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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

An Idle Tale?

Luke 24:1-12 [Slides]
1But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. 12 However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.

An Idle Tale?
            Verse 11 is the key verse for this blog.  In the NRSV it says, “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
            When the women told the Apostles they’d found an empty tomb and two men dressed in dazzling robes saying Jesus had risen, the Apostles dismissed it as an idle tale.  They didn’t believe.
             And that’s the way many people view the Easter story today (maybe some of you view it that way too).  You think, “It’s a great story.  It’s inspired a lot of people.  But it’s just a story—an idle tale.”  
            What if that’s true?  What if Jesus was just another nice guy?  What if he was just another figure like the prophets and kings and great world leaders who taught us some good lessons and then died and the story ends?  What if Jesus’ bones are still lying in an unmarked tomb somewhere in Palestine?
            Peter had to see for himself.  It was too important a question to leave unanswered.  So Peter jumped up, ran to the tomb, and looked inside.  He saw the tomb was empty, save for the empty linen wrappings.  And he went back home puzzling over what had happened.  He still had not seen the “risen” Jesus.
            We have to be like Peter in this story.  We have to go and look for Jesus ourselves.  It’s too important a question to just write off as an idle tale without an investigation.

Why I believe Jesus is Alive
            Now, every person has to decide for themselves if Jesus is really alive.  I have decided he is.  But I can’t decide for you.  No one can decide for you.  You have to decide for yourself.  But I would like to share with you why I believe Jesus is alive; and maybe this will encourage you to have the faith to see the risen Christ.  So briefly, I want to share 7 reasons I believe Jesus is risen.
 
First of all, I asked God to show me the Truth and He did.  I grew up going to church and knew the story of Jesus.  But when I was 20-years-old, I really began questioning the validity of everything I had been told about Jesus and Christianity.  What if it was all just idle tales?  So I prayed to God to show me.  I prayed with all sincerity, “God, show me the Truth—the only Truth that really is.  I’m willing to reject everything know if You will show me the real Truth.”  And I began a quest to know the Truth.  I studied about Christianity, the Bible, other religions, and even atheism.  And what I found was the Christian faith Jesus brought to our world makes sense.  I found I believed it was the Truth God wanted me to know.  God answered my prayer.  As Jesus said, “Seek and ye shall find.  Knock and the door will be opened to you.”

The second reason I believe Jesus is risen is Jesus changed my life.  I was not a very good person growing up.  I had a terrible temper.  I was violent.  I enjoyed being “bad” and looked for ways to actively rebel.  I bullied other children.  I was a vandal and a thief.  Now, I understand i was just a child and how "bad" can a child be?  It wasn't the degree to which I was bad that mattered.  It was the path I was on; it was the trajectory of my life that wasn't good.  If I had stayed on the road I traveled as a child and as a young teenager, I would have lived a very immoral life.  I do not know how it would have turned out, but it would not have been godly at all.  I know how it turned out for many of my friends who stayed on that road.  Some went to jail.  Some fell into addictions.  Some wasted years of their lives before they turned around.  Some died and others committed suicide.  Some I know are still wasting their lives in rebellion to God.
That could have been me, but my path changed because I decided to follow Christ.  I became a Christian when I was 8, but it wasn’t until I was 17 that I started actively following Jesus down a different path—a path to life instead of death.  I am who I am today because Jesus is alive and not dead.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not perfect.  There’s still a lot that needs to change.  But because my Jesus lives, I know I’m gonna get there One Day!

The third reason I know Jesus rose is because I have been resurrected.  I don’t mean that I have died and come back to life—though I know that will happen at the end of my days on earth.  What I mean is, I have faced times in my life when my strength ran out, when I just couldn’t go on.  I have even wondered at times, how can I continue to be a minister.  But then Jesus fills me with new life, new energy, and I come back stronger than I was before.  That kind of resilience is not because of me—it’s the resurrected Christ living in me.  It’s the power of Jesus who conquered death and rose from the grave that empowers me to rise from any gloomy situation in this life and will one day even raise me to new life when my body wears out and I die.

Fourth, I know Jesus is alive, because I have seen miracles.  I don’t have time to recount all the times I have seen Jesus intervene through miracles.  I have seen people healed.  I have seen doors open that should have been closed.  But let me just tell you one miracle that involved people in this church.  
In 2013, when we took a group on a mission trip to El Salvador, we carried thousands of dollars of medicine with us to treat illness among the people we went to serve.  And just as our plane was about to take off from Atlanta, we learned from our partners in El Salvador that the paperwork for our medicine did not go though and our medicine would be confiscated at customs in El Salvador.  Our whole team prayed and asked our friends to pray too.  When we arrived in El Salvador and worked our way through customs, the authorities allowed everyone on our team to pass right through without checking our bags for medicine.  The only person they stopped was Jason Denson.  They asked him if he had any medicine in his bag and he said “yes”.  The guard opened his bag, glanced right at the medicine, and then closed the bag and told Jason he was free to go.  Our team loaded the bus as fast as we could and left to begin our week of mission work with all of our medicine intact.  That is the work of a living Savior, not a dead man still in a grave.

Number five, I have had personal encounters with Jesus.  I always feel Jesus is personally present when I pray earnestly.  Now, Jesus has never appeared to me in a bodily form.  I’ve never touched his nail scarred hands like Thomas did in the Bible.  However, when I talk to Jesus, I know he is present in a special way—and I am as sure of his presence as I am that you are here with me today.  I have also heard him speak to me—not in an audible voice—but I have known he was speaking to me, telling me something, comforting me, or guiding me to answers.  It was a Voice from outside of myself, something divine that was a higher power than anything found in this world.
Once, when I was a pastor of a small church and had reached a very low point in my ministry and was so worn out I didn’t know how to keep going, I prayed and Jesus encouraged me as I listened to a praise song.  The words of the band became the voice of Christ as they reminded me, “I Am a Friend of God!  I am a friend of God!  I am a friend of God!  He calls me friend!”  And the words became Jesus’ words to me.  “Don’t give up!  Remember, you are a friend of God!  He can carry you through this.  He has great plans for you.”  
Dead men don’t speak.  Dead men can’t make their presence known.  Dead men can’t encourage you and give you strength to persevere.  I serve a Risen Savior and he calls me friend!

A sixth reason I know Jesus is alive: I have known many people who have been completely transformed by Christ.  I have friends who have been delivered from addiction that they couldn’t beat on their own.  I have known lives that—like mine—have been changed from selfish pursuits to godly lives; and these have changed not only their lives, but have saved their families too.
I know one woman personally, who was molested as a child and grew up very wounded and damaged because of it.  (I will not share her name, but my wife and I know her personally.) And in her marriage she struggled for years because of her own baggage and because of her husband’s sins too.  And she became promiscuous and cheated on her husband and was months into divorce proceedings and a custody battle over their children.  And then, because of the miraculous life-changing power of a risen Christ, she and her husband somehow reconciled and she found healing from her wounded sexuality and they have been happily married now, following Christ together, for around 10 years since that whole episode.  Christ is alive and changing lives everyday!

The last reason I believe Jesus is alive is because of history. Since the beginning of the world, civilizations have risen because of their economic, political, and military power.  But just as soon as they rise, they quickly fall.  At the time of Christ, the Romans were the greatest power in the world.  No one could stand against them.  And yet, Jesus—who was by all worldly measures insignificant, who had no political power, no army to command, no wealth to speak of, who never wrote a single book or held a single governmental post—changed the world by being executed and buried in a grave after only 3 years of active ministry.  A dead man could not do what Jesus did.  Many men and women in history have impacted the world through martyrdom, but Jesus turned the world completely upside down because he not only died, but also rose to life again.  And so the very empire that condemned Jesus to death, embraced his religion within 300 years.  And the Christian faith, which started out as only a handful of followers proclaiming their dead leader had risen, became the largest religion in the world—over a quarter of the world’s population adheres to Christianity today.  This came about because our Lord is not dead, but alive. 

Seeing is Believing

These are some of the reasons I believe Jesus is alive.  What I've shared are not scientific arguments or theological reasons (though there are those as well).  What I've tried to share are my own personal experience.  I am like those first women who went to the tomb and saw the angels proclaiming Jesus had risen.  I am like Peter who ran to the tomb and found it empty and later saw the living Jesus for himself.  Jesus is alive!  He is no longer in the grave!
You may hear my message and think it’s all just nonsense.  You may think it’s just an “idle tale.”  But don’t just dismiss it.  It’s too important. If what I’ve said is true, it changes everything.  And if you are hungry to see him, Jesus may appear to you too.  But you’ve got to be like Peter who ran to the tomb to see if the “idle tale” had anything to it.  And you’ve got to have eyes of faith to see.  You’ve got to let go of your cynicism.  You’ve got to have the faith of a child (as Jesus said).  That goes against human nature; more so in some who are more skeptical than others.  You’ve got to want with all your heart to know the Truth and ask God to show you the Truth.  You’ve got to be willing to be changed and know that Jesus can change you.  Then maybe you can start to see the miracles as you surround yourself with other believers who have been transformed by the power of the risen Savior; and you may encounter the risen Lord for yourself.  

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dealing with Disappointment

Philippians 2:5, John 13:3, Luke 22:14-15, Matthew 26:36

Introduction
            Palm Sunday fell on the first day of spring this year.  I love springtime.  The short days and cold, gloomy days of winter are just depressing to me.  Then, spring comes and it revives my soul.  New life begins to bud and it has a wondrous effect on me.  Yet there are still disappointments in life regardless of the season. 
I suppose it was springtime when Jesus faced his most disappointing week.  The week from Palm Sunday to Easter was a very difficult one for Jesus—full of tremendous highs and awful lows.  The week began with a Palm Sunday parade filled with great expectations; but what followed was disappointment after disappointment.  Of course, we know how the story ends—with the ultimate triumph of Easter morning, with Christ rising from the tomb.  But it took a week of disappointments before the glory of Easter was realized. 
            Meditating on Christ's final week on earth made me think a lot about disappointments and how Jesus coped with them and how we might cope with them better too.  Philippians 2:5 says, “You must have the same attitude Christ Jesus had.”    Jesus dealt with his disappointing week in a few key ways.  Perhaps these can help us through dark times as well. 

Faith
John 13:3 – “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.  
The first factor that strengthens us when we face disappointments is faith in God.  Think about what Jesus did during his last week on earth.  In the midst of disappointments, Jesus had an unwavering faith in God’s ultimate will.  Jesus was not fooled by the exulting crowd waving palm branches.  He knew that the people of Jerusalem would reject him in just a few days.  However, he was able to see beyond that disappointment to the ultimate victory of God.  For though God’s kingdom would not be realized in Jerusalem that week, ultimately—because of Jesus’ sacrifice—God’s plan of salvation was accomplished.  Jesus had faith in God’s ultimate will and that steeled him when disappointments came.  Perhaps that is how he was able to keep preaching and teaching and speaking the truth about God’s coming Kingdom, even though he knew people would reject his message and hang him on a cross.  Perhaps that is how Jesus was able to wash his disciples’ feet even though he knew one would betray him and they all would desert him.
            Our disappointments are tempered when our faith in God puts them in perspective.  God can use our disappointments to make us stronger; and He can and does turn our disappointments into victories.  We can endure disappointments and continue on the road God has set before us because we know that ultimately, if we have faith in God, we will have “Victory in Jesus”.  And on that Day, the glory we find will overshadow any disappointment we face in this lifetime.
            But faith only soothes our disappointments; it does not usually cancel them.  We still feel the sting when friends betray us.  We still feel sorrow when someone we love dies. 
            Many years ago, Kelly’s brother, Wesley, went down to Florida for Spring Break with a bunch of his friends.  Well, they had been drinking one night and then went out into the surf to swim.  And when they all came back in, there was on missing.  They searched frantically for their friend until they found the guy’s body floating in the waves.  They dragged him up on to the shore and tried to revive him, but nothing worked.  Their friend was gone.  Their Spring Break turned into a terrible disappointment.
            Now you take a Spring Break tragedy like that and you put yourself into the shoes of those friends.  What are we to do in the mean time?  What comfort can we find now—right now while we are hurting so bad?  So there are other things—when accompanied by faith in God—that can help us cope with disappointment.   

Friends
Luke 22:14-15 – 14 When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. 15 Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins.
Jesus coped with his disappointing week by spending time with his closest friends.  Each day, he would teach in the city and then at night he would retreat to the quiet Mount of Olives with his disciples—his twelve closest friends.  And of course, on the very last night—when his anxiety was heaviest—Jesus shared one last meal with his friends (that meal which we have come to call the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion).  When we are overtaken by deep disappointment, it can be very helpful to withdraw a little from all your casual acquaintances and surround yourself with your closest friends. 
One of the biggest disappointments Kelly and I faced together was a miscarriage in December of 2005.  (This was before Abigail was born.)  We were both looking forward to having our third child.  We were already picking out names and had become attached to the tiny new life forming inside Kelly’s womb.  And then, as we went together to the doctor’s office expecting to see a sonogram our tiny little baby’s heart beating—we instead got the disappointing news that the heart had stopped and the child was dead. 
One of the best things we did to cope with our disappointment was to get away for a few days.  A friend loaned us a cabin in Dahlonega.  We left Gavin and Grace with our parents and we just took some time to get away—just the two of us.  Kelly is my closest friend.  To be away from everyone else and just be with her was very therapeutic.  And I think the same was true for her.
So when we have disappointments, it helps to have an unwavering faith in God’s ultimate victory and to surround ourselves with our closest and dearest friends.  Can we learn anything else from Jesus’ disappointing week?  Well, Jesus also sought strength and support from God through prayer.  And I think we should do the same.   

Fervent Prayer
Matthew 26:36 – 36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 
After sharing his final meal with his disciples, Jesus went into the garden to pray.  And I want you to note the tone of his prayer.  It was a very honest, heartfelt prayer.  Jesus didn’t use flowery language.  He wasn’t trying to impress God or anybody else.  He just poured out his heart.  My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.[i]  And he prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away until I drink it, your will be done.”[ii]  Jesus did not seek to change God’s will, but sincerely contemplated whether there was any other way to fulfill God’s plan.  And when, through prayer, Jesus determined there was no other way, he sought and found strength and determination from God.
            Prayer is indispensable for us too when we face disappointment.  It’s not just a way for us to ask God to change our situation—though God does sometimes change the situation.  More importantly, prayer is a time for us to honestly express our disappointment—even if our disappointment is with God.  God can handle our disappointment and through prayer He can help us let them go.  God can give us strength and determination to pass through our disappointments.  So telling God our disappointments is very important.
            Faith, family, and fervent prayer helped Jesus during his most disappointing week.   

Conclusion
            The final days of Jesus’ life teach Christians we must pass through the disappointment of the cross before we reach the victory of Easter.  We want to skip the difficulties.  We like to dwell on happy days and victory songs.  But let us never forget Jesus’ words when he said in Mark 8:34, “If any of you wants to be my follower… …you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”  Sometimes the victory is not just what happens when we rise again on the other side of disappointment.  Sometimes the true victory is the way we live while we are in the midst of terrible trials.  For then God’s power is truly revealed in us as it was in Jesus on the long road to Calvary.   
Christians are not immune to trials and disappointments in this life.  Yet we have something others don’t have.  Jesus walks with us through our trials.  And we have an assurance that something far better awaits us on the other side.  Don’t you want to take hold of the hope Jesus offers today?  Don’t you want Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of your life?  Then why not ask Jesus into your heart today? 


[i] Matthew 26:39
[ii] Matthew 26:42

Monday, March 14, 2016

Deep Relationships at Work

Romans 12:15-18

Introduction
We are designed to have deep relationships.  Human beings are inherently social creatures.  Even shy people who prefer to be alone most of the time need the companionship of other people from time to time.  That’s the way God made us.  We were made to have deep relationships with God and with other people.
We find those relationships through our family, our friends, in romantic relationships, and with other people.  Today, I would like to talk about an important type of relationship—deep relationships at work.
Do you realize you may spend more time with your co-workers than most other people in your life?  Depending on your job, it can even rival the amount time you spend with your spouse and children.  Consider, if you work full time, you might spend about eight hours a work day with your co-workers while you might only spend five to seven hours awake with your family.  That’s a sobering reality that should remind you to make the most of your family time.  It also shows how influential your work relationships are to your life.  Make sure the relationships you have at work—where your spend so much of your time—are a positive influence on your life.
Not only do you spend a lot of time with your co-workers, how you relate to them also affects your success at work.  You cannot reach your full potential at work unless you cultivate deep relationships with your co-workers.  Your technical expertise is one aspect of your work success, but your success depends on your relationships more than you may know.
Healthy work relationships are built upon trust, mutual respect, integrity, open communication, and common goals.  When you trust the people you work with, you can better communicate, collaborate, and work as a team.  How effective can you really be if you feel you always have to “watch your back” at work?  How can you work as a team with people you don’t respect or feel don’t respect you?  How can you do your job well if you can’t communicate openly with your coworkers?  How can your organization succeed if its workers don’t share common goals?  Deep relationships at work are vital.
            The Bible is not a business manual, but biblical principles about relationships apply at work as well as they do at home.  Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:15-18 as you think about how these principles might apply with your co-workers. 

Romans 12:15-18
15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 

Building Better Relationships at Work
The Apostle Paul’s advice applies in many areas of life.  It is especially appropriate for work relationships.  Isn’t it amazing how the Christian faith enhances all your relationships—even your work relationships?  When we genuinely seek to follow Christ’s example at work, we build loyalty, respect, communication, and cooperation.  Everyone wins.
            Since strong, healthy relationships are so important for success at work, I want to give you some ideas to build better relationship with your co-workers.  There is a very helpful website called MindTools.com that offers free, practical, straightforward skills to help people excel in their career.  Much of what they say rings true with my own experience working in both the secular and church world.  Here are six practical ways I gleaned that you can use to build better relationships with your co-workers.[i]
 
Make Time to Build Relationships at Work – Romans 12:15 says, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  In other words, care about the people with whom you work.  You will always get more from people who know you care.  Make a point to devote part of every day to relationship building.  It doesn’t have to be a lot of time.  Even 20 minutes a day, broken up into five-minute segments can make a big difference.  Stop by someone's office during lunch, write a thank you note or comment on a coworker’s Facebook page, ask a co-worker out for a quick cup of coffee.  These little interactions build the foundation good relationships at work.  A classic book that can teach you how to build relationships is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
 
Appreciate Others – Everyone needs to feel appreciated.  Show your appreciation whenever you can—whether it is your boss or the person who cleans your office.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Look for ways to genuinely compliment people at work.  Spend more time thanking and praising and your coworkers will be more open to the times you need to ask for help, give constructive criticism, or face a difficult problem.  Sincere appreciation leads to loyalty, trust, and great work relationships.
 
Be Positive – Philippians 4:8 says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.”  Focus on being positive as much as you can.  Positivity is attractive and contagious and will help strengthen your relationships with your colleagues. No one wants to be around someone who's negative all the time.  Laugh.  Have fun.  Take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too serious.  Be the kind of person people enjoy working with.
 
Maintain Healthy Boundaries – Robert Frost wrote in his poem Mending Wall, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  Good boundaries at work make good coworkers.  It’s good to help your coworkers and have them help you, but everyone should be responsible for their own work.  And remember, the primary reason you are at work is to work.  Your friendships with co-workers should support your ability to work, not hinder it.  Healthy boundaries keep your work friends from negatively impacting your performance.   Friendships at work have dynamics that are more delicate than friendships outside of work.  Remember, your coworkers may have different personal values, ethics, and religious views than you.  Be careful.  Be mindful.  Keep it professional and don’t let your personal life damage your professional career.
 
Avoid Gossip – Proverbs 11:13 says, “A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.”  Proverbs 25:23 says, “…a gossiping tongue causes anger!”  And Proverbs 26:20 says, “…quarrels disappear when gossip stops.”  Many of the conflicts that injure relationships, hinder productivity, and damage careers could be avoided if only gossip was banished from the workplace.  If you have a conflict with someone at work, talk directly to the person.  This will build trust, loyalty, and cooperation.  Talking behind their back will only make the problem worse and rarely solves the core issue.  So don’t gossip!
 
Communication – James 1:9 says, “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  That’s a beautiful description of effective communication.  Stay calm and listen twice as much as you speak.  Communication is important in all relationships.  It is essential in work relationships.  Communication keeps you in touch with your coworkers’ lives, but it is also fundamental to cooperation at work.  You need to communicate often and well to ensure everyone understands the common tasks you must accomplish together.  Bad communication causes frustration, mistrust, and poor work performance. 

Difficult Relationships
            Colossians 3:23 says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  There is one thing about work relationships: sometimes you have to work with people you don’t really like or can’t relate to.  But for the sake of work, you have to have a relationship.  How do you do it?
Maintain a professional relationship with them.  You don’t have to be their best buddy, but you do have to work with them.  You might be able to limit your interactions with them, but be careful.  Don’t avoid them all together.  When you avoid talking with people you dislike at work, it can handicap you—especially if you need that person’s help.  Why set up obstacles for yourself where you work?  You need all the help you can get.  Don’t limit yourself with bad communication.
Instead of avoiding the problem, try to be proactive.  Take the sacrificial attitude of Christ as much as you can.  Reach out to them and have conversations.  Perhaps you could even go to lunch together.  As you talk, try to focus on the things you have in common instead of your disagreements.  Ask them about their background, their interests, their greatest successes.  You don’t have to become best friends, but you do need to be able to work together.
On the other hand, what if you just can’t have a good relationship with your co-workers?  What if they are just not the kind of people you can trust and respect?  What if communication with them is always going to be a very difficult chore?  What if your coworkers have no integrity?  What if you just don’t have many common goals?  If after serious thought you feel your work relationships at a particular organization are always going to be strained, it might be time to look for another job.  Remember, you are likely to devote a significant amount of your life to your work—possibly as much or more than you give to your family and personal friends.  Why would you want to work at a place where too many of the relationships are bad?  It might be time to take a leap of faith and plan a change. 
In this case, I would not recommend quitting in an angry rage.  However, you can pray for God’s direction and help, start looking for other opportunities, and go somewhere else where you can have better work relationships where everyone will benefit. 

Conclusion
            God wants us to have deep relationships in every area of our lives—at home, at work, at church, with our friends.  Deep relationships are part of our DNA.  However, our relationships will be limited if we do not have a healthy relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  There is a longing in our soul that only God can fulfill.  No other relationship can take its place.  Friendships, families, marriages, & careers are damaged when people look to them for the fulfillment only God can provide. 
If you want better friendships, if you want to fix your marriage, if you want a healthier family, if you want a better career, I implore you:  come to Jesus and let him heal your soul.  As Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” 


[i] For more information from a great article about building relationships at work by MindTools.com, see https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/good-relationships.htm

Monday, March 7, 2016

17 Tips About How to be a Good Friend

The following tips are advice about friendship that were shared with me via email, Facebook, and handwritten notes.  Some statements were shared by people from Pleasant Grove UMC; others came from people outside our congregation.  The advice is not in any particular order and PGUMC and our pastor make no claims about the accuracy of these statements.  We simply share them for your consideration.  Pastor Chris would welcome the opportunity to counsel with you privately about how deepen your friendships.  Click here for my blog about 5 traits of deep friendships.

How do you make friends and be a good friend?

1.     Listen, Trust, Forgive, Laugh, Pray.

2.     Be kind and honest.

3.     Always have a helping hand available. Be a good listener.

4.     Always assume that there is something about every situation you're involved in with a friend that you are unaware of. This can affect a relationship and if you have that in mind it is easier to maintain that friendship.

5.     Err on the side of kindness.

6.     Just being there and never having to say a word, just a hug a loving touch.

7.     Knowing when to shut up!

8.     Listening.

9.     Show an interest in them and theirs. Don't bore them by telling them about you.

10.  When you walk into a room, look around at the people there and treat them like you were hoping so much they would be there—even those you don't know. You'll find a lot of friends that way.

11.  To restore a broken friendship: 1) Talk to God before talking to the person. 2) Always take the initiative. 3) Sympathize with their feelings. 4) Confess your part of the conflict. 5) Attack the problem, not the person. 6) Cooperate as much as possible. 7) Emphasize reconciliation, not resolution.


12.  Making Friends – Staying humble and kind will make you more appealing to others who are also looking for a friend. In today's society, we are constantly surrounded with mediums to bring attention to ourselves. Facebook, Instagram, etc. are all methods to enhance our own image and therefore takes away the focus from others. Staying humble and kind will help to reduce this self-promotion/social acceptance mentality and shift the attention to those around us. I believe people find that quality appealing, refreshing, and ultimately... will win you new friends.

Being a good friend – staying humble and kind allows us to listen more than we talk. Good friends exhibit genuine interest and respect towards each other. Humility allows us to be slow to react and therefore promote wise words and actions. You never see a friendship end because one party was too nice and kind. Friendships end due to the lack of humility and kindness.

13.  Make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ.

14.  Forgive, make an effort to keep in touch and up-to-date on each other’s lives, and pray for and with each other.

15.  Be a good listener and thoughtful.

16.  To be a “good” friend, treat that person as you would like for them to treat you.  Show respect, compassion, understanding, and love for your fellow person.

17.  Always be there.  Remember special occasions and celebrate with them.
 

5 Traits of Deep Friendships

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Introduction
God designed us to have deep relationships.  God created us to have a deep relationship with Him--to know Him, to talk to God, to love and admire Him.  However, God created us for more than just a human/God relationship.  God created Adam and Eve so we could have deep relationships with other people too.
A deep relationship is a profound, caring connection of mutual support, cooperation, and trust.  Deep relationships can be with family, friends, someone we date, a spouse, or a co-worker.  However we find them, our souls yearn for deep relationships.  The goal of this blog is to share five traits about strong, faithful, meaningful friendships. 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Types of Friends
As part of our discussion today, I want to share 5 traits of true friends.  But before we get to those traits, it will be important to discuss the different types of friends we find.  As I see it, there are three different kinds of friends and it is vital to understand the differences.  Friends will fall along a spectrum with these general categories.
            First off, some of your friends will be companions.  People who are companions keep company with each other.  Another word for this might be “acquaintance.”  Now, a companion is a sort of friend, but not at a deep level.  You probably aren’t deeply bonded with a companion; your friendship with a companion is often unplanned.  For instance, you may associate with your companions because of a mutual interest—maybe you work or go to school together, you might share a hobby, or maybe you have a mutual friend with whom you both hang out.  Thus, you may spend time with a companion—you may even enjoy each other’s company—but you didn’t deliberately choose your companion, it just sort of happened.  Companions are usually friendly to each other, but they aren’t necessarily deeply committed to each other.  Companions may grow to become your best friend, but at this stage it is only a very casual relationship.  And that’s vital to remember, because trusting a companion like a close friend can get you into real trouble. 
           
            Another type of friendship is a mentor/mentee relationship.  A mentor is someone who teaches or gives advice to someone less experienced.  A mentee is someone who is being mentored.  Mentors usually have their mentees best interest in mind and give freely to encourage or improve their mentee.  Charlie Green was my pastor when I took my first job as a minister.  Charlie saw potential in me and took me under his wing to teach me how to be a good pastor.  Now, I didn't have a lot to offer Charlie, but he sacrificially helped me become a better minister.  He was a mentor to me and I have always appreciated him for it.  Now, over the years, our friendship has grown deeper than just that of a mentor and mentee.  It is more of a mutual relationship now.
            It’s important to note that mentor/mentee relationships aren’t an equal or mutual friendship.  Knowledge, expertise, or advice is being exchanged.  It’s somewhat like a business or consumer relationship.  It’s important for the mentee to remember this and give their mentor some space and/or be grateful and respectful.            
            Another type of friend is what I call a true friend.  A true friend is a much deeper relationship than what you have with a companion.  And unlike a mentor/mentee relationship, a true friendship is mutual—with both people contributing equally to the friendship.  A true friend is a real blessing.  They are someone you can trust in thick and thin because they have been with you in thick and thin.
            Listen to what the Bible says about friends. Proverbs 17:17 – "A friend loves at all times…"  Proverbs 18:24 – "...there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."  John 15:13 – "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
Let me give you five traits of a true friend.  These five traits will help you recognize a true friend and also teach you how to be a true friend to others.  I hope you will also notice that Jesus demonstrated all five of these traits.  So ultimately, if you want to see what a true friend is—look at Jesus Christ.  If you want to be a true friend, seek to treat people like Jesus treats you. 

Five Traits of True Friends
Number one – sacrifice.  True friends sacrifice for each other.  Jesus was the ultimate example of a true friend—he laid down his life for us.  Not all friends will sacrifice to that extent (though some might), but a true friend will sacrifice.  A true friend will give up his time for you, will sacrifice his comfort for you, will go to great lengths for you.  And the deeper the friendship, the farther friends will go to sacrifice for each other. 
My best friend is Eddie Bradford.  We have been friends for 21 years.  Eddie is the kind of friend I can call at 3:00 AM if I have a real problem (and yes, I have called him at 3:00 AM before).  The same goes for Eddie.  He has called me at times when there was no one else he could talk to.  Eddie and I would do almost anything for each other.  That’s a true friend. 
Number two – unconditional love.  Christ died for us while we were still sinners.  He didn’t die for us because we deserved it.  He did it because we didn’t deserve it, but needed it.  That’s true friendship.  A true friend loves us unconditionally.  They are our friend—not because we deserve it—but purely as a gift of love.  This is a deep level of friendship.  That is why a true friend will often stick with you when times are terrible—when you are at your lowest point and have nothing useful to offer.  That kind of friendship can make all the difference in the world.  Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of friend?  Maybe you should seek to be that kind of friend to someone else.
Number three – trust.  A true friend is someone you can trust.  They won’t go around town telling everyone what you said when you told them something confidentially.  You know a true friend always has your best interest in mind.  You can count on them.  They will be there for you when you need it.
People often get into trouble with their “friends” when they misunderstand how trust and friendship work.  Proverbs 18:24 says, A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Remember, companions are not true friends.  They are just casual acquaintances.  But when you trust an acquaintance like a true friend, you can get in real trouble.  Trust must be earned.  Have your friends earned your trust or are they more like companions?  Furthermore, what kind of friend have you been?  Are you trust worthy or are you acting more like a mere companion?
Number four – healthy boundaries.  True friends develop healthy personal boundaries.  In her blog about Christian Friendship, Mary Fairchild writes:  If you feel smothered in a friendship, something is wrong. Likewise, if you feel used or abused, something is amiss. Recognizing what's best for someone and giving that person space are signs of a healthy relationship.”  Do your friendships have healthy personal boundaries? 
Number five – truth.  True friends tell the truth.  Do you want to know how my best friend and became friends?  Eddie was the new youth pastor at East Cobb UMC in Marietta.  I was a volunteer working with the youth group when he started.  After a few months on the job, Eddie called all the volunteers and asked our opinion about how he was doing.  I told Eddie what I really liked about his teaching style (he really was doing a good job).  However, I also told Eddie a few things he wasn’t doing well.  Now, some people would have gotten upset, but Eddie recognized I wasn’t trying to complain or be mean.  I genuinely wanted to help him do his very best.  Eddie told me a few years later—after we’d become good friends—how much he appreciated my honesty that day on the phone.  Not only had it helped him be a better youth minister, it revealed to him that I would be honest with him—and that’s the kind of friend he wanted.
Proverbs 27:6 shares God’s great wisdom about this when it says, “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”  A true friend will be honest with you.  Are you being honest with your friends?  Now, to be sure, you have to have some tact.  You don’t always want to be complaining to your friends about their every flaw.  Think about it.  If you have a booger hanging from your nose, would you rather your friend tell you or just let you walk around all day like that?  What if it was something more important than a booger?  You'd want your friend to be honest with you even if it was hard or embarrassing or upsetting.

The Truest Friend
The truest friend you will ever have is Jesus Christ.  John 15:13 – “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  And John 15:15 says, "Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me."
It’s amazing that Jesus calls us his friends.  He has already done everything to earn your trust.  He always has your best interest in mind.  He loves you unconditionally.  He tells you the truth even when it’s hard.  But he won’t force you to be his friend.  You have to decide.
Until you let Jesus be your friend, all your other friendships and relationships will struggle.  But when you get your heart right with Jesus, everything else will start to fall into place—your family, your friends, your romantic life... everything.  Why don’t you turn to Jesus today—let him be your True Friend, your Lord, and your Savior?