Christianity 201

July 1, 2020

Holiday Sadness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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July 1st is Canada Day and in the U.S., July 4th is… well, it’s better known simply as “The 4th of July.” (Independence Day to be precise.)

Many times people feel very lonely and even severely depressed on holidays, especially when they (a) have no one to share the time with (b) many shops and restaurants are closed, and (c) they don’t have the distractions of their job. That last one hits some people especially hard. It can be especially devastating to be alone on a day when people are celebrating groups.

Of course, this year, many people are not celebrating in groups. The worldwide pandemic has suspended many holiday celebrations. Here in Canada, just about everything connected to Canada Day is cancelled for this year, though I suspect that in the U.S., 4th of July celebrations will go ahead in some jurisdictions.

If you are single and you think marriage is the cure for this, think again. My wife and I have gone through many stages in our marriage where we did not have any other couple that we, as the kids would say, hang with. This can be especially frustrating if you were hoping someone could join on the holidays to help with a particular project. Holidays simply reinforce that state of social affairs, where you have no one to call on to assist with a particular need. Of course, in marriage, you’ve got each other; and Biblically speaking that is one of the main purposes/benefits of marriage, but married couples will tell you that sometimes that isn’t enough.

But in that last sentence, I could have easily have typed, ‘Of course as Christians we’ve got the Lord…’ and that reality is one we can easily overlook.

The Psalmist understood this; Psalm 73: 25 says

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

Some might argue that the key to this verse is “in heaven;” that Asaph is comparing the God of Israel to other gods. But I believe he is also contrasting “friends on earth” to having a “friend in heaven.”

A similar passage is in John 6:68, when Jesus has asked the disciples if they wish to leave

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Cynics would say that Peter is simply saying he has no other options, almost implying that he might leave if something better came along.

But time will prove the prophetic nature of his statement. Jesus remains faithful to Peter even when Peter doesn’t remain faithful to Jesus. Peter messes up but Jesus restores him. Truly, this is a friend who stays closer than a brother. Ultimately he is willing to die for his friendship with Jesus.

For some, my reference to marriage pales in comparison to an estranged relationship with a parent, or those who are true orphans, or those whose parents are no longer living. In Psalm 27:10 (NLT) we read:

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.

Again in the Psalms, in 68:5-6 (NIV) we read:

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families
    he leads out the prisoners with singing;
    but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

Or perhaps you had a sibling; a brother or sister to whom you were so close. Proverbs 18:24 (NASB) reads,

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

It’s interesting to note that there is a problem that can occur on the opposite end of the spectrum when you have “too many friends.” (Maybe we should be careful what we ask for!)

That’s the kind of companion you have in Christ, even on a holiday when waves of depression roll in…

…Having said all this, the scriptures directly confront the reality of loneliness. In Ecclesiastes 4:7-12

“Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless—a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”

When you find yourself — and the holidays can magnify this situation — in a period of your life where you feel you have no friends, you can

  1. Ask God to send people into your life
  2. Put yourself in situations where meeting people happens naturally, organically.
  3. Try to do everything you can to be the type of person people would want to count as a friend.

On this last point, my parents would often quote this, though I don’t know the source;

He has friends who shows himself friendly.

So do what only you can do, but then rest in the knowledge that God is your refuge, your helper and your friend.

 

May 25, 2018

The Bible on Choosing Your Friends

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This summer I’ve been asked to be part of a preaching team at the church that will be working through the book of Proverbs. One that has stayed with me over the past few years is Proverbs 13:20,

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.
 (NIV)

Anywhere you see a verse which contrasts wise and foolish or wisdom and foolishness you are effectively seeing a microcosm of the entire book of Proverbs; this is the book’s overarching theme, seek wisdom. It echoes throughout the book in many places including the next chapter:

Stay away from fools, for you won’t find knowledge on their lips.
 (14:7 NLT)

Years ago, my parents found me a “youth edition” of The Living Bible’s book of Proverbs called Get Smart. The title is rather pithy — and possibly alludes to a TV show of that era — but this is indeed the message of Proverbs: Seek wisdom. Get wisdom wherever you can find it. Treasure wisdom like a fine possession.

We sometimes use the expression “married up” to describe someone whose life was bettered by finding a companion who could lift them to greater experience and potential. I would argue the Bible is making a case here for “friending up.”

This doesn’t mean we simply toss friendships that don’t meet a certain standard, but at the very least, it demands an awareness of whether our friends are lifting us up or bringing us down.  The reason is simple:  Wisdom in contagious, but so is foolishness.

Many are the people who would have, at one point said, “I would never say that;” or “I would never go there;” or “I would never do that;” but got talked into something because an influential friend or group of friends was saying/going/doing that particular thing.

We tend to think of peer-pressure and conformity as something that needs to be taught in Sunday School or at youth group. We rarely consider how it continues to impact us as adults. It’s possible that some reading this have heard J. B. Phillips rendering of Romans 12:2 more often than the more traditional version:

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

I think it’s important to note that the verse doesn’t say,

  • Whoever walks with the wise is wise and
  • Whoever walks with the stupid is stupid!

No! It goes beyond that and “a companion of fools suffers harm.” We can say that sooner or later, foolish behavior leads to negative consequences.  1 Timothy 5:24 reads:

Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later.   NKJV

The sins of some people are blatant and march them right into court. The sins of others don’t show up until much later. MSG

Time will tell. We see this also in Exodus 34:7b. I know this passage is interpreted many different ways, but I’ll simply toss it into the mix for you to consider:

“…Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

I can’t leave this without remembering the warning of Jesus in the Sermon on The Mount concerning the consequences of becoming foolish:

NIV Lk 7.24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

I think it’s also important to remember that to “walk with” or “journey with” people today may mean to journey with them online. Many of us have a great depth of relationship with people online which can affect our worldview or decision-making.

Here are some practical indicators something might be wrong:

  1. when you realize your core group is moving in a direction you want your life to move in
  2. when you find yourself pretending to be someone other than you are
  3. when you feel pressure to compromise  (when something that was previously never a real temptation becomes a live option)

Our relationships can set the trajectory for our lives. Someone has put it this way:

Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.

Again, walk with the wise!