Christianity 201

November 25, 2020

Friends You Can Trust

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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Much of our lives are circumstantial. We live in a particular part of the world at a particular time. We’re part of a particular family. We have particular friends.

The latter is where our story branches out into areas where we seemingly have more choice in the matter: Our friends. Two summers ago I was asked to share a sermon based on Proverbs and I chose Proverbs 13:20:

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

You can read a devotional based on that message at this link.

The opposite of choosing wise friends, good friends, helpful friends, etc. is finding yourself in a situation where there are toxic people in your life. For more on this, look into books on the subject by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Gary Thomas, or June Hunt.

Even in the church, one can encounter people, the type of which one preacher called “Brother Sandpaper and Sister Sandpaper;” people who cause more irritation than joy.

Both inside and outside the United States, political polarization has caused people to take sides and the sources of potential interpersonal irritation have multiplied. Perhaps people you always thought of as amiable and pleasant have turned toxic.

Cloud and Townsend did a book years ago called Safe People, the definition of which is on their website in this article.

They say that a safe relationship is one that does three things:

  1. Draws us closer to God. (Matthew 22:37-38)
  2. Draws us closer to others. (Matthew 22:39)
  3. Helps us become the real person God created us to be. (Ephesians 2:10)

Let’s look at those scriptures:

  1. Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
  2. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.
  3. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

In other words, the things that scripture admonishes us to cultivate in ourselves should also be the things that we look for in the people we allow to be part of our close circle of friends.

The article continues,

When John (Townsend) and I asked people to describe a “safe person” to us, they gave us these descriptions:

  • A person who accepts me just like I am.
  • A person who loves me no matter how I am being or what I do.
  • A person whose influence develops my ability to love and be responsible.
  • Someone who creates love and good works within me.
  • Someone who gives me an opportunity to grow.
  • Someone who increases love within me.
  • Someone I can be myself around.
  • Someone who allows me to be on the outside what I am on the inside.
  • Someone who helps me to deny myself for others and God.
  • Someone who allows me to become the “me” that God intended.
  • Someone who helps me become the “me” God sees in me.
  • Someone whose life touches mine and leaves me better for it.
  • Someone who touches my life and draws me closer to who God created me to be.
  • Someone who helps me be like Christ.
  • Someone who helps me love others more.

We all want people in our lives that help us in these ways. But how do we recognize them? What do they look like?

If we are to begin to utilize safe relationships, we need to first understand what a safe person is and why we need that kind of safety.

The best example of a safe person is found in Jesus. In him were fount the three qualities of a safe person; dwelling, grace and truth. As John wrote: “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Again, I encourage you to finish reading the article, where they talk about the meaning of dwelling, grace and truth.

Here are some additional considerations about safe friendships:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col. 4:5,6 NIV)

Wounds inflicted by the correction of a friend prove he is faithful(Prov. 27:6a, The Voice)

The slap of a friend can be trusted to help you(Prov 27:6a NCV)

Rather, let our lives lovingly express truth [in all things, speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly].(Eph. 4:15 Amplified Bible)

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. (Romans 12:2 Phillips)

We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things… We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.
(Hebrews 10:24-25 CEV)

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1. Yes that’s KJV, but read what’s next…)

How well God must like you— you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College. (same verse, The Message!)

To these scriptures and Cloud and Townsend’s thoughts, I would add this question: Are your friends leading you closer to the Cross; closer to Christ?

In today’s heated and polarized political climate, it’s possible some toxic people have emerged in your life. It might mean making some hard decisions to put some relationships on hold. Only you know if this applies to you.

March 21, 2016

Hanging Out With Sinners

We may refer to Jesus as a “Friend of sinners,” but it doesn’t mean he became like them. In life many times there are people who influence us versus people we influence. There are people we start to talk like, and there are people who start to talk like us. The general advice of scripture is summed up in Romans 12:2a

2a Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. (NLT)

I mentioned a few days ago that I sometimes get back to sleep by recalling scriptures I memorized as a child. Back then, we weren’t so much King James Only as we were King James Default. There were other options back then, but I certainly wasn’t aware of J.B. Phillips or Ken Taylor until later on. One such verse was Psalm 1:1

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

When I would read this verse, I always had word picture based on on council, not counsel. I imagined this verse telling me to avoid the gatherings or meetings of the ungodly. Well, it’s also saying that; the verb forms of walk, stand, and sit, but also a sense of presence; a concern for where you find yourself.

In contrast to the KJV, The Message Bible went to great liberties with this one, which is why formalists cringe when I refer to it as a translation:

1 How well God must like you— you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.

Somewhere in the middle lies my own version:

Favored by God is the one who doesn’t follow the advice of those who delight in wickedness, or follow the path that sinners take, or be found in the company of the critics.

(I was tempted to make that last word trolls!)

But what form does that take in our world? I don’t have to go somewhere to get the counsel of evil people, we have something now that didn’t exist in the Psalmist’s day: Media influences. The counsel and advice of the ungodly is found in popular music, on television, in movies, in books and in a host of online and social media forms. The media culture shapes and makes our thought patterns.

In a passage familiar to readers here, Paul tells the Philippians:

Let this attitude be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.

He’s advocating for a posture of humility in a world of pride, selfishness and self-centeredness. If this is the case in his time period, how much more in ours? He’s telling his readers to swim upstream, go against the current, and differentiate themselves from the surrounding culture just as surely as the Israelites were given guidelines to help them maintain a distinct identity.

But in so doing, he’s also saying that attitudes matter. This is important in a world that quantifies religiosity in terms of actions. Yes, actions are important. Yes, actions are the fruit of a Spirit-centered life. But the very thoughts of our hearts are important. Jesus says, “You have heard it said…” and reminds his hearers of familiar guiding principles for living the religious life, but continues “I say to you…” and looks at the underlying attitudes that the individual doesn’t necessarily act out, but can be just as damaging.

In a later part of the same chapter of Philippians (2:14,15) Paul tells the same readers that their attitudinal change will result in living

so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.

which is reminiscent of the same sermon from Jesus we referenced which at an earlier stage (Matt 5:16) begins,

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

You can make a real difference by being friends with people who are still far from God, but if you let their attitudes and behaviors overshadow your own, you lose the distinct identity.

Proverbs 13:20 (ESV) says,

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
    but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

I think you can reverse this as well. He (or she) who walks with the ungodly potentially grows ungodly. (I added the one word because it doesn’t have to be the case, but it often is.)

I want to end by taking this one step further, because I’d hate to leave this in the black-and-white contrast of godly vs. ungodly, or make this a lesson in moralism, or peer pressure; partly because I know there are upright people out there who don’t hang out with evildoers and don’t mock or criticize Christian ideals, but they also don’t know Jesus. This verse in Zechariah 8:23 (NIV) stuck with me when I first heard it:

“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'”

This is the ultimate goal for the follower of Christ, for them to see the presence of God in both attitudes and actions; and to know who this God is. I love this passage because it’s so much the opposite of Psalm 1:1 where we began: In this case the foreigners and strangers want to walk in the counsel of the godly. It’s a complete 180-degree spin on who is hanging out with who!

Let us walk with you for we have heard God is with you. We had a pastor who concluded ten years of ministry with us by saying, “Don’t let people come to you and say, ‘You’ve got a great church.’ Rather, let them say, ‘You’ve got a great God.'”

 

 

November 3, 2010

On Friendship, Baptism and Repenting of Righteousness

“…spurring one another on towards love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24) 

Bizarrely, the closer some relationships are, the more permissive they can become; and our passion to do what is right is diluted. As we feel able to relax completely with trusted friends, we can abuse the sense of ease by letting our behavior slip. Gradually language that we would never use in public slips into the conversation and off-white humour that we know is inappropriate becomes part of the common currency of our friendship, because we feel able to let our hair down. The friendship has now become one that gives permission (where we give each other a license to compromise) rather than providing exhortation (where we encourage each other towards character and excellence).

~Jeff Lucas, writing in Lucas on Life, devotional reading for Jan 20, 2005.

 

Like birth, baptism means life. It is done once, yet it is for all of our life….we need to discover ways to communicate baptismal living. If I say, “I was married,” you will likely assume that my wife has died or I am divorced. But if I say, “I am married,” you will assume I have a wife and that on a certain date I was married and still am. Although it is true and essential to say I was baptized, it is also necessary to assert, “I am baptized.”

~Thomas H. Schattauer
“…What must we do, then to be saved? To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do you may remain just an elder brother. To truly become Christians we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right. Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too. We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness — the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord. We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope and trust in things other than God, and that in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of these things.”

~ Timothy Keller in The Prodigal God, 2008 Dutton; pp 77-8; see also Prov. 16:2