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

5 Steps Toward Winning the Argument

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Everyone likes to win. I know that we’re supposed to have fun “just playing the game,” and that no matter what, we’re supposed to “do our best.” But seriously. I want to win… who doesn’t? In our rapidly evolving world of social media (false senses of courage building from the perceived safety of one’s keyboard), trying to win arguments seems to be one of America’s new favorite past-times. Most of my daily news feeds are littered with one “side” or another attempting desperately to prove itself right. It appears not to matter if the topic at hand is spiritual, political, relational, or even entertainment-based. Polarized sides will take to social media daily in desperate attempts to prove their superior rightness over the baseless idiocy of their opponents. But if your social news feeds are anything like mine, it’s becoming more and more apparent that while many are playing this game, no one is really winning. 

The problem is, in most arguments, we’re not real clear on what winning looks like. You would think that redeemed children of the Living God (Christians) would have a clear understanding of what it looks like to “win” an argument. But it has become apparent that even we are losing it – both figuratively and literally. So, in efforts to help you (Christian) win an argument on social media, allow me to offer a bit of biblical advice, from 2 Timothy 2:22-26. No matter the nature or subject of the controversy, Christian, here’s how you can “win.”

  1. Understand what winning looks like. “Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will” (v.26). When someone who disagrees with you is freed from the snares of Satan, you’ve won. That’s it. That’s what it looks like to win… It looks like freedom. Grace. Salvation. The real “win” is that Satan’s work be squashed and his will overcome by God’s great glory. That’s the “win” for the Christian. Anything else is a loss. So maybe, before going on to Step 2, you need to make sure you have a proper vision of what it will look like to win. If your goal is to prove yourself right, to beat your opponent into humiliating submission, or to catch him in the entanglements of his own flawed logic, you’re not pursuing the Christian win. You’re pursuing something else. And our time is too short and our mission to important to settle for anything less than a real win.
  2. Grow up. “Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (v.22). If you’re responding to opposition with self-centered, childish behavior, get a life. Namely, get Jesus’s life and let Him live it through you. Your unholy tantrums are producing nothing of value in the fight against Satan’s schemes. So grow up. You can’t control what other people say, do, or think. But you can control how you respond to their words, actions, and attitudes. If your actions or reactions are anything but righteousness, faith, love, and peace, you’re playing for the wrong team. If your alliances are with anyone who is not calling “on the Lord from a pure heart,” you’ve switched benches in the middle of the game. So grow up. Get over yourself. Pursue Christ-like spiritual maturity over pursuing a win in any argument. Once you’ve got that down, you can move on to Step 3.
  3. Pick your battles. “But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s slave must not quarrel…” (vs.23-24a). Part of winning is knowing what battles to fight. If you spend all of your time, energy, and report on insignificant battles, you will not win the war. I heard a coach yelling incessantly the other day, on the basketball court. He could barely get a breath in because he yelled at the top of his lungs about every single little thing. Halfway through the second quarter, he called (yelled) for a time out and the officials didn’t hear him. He kept calling it and calling it and they never acknowledged him. Eventually, someone else had to call for the time out from the bench. Know why they never acknowledged him? Because they had tuned him out. He was talking, but they weren’t listening. I wonder, Christian, if you’ve been incessantly talking/complaining – staking your claim and yelling at the top of your lungs (TYPING IN ALL CAPS) – about things that are “foolish and ignorant disputes.” And I wonder if this has caused you to lose report with those you are trying to reach. Don’t quarrel for quarrels’ sake. If you’re going to win the war, you must choose your battles wisely.
  4. Be patient and gentle. “…but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness” (vs.24b-25a). When you do engage in battle, understand that it is the “kindness of the Lord” which leads us to repentance (Ro.2:4). Biblical Christian opposition is always done from a position of gentleness. If you “win” the argument but misrepresent the Savior in the process, you’ve won nothing at all. In fact, if your actions or reactions point people away from the kindness of God instead of to the kindness of God, you’ve not won, but lost. Speak with gentleness. Exercise great patience. Don’t soften the truth, but don’t speak it without love. Don’t cower in fear, but don’t borrow on it either. Whatever the argument, be gentle. And be patient. That’s what points people to Jesus.
  5. Let God do what only He can do. “Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth” (v.25b). Christianity is not a showboating event. You’re playing for the team – for the kingdom of God. Your part is to represent God well in the world where He has placed you. His job is to convict the world of sin and righteousness, and draw them to salvation through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ. Read the playbook. You’re just the assist; God gets the dunk. The real win is not your win anyway. It’s Jesus’s win. No matter how flattering, convincing, or emphatic your words, you cannot get the win on your own. You must play your part well, with a surrendered trust that God will play His. “Repentance” and “truth” cannot be attained by those who are far from God unless God Himself grants it to them. So as you constantly work on Steps 1-4, be sure to let God handle Step 5. And when He does, make Him famous for it. Let Him get the glory.

Grace and Peace, Tony.

The New Self

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The goal of your saving faith is that you mature – grow up – in Christ. Paul speaks plainly to the Ephesian church about this, in language that demands a change. You can come to Christ as you are… but you can’t stay there. Genuine faith in Jesus Christ will change you from the day of your new birth to the day of your final glorification. In v.24, Paul highlights the tension between the “old man,” crucified in Christ and the “new man,” resurrected with Him.

“…you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity. The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” Ephesians 4:23-32 (HCSB)

Newton’s 3rd Law of Physics states that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Those who have “put on the new man” must be about the business of reacting to their former way of life by changing each of those offenses toward Christlikeness. Specifically, Paul says the liar should speak the truth, the angry one should let it go, the thief should become generous, and the filthy mouthed should learn to bless instead of curse.

Then he mentions that those Christians who refuse this change “grieve God’s Holy Spirit” who indwells them. How do we “grieve God’s Holy Spirit”? Bitterness, anger, wrath, shouting, slander, and unforgiveness (vs.31-32).

If we refuse the Christlike change that God’s Spirit desires to bring to our lives, we’re not only stunting our own spiritual growth; we’re also grieving the Holy Spirit of God. What areas of your life look a whole lot more like the “old man” than the “new man”? How might your thoughts, words, and actions be grieving God?

Those who are truly reborn into Christ have a prevailing desire to grow up in the faith. They long to please God, not grieve Him. Determine, today, to put off the “old man” and put on the “new man.” Refuse bitterness, envy, anger, wrath, slander, and unforgiveness. Live for God’s glory, not your own. And watch how He’ll begin to shape and mold your life into the man or woman He created you to be.

Grace and Peace, Tony.