There are lots of ways to create friendships. But there are lots that don’t work very well, too. Last week we looked at digital, transactional, and one-dimensional friendships that tend to fall short of the kind of real experience of knowing and being known.
But really, all friendships will fall short unless they are built on the only foundation that lasts.
When we read scripture, we enter into a dynamic interplay between our pursuit of God, and God’s pursuit of us. But really, God’s pursuit of us is where everything begins:
- “Where are you?” (God to the man and women in Genesis 3:9)
- “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me” (Psalm 139:1)
When we realize that God is reaching out to befriend us long before we’re able to reciprocate, it changes not only how we relate to God, but how we build even our own identities. “Our true identity is found not in what we do for Christ, [but] in our belonging to Jesus as a beloved daughter or son” (Pastor Aaron, Sunday 9/23).
The danger in not realizing this profound truth is that if we don’t receive the friendship that God freely offers, we will try to find it in others. Other who, frankly, can’t give us what we truly need. How many dysfunctional friendships exist because of the impossible demand of a love that only God can give?
If God loves us and pursues us, how can we receive it? A primary way is to meditate on those scriptures that remind us.
- We are the “apple of His eye” (Psalm 17:8)
- We are “Abba’s children” (Romans 8:14-16)
- We are a “crown of His splendor” (1 Peter 2:4, 5)
- We are the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20)
- We are His “friends” (John 14:21; 15:15)
- Can you carve out 10-15 minutes of time in each day this week to dwell in the fact that God loves you?
- How do you think coming to an experience of God’s befriending love for you could improve your current relationships? Be as specific as you can in your reflection.
The most popular college course at Yale (and maybe the whole country) at the moment is Laurie Santos’ aptly nicknamed “Happiness Class.” Considering happiness leads us to the natural question: What’s one thing that would make you happier?
The possible answers are innumerable, of course, but surely there are trends. Many people would look to circumstances like increased money or health to increase their happiness, but statistics show that our external circumstances account for only about 10% of our happiness! Besides our natural inclinations (genetics) for happiness, the largest contributing factor is — the quality of our relationships!
The Bible has been bearing witness to this truth for millenia. Man and woman were created for relationship (Gen. 2:18.) And when sin enters the picture in the garden, it is expressed as a damaged relationship (blame): She gave me the fruit! (Gen. 3:12).
In Romans 7:7-12, Paul gets vulnerable about another phenomenon that divides real friendships — covetousness. Each of us struggles with it at some level, if we’re honest.
So sometimes we make due with lesser types of friendships: digital friendships, transactional friendships, and one-dimensional (superficial) friendships. Consider the irony that across the globe we are more “connected” than ever, and yet more lonely than ever, too. There has perhaps never been a greater need for us to seek out real friendships.
- When we were five years old, we could just walk up to someone and say, “Do you want to be friends?” How would it change our interactions with people if we could see them as their 5-year-old selves?
- Who is God calling me to befriend this week? With whom am I being led into a more real friendship?
- Consider: what is it like for others to have you as a friend?
There’s a saying: “Vision leaks.”
Our ability to stay focused on long-term goals relies on our vision of those goals, and every one in a while, our vision has leaked to the point that we need a refill.
As disciples of Jesus, our ultimate goal is clear, of course: to be faithful to God’s will for the world. That faithfulness includes being good stewards of the calling God has given us as a church in our community. So to stay focused on our vision, today we looked at six value statements for University Place Presbyterian Church.
- We are a church on mission. We don’t just gather to sing songs and wait for heaven. We’re committed to being the love of Jesus to our 5-mile and radius and beyond.
- We get messy, as we do our best to be agents of change for what is broken in our city. For example, we’re still so pleased that one of the strongest ministries is our partner, Families Unlimited Network, and their ministry among other things to 3,000 food insecure people in our community.
- We stand with refugees. Jesus was clear about welcoming the stranger and doing everything we can to provide for those in need and stand up against oppressive systems.
- We are intent on building a culture of discipleship. 95% devotion to God is 5% short. Following Jesus means intentionally engaging in ways we can grow and mature in Christ’s likeness.
- We are looking ahead toward future pastoral leadership. We’ve been listening to the congregation as we prayerfully discern the needs that a more comprehensive pastoral team could serve.
- We are stewarding generously, wisely, and sacrificially. A person can never get very close to Jesus if they aren’t willing to let Jesus near their wallet. In fact, generosity is integral to spiritual formation. We believe God rewards and resupplies those who are faithful with what God has given.
- Which of these value statements resonates well with you, and why?
- Which of these value statements challenges you, and why?
- God calls us in ways that can make us uncomfortable, but also purposeful. In what ways might God be calling you to new purpose in the upcoming year?
Though he was in chains under house arrest, Paul was able to send letters encouraging and guiding people as they sought to live out their new lives as Jesus’ people. Given the slow and expensive mode of communication available to Paul, it’s likely that he chose his words carefully, wanting us to forever know that God’s subversive kingdom is fulfilled through people empowered by grace.
Paul made his greeting personal with his own autograph. Before the time of email and texts, people hand wrote letters to each other. Paul’s handwritten autograph showed people that he was a real human being, just like they were, whose teaching was informed by a real experience of the living God.
Paul chose a single image of himself to leave with the Colossians — “Remember my chains.” In a time of slow and expensive communication, why would Paul choose that image? If you had only three little words to describe yourself, which three words would you choose? Why was this image so important for Paul to give them?
Perhaps it is the image that demonstrates one of Paul’s most consistent themes throughout all of his letters — Grace. How could Paul share the gospel while under arrest? How could people come to know Jesus in a contrary dominant culture? How is the message of unconditional grace and mercy in Jesus supposed to permeate today’s often cynical and sometimes even hostile culture? Not by rules or laws. Not by wealth or prestige. And most definitely not by earthy power. But in the same way as it always has. In the words of the prophet Zechariah: “‘Not by might nor power, but by my Spirit’ says the Lord.” (Zech. 4:6)
- God works through people. Have you ever had an experience of God through another person? What if God is calling you to be that experience for someone else?
- If you had only three words to describe yourself, which three would you choose, and why?
- What kinds of restraints (“chains”) are you experiencing today? What about someone you know? God’s grace transcended Paul’s restraints … do you believe it can transcend yours?