Friendship

THE GOSPEL ANTIDOTE TO THE EPIDEMIC OF LONELINESS

by Debbie Huber

Upon opening Facebook the other day, there was a picture of my family that I had posted a year ago with a notation from Facebook: “we care about you and your Facebook memories”.

Wow!  Facebook cares about me?  The place where I can show family pictures, see pictures from friends and acquaintances, find out about real AND fake news, argue with others without looking them in the eye, not be accountable to anyone, keep my struggles safely hidden from public view…

Right after seeing this I read an article that referred to a major study that was recently presented at the 125th annual convention of the American Psychological Association by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.  Data from hundreds of studies involving millions of individuals was analyzed. This analysis found that “social isolation, loneliness or living alone was each a significant factor contributing to premature death. And each one of these factors was a more significant risk factor for dying than obesity“.  

More significant than obesity?

Marriage rates have been steadily declining and families are having less children.  Families are separated by miles, divorce, estrangement, and just plain busyness. Schedules are busier and family activities dominate any possibility of free time. Neighbors come and go without ever interacting with one another. Many people live their lives without having anyone truly know about them and care for them.  

There have been multiple studies that suggest that frequent Facebook users do not feel more connected at all; they “actually experience feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, and depression.”

Sometimes we are alone by choice by putting up walls because it can be too painful or fearful to be vulnerable to others. Or we just want to live our lives for ourselves without the baggage that comes from being accountable to one another. 

The Bible does have an antidote to this epidemic of “loneliness”.

We were made for relationship with one another but it is not necessarily how the world defines relationships.  God demonstrates what a healthy relationship is through the relationship between the Father, Son, and the Spirit. A relationship of fellowship, working together, and enjoyment of each other’s company. 

God calls us to relationship with himself through the gospel. We were “separated from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:12-13)

God made us to need Him and also to need one another. In Genesis 2 He says that “it is not good for man to be alone.”  We were not created to make it in this world alone. 

Real, lasting, satisfying relationships within the context of the gospel brings reconciliation between us because we were reconciled to God through Christ when we were without hope or without God in the world. We have relationship with one another even when it is difficult or inconvenient because we know that Christ died for our relationship to be restored to God even when we were “difficult” and far from Him. 

Be prayerful and watchful for the lonely around you. Seek them out face to face.  Be helpful when they need it, speak of the things of God to one another.  In light of what Christ has done for you seek reconciliation when there is division.  The Gospel will be on display in your lives.

And if you are the one “putting up walls” or on the fringes because you are fearful to be vulnerable or too busy remember the gospel!  You were not meant to go it alone in this world. The gospel tells us that we were made for relationship with God and with one another. Serve, help or become a part of a small group.  Ask God to help you to care for and be vulnerable with others. Preach the gospel to yourself daily and pray that the gospel will be lived out though your relationships.

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 6.20.16

Jesus understands trouble and betrayal   

 

John 13:21-30

Jesus’ Farewell Discourse comes from the perspective of culmination. Yet, there is also the heartache of betrayal throughout this chapter

There is Anguish In Jesus’ Soul

The burden in Jesus has been growing

Jesus mentions it for the first time in John 6:70-71

Now in chapter 13, it is woven throughout the narrative (vs 2, 10-11, 18)

Jesus turmoil over Judas reaches its culmination in v21

Jesus not only carries the burden of his coming crucifixion, now betrayal is added

Jesus had chosen Judas to be one of the 12 who shared life, ministry and miracles with him

What this friend does is repeatedly described as “betrayal” (Mt 26:14-16)

Jesus declares Judas’ act as a fulfillment of Psalm 41:9

 

Jesus Draws In His Disciples

Jesus wants to strengthen his disciples against the coming blow (v19)

Jesus wants them to know that he is sovereign even over this betrayal

God is good and faithful, even in the difficult, unexplainable and painful

Jesus wants to share his own troubled heart with them (v21)

They cannot do anything, but Jesus wants to share his burden

The disciples fall into awkward silence (v22) ‘looking at one another’

They are weighing their own hearts and each others

Peter wants to find out who is the one and asks the disciple next to Jesus

Jesus identifies his betrayer, but the disciples don’t hear or grasp the significance of it

 

Jesus Engages Judas

Jesus reaches out to Judas, he doesn’t send him away, until after the foot washing and the meal

The foot washing allowed Judas to experience Jesus’ care and humility once more

In the last moment, Jesus fed Judas a ‘morsel’, which culturally was a way to honor a guest

In taking Jesus’ love without repentance, Judas has turned himself over to his sin

Judas had been following a path of sin for some time (Jn 12:3-6)

Why did Jesus pick Judas?

John 6:64 tells us Jesus knew from the beginning who would betray him

v18 tells us this was so prophecy would be fulfilled

Judas wasn’t forced by God to betray Jesus, God used a betrayer

 

Let’s Consider Some Applications

1.  About Burdens

Life is hard at times for everyone, because our world is in rebellion against God

Some Christians mistakenly think ‘If I follow God well enough, he will take my problems away’

No one lived better than Jesus, and he experienced many sorrows

The Bible tells us suffering and struggle will come

Jesus knows what it means to have a ‘troubled’ heart

We are not meant to carry these burdens alone, we are given the church to bear them with us

When everything falls apart, God has not

2.  About Sin

Nothing is more dangerous, deceiving or corrupting than sin

We don’t know what took place in Judas’ mind, but we know the results

v30 ends with what seems obvious “and it was night”; this was a spiritual statement as much as the time of day

3.  About Satan

He is a real person, with motivations and actions that all hate God

We live in the midst of spiritual warfare: “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6)

If our enemy is spiritual, then our daily preparation must be spiritual

Can Satan enter a believer? 

He would have to be able to overcome the Holy Spirit – and that will never happen

We should take Satan seriously – but God is the only one we need to fear

4.  About Where Your Life Is

Who is Jesus to you?

How does your life demonstrate that he is your Lord?

If you are thinking, “I will respond to God sometime in the future”, pushing Jesus off is how we are turned over to our sin

HOW TO HANDLE ANGER WHEN YOU HAVE BEEN HURT

Some time ago, someone in my church sent me an email describing how a dear friend had broken their relationship and was being hurtful toward them. The person who contacted me was not only hurt – they we now struggling with anger.

Since we are all mistreated by people and we will struggle with the hurt and the anger, I hope these thoughts will be a help to you. This I know for sure – God will is there right now to be all you need!

 

Thank you for sharing your hurt with me. God is pleased when we open up and share burdens with one another. One of the reasons He established His Church is so we can practice biblical community. It is good you have been willing to share your heart. 

It is also good that you recognize the anger struggling to find a foothold in you is something that needs to be drained out. Your conviction in this is not only an evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in you. This is also evidence that your heart is responsive to God which is a wonderful reality about God in you!

Here are a few suggestions for overcoming your hurt and the struggle with anger that has come with it.

1)  Talk to God conversationally and in detail about the whole situation. He fully understands how you feel (think how many people reject and misuse Him every day). Talking openly with people is good – doing this with God is even better. Because He is a real person who loves you, He will care for you as you come to Him.

2)  Go to the gospel! This is where we are meant to find wisdom, grace, strength and comfort. Think about what God did through the gospel for you. Consider what Christ went through. Remind yourself what you now have through the cross. As we so often say at Greentree, “preach the gospel to yourself”.

3)  It may help to recognize that forgiving the person who hurt you doesn’t mean you haven’t been hurt or the situation doesn’t deserve anger. Forgiveness comes from knowing God has forgiven the entirety of our many sins against Him and others. We will always stand forgiven of far more from God than we are called to forgive in others as we see by Jesus story in Matthew 18:21-35.

4)  Put this person and your hurt in God’s hands. Only God can change them. Allow God to be your defender, He will do a better job than we ever could.

Since you continue to be treated in a hurtful way, this is a process you will probably need to repeat multiple times. Be encouraged by Jesus example in Matthew 26:36-44. When he was confronted by the impending burden of the cross, Jesus went to the Father three times, praying the same prayer for comfort and strength. If Jesus went to his Father as many times as he needed, so should we.

5)  In reality, your offender’s actions against you are actions against God. Knowing this helps us replace anger with compassion. This person is responding this way, because their heart is not filled with God. They have no understanding of His deep love for them or His lavish grace available to them. What is missing in this person’s life is not simply sad, it’s tragic.

6)  It will help to pray daily for this person’s salvation. This will help keep their sins against you in the context of their need for grace.

7)  Continue to share your struggle as needed with supportive believers (your small group if you are in one – I hope you are). They will be ministers of God comfort to you and they will pray for you too.

I am thankful for this opportunity to share with you. Know that I am already praying for you. More wonderful is that the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ are both ever interceding on behalf of those who love God. I hope you will contact me whenever you feel it would be helpful

I am grateful to be your pastor!

 

I RECEIVED A WONDERFUL LETTER

Conflicts, hurts and offenses take place in all significant relationships.

Sometimes these hurts tear our relationships apart. This is always a grievous result – especially among believers.

God makes it clear that reconciliation is the only biblical response we have for conflict.

Recently I received a note from someone who knew God was leading them to step forward in reconciliation.

I was overjoyed to receive this note and continue to praise God for it.

In fact, I thought their note was so thoroughly saturated in a biblical perspective that I asked permission to post it here. They graciously agreed.

Please read this letter slowing in order to identify the many biblical principles that flow through it.

Dear Pastor Kyle,

It’s been quite a few years since we spoke last and for almost as long I have often thought about the way we parted company; certainly not on the best of terms.

At the time I was incensed that you accused me of having a critical heart. In my arrogance I took that as a personal attack. Regardless of however it was meant or what basis in fact it may have had, the cause of your statement was what I said to you. I know that now. I have known it for years.

Over the passing years I have often though about sending this email, but did not do so. This morning during my devotional time, I read Matthew 5:23-24, particularly “First be reconciled to your brother.”

It immediately brought this up in my heart again and so I am sending this email as a way to say I am sorry for the things I said and the inferences I made. I was wrong to do so then. I was wrong to wait this long to apologize.

As I have continued to mature in my relationship with Christ, I’ve grown in the understanding that humility may be manifest in many ways. Few ways are better than admitting when one is wrong and showing the respect and love associated with reconciliation. So I ask your forgiveness for my words and actions.

I pray for all of you often. (We) will always be in Jesus debt for calling us. We are also in debt to many at Greentree, particularly you and your father Gene, for bringing us to the point of understanding what it means to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

I wish you all love and success with your work for Christ.

 Is there someone you need to step toward in reconciliation?

Are you willing to ask God for grace in how best to do this?

We are praying that God uses these words to encourage, inspire and guide all of us to be people of reconciliation!

LONELINESS

Loneliness has many causes

It may be that our circumstances have isolated us

Perhaps we don’t fit in with other people’s expectations

Or people we cared about – have left our life

Loneliness can also be the result of attitudes and actions that have driven people away

I don’t know your situation, but I do know we often get stuck in our loneliness, becoming unsure how to get out.

I have two suggestions for you regardless of why you lonely

First, change your focus from trying to find acceptance from others, to how God can use you to touch others.

This means relationships are no longer under the expectations of what people will be for you. Instead expectations are on how God will work in and through you.

You cannot control how people treat you, but you can be confident that God wants to use you to touch people with His love and for His gospel. This should excite us, because there are no purposes more wonderful than those that God has in using us.

Right now, there are people around you who are hurting.

It may not show on the outside, but it does not take much digging for their pain to come to the surface.

Become attentive to people.

Look for ways to serve them.

People will usually be receptive to those who genuinely seek to serve them; partly because it’s relatively rare, and partly because people are looking out for themselves.

The simple question of asking people how you can pray for them can open many opportunities to show you care.

This concern can have a powerful impact.

You will find your life filling with involvements that are God focused, and encouraging. It is incredibly satisfying when you can step back and see that God is using your in various relationships

If you are not sure who to start with, look for people the world pushes off to the side

Look for those who are being mistreated. Pay attention to people from their perspective rather than you own. There is work in all of this, but people want to be near those who care for them.

Second, make God the relationship that truly satisfies you.

It pleases God when we enjoy the good things He has created for our enjoyment – but our contentment should be in Him alone.

God deeply loves us . . He has saved us . . and He is committed to graciously finishing His work in us. These realities should all bring contentment.

When we compare what God has waiting for us, with what we think is missing from our present life, there really is no comparison.

Can you say you are content in Christ even if nothing else changes in your life?

This is something we must work at and “learn” (Philippians 4:11). But once learned, it is a precious reality, because nothing can then take contentment from us.

Make your relationship with God, the one that fills your heart, satisfies your soul, and fulfills what you have been thinking relationships should be.

Although we can feel lonely, it is impossible as a child of God to be outside of love or to be alone

6.19.12

PEOPLE MATTER

We live in a culture where the pace of life overtakes the purposes of life.

This short video is a great reminder that people are far more important than our to do list

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 10.20.14

“How do we look at people?”                   

 James 2:1-13

James continues to address how we live in community, as believers. He now warns us treating one another according to the external standards of the world

Partiality is when we make unbiblical distinctions between each other

Partiality can take the forms of either Discrimination or Favoritism

The Church is not immune to ‘celebrity-itis’ or cultural prejudices

The word for “partiality” in v1 literally means “receiving the face”

It is referring to treating people based on external matters

The example James uses, is when we treat one another according to social status

Our perspective is to be radically different from the surrounding culture

We need to make a couple clarifications

1.  We need to distinguish between Discerning and Discriminating

Discrimination is treating people differently based on their group

Discernment responds accurately to people as wisdom requires

For example, in Children’s Ministry we do not let just anyone teach; this is for reasons of physical safety and biblical safety

Discernment can show love even though it requires trust to be earned

Discrimination is a preloaded opinion that fails to show love, or wisdom

2.  As Christians, biblical standards must overrule personal standards

The world places personal choices first, so they consider the Church’s rebuke of them to be discriminatory

The church must operate under the standards of God’s word, which means we must confront sin. Sometimes that will involve restrictive action (church discipline)

This is not discrimination and it is not judging – as long as we are using God’s judgments and not our own

Three reasons why partiality doesn’t belong in our hearts

1.  Partiality stands in contradiction to God’s own evaluation (v5)

God saves by his ‘choice’; if we treat people with a bias, we are contradicting God

In addition, when God saves someone, he also adopts them as heirs of his kingdom

How do you feel when someone mocks or disdains one of your children?

2.  Partiality ignores basic human realities (vs 6-7)

People of status often are those who misuse the rest of society

They often blaspheme (or disregard) God who we cherish

3.  Partiality violates our guiding principle of loving neighbor (v8)

God has given us a new agenda, which is to show love toward every person

Love looks at people’s best interest

Love takes action that reflects how God cares for us

One form of partiality we often don’t recognize in ourselves, is when we assume bad motives for people

It is internal slander and violates the Bible’s teaching on Love 

1 Corinthians 13:7 “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things” 

James wants to press upon us the seriousness of the matter

1.  This and every sin should be taken seriously (vs10-11)

His point is that we are responsible for all that God requires

His purpose is to keep us from minimizing partiality as a small sin     

2.  Partiality is a serious departure from biblical thinking

It is inconsistent with our faith in Christ (v1)

All people are sinners, condemned and helpless. No one in our church received salvation because they were better people

In v1 James refers to Christ as the Lord of glory. He is reminding us that He alone deserves to be exalted by us

Partiality is inconsistent with Christ’s agenda. We are called to always pursue people, not set up prejudices

In v4 James adds that the motivation behind partiality is evil thoughts. This is because we are using the world’s way of thinking

A couple important implications:

1.  The Word of truth is meant to influence every aspect of life

Everything is under the authority of God and His word

It is too easy for us to think we are pretty good at following God’s word

Being connected in a small group helps us to think through biblical truth and holds us accountable to it

2.  The Church is meant to be a community of vibrant love in action

The biblical community in our church should show the transforming reality of God that we see in the Acts 2 church

But this will only take place if we are “doers” of what the Bible says about the Church

People regularly experience partiality; so w have an opportunity to demonstrate something different

Is there anyone you should treat differently? 

WE ARE TAKING A FRESH STEP

This article grabbed my attention immediately

“The Big God in Your Small Group”

I saw it on the Desiring God Blog and it dealt directly with an issue we recently discussed in our Community Fellowship.

Although we have a strong group that has remained consistent for many years, we recognized we still have work to do in building more community and interaction outside of our scheduled meetings.

We talked about being more intentional in how we connect with one another as individuals, couples and families. Our desire is to deepen our relationships, bear one another’s burdens and simply know what is going on in each others lives.

What especially encouraged me was that the youngest couple in the group initiated this conversation.

Here was a couple with their hands full with life: they have two preschool children and another on the way; the husband operates his own business; and they serve in church – yet they recognize the need for and want deeper biblical community.

Do you have this heart?

Are you willingly to take steps to make it happen?

One of the comments made in our discussion on sharing life together, was how much we all enjoyed a recent gathering when we went around the room updating the group on what was happening in our lives.

It helped us to feel we really know what is going on in one another’s lives. I know it help me to have better clarity in how I can pray for the other members of my small group.

The greatest encouragement we can have in pursuing deeper community with one another is that God will be right in the middle of it. Scripture tells us that He wants (expects) biblical community to happen. This mean God will give us grace for it (and that will be needed). It also means God will bring fruitfulness to it (and that will be wonderful).

As you read the “The Big God in Your Small Group”, ask God to inspire you in how you share life with the members of your church – they are your forever family!

CALL BACK

In my preaching, I often speak to our responsibility to “one another” as believers. This is actually more than a responsibility, it is a privilege and it should be a source of joy for us, since Christ takes joy when live this way.

Someone sent me this poem from a devotional they were reading. It captures the sense of looking out for each other in Christ.

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back –

‘Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;

And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,

Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

 

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;

Call back, and say He kept you when the forest’s roots were torn;

That, when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill,

He bore you up and held you where the very air was still.

 

Oh, friend, call back, and tell me for I cannot see your face;

They say it glows with triumph, and your feet bound in the race;

But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,

And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

 

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,

And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky –

If you have gone a little way ahead, oh, friend, call back –

‘Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

EXPECTATIONS

I enjoy reading Wendell Berry, an author who writes poetry, essays and fiction with a heart for community and the land. Mr Berry who is a religious protestant, does not have a redemptive understanding of Christ or of the Bible, but his works are very thoughtful concerning the importance of relationship and community.

When an interviewer asked him about relationships and commitment, Mr. Berry gave the following response.

“People enter into relationships with one another and with their places with the idea that they have a right to expect those places and those people and those connections to be perfect, and then when imperfection appears, as it inevitably does, they feel they a right to be offended, and they don’t see the arrogance and the condescension in that.

It’s not up to the other people and the places and the relationships to be perfect. It’s up to every participant to make the relationship and the place and the other person as perfect as possible. We don’t have a right to give up on our choices and our places and, indeed our cultural inheritance because it’s not perfect. We don’t deserve that they should be perfect. We have an obligation to make them perfect, if we can.”

As a pastor, I have found that unmet expectations are one of the biggest reasons for our disappointments and the stresses in our relationships. Our expectations tend to focus on what we want other people to be for us, rather than God’s agenda, which is what we should be for them.

We can expect God to be perfect and we can expect every person we know to be a struggling sinner. Do we expect ourselves to be people who represent the gospel and the love of Christ in the lives of those sinners, whether they be the sinner we married, or the sinners who attend our church?

Originally posted 9.13.11