Steve Macchia Blog

“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.