Not Perfect, But Worth Imitating

I urge you, then, be imitators of me (1 Corinthians 4:16).

“God has designed the Christian life so that much of one’s progress comes through imitating other Christians, imperfect though they be.” — ESVSB

Every Christian should seek to live a life worth emulating.  What do your friends see in you that they can imitate?  What do your children see?  What would a new believer want to replicate?

Are you cheerful in trials?  Humble?  Do you have a heart to serve?  Is your faith worth imitating?  Do you consistently pursue the Lord?

I want to imitate Charles Spurgeon’s love of Jesus, John Newton’s joy, CJ Mahaney’s humility, David Powlison’s compassion.  I want to imitate the way so many in our church serve, and the perseverance of so many of my friends in affliction.

Who do you seek to imitate and why?

photo by dbz885

That’s OK, Tonto, I Can Figure It Out

RetroLoneRanger2

God commands believers to bear one another’s burdens.  Implied in this command is that we must allow others to bear our burdens as well.  To me, this is harder than bearing the burdens of others.

I would rather shoulder my own load and not bother others.  Sometimes this is because of pride.  I don’t want to appear weak.  I don’t want others to know that I’m struggling with discouragement or unbelief.

Many times it’s because of the fear of man, or craving the approval of others that I don’t share my burdens.  I don’t want others to know I fail as a parent.  I don’t want others to know I’m having challenges with my teen or that I’ve been harsh or lax.  I want to look like I have it all together, that I’m the perfect parent.

I don’t want others to know I’ve sinned.  I don’t like to admit I’ve lied or given a false impression, or given in to lust or anger.  I don’t want others to know I’ve been living in unbelief.  I’ll just work through this myself.

Sometimes I fail to let others bear my burdens because I’m unteachable.  I think I can figure things out on my own.  Thanks for your suggestions, Tonto, but I got this one under control.  After all, I’m the LONE Ranger, remember?  Maybe the Marlboro Man could use your advice.

We need friends who will ask questions, like, “How are you doing in your heart?  Are you tempted to unbelief or discouragement?  Are you tempted to anger or being cold toward your child?  Is Facebook a source of temptation for you in the midst of your marriage problems?  Are you feeling bitter toward that person who sinned against you?”

It’s humbling.  But humility is the path to victory.  If we seek to cover our sins we won’t prosper, but if we confess and forsake them, we’ll find mercy.

How about you?  Do you struggle to allow others to bear your burdens?

Don’t Bother Me With Your Problems

Confession: I’m not a big fan of other people’s problems. I’m a wicked sinner who’s got a pile of his own sin to deal with on a daily basis. When someone comes to me with a problem, whether it be physical, financial, relational, or spiritual, I’m not doing a jig of excitement.

Working through problems with others takes work. My lazy heart doesn’t like work. It takes work to sit down and have a long, painful conversation about a friend’s current struggle with lust. It takes effort to pick up the phone and call a friend at 10:00 PM when all I want to do is sleep. My mind sinfully begins firing off excuses.

  • Look Stephen, these aren’t your problems. Let them deal with them.
  • You’ve had a long day and you just need R&R, TLC, and ABOC (A Bag of Chips).
  • Why do I always get sucked into these situations?

Can you relate to my sinful, selfish distaste for the problem of others? The truth is, I don’t want to get my hands messy. People (myself included) are messy things, and I don’t want to get my hands dirty messing with other people’s problems.

Yet when I read the example of the Apostle Paul I’m deeply challenged. Paul was a guy who, out of deep love for the saints, didn’t hesitate to get messy. The book of Philemon illustrates this wonderfully.

Here’s the deal. Philemon has a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus, not being a Christian, steals from Philemon and then proceeds to high-tail it out of town. While on the run Onesimus meets Paul, who in turn leads him to Jesus. After becoming a Christian Onesimus realizes that he needs to return to Philemon and right what has been wrong. All this equals a very messy situation between two messy sinners.

Enter Paul. He writes a letter to Philemon, pleading with him to be reconciled to Onesimus. He offers to pay any monetary debt owed by Onesimus. He even asks Philemon to prepare a room for him so that he can come and visit. Out of love for Onesimus and Philemon, Paul gets his hands very messy.

I want to be like Paul. I want to have such a love for my fellow Christians that I’m not afraid to get my hands messy.

What about you? Can you relate to my distaste for messy people problems? How do we grow in our love for the saints?

+photo © Jenny Rollo

Refreshing Souls

Naps, along with fire, the wheel, and steak, are perhaps the greatest thing ever invented. Why? Because they are so refreshing. I just woke up from a nap and I feel like ten million bucks. Before the nap I felt like sludgy pudding. Now I feel like a superstar.

I recently read the following words in Philemon 4-7:

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

I absolutely love the words, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that was the regular effect that we had on others? Wouldn’t it be beautiful if after spending an hour with us, our husband/wife/child/friend said, “My heart feels refreshed in the Lord!”? We don’t live in a vacuum. Our actions and words directly effect the people around us. I want to be like Philemon. I want people to feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and refilled in the Lord after time with me.

What was it about Philemon that made him so refreshing to others? “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love…” Philemon was bursting with love for other Christians, and the result was that he refreshed the saints around him.

Is my heart brimming with love for those around me? Do I have the affection of Christ for the saints, which in turn leads me to refresh them with my words, my time, my money, my care? I’m not there yet, but by grace, I want to be.

So here’s to refreshing souls. And to naps…

+photo by Dominic’s pics

7 Tough Questions To Ask Your Friends


Last week I wrote a post saying that godly friends ask tough, heart-exposing questions of each other for the purpose of pointing each other towards Christ. In that post I gave a few examples of what these questions might look like.

One reader asked if I had a list of other tough questions to ask your friends. Unfortunately, I don’t have a set list of probing, heart-exposing questions that I ask my friends, but I can give you suggestions for questions you might ask. This is not an exhaustive list, it’s simply meant to get you started in the right direction. And I must point out, these questions aren’t one-sided. You should be inviting your friends to ask these same questions of you. So without further ado, here’s my “awkward questions” list.

_Have you been consistently pursuing the Lord through scripture reading and prayer?

Above anything else, I want to make sure that my friends are faithfully pursuing the Lord. If there is a deficiency in reading scripture and prayer, there will be a deficiency in their relationship with the Lord.

_Have you diligently pursued your wife/husband this week?

This questions applies to married folks only. Our relationship with our spouse is our second most important relationship after the Lord. If I’m not diligently investing in my relationship with my wife, there’s a problem.

_Have you seen any persistent patterns of sin in your life recently?

Sin usually isn’t an isolated event. The same sin usually occurs multiple times in different contexts. It’s crucial that we help each other identify patterns of sin.

_Last week you confessed struggling with [insert sin]. Have you taken steps to fight it this week?

It’s not enough to just confess sin. We want to help each other actively fight against the sin that we confess.

_When you gave into [insert sin], what were you believing about God in that moment? What were you believing about yourself?

Sin is the result of believing lies about God and about ourselves. We sin in worry because we believe that God isn’t taking care of us. We sin in lust because we believe that it will satisfy us more than God. We sin in anger because we feel that our “rights” have been violated. Sin is the result of believing lies.

_What is the truth that you need to believe in this situation?

We fight against the lies of sin by believing scriptural truth. We must help each other see how scripture applies to every area of our lives.

_When you had the conflict with [insert person], what were you craving at that moment?

Scripture tells that conflict is the result of cravings. James 4:1-2 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” Cravings underlie conflict.

Hopefully these questions get you going in the right direction. Let there be awkward questions!

My Friends Are So Awkward

On most Friday mornings my alarm rips me out of my golden slumbers at approximately 6:03 A.M. I stumble out of bed, get dressed in complete darkness, and emerge from my bedroom wearing an outfit that makes it look as though a thumb-less monkey dressed me. I then make the sleepy drive over to Starbucks, where I meet several of the guys from my small group. We then spend the next ninety minutes asking each other painfully awkward questions, such as:

_Have you had any conflicts with your wife lately?
_Have you been diligent in your pursuit of the Lord?
_What has been your biggest struggle lately?

What would lead any sane person to take part in such a fun early-morning activity? The truth that godly friends ask tough questions.

Hebrews 3:13 says, ” But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Godly friends exhort one another to pursue godliness. They ask tough, awkward, probing questions that dig deep into the heart and expose sinful desires. Truly godly friends aren’t afraid to get down and dirty.

Why do godly friends exhort each other? Why do my godly friends ask me tough questions about my struggles with sin? Because they care for me, and they don’t want me to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Sin is deceitful, and many times we fail to see our sin accurately. For example, I recently confessed to the guys in my small group that I had been struggling with worry. Thanks to their insightful, and awkward questions, they were able to help me see that my sin went deeper than just worry. I was failing to trust God, and I was being self-sufficient. Their exhortation helped me to see my sin as it truly was. Godly friends help each other see their sin accurately by asking tough questions.

Are you a godly friend? Do you ask your friends about their struggles with sin? Do you exhort them towards godliness? On the flip side, do you invite your friends to ask you the awkward questions? Be a godly friend and ask the tough questions.

When My Friends Wound Me

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” – Proverbs 27:6

I’ve never been a big fan of Proverbs 27:6. Now, before any of you readers go Phineas on me (see Numbers 25) and ram a spear through my stomach, let me explain.

Correction has never been something I’ve particularly enjoyed. If you come up to me and say, “Stephen, I think you might have sinned in this area,” you’re not going to see me leap into the air and click my heels for joy (is it actually possible to ‘click’ your heels?). Correction is painful for me. I don’t like it when my friends point out areas of sin in my life. I don’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside when someone asks me, “Stephen, it seemed like you were angry on the basketball court. What was going on there?” When my friends correct me, it really does feel like a wound of sorts.

But the truth is, I desperately need the correction of my friends. I need the ‘faithful wounds’ of those around me. Why? Because I’m blind to my sin. There are pockets of sin in my life that I simply won’t see apart from the correction of others. Sanctification is a group project, and I need the input of others into my life.

Have you ever started to switch lanes while driving, only to notice at the last second that a car is lurking in your blind spot? Yeah, you know the feeling. It takes everything in you not to let out a high-pitched, banshee-like scream of terror. We’ve got blind spiritual blind spots as well, and we need the faithful correction of friends to open our eyes.

This means that godly friends will correct one another. If you truly care about your friends, you will gently correct them when they fall into sin. Correcting someone isn’t pleasant, but it’s essential. If we are help others grow in godliness, we will gently correct them when they sin.

This also means that we should invite correction. We desperately need the correction of our godly friends. We simply won’t grow as God intends apart from the faithful wounds of our friends. We must invite the correction of others.

Do you need to gently correct a friend that has fallen into sin? Or, do you need to invite the correction of others? Be a faithful friend – go out and wound someone.

Are You A Godly Friend?


There’s a bumper sticker that says “Friends don’t let friends buy Starbucks”. Let me just say from the outset that I consider this to be utter nonsense, equivalent to giving Keanu Reeves an Oscar. If you are my friend you will buy me Starbucks. You don’t need to buy me anything fancy, like a half-caf, double-soy, triple shot latte – just a cup of coffee. Friends do let friends buy Starbucks.

Unfortunately I can’t back this statement up from scripture, much as I want to. But the Bible is very clear about what friends should do for each other. In scripture we find a clear picture of what it means to be a godly friend. So this week we’re going to try to answer the question, “What is a godly friend?” By God’s grace, our fellowship will deepen and our friendships will honor the Lord.

Friends Encourage One Another
Today we’re going to look at just one aspect of godly friendships – encouragement. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” The point of this passage is pretty simple. A godly friend is one who encourages others.

I find it much easier to criticize people than encourage them. In my sinful pride, I criticize far more than I encourage. This is our natural, sinful tendency, and our culture only encourages this tendency. Have you ever noticed how many “critics” there are? We have movie critics, food critics, wine critics, sports critics, and politics critics. When was the last time you heard of a “movie encourager”? The sad fact is, we love to criticize others.

But scripture makes it clear that a godly friend is one who encourages others. We’re told that our speech should build others up, and give grace to those who hear. Ponder this truth with me for a minute. Our words can be used by God to impart supernatural grace to others. Our words can be used by God to build someone up in their faith. The words that we speak are immensely significant. They can either corrupt or build up. We must speak words that build others up. We must encourage.

What does it look like to encourage others? Speech that builds others up is speech that highlights where God is at work. In other words, to encourage others is to point out the fruit of the spirit in others. It’s to encourage John, who humbly serves in children’s ministry week after week, or Carol, who joyfully cares for her aging mother. It’s to encourage your wife when she is patient with your son, even after he pounded 117 nails into the coffee table. To encourage is to highlight the fruit of the Spirit in someone.

Are you a godly friend? Do you encourage others? When was the last time you encouraged someone? This is an area I desperately need to grow in. By God’s grace, let us resolve to encourage someone today.