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IT MIGHT BE A TRAP

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IT MIGHT BE A TRAP

Last summer my sister visited from out of town, so I invited her to stay with us.  Donald Trump had just said something and Hilary Clinton had just done something so I brought up the topic of politics with my sister.  She started to talk and I immediately got a sick feeling inside.  We disagreed on just about everything.  We ended up talking way past midnight.  There were really no solutions or resolutions.  And there seemed to be, maybe for the first time in our relationship, some sort of wedge between us.

I didn’t sleep very well that night.  One question kept popping up in my head, how important is politics?  Should politics be able to tear us apart?  What role should politics play in our lives?

A few months ago my sister had a birthday, and I happened to be in her town, so I took her out to dinner.  We were in the middle of this seemingly endless election season, so the topic of politics came up again, and amazingly, my sister started in again and she still didn’t agree with my wise, well-thought-out, obviously correct political views.  Again the question came, what role should politics play?

It’s a relevant question.  This election is dominating the news.  Our country is more polarized than ever.  The media is getting great ratings pushing the frenzy and it is easy to get caught up in it, it is easy to get angry at all those ignorant people that don’t believe exactly like I do.  But let’s take a step back.  I don’t care if you are a Republicrat, a Demoderm or a Librarian, step back.  Maybe you’re a Trump guy, a never-Trump person, maybe you’re feeling the “Bern” or think it’s time for a woman to have a turn.  Maybe you just want to see some chaos at the conventions.  Maybe your candidate is out, and you’re a little defeated.  Or maybe you just don’t care, you were for Marco Rubio just because you love Rubio’s tacos.  How important is politics?  How important should it be in our lives?  What role should politics play? 

Let’s look at one story from the life and teachings of Jesus for an answer:

Watching for their opportunity, the leaders sent spies pretending to be honest men. They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus.—Luke 20:20 (NLT)

In a parallel passage, Matthew explains that the religious leaders were setting a trap for Jesus.  They wanted to embarrass him, ruin him and render him ineffective.

Then the Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested.  They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him.—Matthew 22:15-16 (NLT)

 The story continued:

“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully.  Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  He saw through their trickery and said, “Show me a Roman coin.  Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”  So they failed to trap him by what he said in front of the people. Instead, they were amazed by his answer, and they became silent.—Matthew 20:21-26 (NLT) 

The religious leaders were afraid of Jesus, they were insecure, thinking he was going to take their jobs.  So they tried to trap him. 

Did you see that?  Did you notice how they tried to ensnare Jesus?  This passage gives us some clarity.  Politics can be a trap!

The topic of politics can embarrass us, ruin us and render us ineffective if we are not careful.  Let’s be very careful that we do not walk right into a trap because someone is out to get us.  Let’s be wary.  Political posts on Facebook or Twitter can be like stepping into a trap—even the ones that begin with, “I don’t usually post my political views, but…”  Watch out!  It might be, it could be, it probably is…a trap.  Let’s think twice about what we say to a sister, it can be a trap.  Let’s not get tricked, politics can be a trap!

"How many politically-correct people does it take to screw in a light-bulb?"

"Look, I don't know, but that's not funny." 

Jesus concludes with:

“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”—Luke 20:25 (NLT)

We tend to stop there, but Jesus’ statement begs two questions:

 

Question #1.  What are we supposed to give to God?

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.”—Matthew 22:37-38 (NLT)

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and says that God gets all our love, all our heart, all our soul, all our mind.

We’re supposed to give God everything. 

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.—Luke 12:31 (NLT)

 

Question #2.  What are we supposed to give the government?

Let me make some suggestions based on New Testament teachings:

Taxes:

On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?”  “Yes, he does,” Peter replied. Then he went into the house.  But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?” “They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replied. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free!  However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin.  Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”

—Matthew 17:24-27 (NLT)

Why does a slight tax increase cost you two hundred dollars and a substantial tax cut save you 30 cents?

“Everybody should pay their taxes with a smile,” said Bob. “I tried it but they wanted cash.”

Prayers:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.—1 Timothy 2:1 (N:LT) 

Maybe the government is in sad shape because we’re not praying.

Responsibility:

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.  That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.—Romans 13:1-7 (The Message)

We need to be responsible citizens.  If you are into politics, if you’re a political junkie, fine—don’t get trapped—be responsible.  If you don’t care all that much, fine—be responsible. 

 

Respect:

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.—Romans 13:7 (ESV)

Jay Leno quipped, “If God wanted us to vote he would have given us better candidates.”

We still need to honor the office, and honor the person. 

Here is the Big Challenge:  Avoid the Political Trap this week.

 I was sitting in a restaurant talking to my sister about politics and the tension was mounting.  Was this difference in our political views going to ruin our relationship?

Suddenly my sister’s phone started beeping and ringing and buzzing.  She picked it up and screamed, “Yes!  Yes!”  “What’s up?” I asked.  She yelled, “The Rams are moving back to LA!”

We both shouted, then we hugged.  I was an LA Rams fan as a kid, she stuck with the Rams even after their move to St. Louis.  We were both ecstatic.  As she drove me to the airport she kept saying, “I can’t believe it, the Rams are moving back to LA!” 

How important is politics?  I had my answer.  I hugged her good-bye and concluded, “It doesn’t matter who wins the election, the important thing is the Rams are moving back to LA!”

I need to treat my political views like I treat my football views.  I have my team.  And if someone roots for the 49ers or the Raiders or the Steelers or the Broncos or even the Seahawks, we can kid, we can agree to disagree, I can let them be wrong and it is not really a big deal. 

I’ve got my political views, but if someone roots for another party or view or team, I can accept them and let them be wrong.  But I need to be careful not to let that ruin my relationships, my reputation or more—I need to be careful.  Politics can be a trap.

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LIKEABILITY

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LIKEABILITY

“I’d rather be respected than liked.”  Whenever I hear that statement I wonder why those are the only two options mentioned.  Sometimes parents say, “My job is to be his father, not his friend.”  I think, “Seriously, are those two mutually exclusive?”  And when I hear a boss declare, “I want my employees to fear me, not like me,” I think we must be missing something.

 

Likeability has fallen on hard times lately. 

 

I was reading through the book of Acts in a different version than my normal reading the other day, when this verse jumped out at me.  I had thought about this idea many times, but I had never seen it written before, let alone written in the Bible. 

The apostles worked many miracles and wonders among the people. All of the Lord’s followers often met in the part of the temple known as Solomon’s Porch.   No one outside their group dared join them, even though everyone liked them very much.—Acts 5:12-13 (CEV)

Did you catch that?  Everyone liked the early Christians very much.  Okay, so not everyone joined them.  Some even tried to destroy them, but they were likeable.

Don Marquis observed, "Some persons are likeable in spite of their unswerving integrity."

If we’re going to excel as leaders we cannot be people pleasers, but we must be likeable.  If we’re not likeable, sooner or later, someone who doesn’t like us will gather enough folks who don’t like us and we will not like the result—we’ll be out of business.

Dale Carnegie, in his classic book, “How To Win Friends And Influence People” reveals that getting along with your co-workers will not only improve our overall work experience, it will make us more successful. 

A study by Melinda Tamkins of Columbia University indicated that workplace effectiveness comes not so much by what or who you know but by your popularity. The study revealed: “Popular workers were seen as trustworthy, motivated, serious, decisive and hardworking and were recommended for fast-track promotion and generous pay increases. Their less-liked colleagues were perceived as arrogant, conniving and manipulative. Pay rises and promotions were ruled out regardless of their academic background or professional qualifications."

For years I’ve thought that our presidential elections have been won by the most likeable candidates among the top nominees—at least since 1968 when Richard Nixon beat the affable Hubert Humphrey.

The Gallup company went a step further.  They’ve conducted a personality poll prior to every recent presidential election and found that likeability has been the most consistent predictor of who would win since 1960!

Leadership must be likeable.  If I want to be effective leading people, I need to be effective with people.

The Top Ten Signs Nobody Likes You

10.  You remind your teacher that she forgot to give homework.

9.  Your dog refuses to be seen outside with you.

8.  Your B.S. is in B.S.

7.  Your imaginary friends keep finding excuses not to come over.

6.  You are so annoying that even your multiple personalities won't speak to you anymore.

5.  You've actually had Mormon missionaries tell you, "We've gotta get going now"

4.  You're wearing a yellow shirt with a black zig zag about halfway down

3.  You find yourself seated in a handbasket and getting warmer.

2.  You often find yourself asking, "What would Vladimir Putin do?"

1.  Randy Newman is singing, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” when he notices you in the crowd.  Then he stops.

Likeability is necessary for leadership.  But likeability isn’t necessarily an innate gift. 

Travis Bradbury wrote:  “In a study conducted at UCLA, subjects rated over 500 adjectives based on their perceived significance to likeability. The top-rated adjectives had nothing to do with being gregarious, intelligent, or attractive (innate characteristics). Instead, the top adjectives were sincerity, transparency, and capacity for understanding.”

Likeability is a skill set.  It can be learned, it can be developed.

So how do we get it?

Here is a great place to start:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.—Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

Let’s start where the early followers of Christ started—let’s ask God to forgive us and fill us with His Spirit.  The result might just be an increase in our likeability.

 

 

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COMPETITION

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COMPETITION

A while back I got a voicemail from one of our church planters saying that the largest church in the region decided to hold an Easter service right across the street from his new church--and at the exact time.  I left a message saying something along the lines of, “That stinks, but it shouldn’t even effect you.”  And he left me a message saying, he just needed to vent and he “felt weird that feelings of competition had risen to the surface.”

 

Weird feelings of competition--many of us pastors and planters struggle with them.  Certainly those of us who score high on the “StrengthsFinder” for “competition” and those with Type-A personalities have them.

 

Competitive feelings are strange.  We know that other churches are not the competition.  Recreation and busyness and obviously, the devil--they are the competition.  But we still fight the feelings.

 

In 1 Samuel 24, when David is hiding from Saul in the cave, and an opportunity arises, “David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe.  Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe.”--1 Samuel 24:4-5

 

David is conscience-stricken, he knows he should have done it because Saul was the Lord’s anointed.  When Saul finds out he feels strange too:

 

“Saul asked, ‘Is that your voice, David my son?’ And he wept aloud.  ‘You are more righteous than I,’ he said. ‘You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.’”--1 Samuel 24:16-17

 

Even David and Saul felt the pangs of competition with other people who were supposed to be on the same side.

 

At a recent church conference some of us talked about how awkward those pastor conferences can be because of the tendency to compare yourself with everyone else.  Paul said, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves they are not wise.”--1 Corinthians 10:12

 

So how do we handle these feelings of competition?

 

I must admit I’m not sure, I struggle with this.

 

In our first church plant, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the competition among churches was cut throat.  It was horrible.  I took out my feelings on the softball field and made it our goal to win the church leagues.  I’d think,  “Maybe your church is better than mine, but I went three-for-four and we ten-runned you, so there!”  Hey, lighten up on me, I was a kid.

 

In our second church, in Benicia, CA someone from the city paid for all of us evangelical pastors to go to a conference together.  We roomed together, ate together and became good friends.  It was a small enough town that if someone left my church to go to another one, I could talk to that pastor about it.  As friends, the competition was diffused.

 

In my present church I tried to befriend the local pastors, but over time and with my schedule, I haven’t been able to invest that time.  So, what do I do?

 

In the business book called, “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Hansson there is a chapter on competitors called, “Who Cares What They Are Doing?”  That chapter really helped me.  Here’s a few excerpts:

 

“In the end it’s not worth paying much attention to the competition anyway.  Why not?  Because worrying about the competition quickly turns into an obsession.  What are they doing right now?  Where are they going next?  How should we react?  Every little move becomes something to be analyzed.  And that’s a terrible mind-set.  It leads to overwhelming stress and anxiety.  That state of mind is bad soil for growing anything.”

 

“Focus on yourself instead.  What’s going on in here is way more important than what’s going on out there.  When you spend time worrying about someone else, you can’t spend time improving yourself..  Focus on competitors too much and you wind up diluting your own vision.”

 

“If you’re going to be like everyone else, why are you even doing this?  If you merely replicate competitors, there’s no point to your existence.  Even if you wind up losing it is better to go down fighting for what you believe in instead of just imitating others.”

 

The point is clear:  Let’s embrace our own uniqueness.

 

When Peter asked Jesus about John’s ministry, Jesus replied, “What is that to you?  You must follow me.”--John 21:22

 

God has great plans for you and me, let’s embrace that, let’s follow Him, and let’s not get too worried about what the other churches in our area are doing.

 

By the way, my friend’s church plant wasn’t effected at all by the large church meeting right across the street.  His new church had a ton of visitors and its largest crowd ever.  And that planter actually called up the pastor of the large church to encourage him, and invite him to lunch.  Now they are friends.

 

 

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IS IT FIXABLE?

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IS IT FIXABLE?

The 1950 Chevrolet Deluxe weaved in and out of Havana traffic on an uncomfortably hot and muggy summer afternoon.  The driver looked over at me sitting and sweating in the passenger seat.  Then he reached up toward an eight-inch circular fan that was bolted above the rear view mirror.  The electric cord trailed down a couple feet below where it disappeared into the dash.  The driver flipped a switch on the fan and it began to hum and puff.  Then he chuckled the only two English words I heard from him all day:  “Air conditioning!”

 

One of the most amazing and amusing aspects of the Cuban culture that we saw on our trip there recently was the abundance of old cars.  I’d guess twenty-five to thirty percent of all the vehicles on the road were pre-1960 American automobiles.  And these were not pristine trailer queens, they were daily drivers the locals depended on to run their businesses and get them around.

 

Seeing the myriad classic cars made me think, “Maybe more things are fixable than I figured.”

 

We live in a throw away culture.  From disposable diapers to disposable phones to disposable contact lenses we can slip into thinking everything is soon obsolete.  If it’s broke, don’t fix it, toss it is the way we live.

 

And that value has crept into our personal connections.  An ever-increasing sense of disposable relationships has permeated our society.  When we’re finished with him or her, we toss them aside.  But maybe there are a lot more fixable things than we figured.

 

When I got back from Cuba I discovered that my 2005 Mustang’s engine was toast.  Its ten years old, time to throw it away and get a newer model, right?  But the Cuba experience made me re-think that.  I’d heard that the least expensive car you can get is the one you already have.  So, I had a new engine—well, new to me—installed, and the car is back on the road.

 

I get that there is a time to give up on a car.  I’ve delivered my share of jalopies to the junk yard.  And I know there’s a time to sell and move on.  I walked away from an MG I owned after finally understanding the MG stands for, “My Goodness, it is broken down again!”  (I sold it to someone who used to be a friend of mine.)

 

But not every vehicle is meant for the trash heap.  We have two 1966 Ford Mustangs in our garage.  And they run fine (some, if not most of the time!)

 

I also get that there are times to give up on a relationship.  I’ve said, “You’re fired.”  I’ve been dumped and I’ve broken up with girls.  I never used, “It’s not you, it’s me.”  I discovered that, “You remind me too much of my sister,” worked wonderfully every time.

 

And more relationships than we figure might be fixable.  The least expensive wife you can get is the one you already have.  And the least expensive friend, associate, or staff member you can get might actually also be the one you already have.

 

Some of my favorite relationships are with people who used to work for me, or I used to work for them.  Some of my deepest friendships are with folks who kept at it with me, refusing to walk away.  And some of my favorite parishioners are the people who left my church, and then returned.

 

The Apostle Paul put it this way, “Make friends with ordinary people.  Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others, and do your best to live at peace with everyone.”—Romans 12:16-18 (CEV)

 

The junk yard should be the last option for our ride and our relationships.  Maybe we can find some new parts, drop in a newer engine, jerry-rig an old fan and have that Ford or friendship spinning almost as good as new.  It might be more fixable than we figured. 

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The "Why" Behind What We Do

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The "Why" Behind What We Do

Excel Leadership Network focuses on spotting high level leaders, setting them up for success, and supporting them in ministry. Admittedly, our methods look a little different than most other organizations. Why do clusters?  Why go to ball games and give planters some snack money?  Why require a three-and-a-half day Discovery Center for any leader who wants to connect with us?  Why have breakfasts and lunches and dinners together?  Why push coaching and connecting?  

Essentially, why do we do what we do?

Our methods contain a secret ingredient, which can be found in Acts 9.  Our network's vision and philosophy comes from Acts 13—setting apart leaders for their work.  But Acts 13 was born out of Acts 8-9.  There was a great persecution that prompted church planting. Acts 9 starts this way: 

"Saul kept on threatening to kill the Lord’s followers. He even went to the high priest and asked for letters to the Jewish leaders in Damascus. He did this because he wanted to arrest and take to Jerusalem any man or woman who had accepted the Lord’s Way." Acts 9:1-2 (CEV)

This is a story about someone who was at the very beginning of his spiritual journey.  I think “resisting” is typically stage one, but Saul wasn’t even to a resisting stage yet - he was at the “killing Christians” stage!  But in the next verses he moved from killing believers to preaching boldly that Jesus is the Savior.  What caused him to transform?  It’s the same secret ingredient that explains the why behind what we do.

"When Saul had almost reached Damascus, a bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice that said, “Saul! Saul! Why are you so cruel to me?” “Who are you?” Saul asked.  “I am Jesus,” the Lord answered. “I am the one you are so cruel to.  Now get up and go into the city, where you will be told what to do.”  The men with Saul stood there speechless. They had heard the voice, but they had not seen anyone.  Saul got up from the ground, and when he opened his eyes, he could not see a thing. Someone then led him by the hand to Damascus, and for three days he was blind and did not eat or drink." Acts 9:3-9 (CEV)

At first glance, it seems that the key catalyst to spiritual growth is a Damascus-road event, right?  The thing that got Paul to the next level on his journey was this incredible blinding incident.  Right? Sure, we try to provide environments that allow great experiences in our network, but that’s not the secret I’m talking about. Saul’s catalyst was more than the bright light event.

Was his encounter with the truth? Jesus hit Saul with the truth.

Truth is critical, but it wasn’t the catalyst.  The Excel Leadership Network majors on truth.  We teach the Bible.  But the Bible says that even the demons know the truth.  Our secret isn’t about curriculum.

"A follower named Ananias lived in Damascus, and the Lord spoke to him in a vision. Ananias answered, “Lord, here I am.” Acts 9:10 (CEV)

There’s talk of a vision, so was that it?  Was that the catalyst? 

Visions are good, but not necessarily normative.  Not everyone gets a special vision, so the catalyst is more than the vision piece.

 "The Lord said to him (Ananias), “Get up and go to the house of Judas on Straight Street. When you get there, you will find a man named Saul from the city of Tarsus. Saul is praying, and he has seen a vision. He saw a man named Ananias coming to him and putting his hands on him, so that he could see again.”  Ananias replied, “Lord, a lot of people have told me about the terrible things this man has done to your followers in Jerusalem.  Now the chief priests have given him the power to come here and arrest anyone who worships in your name.” Acts 9:11-14 (CEV)

Ananias pushes back.  He says, “Lord, that’s a nice plan, but how about this: how about I not go and get myself jailed or killed!  Can’t I simply make a small donation or stop eating pork?”

Imagine that, imagine there’s a guy who is out killing believers, and throwing every Christian he can find into jail.  What would you say if God told you to go talk to him about Jesus?

 Probably, “Thank you, no.  I’m good.”

I suspect that something similar has happened to a lot of us.  Maybe we have felt that God wanted us to go talk to someone about Jesus, but we’ve thought, “Seriously?  He’s my boss.  She’s my neighbor.  It’s my best friend.  This could end badly.  “How about if I don’t go talk to them, God?”

"The Lord said to Ananias, 'Go! I have chosen him to tell foreigners, kings, and the people of Israel about me.  I will show him how much he must suffer for worshiping in my name.'

Ananias left and went into the house where Saul was staying." Acts 9:15-17 (CEV)

That took incredible courage.  Ananias put his freedom and his life in God’s hands.

"Ananias placed his hands on him and said, “Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me. He is the same one who appeared to you along the road. He wants you to be able to see and to be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Suddenly something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see. He got up and was baptized." Acts 9:18 (CEV)

 The miracle happened, then the conclusion:

"Then he ate and felt much better.  For several days Saul stayed with the Lord’s followers in Damascus.  Soon he went to the Jewish meeting places and started telling people that Jesus is the Son of God.  Everyone who heard Saul was amazed and said, “Isn’t this the man who caused so much trouble for those people in Jerusalem who worship in the name of Jesus? Didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them to the chief priests?”  Saul preached with such power that he completely confused the Jewish people in Damascus, as he tried to show them that Jesus is the Messiah." Acts 9:19-22 (CEV)

This is the story of someone who took an incredible leap on his spiritual journey.  Saul went from arresting anyone who believed in Jesus to telling people that Jesus is the Son of God. Saul did a reversal, a 180, a complete turnaround for God. 

 What was the catalyst?

It wasn’t just the experience.

It wasn’t just the interaction with the truth.

It wasn’t just the vision.

The change in Saul’s life didn’t occur when he was blinded, when he had a vision or even when he heard Jesus talking.

 "Ananias placed his hands on him and said, “Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me. He is the same one who appeared to you along the road. He wants you to be able to see and to be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Suddenly something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see." Acts 9:17-18 (CEV)

Did you notice that the miracle in Saul’s life didn’t actually happen until Ananias showed up? There was a relational component in Saul’s spiritual  turnaround.

What is the why behind what we do? WE ARE A RELATIONAL NETWORK.  We focus on clusters because we are a relational network.  We start out with four days of intensive encounters at the Discovery Center because we are a relational network.  We go to ball games because we are a relational network.  We push coaching because we are a relational network.  We are, unapologetically, a relational network.

So, how do you program providential relationships?

You don’t.

We can’t schedule a miraculous meeting with Ananias every three to six months.  Providential relationships are up to God.  But we can work with God.  We can put ourselves in a position to hear God through and see God in other people.

1.  Sense the Ananias in your life

"Anyone who walks with wise people grows wise.  But a companion of foolish people suffers harm." Proverbs 13:20 (NIV)

 We need to get around wise, godly, effective leaders.  Steven Furtick says, “If you're going to do what God has called you to do, you have to intentionally bring the people into your life He wants you to have.”

I suspect that God has an Ananias or two ready to make a difference in each of our lives.  Are you sensing them?  Are you available to them?  Are you coming to clusters and hanging out with leaders? 

2.  Be an Ananias

 I suspect that you are called to be an Ananias is someone’s life. Your touch, your words just might cause the scales to drop from their eyes.

Belonging to a network and being an active, engaged participant opens a plethora of opportunities to influence others with God’s love. 

I want to encourage you to take seriously the connections and the relational power that are available to you—that’s why we have a network.

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LETTING GO:

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LETTING GO:

The opening scene from the movie, “Father of the Bride,” has always made me misty-eyed as Steve Martin describes his feelings after his daughter’s wedding:  “You fathers will understand.  You have a little girl, an adorable little girl, who looks up to you and adores you in a way you never could have imagined.  I remember how her little hand used to fit inside mine, how she used to love to sit on my lap and lean her head against my chest.  She said I was her hero.  Then the day comes when she wants to get her ears pierced and wants you to drop her off a block before the movie theater.  The next thing you know she wants to wear eye shadow and…high heels.  From that moment on you are in a constant state of panic.  You worry about her going out with the wrong kind of guys…Then she gets a little older and you quit worrying about her going out with the wrong guy, and you worry about her meeting the right guy.  And that’s the biggest fear of all, because then you lose her.”

Letting go is tough.  But it’s a primary part of life and parenting.

I suspect there are at least ten times in a parent’s life when letting go is necessary and especially difficult:

 

1.  When our child takes her first steps.  This is literally letting go.

 

2.  When our child is one and a half to three years old.

This is the stage when a child first begins to realize that he or she exists as a separate entity than Mom and Dad.

 

3.  When our child starts school.

One parenting expert observed:  “I believe the most stirring moment in the experience of a parent comes on the day he leaves his child at school for the first time.  This can be so sharp an experience that, when there are two or three children, this ritual has to be alternated between parents.”

 

4.  When our child reaches the teenage years.

 

5.  When our child learns to drive.

 

6.  When our child leaves home.

“Helping your eldest pick a college is one of the greatest educational experiences of life—for the parents.  Next to trying to pick his bride, it is the best way to learn your authority, if not already gone, is slipping fast.”—Sally and James Reston, “Letting Go”

 

7.  When our child gets married.

 

8.  When our child moves away.

 

9.  When our child raises our grandchildren differently than how we’d do it.

 

10.  When the roles are reversed.

It starts out that they are wearing diapers in our house, and it ends up that we are wearing diapers in their house.

 

Parenting seems to be all about letting go.  So how do we do it?  How can we manage these letting go seasons?  Let me share some lessons I’m learning:

 

1.   We have to let go.

 

“’Have you not read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”—Matthew 19:4-5

 

Bart Starr, the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Green Bay Packers dynasty of another day was once asked what the most important task of a quarterback is.  He replied, “The handoff.”

Our job as parents is to let go. 

 

Paul Johnson says, “It’s a law of nature that parents need to hold on and children need to find independence, and children need to win.”

 

 “He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out.”—Mark 2:14

 

Jesus started early in letting go of his followers, we need to keep the end in mind as well.

 

There are several parenting strategies for letting go.  One is to give the child tons of freedom and very few limits early on, and then tighten the grip as they grow older.  As the kids become teenagers and want independence, the parents become more strict.  This strategy almost invariably leads to rebellion.  Another strategy is to keep strict control over the kids when they are young and as they grow—strict, strict, strict.  This results in hamstrung kids.  A third method

is to be strict early, but then gradually release control.  This approach generally leads to healthy kids who do well in life.

 

In the excellent book, “Boundaries with Kids” Henry Clay tells this story.  “We had finished dinner, and I was visiting with my friend Allison and her husband Bruce, when she left the dinner table to do some chores.  Bruce and I continued to talk until a phone call took him away as well, so I went to see if I could lend Allison a hand.  I could hear her in their fourteen-year-old son Cameron’s room.  I walked in to a scene that jolted me.  She was cheerfully putting away clothes and sports equipment and making the bed.  She struck up a conversation as if things were normal, ‘I can’t wait for you to see the pictures from the trip.  It was so much…’  ‘What are you doing?’ I asked.  ‘I’m cleaning up Cameron’s room,’ she said.  ‘What does it look like I’m doing?’  ‘You are what?’  ‘I told you, I’m cleaning up his room.  Why are you looking at me like that?’  All I could do was to share with her the vision in my head, ‘I just feel sorry for Cameron’s future wife.’  Allison straightened up, froze for a moment, and then hurried from the room.  I walked into the hall to see her standing there motionless.  Not knowing what to say, I said nothing.  After a few moments, she looked at me and said, ‘I’d never thought about it that way.’”

 

2.  We need to keep growing.

 

“Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”—Luke 2:52

 

We need to keep growing as parents.  Parenting is learned behavior, We don’t need a license to do it, but we do get a learner’s permit—our first child!

 

When it comes to letting go we parents need to keep growing for two reasons.  First, we don’t learn how to let go naturally.

 

Growing up is pretty natural.  Kids naturally learn to walk, they learn to be independent.  But there’s nothing natural about letting go at all.

 

In fact, when there’s conflict with our kids over letting go issues, parents are the usually the primary problem.

 

“Parental insensitivity is the number one reason for the causes of an unhappy home.”--James Dobson

 

The turmoil that comes with parent/child conflict is most often our fault.  Think of those stages.  For instance, when the child gets to be about two, they naturally begin to develop the understanding that they are separate from Mom.  It’s a natural growth process for them.  So, what do we do as parents?  Instead of growing ourselves and learning how to handle this phenomenon we blame the kid.  We’ve come up with this ridiculous label that really bothers me—“The terrible twos.”

 

That’s a pretty inflammatory label we don’t use on other ages.  We don’t say, oh he’s going through the awful eighties.  She’s in her fiery forties.

 

Think about it, it’s not the kids fault we haven’t learned how to gently discipline them through their two-year-old discovery.

 

And what about teenagers?  There’s an ugly rumor out there that says when a kid gets to be a teenager he goes nuts.  It ain’t necessarily so.  There is no Biblical passage that says “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he gets to junior high watch out!”

 

It is more likely that it’s the parents that have gone nuts.  They get caught up in this lie that teenagers are all bad, and they go crazy until their child hits about nineteen and then they return to normal.

 

I was youth pastor for a year and a half—the longest decade of my life.  And these parents would drop their kids off at youth group at 7pm on a Wednesday night and scream, “I’ve messed this kid up for fifteen years, you need to fix him for me.  I’ll be back at 8:30.”

 

(I do want to go on record and say the teenage years have been the most fun parenting years for me.  Our house has been full with our kids and their friends, the conversations have been real (okay, they usually don’t start until midnight) and the relationships have been great.  Don’t buy into the myth that teenagers are terrible!)

 

And what about caring for aged parents, why is that so difficult?  Isn’t a large part of the difficulty due to parents who have not grown to accept the senior season of life?

 

We need to keep growing because we might be the major problem.

 

Secondly we need to keep growing because we probably don’t learn how to let go from our parents.  Perhaps we’ve not had good parenting models.

 

Before you get all upset at me for saying the problems with our kids are on us, let me say it is really not our fault.  We’ve only been doing what our parents showed us to do.

 

My wife, the counselor, often tells me that it is very difficult for people to parent beyond that which they were parented.

 

My parents did a pretty good job raising me—until I turned twelve.  At that time my oldest sister got married and moved away, my two older brothers moved out, my dad got promoted to a traveling position at work and my mom took up drinking.  And I was left wondering, “What happened here?”

 

And that’s pretty common for most of us.  Why do we struggle with teenagers?  Is it because they are really bad or is it because our parents had no clue with us so we’ve never seen a good example of parenting at that stage?

 

Our parents did the best they could, but unless we grow beyond their parenting we’re not going to get a lot of this parenting stuff down—certainly not this letting go stuff.

 

Before we go on let me pause to talk about how God offers forgiveness for us parents.  I do not want to burden us with more guilt about parenting.  Jesus died to take away our guilt.  No matter what mistakes I’ve made as a parent—and there have been plenty—God offers forgiveness.  And he does the same for you.

 

3.  We need to keep connected to them.

 

Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always.”—Matthew 28:20

 

"How'd you get along with you new daddy while I was on my business trip?" asked the recently-remarried woman.  Fine, Mommy," responded her eight-yea-old. "Every morning he took me out on the lake in a rowboat and let me swim back to shore."  “Gee, honey, wasn't that kind of a long swim?"  "Not too bad. The tough part was getting out of the bag first!"
 

It is possible to give up control, but retain the connection.

 

One big mistake we make as parents is holding on too tight.  But another mistake we can make—on the opposite end of the spectrum is not holding on at all—abandoning our kids.

 

There’s another parenting myth out there that says, “When they turn 18 they’re on their own.”

 

Again, that isn’t true.  The Bible never says, “Train up a child until he is eighteen and then relax!”

 

I have 40 nieces and nephews--a big family.  They range from five-years-old to 37.  And I would say that the older ones need parental connections a lot like the younger ones.

 

Why are so many 18 to 25 year-olds lost these days?  Is it because we’ve just dropped them?  They are the ignored generation—and they are ignored at the time when they are making some of the most influential decisions of their lives!

 

I’ve got to go out of my way to keep the connections with my kids.

 

Let me end with a silly story.  Three turtles went for a picnic in the country.  One carried a basket of food, one carried a jug of drinks, but the third carried nothing.  As soon as they got to the picnic site it started to rain.  “We can’t have a picnic without an umbrella,” the first turtle said.  “One of us will have to go back and get one.”  The first two turtles decided that the third should go get the umbrella because he hadn’t brought anything.  “I won’t go,” the third turtle said.  “as soon as I leave you’ll eat all the food and drink all the drinks and there will be nothing left for me.”  “We promise to wait for you,” the others promised.  “No matter how long it takes?” he asked.  “No matter how long it takes,” they pledged.  So the third turtle took off while the others waited.  They waited an hour, two hours, four hours, a day, two days, a week.  Finally the second turtle said, “Maybe we should go ahead and eat.”  Just then they heard the voice of the third turtle call out from the bushes, “If you start eating, I won’t go!’

As a parent I’m tempted to refuse to let go, to hide in the bushes and to not trust my kids or God.  But He is in control, he’ll take care of them and He’ll take care of me.

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THE KEY IS WE

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THE KEY IS WE

A husband and his wife advertised for a live-in maid to cook and do the housework. They hired a young girl, who worked out fine, was a good cook, polite, and kept the house neat. One day, after about six months, she came in and said she would have to quit.  "But why?" asked the disappointed wife.  She hemmed and hawed and said she didn't want to say, but the wife was

persistent, so finally she said, "Well, I met this guy and I'm pregnant."  The wife said, "Look, we don't want to lose you. My husband and I don't have children, and we'll adopt your baby if you will stay."  She talked to her husband; he agreed, and the maid said she would stay. The baby came, they adopted it, and all went well.  After several months though, the maid came in again and said that she would have to quit. The wife questioned her, found out that she was pregnant again, talked to her husband, and offered to adopt the baby if she would stay. She agreed, had the baby, they adopted it, and life went on as usual.  In a few months, however, she again said she would have to leave. Same thing. She was pregnant. They made the same offer, she agreed, and they adopted the third baby. She worked for a week or two, but then said, "I am definitely leaving this time."  "Don't tell me you're pregnant again?" asked the lady of the house.

"No," she said, "there are just too many kids here to pick up after."

 

All of us are tempted to quit--especially pastors, church planters and those working in ministry.  Some statistics estimate that up to 1500 pastors quit each month.  (Source:  A Sunscape Ministries of Colorado, which serves clergy in crises, report from all denominations nationwide) And some of us feel like quitting 1500 time per month.

 

The temptations to quit are strong and they are out there, but how do we keep going?  How do we keep from giving up and giving in?

 

“Here is something pretty unbelievable. The only living World War I veteran, a man named Frank Buckles just turned 109 years old. What’s even more amazing, he just finished his fourth tour in Afghanistan.”--Jay Leno

 

How do we keep going?  There’s one overlooked key to perseverance that we see in the great perseverance chapter, 2 Corinthians 4.

 

“Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up…  We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.  Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies... We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.  ..  That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”--2 Corinthians 4 (NLT)

We can sum up this chapter this way:  “We never give up…we never give up.”--2 Corinthians 4:1 & 4:16 (NLT)

 

Why not?  What keeps us going?

 

Paul talks about the pressure.

 

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed…”--2 Corinthians 4:8 (NIV)

 

As planters and pastors we face all kinds of pressure:  financial pressure,  emotional pressure, financial pressure, family pressure, did I mention financial pressure?

 

We are pressed, but not crushed.

 

Paul talks about the perplexities.

 

“We are perplexed, but not driven to despair…”--2 Corinthians 4:8 (NLT)

 

We are perplexed.  Sometime I just can’t figure it out.  When the newly hired Executive Pastor at our church had to move to Oregon recently because his wife lost her job due to this economy, everyone on staff asked the same question, “Why is this happening?”

 

A lot of us face perplexing situations right now.  But I like how the message translates this verse:

 

“We're not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do…”--2 Corinthians 4:8 (The Message)

 

Paul talks about the persecutions.

 

“We are …persecuted, but not abandoned…”--2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NIV)

 

My daughter is home from China, where she serves ministering to students.  We hear first hand of persecutions going on there.

 

I received this text from one of our planters yesterday, yes, yesterday--he is on the edge:

 

“Thanx. Here's latest on the other events of the day :)

I believe we just missed an attack by Gods grace. …Was guy among us loaded w/357 watching. Make a long story short …helicopter began flying overhead "looking" for us. At that point guys 

decided to go… On road out of town just sped past 4 … trucks all loaded with gunmen headed toward village  where we were. Headed back …. Gunmen on road now too.  Big traffic parade we got past, those behind us won't :) tell more details when get back. Keep praying.”

 

Notice the happy face signs.  He’s facing persecution, but pretty excited about the opportunity.

 

And we all have the opportunity of persecution.  Maybe not with a 357 aimed at us, but as leaders our necks are on the line.  We are taking shots.

 

Paul talks about the problems.

 

“We are … struck down, but not destroyed.”--2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NIV)

 

The Amplified Bible says, we are struck down to the ground, but never struck out and destroyed.”

 

We get knocked down,

 

A few years ago, it looked like Super Bowl history would be made:  perhaps two undefeated teams would make it.  The New Orleans saints started the season 13-0 before they lost to the Dallas Cowboys.  The Indianapolis Colts started 14-0.  They had a lead at halftime in game fifteen--their second-to-last-regular season game.  But they pulled out their starters and lost.

 

The Colts took a lot of flak in the aftermath of that loss.  A perfect season was in their grasp, but they passed on it.  In the midst of the outcry about the loss, their team president Bill Polan had this to say, “Our goal is not an undefeated season.  Our goal is to get to the Super Bowl and win.”

 

A lot of time we quit when we get knocked down.  But Paul says our goal is not an undefeated life.  Our goal is to keep going, to be standing at the end, to follow God no matter what.

 

“It is not enough for a man to know how to ride; he must know how to fall.”--Mexican Proverb

 

We face pressure, perplexities, persecutions and problems, so how do we persevere?

 

Obviously there are several paths to perseverance:  perspective, prayer… (Check out Bill Hoyt’s article on this passage in last month’s seedlings for some antidotes to discouragement:  (http://www.growinghealthychurches.org/art/art_652.shtml)

…but I want to suggest one primary key:

 

The Key is We

 

In this chapter Paul uses the term “we” 29 times and the term “us” five times.

 

The key to keep going is to not go alone. 

 

Perseverance means teaming up with someone else.

 

That’s why we have a network!  When I’m facing financial pressure, I think about our planter partners in Michigan and realize that if they can make it, so can I.  When I am perplexed I reflect on my colleagues who are “undergoing the same kind of sufferings” and I keep going.  When I think of persecutions, I realize there are a lot worse persecutions going on with my brothers and my daughter.  And when I get knocked down, I recognize that the none of my colleagues is undefeated either.

 

We can keep going together.  The key is “we.”

 

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble .”-- Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NLT)

 

Here’s the application:  Go to a Connection Event--get with the other folks who are going through the same things.  Talk to your coach.  Serve as a coach.  Connect with other planters, leaders and pastors on the phone or through email, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Walkie-Talkie, carrier pigeon…or whatever.  Do not neglect meeting together--make it a habit.  Encourage one another, and all the more. 

 

We may want to quit at times, but we can keep going, together.  The key is “we.”

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NETWORKING

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NETWORKING

The more time I spend with church planters, the more I see the incredible need planters have for networking.  The notion that church planters are independent individualists who prefer to be left alone is more myth than reality.  Most church planters, most gifted planters, and certainly the type of planters that we’re assembling in the Excel Leadership Network are leaders who see and need and exhibit a strong desire to connect with like-minded folks.

King Solomon felt the same way:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?   Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”--Ecclesiastes 4:7-12

The need for a network is a Bible principle, and it meets at least four practical needs for planters:

Networking is God’s solution for loneliness

Ministry can be lonely.  And front-line ministries such as church planting can lead to isolation.  One of the reasons the Excel Network exists is to remind planters that we’re not alone--we’re in this kingdom work together.

I love this Orson Welles quote:  “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.”

Let’s stop eating alone and ministering alone.

 

Networking is God’s solution for fatigue

Saint John of the Cross wrote, “The soul that is alone is like the burning coal that is alone.  It will grow colder rather than hotter.”

We get tired and cold because we try to do it all, and we try to do it all by ourselves.  But God meant for us to serve together.  There is something rejuvenating about meeting together with others doing similar work.  Sharing ideas (It’s not stealing if you get permission!) can refresh us, it can restore our fire.

 

Networking is God’s solution for discouragement

Michael Jordan concluded, “Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships.”

To win, we’ve got to work together.

We all have had losses and downright disasters in ministry.  Finding someone to weep with us or finding someone further down the road who admits to making a similar mistake can take the edge off that temptation to get down.  And when we move from talent alone to teamwork, we see success.

 

Networking is God’s solution for fear

Robert Lewis, in his book, “The Church of Irresistible Influence” noted, “Isolation breeds and multiplies fears, propelling the imagination to envision the world as even more threatening than it really is.”

We’re called to be people of faith, to take risks and to chase the opportunities.  But it can be scary on our own.  Sometimes just seeing what others have done or simply being around other risk-takers gives us the courage to take our next step of faith.

 There’s an old story about a professor who heard about an actual dinosaur still alive in the rainforests of South America.  So, the professor launched a scientific expedition.  After several weeks he stumbled upon a little man wearing a loincloth, standing near a 300 foot long dead dinosaur.  The scientist couldn’t believe it. "Did you kill this dinosaur?" he asked.  "Yep," replied the rainforest native.  But it's so big and you're so small! How did you kill it?” the professor inquired.    With my club," the primitive fellow answered.  "How big is your club?” asked the scientist?  The little man answered, "Well, there are about 100 of us..."

 

Let’s keep networking, and keep adding to our network!

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THE KEY TO LONG FRIENDSHIPS

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THE KEY TO LONG FRIENDSHIPS

The Top Five Signs You Have No Friends

5.  You are one of the five best solitaire players in the world

4.  At your funeral the entire eulogy is, “Yep, he’s dead.”

3.  Having a Halloween Party means dressing up your dogs and tying them to the furniture

2.  Even your imaginary friends have stopped talking to you.

1.  James Taylor sings the first few bars of “You’ve Got A Friend,” notices you in the audience and stops.

 

The year was 1980-something, my Dad called to give me the bad and sad news that one of his very best friends, who also happened to be my godfather, had just passed away.  I told Dad I’d go to the funeral with him in Phoenix, so I flew in from Colorado, and my dad flew in from California and we met at the airport.  On the shuttle to the car rental place, my Dad said something to me that I would never ever forget.  I wouldn’t forget it because he kept saying it.  He said it in the rental car, at the hotel, before the funeral, on the cemetery grounds, during the wake and even back at the airport.  Dad was grieving, so maybe he wasn’t sure what to say, but he must’ve spoken this to me at least ten times over that two-day trip:  “Son, you only get so many friendships in life, so make them last.”

 

Since that trip, twenty-some-odd years ago, I’ve been on kind of a quest.  First, to prove my Dad wrong about only getting so many friendships handed to us.  He’s right in that only a few friendship drop into our laps, we need to go out and continually develop friendships.  But I’ve also been on a quest to make friendships last.

 

HOW CAN I MAKE MY FRIENDSHIPS LAST?

 

Milton Berle quipped, “The trouble with having friends is the upkeep.”

 

I’d like to suggest one key to making friendships last.  I’ve been studying this topic and doing my best to keep my friendships and make new ones for quite a few years.  I’ve also been reading a chapter of the book of Proverbs almost every day since my godfather’s funeral, and I believe King Solomon is on to the one secret ingredient to making friendships last long.  So I’d like to reveal what I believe Solomon says is the main ingredient in long-lasting friendships.  And I want to get at that key ingredient by looking at five statements Solomon makes about friendships:

 

1.  Choose Friends Wisely

 

“A righteous man is cautious in friendship.”—Proverbs 12:26 (NIV)

 

The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.

--Proverbs 12:26 (NIV)

 

King Solomon says choose your friends wisely.  That makes a lot of sense on the surface, but when we pause to think about it, Solomon’s statement here is incredibly counter-culture in our world. 

 

Most of us don’t choose our friendships at all, we just stumble into them.  Do you know who my best friends were when I was growing up?  They were the other kids who lived on my street.  It didn’t matter if I liked them, there was no choosing.  We lived next door to each other so we were automatically best friends who hung out every day. 

 

We were friends with the people in our class, who sat closest to us.  We were friends with the kids on our team, in our troop, or whose parents were friends with our parents.  There was no choosing.  It was all about proximity.

 

And most of us never learned to choose friends or even make friends.  The friendless American male is a by-product of us never learning to choose our friendships.

 

Do you know the difference between family and friends?  You get to choose your friends.

 

Hugh Kingsmill said, “Friends are God's apology for relations."

 

I think as parents we understand that one of our jobs, early on at least, is to help choose our kids friends.  But do we take choosing our own friends that seriously?

 

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.  When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:  Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”—Luke 6:12-16

 

Jesus spent the whole night praying about his choice of friends.  Shouldn’t we take it seriously too?

 

Mark Twain advised, “Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions.  Small people always can do that but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

 

Here’s an idea:  Let’s intentionally choose to make a new friend this month.  That’s why we have clusters and events in our network, so we can gain exposure to possible new solid friends who are walking the same path.

 

2.  Sharpen Each other

 

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”--Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)

 

Oscar Wilde observed, “True friends stab you in the front.” True friends sharpen us!
 

Maxwell revealed, “The most important thing I’ve learned in leadership is those who are closest to me will determine my level of success.  A person almost never rises above the level of his or her closest friends.”

 

“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”—Proverbs 13:20

Do you know why so many of our friendships wane?  We stop sharpening, each other.

 

I think of the man who wisecracked, “Charlie and I have been friends for thirty years.  There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him, and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for me.  So for the past thirty years we’ve been doing nothing for each other…”

 

Let’s intentionally sharpen a friend this month.  And maybe even ask a friend to sharpen me.  Let’s sharpen someone else in our network.

 

3.  Exercise Patience

 

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.-- Proverbs 17:17(NIV)

 

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need. --Proverbs 17:17

 (NLT)

 

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.-- Proverbs 18:24 (NIV)

 

So often we’re shocked when one of our friends does something wrong in our relationship.  “How could they do such a thing?” we ask.  Easy, they’re not perfect and neither am I!  If we understand that people aren’t perfect, that selfishness and conceit and contention are part of everyone’s mix, perhaps we’ll be able to cut them some slack and build better relationships.  Instead of playing the game of “You better be perfect or I’m not going to play with you,” let’s realize that all of us miss the mark.

 

Alan Loy McGinnis says in his book, “The Friendship Factor” that a giant key to great relationships is to understand that everyone has times of temporary insanity:  “Occasionally a friendship simply isn’t working and must be abandoned, but most often, broken relationships stay broken for the lack of a patience that will let the other person act out for a while, allow temporary insanity in the other for a while, and then forgive.”

 

The key word is “temporary.”  People can and will and often do change.

 

McGinnis has another book, “Bringing Out the Best in People” where he makes a similar point:  “Morale builders build into the group an allowance for conflict.  They do not panic when negative emotion occurs—they expect it and they are prepared for it.  Morale problems rarely get out of hand for these leaders because they have constructed corridors of communication for the disgruntled student or the unhappy employee to use.”

 

Erwin Randall summed it up: “True friends are those who, when you make a fool of yourself, don't believe that this condition is permanent.”

 

Let’s intentionally diagnose the temporary insanity going on in our friendships.  (Hint:  I might be the insane one right now!)

 

4.  Apologize

 

“He who conceals his sins does not prosper.”—Proverbs 28:13

 

James added, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”—James 5:16

 

Here are some great quotes on apologizing:

 

“A true apology is more than just an acknowledgement of a mistake.  It is recognizing that something you have said or done has damaged a relationship—and that you care enough about the relationship that you want it repaired or restored.”—Norman Vincent Peale

 

 “In confession the break-through to community takes place.  If a Christian is in the fellowship of confession with a brother, he will never be alone again.”-- Deitrich Bonhoeffer

 

 “There appears to be within us something akin to an urge to confess.  Not disclosing our thoughts and feelings can be unhealthy.  Disclosing them can be healthy.”-- James Pennebaker

 

Recently a friend called me, “Hey, I just want to apologize,” he said.  “I think I was a bit harsh in what I said and I wanted to make sure we were okay.”

 

I told him that I wasn’t offended at all, that I hadn’t even noticed his so-called harshness.  But I was impressed that he actually called to apologize.  He was more concerned with our friendship than he was about justifying his actions.  That meant a lot.

 

Is there someone you need to intentionally apologize to today?

 

5.  Forgive

 

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.--Proverbs 17:9(NIV)

 

Solomon says that a lack of forgiveness separates close friends. 

 

I did a sermon about forgiveness a few weeks ago.  I did a talk on Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant—the guy who was forgiven millions, but then wouldn’t forgive someone who owed him a few hundred bucks.  And I must say, I did a pretty good job on that talk.

 

But then a couple weeks ago I was at a conference and the keynote speaker did his final talk on that same passage.  It is kind of strange to hear someone preach on a passage you just preached on.  I listened thinking I’d heard it all before, actually I’d preached it all before.  But then the speaker made a point that I had missed—and it hit me right between the eyes.  He said, “Forgiveness is irrational.”  It makes no rational sense to forgive.  And as I wrestled with that I realized that I had not forgiven someone who had hurt me—partly because I had the guy in my grips and it made no sense to let it go.  I actually had to pause, and intentionally work through things and forgive him.  And that forgiveness has made a big change in my mood, my outlook, my life.

 

To have long lasting friendships we need to forgive, and the great news is, God has given us the strength to forgive because he forgave us.

 

“The greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends.”—John 15:13 (NLT)

 

J.I. Packer put it this way:  “God wants me to be his friend, and he desires to be my friend, and he has given His Son to die for me in order to realize this purpose.”

--J. I. Packer, “Knowing God”

 

Let’s intentionally forgive.

 

Choose wisely, sharpen, be patient, apologize, forgive.   Those are five ways to ensure long friendships.

 

But I said there is one key ingredient to making friendships last.  There is one secret.  Did you see it? 

 

The Key:  Be intentional about friendships

 

We have to be intentional about choosing our friends.

 

Every Friday afternoon, a mathematician goes down to the bar, sits in the second-to-last seat, turns to the last seat, which is empty, and asks a girl who isn't there if he can buy her a drink.  The bartender, who is used to weird university types, always shrugs but keeps quiet. But one day when the mathematician makes a particularly heart-wrenching plea into empty space, curiosity gets the better of the bartender, and he says, "I apologize for my stupid questions, but surely you know there is NEVER a woman sitting in that last stool. Why do you persist in asking out empty space?"  The mathematician replies, "Well, according to quantum physics, empty space is never truly empty. Virtual particles come into existence and vanish all the time. You never know when the proper wave function will collapse and a girl might suddenly appear there."  The bartender raises his eyebrows. "Really? Interesting. But couldn't you just ask one of the girls who comes here every Friday if you could buy HER a drink? You never know... she might say yes.”  The mathematician laughs. "Yeah, right -- how likely is THAT to happen?"

 

We have to be intentional about sharpening our friends.  We have to be intentional about hanging in there when our friends experience temporary insanity.  We have to be intentional about apologizing.  And we have to be intentional about forgiving.

 

If we just sit back and wait for long lasting friendships to happen, they are not going to happen. 

But if we’re intentional, we’ll continue to make friends and we’ll be taking care of our friends.

 

 

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