Steve Macchia Blog

Recent Revelations Lead Us Back to Trusted Pathways

 Recent Revelations Lead Us Back to Trusted Pathways

The recent news from our dear friends at Willow Creek is daunting to say the least. Who’d have thought we’d be dealing with the #MeToo movement in the church, never mind one of the country’s finest? But, we are facing this new reality and it shouldn’t really be too shocking…the church is filled with pastors and leaders who are broken and in need of wholeness. And, although we are discouraged by these recent revelations, there are indeed ancient pathways leaders and teams can follow to ward against a leader’s ethical or moral implosion.

Recently I was interviewed by a leader at ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) about what I would suggest to church leadership teams when it comes to appropriate accountability for pastors. Almost immediately the following suggestions came to mind:

  1. Ensure that the pastor has both a day off and a Sabbath each week. For whatever reason, pastors think they need to be available 24/7, but that leads to burn out. And, without both a day off (to do chores, errands, work around the house, pay bills, exercise, time with spouse and kids, etc.) and a Sabbath, these inevitably get combined…to the detriment of the soul. Sabbath is the “turn key” to the deeper life…without it, one grows stale, dry, and out of touch with the depth and joy of a walk with God. And, without Sabbath one gets lulled into forgetting there is only one God and it’s not them.
  2. Ensure that the pastor is HOME more nights in the week than OUT for church meetings, etc. This “rule of thumb” has been effective over and over again. Marriage and family life is central to the effectiveness of each and every pastor, married or single.
  3. Ensure that the pastor takes his/her full vacation time each year…uninterrupted. Personal time and rest, recreation and renewal are key to the pastor’s health.
  4. Ensure that the pastor has friends…both inside and outside the church…and takes time to cultivate healthy, honest, life-giving friendships.
  5. Ensure that the pastor has daily time in the Word, prayer and reflection…and, ideally, has a spiritual director or coach or mentor to meet with regularly and with whom s/he can entrust the deepest secrets of the soul.
  6. Ensure that the pastor has agreed to best practices for personal accountability (i.e. the Billy Graham rule of not riding in a car or meeting in a closed off room alone with a person of the opposite sex) and lives out appropriate power dynamics and respect for gender equality and mutuality.
  7. Ensure that the pastor takes time for his/her soul on retreat, away from the fray of busyness, and finds spacious, uncluttered, unhindered time to rest in God (ideally in a setting conducive to soul care).
  8. Ensure that the pastor has hobbies and interests outside of the work of the local church. There is “life” to be lived and it’s not all about the “work” of the church.
  9. Ensure that the pastor knows the difference between self-care (hobbies, recreation, etc.) and soul-care (prayer, reflection, etc.) and pursues both without apology and without replacing either with selfish care, which is destructive to the soul and each of their relationships.
  10. Ensure that the pastor has a team that pursues the same priorities so there is mutual accountability among staff and lay leaders.

But, even with such safeguards in place, the bottom line is: ensure that the pastor has freedom to tell the truth, regardless of how hard the truth is to voice. The truth will set us free, even when the truth is difficult to absorb. And then, to provide a safe place for forgiveness and reconciliation to occur…without which a pastor can be made to feel like a discarded member of society (and the church), and leaders can become authoritative and dogmatic to the neglect of wisdom, transparency, clarity, compassion, and hope.

Just because leaders claim the name of Christ and seek to honor and serve the Lord with heart, soul, mind and strength, doesn’t mean there aren’t dark and shadow sides of every leader that need to be attended to in a safe, loving, forgiving and prayerful environment. And, when a pastor is “found out” and a sin pattern emerges, it’s incumbent upon the pastor and the leaders who surround him/her to respond swiftly, appropriately, and in a manner befitting Christ, honoring all involved, and handling matters in accordance with biblical and theological, relational and practical intentionality. Even when discipline is required and hard decisions need to be made.

May God continue to be glorified in His Church, especially during these turbulent times for leaders and teams. The enemy of our souls would like nothing more than to destroy the heart of the Church by having us hide behind our sinfulness, shaming, blaming, and finger pointing others, and living with the resultant division that ultimately will occur.

Lord, have mercy on us all. Amen.

 



Welcome Home: LTI Celebrates 15 Years of Soul Hospitality for Leaders

 

15th logo yellow

Welcome Home: Celebrating 15 Years of Soul Hospitality for Leaders

The 15th Anniversary of Leadership Transformations was July 1, 2018. It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade and a half since Ruth and I ventured into this new ministry terrain. It was a healthy mixture of faith and folly, totally uncertain about where it would lead. Today our ministry is flourishing, thanks be to God.

 

When we left our previous ministry assignment (Vision New England), we had a single donor check in one pocket, and a dream for a new ministry in the other. I’m sure many thought we were crazy to leave a prospering ministry and enter into a lonely place of unknown territory as we set out to serve the spiritual formation needs of leaders and teams.

 

As I reflect back on that first day of a new chapter of life and ministry, I am filled with gratitude to God for keeping the vision in front of me and not allowing doubts to descend and extinguish the dream. We didn’t know what was coming next…everything was new, different, and faith-stretching like never before. I had no idea where I would find office space, who would follow us into uncharted waters, and what we would actually do each day.

 

Our son Nate was heading into his first year of college and Bekah was entering Christian high school two months hence. I had no idea how I was going to pay for two tuitions. We live in an expensive community and I didn’t know if we would be there a year later…it all depended on how life and ministry would materialize in the coming weeks and months. We trusted God, held hands, prayed hard, and kept looking up and ahead.

 

Those early months were a test of our ability to fully trust God and the discernment process we had engaged in over the previous 10 months. God was in the center of the prayers, discussions and deliberations that led us to this decision. There was simply no doubt about it…this was our calling. There was no turning back.

 

Early on, Ruth would look at me cross-eyed in wonder…are we really about to take the biggest risk of our lives? Later on, the roles switched, and with utter panic in my heart, I kept asking her and those who surrounded us in prayerful discernment…are we crazy? If it were not for our closest companions, accompanying our abiding trust in God, we most likely would never have taken this step of faith.

 

But, looking back now fifteen years later, I can honestly say we made the right decision. It was brutal in so many ways, but it was confirmed over and over and over again. And, as I sit and write these brief reflections, I am amazed once more how right it really was. How could we have ever said no to God, who clearly called us into this most amazing journey?

 

As our board and ministry team looks back over the past 15 years, we are filled with awe, wonder and gratitude to God. He birthed LTI. He blessed LTI. He built LTI. We continue to trust him to sustain, protect, and multiply the work of our hands and the prayers of our hearts. This ministry belongs fully to God…I pray we don’t clutch it too tightly or we will squeeze the life out of it!

 

To all who have stood faithfully by our side since the beginning and every year since, I extend my hearfelt thanks. To all who have experienced us negatively for whatever reason, I hope you can forgive us.  And to all who have been served by our team in the past and present, I promise you that our best is yet to come. Our team is prayerful, faithful, trustworthy, agile, and filled with joyful anticipation for all that lies ahead of us in the future. I hope you’ll join us as together we lean fully into all that God invites and intends for us.

 

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow…praise Him, all creatures here below…praise Him above, ye heavenly host…praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen!

 

 

 

 



Lenten Desire: Recapturing The Present Moment

Faith-and-Holy-Spirit

Have you given up or added anything to help you focus on the quality of your personal discipleship and spiritual formation this Lenten season?

I was on the fence myself, right up to the last minute, but when I heard that one of the younger leaders we serve was giving up Facebook and Instagram, I decided to do likewise. I’ve maintained personal and professional email, as well as important internet access, listening to music and videos online, but no social media. It’s been quite refreshing for my soul.

What have I missed out on? I have no idea!  But, what I’ve gained is so much more. Primarily, I’ve regained the time and emotional energy I used to invest posting or perusing Facebook and Instagram, and have found my heart to be filled with a renewed enjoyment of the present moment.  Not completely, I might add, but at minimum a tad more attentive to the presence of God and the gift of presence with others…and even a deeper awareness of what’s going on in my soul.

The “present moment” is so often lost in our world of distraction and preoccupation. Our ability to be “fully present” to others usually gets subjugated by an unhealthy fascination of others lives and events, as well as all the extra effort we expend to self-congratulate and self-promote online and in our relationships. Our world is so full of people addicted to their smart phones and continuous connection online, and that has led to a very unhealthy self-absorption.

Awareness of the “present moment” allows us to focus our attention on conversations and relationships that matter most…to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation without feeling compelled to share our discoveries with our FB “friends”…and, to read and reflect deeply on the biblical text and in books our souls thrive.

In short, during this Lenten season of stripping away from the things of this world, in order to be more intentionally focused on Christ, social media is one possible focus of release. Others I know are letting go of the need to always be right/in control/have the last word, while others are releasing sweets, chocolate, or coffee…and others I respect are not doing much different at all this Lent, and that’s ok too. Each of us respond to Lent in unique ways…no one does it “better” than another: there is no “right” way to experience Lent.

Regardless of your posture during this holy season of the church year, let me simply encourage you not to miss out on the “present moment” and focus afresh on noticing, attending, resting and abiding in Jesus…and to pursue whatever practices will help you enjoy the continual presence of Christ. Our hearts desire is to more intentionally focus on Christ and not be hindered by distraction, so that we can experience more fully the gifts that accompany this “present moment” of our life with God.

Why do we lean into such a pursuit? As Brother Lawrence wrote in his devotional classic, Practicing the Presence of God, “So that we should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of GOD; which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him.”

Friends, this is my Lenten prayer for you…”Lord, I thank you for the gift of presence that you offer to us as your beloved children…you are always present and attentive to our needs. Help us to become more aware of your loving presence and offer your grace, mercy and peace to all who cross our path today. In Jesus, Amen.”



The Year of Friendship: With God, Others and Self – part 7

praying hands

The Year of Friendship: With God, Others and Self – part 7

The biblical text comes alive when the subject of friendship is revealed. As we conclude this blog series on spiritual friendship let me point you to several places in the Scriptures for your prayerful consideration, either alone or with a small group of friends.

  1. First off, in John 15: 14-15, we discover this stunning desire of Jesus to call his disciples ‘friends’ – he is also known as the friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34), showing his affection for all.
  2. In Exodus 33:11, the Lord expresses intimate friendship with his chosen leader, Moses, speaking with him face-to-face as a friend.
  3. Human-to-human friendship is displayed between David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 18 (especially verses 1-3) and in 20: 17, 42. It’s powerful to read how “Jonathan arose and strengthened David’s hand in God” at a great crisis for David (1 Samuel 23: 16-17). In addition, Elijah and Elisha also demonstrate the best of friendship in ministry partnership (2 Kings 2:2).
  4. The Ruth-and-Naomi model of friendship is also remarkable. Read Ruth 1:16, 17 and throughout the book of Ruth we are encouraged by the faithful friendship embodied between these devoted in-laws.
  5. Who can forget the four friends who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus Christ in Mark 2:3-4 and how their forthright commitment comes tearing through the roof in hopes of receiving the healing grace of Jesus?
  6. In Psalm 25:14 we reflect on “the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant” of love. Our adoration of God is out of love and friendship coming first from his heart to ours.
  7. In Proverbs we delight in a medley of verses: a friend loves at all times (17:17); faithful are the wounds of a friend (27:6); a pleasing friendship is marked by earnest counsel (27:9); he who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend (22:11).
  8. The Apostle Paul gives us a powerful vision of friendship, inviting us to see our friends like he saw his friends in Thessaloniki (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
  9. Friendship is also in the context of marital love. Spend time in the Song of Songs and we see this on display in delightful ways (Song of Songs 5:16 and elsewhere).
  10. Even in the face of suffering and adversity, God brings us images of friendship through God’s dealings with Job and his three friends (Job 2:11 and elsewhere). Facing immense pressure and grave danger, Daniel and his friends, Hanahiah, Mishael, and Azariah show the power of companionship and solidarity of prayer and purpose (Daniel 2: 17-30) and disaster is averted. Friendship is a huge encouragement to all who face adversity.

As you reflect on the passages mentioned above, in what way is God inviting you to lean more fully into friendship with the Lord, more loving friendship with others in your orbit of influence, and even within yourself as a spiritually healthy friend-to-self? The question we posed in the very beginning of this series is the one I want to conclude with as well:  How do my initiatives and responses to my friends make Jesus smile?

Behold Jesus, the One who calls you his beloved friend. Believe the priority of loving friendship for all of life. Belong to the community of friends of Jesus who delight in bearing fruit that lasts. Become renewed by the gifts of friendship received and offered in Jesus’ name.



“The Year of Friendship: With God, Others and Self” – part 6

garden doorway

“The Year of Friendship: With God, Others and Self” – part 6

Why is it that some of us have many life-giving friendships and others have very few? Perhaps we live in a place where it’s unsafe to foster friendship, as some would attest who live in very hostile environments. For others, it’s a preference that fits best in the context of their family and community, and having fewer friendships has never been an issue. For many, it’s a particular choice…some of us are simply more social and enjoy the company of many acquaintances, and others prefer a more solitary life or one where there are few others who surround them.

But, many times there exists in the human heart a longing for friendship, an ache deep within. And, that desire has been blocked or hindered for one reason or another. Over time the desire gets squashed or sacrificed by more than one hindrance to the creation and sustenance of solid friendships…with God, others, and even within us.

What are the possible opponents of friendship that exist in our world today?

1. Lack of time. On the surface, the most prevalent reason friendships don’t exist is our lack of time. How many occasions have you heard others or yourself saying, “I’m just too busy”? Or, when given the opportunity to be with others, the schedule you have doesn’t allow for the development of the friendship. This certainly happens in our friendship with God…too busy to pray, read the Word, or sit quietly and reflect on our lives. It also happens with our friendships…too busy to meet for coffee or an extended day or evening together. What about your life needs to be tamed in order to live in a more unhurried, uncluttered, unhindered fashion for the sake of your own friendships?

2. Incessant demands. The greatest contributors to busyness are the multiple priorities we are seeking to balance. We want it all: family, work, possessions, mobility, church, community, etc. and we work hard to make it all fit. Until we hit a wall and realize we can’t have everything and everyone at the same level. We need to learn instead how best to prioritize our commitments and deal honestly with the tension they create. This takes concerted effort to pray into each area of our lives and discern with others in our orbit of influence how best to make space for friendship. What is God inviting you to fully release or hold more loosely in order to de-stress your life for the sake of building healthy friendships?

3. Self-referencing. One of the most delicate issues of our day is the constant “me focus” we encounter with others. Oftentimes in our relationships we are listening to the stories of others without reciprocal interest in our own.  It seems that we live in a day when each person we encounter is readying himself or herself for personal presentation.  And it comes out almost immediately in an “all about me” attitude. Consider the conversations you’ve had with others in the past 24-48 hours and recount the times when an interest in you was expressed without comment, comparison, or contrast. Reflect for a moment on how well you’ve been listened to in the past day or two. Those who did the best in the listening quotient are most likely your most treasured friends. Those who made sure they one-upped you are most likely simply acquaintances by name and not the kind of healthy friends you need the most. What did you contribute to one or two such conversations that fed your own need to self-reference and when were you content to simply listen?

4. Utilitarian relationships. Another reason we don’t have quality relationships with others is that many times we are looking for function over friendship.  All of us have relationships that have more purpose and objective attached to them rather than simply a desire for loving presence.  Perhaps you are looking for a new job and a particular relationship will increase your network. Or, you are in need of status and being seen with a certain person will heighten that need. Or, you may be working the angles toward financial gain or community acclaim and that person is just the one to help you achieve the goal. Frankly, we all have such relationships, but we all must be careful not to surround ourselves with them exclusively. What is God inviting you to consider regarding both the striving for functional relationships to achieve a particular end, and the longing for friendships based more securely in unconditional love?

5. Loneliness and insecurity. The enemy of our souls hates healthy relationships. And, will do anything possible to discourage you from their pursuit. He will leap on your loneliness by whispering words into your ears like, “No one would ever want to be my friend.” Or, he will tug at your insecurity, “I’m not good enough to be their friend.” Or, worse yet, he will jab you with increased fears “I don’t belong” and expanded anxieties “I can’t be present.” Whatever it is about your loneliness and insecurity can only be conquered by the ever-present, all-knowing, unconditional love of God. Friendship with God is what deepens friendship with others and richer friendship with oneself.  God knows every lonely and insecure part of you and longs to fill those voids with his presence, his power, and his peace. What can you offer to God today that will liberate your soul and enhance your walk with your friends?

Even though many challenges to friendship exist, we can choose to become spiritually healthy friends with God, others, and even within ourselves. May today be one where you pursue vitality in your friendships and heartily embrace a new way of living, loving and listening despite the challenges that thwart your pursuit.

Behold Jesus, the One who calls you his beloved friend. Believe the priority of loving friendship for all of life. Belong to the community of friends of Jesus who delight in bearing fruit that lasts. Become renewed by the gifts of friendship received and offered in Jesus’ name.

 

 



“The Year of Friendship: With God, Others, and Self” – part 5

Penguins

 

“The Year of Friendship: With God, Others, and Self” – part 5

Immediately after college I began serving in a local church setting. My first ministry supervisor became my mentor and my friend. More than four decades later I can happily report that he’s still one of my mentors and friends, and now he serves on our ministry team at Leadership Transformations. Leadership + Friendship = Success

Whenever I talk about leadership and friendship, the discussion revolves around the propriety of such a combination. Can you lead others and still be friends? Is it ok to become friends with those you lead? Some in leadership circles contend that it’s impossible to mix the two; others almost exclusively hire and serve alongside friends. Where are you in this regard?

At LTI we believe that leadership and friendship combine delightfully. We always have started with relationship first and foremost before determining ones defined functional responsibilities. We look for people who are the right fit for the team and community, and then work toward meaningful responsibilities that match our mission with their gifts, calling and passion. We believe that the right side up approach is friendship first; leadership follows; and then fruit emerges in abundance.

But, we’ve also observed when friendship has been ruffled or even ruined as a result of a leader/friend combo. There are many reasons for the friendship being hurt or inadvertantly coming to an end…unresolved conflicts; overinflated egos; unrealized expectations; a closed culture of disrespect; just to name a few. But, the primary reason leadership and friendship comes to an abrupt end: an abuse of power.

When we begin to power over another, we hurt both the friendship and the leadership, especially when both are supposed to be spiritual. No one worth their salt wants to be powered over. Instead, when the culture of the relationship is always to empower, then friends who are leaders and followers alike will ultimately thrive. Empowerment is the approach; thriving is the result.

Jesus called his followers friends. He led them in love as Savior, but also as Steward, Shepherd, and Servant. He believed in them, lived among them, invested in their well-being, forgave them, empowered them, and ultimately sacrificed his life for them. A leader who aspires after such leadership will befriend those who surround them and create a culture of empowering grace in which each can become all that God intends, both individually and collectively.

Spiritual friendship and spiritual leadership belong together and are held in healthy tension when the following priorities are in place:

  1. A culture of grace – celebrating each person on the team as well as the efforts of the whole team are essential elements of creating a healthy culture. However, no one is perfect; we all will ultimately disappoint another. But, in a graced community, leaders and followers alike freely forgive and humbly move on; they prayerfully pursue reconciliation and always protect the reputation of others;
  2. A commitment to empowerment – each team must make the fundamental decision to follow best practices, abide by shared principles, adhere to a unified vision and mission, and direct their fullest attention to thriving with excellence in the work of the community that’s before them…this priority is upheld when each person is empowered to become all that God intends;
  3. A community of love – the healthiest system is an open system, where conversation and discernment happen with freedom and authenticity; in an open system there is simply no room for secrets, shame, blame, ridicule, gossip or slander. When a common unity and the bond of peace hold such a team of friends together, they will never be permanently severed, despite the challenges that will ultimately come their way.

Leaders as friends: Abide in Jesus. Receive Him as Friend. Love others as friends. Lead others with Jesus. Bear fruit that will last. Find joy in both friendship and leadership. Befriend with grace. Empower with freedom. Thrive and bear fruit. All for the honor and glory of God and for the edification of your spiritual friends.

Behold Jesus, the One who calls you his beloved friend. Believe the priority of loving friendship for all of life. Belong to the community of friends of Jesus who delight in bearing fruit that lasts. Become renewed by the gifts of friendship received and offered in Jesus’ name.



The Year of Friendship: With God, Others and Self – Part 4

Drinking-Tap-Water-

“The Year of Friendship: With God, Others and Self” – part 4

If all of a sudden three days opened up for you next week and you had unlimited resources at your fingertips to pamper yourself, guilt-free, how would you use your time? I know that for one of my friends he’d spend the time on the golf course. Another friend would sit on the beach and read, walk, and rest. A third friend would head to the mountains to hike, eat out, and drink good beer. What about you?

Unfortunately, for me, I would have a hard time deciding what to do. I would feel more like “my wife deserves this more than I do” or “with the hunger in the world today, it would be better for me to donate the resources to a relief and development agency.” Frankly, it’s hard for me to take care of me. I’ve spent so much time coming to the conviction that I don’t deserve such treatment (theologically, practically, emotionally) that it’s hard to treat myself with any kind of extravagence and generosity, even for small purposes or in a limited timeframe.

What does it mean to love our neighbors “as ourselves”? Is the Golden Rule…do unto others as you would have them do unto you…relevant for me? That is, the part that’s about loving ourselves and being done unto in a golden fashion?

Well, let me introduce you to a friend called grace…this friend is yours, and it’s based in our friendship with Jesus, the author of grace. To love another without first loving oneself is to love in a vacuum, and potentially in vain. Jesus shows us the way. He took great care of others, but also made sure he had his time for refreshment and renewal, beginning with his times apart from the crowds and his disciples in quiet places of rest and prayer with the Father. He also enjoyed times with his friends, loving and giving to them over and over again. I love seeing that priority in Jesus.

Spiritual friends love Jesus, love others, and yes, love themselves. In a healthy way, of course. For to love oneself is to know oneself. And in knowing, to love according to our best interest and intention, in spite of our shortcomings and in fact because of our shortcomings. What is your primary love language? Can you practice offering such love to yourself? If it’s primarily words of affirmation, can you speak kindly of yourself? If gift giving, can you make a purchase for yourself? If acts of kindness, can  you deed yourself a thoughtful act? If it’s spending meaningful time, can you carve out of your schedule an hour or more simply for you? If it’s physical touch, can you release your tension and relax in gentle, restful ways?

What would it look like for you to be kind to yourself? To cut yourself some much needed slack? To receive life and love with open, outstretched hands? Here are a few simple suggestions:

1. Begin with a healthy pursuit of self-awareness. Who are you and how well do you know yourself? Perhaps take a self-awareness survey like the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs. Acknowledge before the Lord your strengths and your weaknesses. Confess your brokenness and find Jesus fully present to offer his  forgiveness and mercy. Lean into your life with grace in your heart and on your lips. Be who God made you to be and let the world know about Jesus through an authentic true-to-self you.

2. As you start each new day, come before Jesus with a hearts desire to receive his tender love, grace and gentleness. Begin with a smile and a wink in the mirror, not in a prideful way but “as if it was Jesus” smiling and winking at you. A healthy self-love begins with the receptivity of love from God our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer and Transformer. He knows your propensity to sin and he loves you all the more. Receive his love and walk in his grace, mercy, patience, kindness and peace.

3. Practice befriending yourself in life-giving ways. Throw open your arms as a physical reflection of your desire to remain wide open to the redemptive and restorative work of God deep within you each and every day. Stop dwelling on the shame and guilt of your past and be released into love and acceptance, joy and encouragement…beginning with you. Yes you are flawed, but you are loved unconditionally and living in that awareness will set you free from the inside out.

4. Breathe deeply throughout your days. Consciously determine not to let others or circumstances take you to a dark place internally. Learn what it means to have a healthy “care-less” posture…not that you don’t care, because you do, but instead of getting wrapped around the axle each time something is said or done that irritates you, simply hold it looser and practice the spiritual discipline of detachment. Ask God to give you the wisdom, strength and grace to do so…and then do so. Deep breathing exercises help you remember to let it go and not be held hostage and imprisoned by others.

5. Give of yourself freely and generously to all who cross your path. Extend love to others in voice and action, in heart and mind…give to others as you’ve been given to by God. With kindness and generosity, let your life be known more by your friendship than your animosity. Without Jesus at the center of our self-awareness, we will continue to manipulate our way through life. Jesus is our Friend, who invites us into friendship by abiding in him, he urges us toward loving friendship with others in his name – then and only then will we bear fruit that lasts.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself…it’s really that simple…so, how is it with your love for yourself today, dear friend?

Behold Jesus, the One who calls you his beloved friend. Believe the priority of loving friendship for all of life. Belong to the community of friends of Jesus who delight in bearing fruit that lasts. Become renewed by the gifts of friendship received and offered in Jesus’ name.



The Year of Friendship: With God, Others and Self – part 3

friendship-day-sms

“The Year of Friendship: With God, Others and Self” – part 3

My wife and I recently spent an evening with friends we’ve known for nearly four decades. Such friends are pure gold; rare gems; and a joy to know. We’ve seen each other through the highest highs and the lowest lows. We’ve come alongside each other during times of grief and suffering as well as accomplishment and celebration. We’ve strongly urged one another on toward love and good deeds and we’ve quietly forgiven one another with grace and kindness. We know we’re far short of perfection and we’ve learned to laugh about our quirks and idiosyncrasies.

In short, we’ve experienced true friendship.  And it’s been good for our souls, life-giving for others, and honoring to God.

To allow friendships to become anything other than honorable and grace-filled is to squander the work of God in our midst. The Kingdom of God is to be built up and expanded through the shared work of the Church, a community of like-minded and like-hearted friends. Not all of them BFF’s (best friends forever), but men and women, young and old, of all ethnicities and colors, who are on a worthy pursuit of friendship with God, one another and deep within ourselves. To treat one another in any lesser fashion is to miss one of life’s greatest gifts!

Today, are you a blessing and a joy to those who surround you as friends of Jesus who are befriending others in Jesus’ name? How do your initiatives and responses to your friends make Jesus smile?

Consider prayerfully the following phrases as you reflect on your friendships and audit their health…

The love of a friend is the best gift of all.

The presence of a friend is the balm for your weary soul.

The listening ear of a friend fosters the abundance of life.

The grace of a friend emulates the arms and voice of God.

Friends love at all times.

Friends rejoice when you rejoice.

Friends weep when you weep.

Friends warn you of pending troubles.

Friends graciously forgive you.

Friends inspire you to greatness.

Friends encourage your best self.

Friends share your joy and gift you with joy.

Friends laugh with and never at you.

Friends urge you onward and forward.

Friends never ridicule, shame or blame you.

Friends never desert you but always defend you.

Friends never purposefully harm you.

Friends pray for you.

Friends pray with you.

Friends always point you back to Jesus.

 

Behold Jesus, the One who calls you his beloved friend. Believe the priority of loving friendship for all of life. Belong to the community of friends of Jesus who delight in bearing fruit that lasts. Become renewed by the gifts of friendship received and offered in Jesus’ name.



The Year of Friendship: With God, Others and Self – part 2

The Year of Friendship: With God, Others and Self

friendship-day-sms

On the heels of our most recent blizzard, the first day post-storm was sunny and beautiful, but the weather people called it a day of “inconsequential sunshine.” I’m sure what they meant was that the sunshine would not affect the temperatures in any consequential way, but I couldn’t help but wonder, “When is sunshine ever inconsequential?” I love the sunshine, even on a cold day in January.

Two days later the inconsequential nature of sunshine hit home…literally. We were now days into the post-blizzard “bomb” affect of accumulated snow that was stagnant in the frigid below zero temps. The sun was shining but there was indeed no melting…except in our kitchen, through one of our light fixtures, when the drips began in earnest. This was a result of massive ice dams in the back (north) side of the house, the “pond” had formed under the snow packed roof in between the outside cold and the inside warmth of our home, and now the water was seeping in where it was free to roam.

That’s when I began praying for “consequential sunshine” to return once more…with temps getting back above freezing, thank you very much. Only then will the drips end and the ice dams melt; tackling the problem long term will have to wait until spring.

Unlike the sunshine, there is never a time when friendship with Jesus is inconsequential. His love is unconditional, extravagant, and always consequential. Especially when the storms of life appear, wreak havoc, and compound our lives with disappointment. It’s only our friendship with Jesus that keeps us sane, helps us recover, empowers us to be restored, and fosters the renewal we all long for each day.

In John 15, Jesus says it clearly, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you…as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…I no longer call you servants. Instead, I have called you friends.”

Spiritual friendship with our brothers and sisters in Christ begins with the quality of friendship we enjoy with Jesus. They go hand in glove; one impacts the other. They are both consequential. What is the state of your friendship with Jesus? In what way do you want to foster greater depth and intimacy with your friend Jesus? Perhaps it might be best to jumpstart that conversation by considering how best to remain in Jesus, as he remains in you.

Some ideas to consider:  join Jesus in the biblical text, noticing how Jesus reaches out to his followers as you read the Gospels; or, invite Jesus to make himself known to you in the quietness of your prayer closet and throughout your day of serving others; or, simply press the pause button and open your journal to record the ways Jesus has initiated friendship toward you over the years.  Jesus wants to be your #1 spiritual friend…in fact, as your Savior and Lord, Teacher and King, his friendship with you is tied to every other aspect of his affection for you as the God of all creation.

When a cold but sunny day appears on your horizon, it’s never inconsequential. Your friendship with Jesus will always bring meaning and hope, health and strength to even the darkest hour.

Behold Jesus, the One who calls you his beloved friend. Believe the priority of loving friendship for all of life. Belong to the community of friends of Jesus who delight in bearing fruit that lasts. Become renewed by the gifts of friendship received and offered in Jesus’ name.

 

 



2018: The Year of…

2018: The Year of…

I’m deeply concerned about the diminution of a very important word. It’s been absconded by social media. It’s been destroyed by politics and the media. It’s been lost in our closed-off neighborhoods. It’s absent in many business settings. It’s missing in far too many Christian ministry and church circles.  It’s simply gone in too many places and it needs to be recovered once more.

The word I’m referring to isn’t just a word, it’s a defining concept for relationships of all stripes: for families, churches, communities, businesses, and our wider world. It’s more than six letters combined to form the word, it’s actually central to the core of our being and the meaningful state of our souls. It impacts our walk with God, our self-awareness, our interactions with others, our community involvement, and our service to others. It’s beyond ourselves but it’s also about ourselves.

The word I’m referring to is “friendship” and in 2018 I’d like to invite you to join me in reclaiming the word in a fresh, new, life-giving way. It belongs to us as spiritual men and women, young and old, and it’s key to our walk with God. In fact, Jesus calls us “friends” and invites us to be “friends” with one another and who, when we bear fruit together, bear fruit that lasts.

Without being friends, we may in fact produce fruit, but not necessarily fruit that endures. When we treat each other as “servants” without first being “friends” we may have a functional relationship that works toward goals, objectives, and numbers, but without being “friends”first and foremost our collective efforts may be evidenced solely for prideful reasons. We certainly don’t readily admit that our efforts are toward self-defining ends, but without friendship with God and one another we may in fact lose the greatest opportunity of all: bearing fruit that lasts!

In John 15, Jesus makes it clear: abide in him as he abides in us…receive his loving friendship…love one another as friends…bear fruit that lasts. It’s not very complicated; it’s actually crystal clear. And yet, as I’ve experienced personally and have observed in so many other venues, the concept of friendship can far too easily be relegated off to the periphery, or it can be completely ignored, and then powering over others gets undue center stage. Spiritual leaders pay close attention to the strength, health, and oneness of their team of friends.

And so, I hereby wish to declare 2018 “The Year of Friendship: With God, Others, and Self” and invite you to make the same declaration. It will be good for your soul, your relationship with God, and your delight to be spiritually healthy  friends with other friends of Jesus who seek to love one another and bear lasting fruit for the Kingdom.

Over the coming weeks I will be devoting my blog to the subject of spiritual friendship…friendship that’s different from others who claim friendship but who do so without God in the center. However, when God is given his rightful place among friends of Jesus, there is a marked difference…one that the world and yes, even the Christian community, needs now more than ever.

Join me in this pilgrimage; invite others to join us too; and let’s see how God informs our hearts, minds, souls, and our friendships accordingly. Let’s make 2018 “The Year of Friendship!”

At the outset…as you reflect on your role as “friend” ask yourself this question: How do my initiatives and responses to my friends make Jesus smile? We will return to this question often in the coming weeks.

Behold Jesus, the One who calls you his beloved friend. Believe the priority of loving friendship for all of life. Belong to the community of friends of Jesus who delight in bearing fruit that lasts. Become renewed by the gifts of friendship received and offered in Jesus’ name.