The Team Player: The Ideal vs. Reality

1 May

“I want to live what I believe.” It’s a sentiment to which most of us can relate. The phrase expresses our desire to be clearly identified as the person we think we are. And it makes evident our conviction that a person can genuinely believe one thing, but live in a manner contrary to that belief.

The Bible, however, paints a different picture. In Matthew 12:34,35 Jesus tell us that, “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.” And again, in Matthew 7:17,18, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” It is what we actually believe, not what we hope we believe, that dictates how we behave.

For many of us, accepting this truth is a challenge. After all, I don’t know many people who want to think of themselves as liars, thieves, or hypocrites. It’s much easier to justify our regularly recurring faults as “innocent slips of the tongue” or a “momentary lapses of judgment”.

Instead, the Bible asks us to address such repetitive sins as what they are: outward symptoms of a corrupt pattern of thought. That doesn’t mean that no one ever just slips and behaves in a way contrary to their convictions. But it does mean that when those “slips” are a regular feature of our everyday lives, it may be a sign that we don’t really hold the beliefs we think we do. And few places are as well designed to expose the difference as the workplace concept of “the team”.

Ideally, “the team” is a group of individuals dedicated to the tireless pursuit of a single goal. But the ideal isn’t often the reality. Each of us have been assigned to teams which resemble petty, bickering groups of individuals rather than a well-honed machine. We have experience with the free-riders who contribute just enough to get by. We’ve lived with the frustration that arises when individuals are unwilling to consider the potential of any view other than their own. We’ve had our fill of the petty dictators who label others as “poor team players” simply because they refuse to be mindlessly obedient drones. On occasion, we may even have been guilty of being these things, ourselves.

If we’re honest, being a team player isn’t always easy, simply because there are as many definitions of the phrase as there are people in the workplace. Some view a team player as someone capable of carrying out detailed orders. Others argue that the best team members are creative thinkers, willing and able to execute grand visions. And still others would suggest that the best team players are capable of collaborative work in which everyone shares the load equally.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at how the Bible defines a “team player”. We’ll be examining the thought process behind these concepts as well as a few of the actions they lead to.

Meanwhile, feel free to share your own teamwork experiences or dilemmas in the comment box below!

Sharing Your Testimony: Three More Prepared Testimonies

17 Apr

Over the course of this series, we’ve discussed “What it Really Means” to give a testimony, taken a look at some Biblical models for both “One Liners” and “Deeper Dialogues”, addressed the fears which we face as we are “Getting the Ball Rolling”, and discussed the technique behind the preparation of a formal “Conversion Story”.  This week, we’ll be concluding with a look into three other types of prepared testimony and the role that they play in helping us to share the Gospel message!

If you’re anything like me, your conversion story is pretty dull.  I was saved at the grand age of six and there wasn’t some miraculous (by human standards) moment when God pulled me from darkness into light.  It was a regular Sunday morning service at a local Baptist church and I remember my father holding my hand as I walked down the aisle to the strains of “Just as I Am” and standing with me as I informed the giant teddy-bear of a pastor that, “I want to become a Christian.”  No chorus of angels, no blinding light, no life of reckless abandon to the desires of the flesh.  Just a simple profession of faith.

Unless you were converted on your death bed (in which case, you won’t be reading this article), your “God Story” didn’t end on the day you committed your life to Christ.  In fact, it was very probably just beginning… and that’s where the following three types of testimony come in to play.

How He changed your life.  Unlike the conversion story, the tale of how Christ changed your life applies to both those who accepted Christ after a lifetime of “other things” and those who were privileged to meet Him in their childhood.  (I use the word “privileged” intentionally.  Both of my parents came to Christ in adulthood and I have spent a lifetime watching them struggle with issues which, for me, have only been theoretical.  By God’s Grace I was spared the frustration of years wasted walking in another path.  I never cease to be grateful for this – and if you were saved at a young age, you shouldn’t either!)

While the conversion story places the emphasis on the events that led us to surrender to God, the story of how that encounter changed your life focuses on all that has happened since that event.  It centers upon the many ways in which God works (and is working) to make us more like Him and upon His faithful provision for us, even in the worst of circumstances.  This type of testimony doesn’t focus on the Salvation message, so don’t feel like you need to find some way to weave that in.  If it fits naturally, fine, but if it doesn’t… well, that’s O.K. too.  Use this testimony to tell those “big picture” stories that reflect God’s omniscience (His “all-knowingness”) and His omnipresence (He is everywhere at all times).

How He helps you today.  Unlike a conversion testimony or a “big picture” story about God’s involvement in our lives, this type of testimony takes a “little picture” view of events.  It focuses on the present – often emphasizing circumstances which are yet to be resolved.  Such testimonies are important, since many times the person we’re sharing with can actually watch the events as they unfold and verify the truth in our statements. This might be a testimony to the peace that God is giving you as your wife battles cancer, the guidance God is giving as you seek a new job, or how He’s giving you wisdom in a difficult situation at school.  With it comes an added bonus: in order to demonstrate God’s working, you also have to look for God’s working and, the more you see Him laboring in your life, the more pleasant that life will become!

Something exciting that God has done.  Somewhere between a “big picture” testimony and a “little picture” account, this is the frosting on the cake.  These are the accounts of blessings that God has given: the promotion, the pay raise, the unexpected opportunity.  This is your chance to tell about how God provided the funds to pay that excessively high medical bill, gave you that job you wanted but didn’t expect to get, or placed the right replacement vehicle for your gas-guzzling ’72 Lincoln Mark IV in your path at just the right time.  (I’ve been telling that last story for 13 years now – and given the condition of the aforementioned “replacement vehicle”, may be telling it for 13 more!)  Share the story of how, against all odds, you got picked for the school football team or how God provided someone from the church to fix the hole in your roof!  While there will always be someone who views such events as the natural consequences of natural actions, the luck of the draw, or the intervention of that faceless god “fate”, as we take the time to acknowledge that every good thing we have comes from Christ, others will begin to see the difference!

Most testimonies are not limited to just one of these categories and some of the best ones I’ve ever heard utilize elements from each.  Take some time to write down the key elements of your own “God Story”, then see how the Spirit leads.  You may find yourself recognizing the hand of God in some extraordinary places!

Some final advice?  Be honest.  Remember that a testimony should always point others to Christ.  Never forget to tell how God worked out your circumstance and, if He hasn’t yet, make certain that the story you’re telling ends with the expectation that He will.  Christianity is about the Hope Jesus gives and your “God Story” should reflect that!

The Team Player: Defining the Term

10 Apr

Living what we believe comes naturally. Unfortunately, acknowledging that we live what we believe often doesn’t. Our ego can get in the way of our ability to accept our imperfections or address our sins for what they are. It has the ability to block us from recognizing the difference between a genuine slip in our behavior and the repetitive patterns that arise from misshapen beliefs. And few things are as good at exposing the gap between what we hope we believe and what we actually believe as teamwork.

Of course, one of the greatest challenges we face is that not everyone defines “team” in quite the same way. Is it a group of people capable of following the vision of another? Is it composed of individuals willing to cast a vision and take the initiative? Does it find its roots in equal work and equal say? By some of these definitions, the Founding Fathers and the French Resistance were equally lousy team players. By others, they were among the best.

So what does the Bible say? According to Romans 12:4-10, “just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”

The Church is a team and we work our best when each of us gives our best – even when our best looks different from someone else’s. Each of us is a specialist in our own right, but it takes all of us to accomplish the goal of proclaiming Christ to the world. It’s the stuff that the high-performance teams in today’s market place are made of: individuals contributing their best in the pursuit of a single vision.

Unfortunately, not every team is high-performance. Not every individual (either in the Church or in the workforce) gives their best. Not every player embraces the same vision. Not every worker pursues the same goal. Not all of us are inspired by the same future.

Next week, we’ll start to take a look at some of the difficulties we face as members of a workplace “team”. We’ll explore some ideas for dealing with our frustrations when others don’t play like a part of the whole. And we’ll examine some ways to live our faith when we are the ones who don’t share the vision.

Sharing Your Testimony: The Conversion Story

10 Apr

Over this last month, we’ve taken the time to explore “What it Really Means” to give a testimony, taken a look at both “One Liners” (short testimonies to God’s character and value in our lives) and “Deeper Dialogues”, and addressed the fears which must be overcome if we’re to effectively “Get the Ball Rolling”.  While it’s true that most of the time our testimonies will be spontaneous, every now and then we’ll encounter a situation that calls for a prepared testimony.  It may be in an evening church service or over coffee with a friend, but you can guarantee that at some point, someone is going to ask you to explain exactly how you came to faith in Christ and why you continue to walk in His paths.  And when this happens, you don’t wants to find yourself staring blankly into space!  Over the next two weeks, we’ll take a closer look at what goes into preparing a testimony and share some tips that will help you ensure that yours accurately and concisely reflects God’s work in your own life.

So why should we bother to prepare a formal testimony?  Well, to begin with, if you’ve already anticipated a question, you’re less likely to be caught off guard by it.  None of us like to be put on the spot, especially when it comes to issues as personal as those which surround our deepest beliefs and convictions.  If you have already taken the time to prepare your testimony, you probably won’t find yourself muttering a string of meaningless mumble jumble as you try to craft one under pressure.

Secondly, a prepared testimony helps to ensure that you don’t stumble around with useless details while everyone else is waiting for you to get to the point!  You may not have much time to share, so you want to make the best use of it that you can.  Most people only have a three minute attention span, so unless you’re a particularly riveting speaker, you’ll want to limit what you say to those facts (and only those facts) which clearly convey the message.

Remember that not every Christian has had the same experiences, so your testimony will probably sound a bit different from everyone else’s.  That’s O.K.  God uses each of us to reach different people.  That said, there are four basic types of testimony and we’ll be addressing the first of these (How You Came to Know Christ) this week.

To be entirely honest, conversion stories tend to be easier to tell if you were saved as a teen or adult, since in many ways such accounts resemble the before and after pictures on a TV makeover show.  (Those of us who were privileged to encounter Christ at an early age, often have very little memory of what life was like before that encounter, so the preparation of this type of testimony may be difficult, if not impossible.)  One of the primary features of such a story is an element of empathy for how a lost person feels.  It’s important to note that there is a big difference between “sympathy” (being with someone in their trials) and “empathy” (having gone through those trials yourself) and people tend to make a more genuine connection with those who understand their struggles from the inside than with those who think that they comprehend from without!

Generally, this type of testimony highlights three points:

1.  What life was like before you knew Christ?  How did you feel about the world around you?  How did you relate to your co-workers, family, and friends?  How did you view yourself?  Were you lonely and depressed?  Smug and overconfident?  Caught somewhere between?  What things did you turn to in order to fix the problems you encountered?  Did they seem to work?

2.  How did God intervene?  At what point did you realize that the way you were living just wasn’t working?  How did God drive the point home?  What events or thoughts effected your decision to seek Him… or did it seem that He was the One seeking you?

3.  What is life like now?  How has knowing God changed your perspective on the people and events which influenced your life before you knew him?  How have your relationships changed?  How are your thoughts and goals different from before?  What new desires have developed within you since you handed your life over to Him?

These questions are just seeds – a place to start as you consider God’s influence on and activity within your life.  You may not be able to answer each of them, but I’m willing to bet that at least a few will get your thought processes rolling.  Let the Spirit guide you as you begin to formalize you testimony, then (if you’re feeling bold), share your story in the comment box below!

Before we wrap, one final word of caution: While this particular formula is quite common, it’s important to note that it only works if God takes center stage throughout the story.  Like the Apostle Paul, we don’t want to focus our testimony upon all the gory details of the “bad life” we lived before we encountered Jesus or even upon the many “good” things that we have done since, but upon the transforming power of Christ.  Make sure that what you say keeps the focus on what God has done for you, not what you have done for or against God!  Christianity is about Christ being formed in us and about His power to effect that same transformation in others.  Everything else is peripheral.

Sharing Your Testimony: Getting the Ball Rolling

3 Apr

This month, we’ve been exploring the fine art of sharing a testimony.  In “What it Really Means”, we discussed the difference between presenting listeners with a laundry list of our sins and giving a Biblical testimony (one that tells others about God’s character and value in our lives).  In “One Liners” and “Deeper Dialogues”, we examined some short (and not so short) ways to put our thoughts about our Redeemer into words.  But before we take the plunge into the subject of offering a prepared testimony (as opposed to the spontaneous ones that we’ve discussed so far), we need to take a moment to discuss how to overcome the fear which often accompanies our attempts to bring God into the conversation.

Perhaps the biggest reason for such fear is that sharing about God’s place in our lives often feels a bit awkward and unnatural.  After all, we live in a society in which sharing our faith with anyone can be perceived as a hard core attempt at winning converts.  Something which we were never commanded to do!  (Don’t believe me?  Check out Matthew 28:19-20 and note the words “preach” and “teach” – the one comes before conversion, the other after.  It is the Holy Spirit Who works in hearts, the command to us is to work with hearts!)

So how do you share your faith (let alone your testimony) without looking like someone who is trying to earn a Heavenly merit badge?  To begin with, it’s always easier to share stories about someone you know well than about someone who is only an acquaintance.  Start by getting to know God, not just as the One Who saved you, but as a close personal friend.  Make the time to read your Bible, pray, memorize scripture, and spend time with other Christians who know Him better than you do!  As you get to know Him more intimately, you’ll become more confident in your relationship (and your knowledge!) and talking about Him will begin to come as naturally as conversation about your dearest family and friends.

The second key to alleviating our awkwardness is practice.  Start by sharing your testimony with other Believers. They already have a relationship with Jesus and they know about the power He has to change lives. Practice telling them about what God is teaching you and how He is growing you in your walk with Him. You’ll be encouraging them and building up your own nerve all at the same time.

Thirdly, whatever you say, don’t forget to be honest.  It’s okay to admit that God has been dealing with your bad temper or has been helping you learn to be a more respectful wife/husband/child/employee/student.  Believe it or not, most people admire honesty and can quickly detect when someone’s “perfect life” is a sham whose only purpose is to sell them something.  Your struggles give you a connection with the reality that the rest of humanity experiences.  Your relationship with God gives you a new perspective on that reality.

When you make it a regular habit to spend time with God and to share His workings with others, something amazing and inexplicable will begin to happen: your tongue will slip.  You’ll find yourself accidentally giving testimony at the oddest times and in the most unusual places!  It’s like a teenager and her first love – she’ll talk about him even when she doesn’t realize that’s what she’s doing!  You’ll do the same.  And people will ask you why.

Sharing Your Testimony: Deeper Dialogues

27 Mar

Over the last two weeks, we’ve examined “What it Really Means” to give a testimony and taken a look at some simple ways to share the truth about God’s place in our lives through the use of “One Liners”.  This week, we’ll be going a bit deeper as we take a look at one of the most prominent New Testament testimonies and discuss how it can serve as a model for telling our own “God Stories”.  But don’t worry, just because this model is lengthier doesn’t mean that our palms should start sweating!

Remember that we defined a “testimony” as “a statement concerning the character of a person or value of a thing”.  Under this new definition, the simple statement “God is Good” (a declaration concerning God’s character) becomes a testimony and suddenly, bearing witness begins to feel so simple that even the most fearful can do it with ease.

More importantly, encompassed within this definition is the realization that you don’t necessarily have to share the entire salvation message in order to give an effective testimony.  (As a matter of fact, in most cases, you probably won’t.) The purpose of a testimony is not to push your faith on anyone, but to provide them with a reason to ask questions about your beliefs.  It might not happen right away, but I can assure you that eventually someone will say to you something along the lines of, “You sure seem to give God a lot of credit.  What do you believe?”

At this point, we can look to the Apostle Paul (who never seems to have been without an opportunity to share his testimony) for some guidance.  In Acts 26:1-19 we read:

“Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense: “In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead? So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”

This is it. The Sunday night meetinghouse testimony complete with invitation.  It’s the one that makes us quake in our boots and search frantically for the nearest exit.  Yet the Apostle Paul made it clear that giving such a presentation was an honor.  And we should too.

So what can we learn from the Apostle’s message? To begin with, Paul recognized that his audience had a limited attention span, so he kept it brief.  In a mere nine verses, he shared the story of his life before his encounter with Christ and, from a Jewish point of view, it’s clear that he was a pretty decent fellow!  He is straight forward and honest about his actions, but he doesn’t wander off into the gory details. His purpose is to explain that he was opposed to Christ and those who followed Him, not to share a litany of sins.  Likewise, we should limit our own testimonies about life before Christ to the “highlights” (the facts without which our “God Story” wouldn’t make much sense) and cut everything else from the agenda.  Our focus should be on God’s character and His value in our lives, not upon our own foibles and failures.

Secondly, the Apostle is clear in his presentation.  He has chosen his words wisely and presents only the essentials of the Gospel, i.e., those things which must be believed if one is to inherit eternal life.  He doesn’t delve into the nature of the Trinity or discuss the relative merits of predestination or free will.  And neither should we.  These are great topics for theologians and make for some excellent debate among ourselves, but our ability to comprehend them doesn’t have an effect on our eternal destination… so leave them for another time!

Thirdly, notice that Paul concludes by discussing his reaction to these saving truths: he has remained faithful to the call.  While he doesn’t dive into all of the details of his life as a Believer, we know that he has changed: he is no longer the man that he was.  And neither are we.  Christ has changed us and He offers the same change to others.  Now that’s a testimony!

The New Testament, of course, contains many others.  From the lengthy Salvation testimonies of Paul (Acts 9:1-13; 13:15-16, 26-31; 26:1-19) to the shorter declarations of those whom Jesus touched (John 5:10-13; 9:13-15); From apologetically oriented discourses (Acts 17:22-24; Philippians 3:4-10) to simple statements of faith (John 1:35-41; 3:1,2; 4:28,39; Acts 21:18,19), there is no lack of a model for us to build upon.  Read a few examples, then take a shot at writing your own.  If you’re feeling really bold, try sharing it in the comment box below.  There isn’t any word limit, so you can say as much or as little as you like!

Sharing Your Testimony: One Liners

20 Mar

Last week in “Sharing Your Testimony: An Introduction” we examined the ideas encompassed within the word “testimony” and how they affect the way in which we view (and tell) our own “God Stories”.  This week, we’ll be diving in a bit deeper as we look at some Biblical testimonies which don’t quite fit the model that we’re used to seeing and how those testimonies better prepare us to deliver our own!

A testimony consists of what we have witnessed concerning God, His character, and His value in our lives and the Scriptures are filled with such stories.  Startlingly, many of these testimonies aren’t lengthy dialogues or detailed descriptions of life before and after encountering God, but rather, one-line testimonies to His greatness.  One of the earliest such testimony is that of Melchizedek recorded in Genesis 14:20:

“…blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

That’s one powerful line (and only one) describing God’s involvement in the life of Abram.  Melchizedek doesn’t go into a long, drawn out story, but simply states things the way they are: Abram’s enemies have fallen because God delivered them into his hands.  We know to Whom the praise is due – and that’s all we need to know.

Another great example of a one-line testimony (well, actually two) can be found in Job 19:25-26:

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.  Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God.”

Simple, yet effective, we see both a declaration about Job’s God and Job’s confidence in his God.

Or how about this one found in Psalm 84:11?

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield;  The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

These brief testimonies are present frequently throughout the Scripture in the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the Judges, David, Solomon, and the writings of the Psalmists, each declaring God’s goodness and mercy in light of His tremendous blessings and, on occasion, even amidst deep sorrow.  They testify to who God is, what He does, and His value in the life of those who serve Him.

Such one-line testimonies are perhaps the easiest to give: they require no preparation and can be delivered in an instant.  More importantly, they give us an inoffensive way to share our faith without tying other people up in a lengthy dialogue – allowing them to enquire about our faith in their own time.

Not sure you could sum up God’s involvement in your own life in a single sentence?  Try answering one of these questions:

What has He done for you today?

What makes your relationship with Him worth the investment?

What about Him brings you comfort, peace, or reassurance?

These questions, of course, are just a starting place and you’ll likely find quite a few others that inspire equally effective one-line testimonies.  Next week, we’ll take a look at the New Testament and some slightly longer models, but in the meantime, why not share a few of your own one-liners in the comment box below?

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