Great Commission advance.

The beauty of it all is that these extremely diverse Jesus-centered, Bible-believing churches join hands together under the banner of cooperation as defined by the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. The Bible alone is our creed, and the BFM 2000 is a common confession of our core, guiding doctrines. As it turns out, this Christian denomination which gets such a bad wrap for division and controversy actually exhibits an unparalleled unity in our biblical convictions and our Great Commission initiative. When 46,000 Southern Baptist churches give faithfully to God’s kingdom work through the Cooperative Program, tens of thousands of missionaries, church plants, church revitalization efforts, and seminary students are effectively funded with one guiding purpose in mind: that the gospel of Jesus Christ would reach the ends of the earth.

The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a fresh, new movement in this generation. It’s a Jesus-centered, Bible-believing, heavenward-looking, gates-of-Hell-shaking, forward-reaching movement. We’re moving forward together, lifting high the name of Jesus, pushing back the darkness of Hell, and heralding the light of the gospel to all nations. I’m honored to be a part of a denomination that is experiencing forward momentum for the cause of Christ.

If I were a young pastor wanting to lead my church to partner with a gospel-centered movement for the glory of God, I’d do everything I could to catch the wind blowing through the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention right now. I’d refuse to get lost in things I’ve heard about or experienced within the SBC in ages past, and I’d look to how God is using this denomination so powerfully right now to accomplish His plan, unfolding throughout the ages. I’d long to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit breathing new life into their churches. I’d want to be a part of this movement.

The SBC is not a historical platform. We’re a Holy-Spirit filled, God-fearing, Bible-believing convention of like-minded churches locking arms together for Great Commission advance. We know who our enemy is, and we live daily in the victory we already have over him. We’re moving forward. Together. And I’ve got to say… we’ve got some serious momentum, and we would love for you to be part of the movement.

Click HERE to see how your TX church can lock arms with us and be a part of the movement.

For the Churches,
Tony