Iron Like A Man

As you read, I hope you think about a friend or two with whom you will share this. Not for more readers, but because you have some great friends in your life. Real, close friends whom you consider more like family.

Think about your friends for a moment…all the people outside your family that tend to be included in the different outings and events in your life. Are they all “friends”, or are some just people you hang out with? Chances are, they aren’t all friends. More likely, they serve as friends of the moment. They fill these pieces of time when you enjoy some commonality in life and simply hang out together. But, if friendships truly are an important part of our lives as followers of Christ, we should understand what it means to be a real friend and make time to evaluate our friendships.

There are examples of friends, good and bad, throughout the Bible, and God has plenty to say about friendships. In John 15:15, Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants…but I have called you friends.” We read about Jesus weeping in John 11:35, and it was his compassion towards his friends during their time of grief that triggered his tears. He hurt because his friends hurt. Seems that friends and friendships were important to Jesus as he walked the earth.

So, what is the criteria for evaluating friendships? Here are some keys we should strive to have in our friendships. Think of someone you consider to be a “close” friend, and ask these questions.

  1. What do you generally talk about when together? Do either of you dominate the time?
  2. Is there mutual care and concern for the other’s life and happenings?
  3. When one has a need, does the other do everything possible to be there and help out?
  4. After spending time together, are you encouraged and strengthened? Joyful?
  5. Can you say that you are a better follower of Christ because of this friend? And, would they say the same about you?

Proverbs 17:17 says a friend loves at all times, and that is exactly what we typically like about our friends. But a little further into Proverbs is a verse that speaks to the real purpose of close friends.

Look at this great verse in Proverbs 27:17

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

The real test of a close friend is that he or she makes you better. God’s desire for our friendships is that we continually encourage, and push one another to grow and mature in Christlikeness. It is much more than simply enjoying one another’s company.

If you have never seen a blade sharpened, you might miss the imagery of this verse. However, the principle matters more than the imagery. The principle is that interaction between good friends, as they support, encourage, correct, and help each other will hone each friend’s skills in handling the challenges of life. Particularly, the challenges of living a life committed to Christ. One thing is for certain when it comes to sharpening blades. The sharpening agent must get very close to the blade. It has to be right against it and be moved back and forth with intense pressure to do the hard work of sharpening.

Closeness is the key, and the simple truth is that closeness in friendships does not develop by chatting about sports, shopping, movies, weather, or other people. Real friends who work at making each other better, spend time in close proximity and continually grow closer as they work through the complexities of life.

Evaluate your friendships with these questions and the principles of God’s Word, then thank God for your friends. If some friendships are not the kind you know God wants you to have, pray for that friend and ask God to change the friendship into one that honors Him. Remember- you need close friendships built on biblical principles just as much as the next person, and God wants to work in and through those friendships.

First Old Father’s Day

It was a few weeks ago, and I’m still kinda getting over it. This year I realized that I am one of the “old” fathers. My kids are growing up and looking at me differently than they did when their eyes seemed to light up every time I came through the door at the end of the day. My daughter still has a little of this in her, but it is definitely different than years before. I’m not sad, it is just a new reality of my current season of life. My goal is to embrace, love, and experience it for all it is worth.

This picture is me and my dad in ’92. There have been many changes since then. I’ve gone from a newly married man just beginning a new family with Kym to one of those “older” dads whose children are often referred to as “grown”. I usually shudder a bit when I hear it. Again, it’s not due to sadness or a desire to spurn the categorization of where life finds me. Mostly it’s just been a shock as I am slowly waking to this new realization.

So, what’s the big deal? Well, it really isn’t that big of a deal at all. When I look at this picture of me and my dad, I look at it with fondness. It reminds me of how much I love him and look up to him as one of my lifetime heroes. It’s been that way most of my life and even more so these days as I find myself doing the very things with my kiddos that he did with me.

However, I do remember a time when I didn’t look at my dad in that loving, respectful way. It was part of my growing and maturing that bent me towards independence. I looked at my dad with an eye of criticism; mostly thinking he was out of touch, out of style, and behind the times. Seriously, there were some short shorts with color-striped gray tube socks. It wasn’t a good look. Now, however, I find myself firmly in that stage of fatherhood. I know that I appear “dorky” at times and that my kiddos are having those same kind of thoughts more and more every day.

All-in-all I am completely okay with this and ready to see what God has in store for my family in the next few years to come. The main thing I have learned through this process of self realization, it is that time is fleeting. James 4:14 reminds us just how short life is- “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

My son and daughter no longer fit in my lap and I can’t hold them as they fall asleep on my chest and drool on my shirt. Their days under our roof are fewer and fewer. My job is to grab each of those days, live them to the fullest, and attempt to impart as many tidbits of wisdom as I can. Even if I do so with my own fashion faux pas version of the gray tube socks with colored stripes.

Are You Thirsty?

Being from Texas, you have the privilege, or challenge, of living through some notoriously hot and dry summers. In a matter of days, we will be in the throws of another such summer. Here summers begin as early as May and can linger well into October, and these kind of summers bring an usual set of challenges.

One such challenge is the incredible dryness and what it can do to a parcel of land, especially one that receives no extra help from sprinklers. Behind our church building there is a huge empty field where our children occasionally have games and activities. During summer, however, this field clearly shows the effects of the hot and dry climate. The normal cracks in the ground turn into giant crevices where it would might be possible to lose a small child. As these cracks grow and widen, I imagine that the earth is opening its mouth wider and wider, stretching, longing that it will catch even the smallest amount of moisture. Yet, it often sits there in dire need of water.

The sight reminds me of the lives of those who follow Christ. Oddly enough, these summer cracks in the ground correlate in vivid way for me. You see, Jesus calls himself the “fountain of living waters” in Jeremiah 2:13 and he is compared to water many times throughout Scripture. In fact, he said, “if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” in John 7:37. In another passage, Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman and he said, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Have you ever wondered why Jesus was compared to water, and specifically referred to himself as water? What exactly is so special about water that it would be tied to the Savior? It might be the fact that, as humans, we must have water to live. It is 100% necessary to sustain our very lives. When we go without water, even for a short period of time, our health quickly begins to deteriorate. We, simply cannot live without water!

“Water is a fundamental part of our lives. It is easy to forget how completely we depend on it. Human survival is dependent on water — water has been ranked by experts as second only to oxygen as essential for life. The average body is 55 to 75% water. Two-thirds of your body weight is water (40 or 50 quarts). A human embryo is more than 80% water. A newborn baby is 74% water. Everyday your body must replace 2 1/2 quarts of water. The water you drink literally becomes you!” (“How Important Is Water”, Dr. Feredon Batngei)

Seems clear that water is extremely important to our bodies. And, we can be assured that God knew exactly what he was doing when he likened his Son to water. He is the Living Water! Maybe we need to respond as the Samaritan woman did when Jesus spoke of this life-giving water. She said, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” May you and I both find our soul’s thirst quenched only in Him.

Reaching…From The Inside Out

No matter how long a church searches, they will never find an admonition from God to spend the bulk of their time and effort planning and preparing for those outside the church to come and be their guests at church gatherings. Yet, that has never stopped churches from doing exactly that. It is, in fact, just the opposite of what is found in Scripture. Mark 16:15 says, ““Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

It is all about outreach, and there are various methods and structure to it. Each individual church bears the responsibility of deciding what is best for their church body. Some will argue inside their own ranks as to which is the best outreach method and struggle to do well at much of anything. Others will tend to gravitate towards a particular type of outreach and end up making all of their efforts and members conform to that type.

So, is there a “best” way to structure church outreach? Is there a list of “right” and “wrong” ways to do outreach? The short answer is, “No.” There are no right, wrong, or best ways for a church to do outreach. While the heart attitudes behind the specific type of outreach can be wrong, it doesn’t make the outreach itself wrong. As a matter of fact, the arguing and bickering over this is a cancer inside many churches that often keeps churches from doing anything in the area of outreach.

Truth is, anyone can look online and quickly find “101 Outreach Ideas” and a myriad of other links to help you find new outreach ideas. However, true outreach has very little to do with the specific activity, event, or method. It could be a carnival, skate party, movie night, computer class, marriage seminar, car wash, etc. The important thing is the purpose behind the method. The purpose will narrow down the options and help point the church in a more specific direction. But, it all begins with purpose.

Here are three types of outreach events and their purposes. After identifying one of these three, a church’s focus can be narrowed to the specific events that will best facilitate their purpose.

1. Evangelical Outreach- The purpose of all evangelical outreach activities or events is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give people the opportunity to respond by trusting Jesus as their Savior. While there are other aspects involved during the event, it will all hinge on or be built around the time of sharing the Gospel.

2. Community Event- This type has, as its number one goal, the purpose of getting the church out into the communities close to the church campus, to interact with and show God’s love to those outside the church. There will be no formal proclaiming of the Gospel from the standpoint of church leadership or a main stage speaker. Instead, God’s love will be shown and modeled in tangible ways as the church rubs shoulders with and meets others.

3. Service Project- Clearly this is putting some real hands and feet to showing God’s love to others. Most communities have those who have genuine needs who are waiting for someone to lend a helping hand. At other times there are big needs that come from things like storms and various tragedies that call for volunteers to give of themselves in new ways. When someone is in need, and they get a “no strings attached” helping hand, there is often great impact in their lives. It really helps them see the unadulterated love of God at work in their own lives.

All three types of outreach events are important and a church must be balanced in their approach in order to excel at outreach. There are bridges to be built and every opportunity to place another brick on those bridges has to be taken very intentionally and with clear purpose. The old adage, “nobody will care how much you know until they know how much you care” is fitting. Churches have to get outside the walls of their church buildings and share God’s love.

Another blogger blogging on a blog.

New distractions seemingly pop up every idle minute and vie for your attention these days. Rapid expansion of technology continues to find its way into almost every area of our lives and puts a plethora of new (and old) information at our fingertips. Maybe there are just a few too many blogs out here on the information super highway.

My goal isn’t to be just more white noise, but hopefully a fresh perspective on various topics and issues. I’ll stay centered around God, his Holy Word, his relationship with his church, and how that should impact our lives on a daily basis. Lord willing, what will shine brilliantly through these articles will be a sense of humility and dependence on God’s Word.