“Fifty Shades of They”
By Ed Young
January 11, 2015
From casual acquaintances to our closest friends, the people in our lives affect where we go and impact who we become. But great relationships don’t just happen. To get the most out of them, we must be intentional.
In this message, Ed Young shows us God’s truth about selecting our friends. We discover the kind of friend we should look for and the kind of friend we should be. Because when it comes down to it, our lives are a reflection of who we surround ourselves with, who we choose.
Good morning! I want to welcome all of our campuses at the different environments. How are you guys doing? I want to have a word of prayer before we begin this exciting series. Father, you brought everyone here for a reason. And I pray now that you would use my vocal cords, my background, my personality to communicate your message to every person here. Really, God, I don’t have anything to say but you have it all to say. I give my life to you. Use me. In Christ’s name. Amen.
I have a question for you. What did they influence you to do that you would not have done if they hadn’t been around? What did they, that’s right, influence you to do that you would not have done if they hadn’t been around. I’m talking about the sway of the they in your life and in mine. Because all the time we say, “They said… they feel… they have been coming to me…” And now and then we’ll say, who are they? The other day someone said,
“Ed, you’re using the word they. Who are they?”
I said, “They. Them.”
“Those.” Those… well, they’re just a few. Who are the ‘they’ in your life? How do you spell relational relief? It’s fascinating that we have all of this study, we have all of this training in all of these areas of life. Yet, when it comes to the most important area of life, relationships, rarely do we have any training. Rarely do we have any teaching. And that’s why we’re launching into this book, we’re launching into this series. Because you don’t just drift into relationships. You’re not just sucked into the vortex of some connection with another person. We should choose our friends. We should choose the ‘they’ in our lives wisely.
The Bible says in the book of Proverbs, specifically Proverbs 27:19 (TLB). It’s one of my favorite verses about the ‘they’ in your life.
“A mirror reflects a man’s face…” And as I look out here at this vast audience I think that most of you looked in the mirror this morning. You look really good. And the mirror shows us physically what we look like, correct? But if you really want to know what you’re like, the Bible says…. “…but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.” What she is really like, is shown by the kind of friends that we – let’s say it together – choose.
I have an opportunity to choose friends. God obviously is sovereign. Within his sovereignty, though, he has given us a freedom of choice. God has chosen you and me. He’s picked us for his team, so to speak. If we have this relationship with God the Bible says that we are friends with God. Now we have sort of decaffeinated the word friend. And I think social media has done that. You know, we have a certain amount of friends. Or we have followers, and really, are they really our friends? And we defriend or unfriend someone. Or we don’t follow someone any more. And then how many likes did I get on that post or whatever it is. So we’ve sort of decaffeinated a friend.
A friend, though, what I’m talking about when I deal with that, is the ‘they’ in your life. A friend is a foundational relationship in everyone’s natural domain. It’s a foundational, or you could say a forceful, relationship in everyone’s natural domain.
We have friends. Everyone has friends. In fact we are made to relate to others. There is this God-gap in your life and mine. God can only fill it. We yearn for him. And this gap is shaped in a cross and we allow Jesus to take control of our lives. He comes in and we have this vertical relationship with God. Also, we yearn to relate with one another. So even as a little one we want to relate, we want to connect with others. We connect with our parents, we connect with others, and it sort of just happens naturally. What I want to get you to think about is I want you to think about your friends. I want you to think about the ‘they’ in your life.
Because if you think about a swimming pool, there’s a shallow end and a deep end. Most of the people spend most of their time in the shallows. We just kinda stand around in the shallows. And relationally that’s so true as well. We think that, oh yeah. I have all these real friends. And this is the way friendship in the day should be. But I’m going to challenge you in this series to swim away, that’s right, to swim away from the wrong ‘they’ and swim to the depths with the right ‘they.’ We’re going to ask questions like, who are they?
That’s a great question. Think about the people in your life. Who are they? Who are the ‘they’ in your life? Those, them, they. Who are the ‘they?’
Also, think about what are they doing? What do they really do? What are they about? What do they do? What makes them click?
And then, where are they going? Where are they taking life? Where are they leading you? Because if you run with the crowd, the crowd will run you.
So I can look at the ‘they’ in your life, you can look at the ‘they’ in my life, and we can predict each other’s future. It’s crazy! Show me your friends, yeah, you’ve heard it before, I’ll show you your future. But I would say show me your friends and I’ll show you your past, your present, and your future. That means I could sit down, you could sit down, and we could predict with amazing accuracy where we’re going to be for the rest of our lives just by meeting our friends. Who are the ‘they’ in your life? Who are the ‘they’ in your life? Who are those foundational relationships who are in your natural domain?
The right ‘they’ are always there. Isn’t that great to know? God always places the right ‘they’ in our lives. Yet the wrong ‘they’ can keep us from the right ‘they.’ The wrong ‘they’ (I’ll make it rhyme) can get in the way of us seeing and choosing the right ‘they.’
Parents, listen to me very carefully. You have a monstrous mantle. I have a monstrous mantle to bear when it comes to relationships. Because not only do I have relationships, not only am I tasked with choosing the right ‘they,’ the little ones as they grow and become bigger ones, they are going to choose the same kind of ‘they’ that I choose. So hey kids, you can look at your parents’ friends right now and I bet you cash money your friends look like their friends. Who are the ‘they’ in your life? What are the ‘they’ doing? Where are they taking you?
Here’s a relationship grid that I try to use. Affiliation, affiliation. Who do you hang out with? Who’s your squad, you know? Who is in your clique? Who do you associate with? Who’s your affiliation? Think about that for a second. Who is that, who is that, who is that? Because your affiliation will always tell you what your participating in. So you’ve got affiliation, you’ve got participation. What are you participating in? What are you doing? You’re going to be doing what the ‘they’ are doing in your life. And then you’re always going to a certain destination. Where are you going? Are you going to just stay in the shallows or are you going deep? And so often we think we’re deep in the shallows but in reality we’re shallow. God, though, wants us to go deep.
I think about various people in the Bible. It’s so interesting to see the right ‘they’ and the wrong ‘they’ in scripture. Remember this guy, Solomon? Solomon, arguably one of the most intelligent people who ever walked on planet Earth. I think we could make a case for him being the wealthiest person to ever walk on planet Earth. He lived for God, but God told him,
“Hey, Solomon. Listen to me, man. Don’t go solo. Do what I tell you to do. I want you relationally to have the right ‘they’ in your life.” Read his story in the book of Ecclesiastes and in other areas of the Old Testament. He said,
“You know, God, I’m smart. People come from all over the world to hear me wax eloquently about different subjects. I’m going to do what I’m going to do.” And the Bible says that he loved foreign women and people who were not following the Lord of Lords. And for 40 years, for four decades, he wasted his life. And at the end of his life here’s what he said in the book of Ecclesiastes. He said this, “It’s all vanity.” He said, “It’s all chasing after wind.” He said, “I wasted my time.” And then he said, “Remember God when you’re young.”
That’s why, yes, this series is for you. If you’re 2, 22, 52, or 72 it’s for you. I really, though, want it to make an indelible impression upon the young people. Because we have an opportunity to do it God’s way. And the dye you are setting today, students, children, young people, the dye you are casting today, the patterns you are cutting today relationally will carry you for the rest of your life. Learn from Solomon. You’re not going to have the fame, the fortune, and the whole package that he had. He is warning you and me. Hey, remember! Remember God when you’re young! Don’t go the other way! You’re going to waste your life. You go the other way, you’ll live your life in the fray. And too many of us right now are living and hanging out with the wrong ‘they.’
Think about the emotional problems that we deal with. I would say, and I can make this broad-brush statement with pretty good confidence, I would say that all of our emotional problems come back to the ‘they’ in our lives. Either the right ‘they’ or the wrong ‘they’ or some ‘they’ situation. Also, I would say the emotional health in our midst can be traced back to the ‘they’ in our lives. Again let me say, who are they?
Think about Solomon. He had the affiliation, the association with the wrong people. Look at his participation. Wasted his life and looked at his destination. He said, “Man, I was just chasing my tail! I was just swimming around and around in circles.”
Then you think, on the other hand, a really good guy in the Bible who understood the right ‘they,’ his name was Daniel. You remember Daniel? Daniel was in a very ungodly place, Babylon, a long, long way away from home. In a place full of temptations and snares and what did he do? He found the right ‘they.’ Who were the right ‘they?’ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You remember those guys, the faithful firemen. He hung out with them. And even though it cost him some stuff, even though God allowed some testing to go in his life, he hung out with the right ‘they.’ Because ‘they’ always have something to say, right? This affiliation caused him to do the right participation, to do the things God wanted him to do. His destination? What happened to Daniel? He was one of the major leaders in this whole nation.
Who are ‘they?’ How about your affiliation? How about your participation? How about your destination? Who are ‘they?’ What are ‘they’ doing? Where are ‘they’ going? Where are ‘they’ taking you? What kind of ‘they’ do you have? Well, we have different ‘theys, don’t we?
Some ‘theys’ are fray-theys. You know any fray-theys? You have people in your lives, so do I. They’re kind of fray people? They are there for a season, then they’re gone. They’re kind of on the edge. And you might call them your friends, maybe they follow you in some sort of social media application, but they’re not really your friends. They’re just kind of there and they’re gone. The fray people.
Look at the life of Jesus. He had fray people, kinda hangers-on. And the Bible says that sometimes when Jesus would give a hard saying that many of the people were like, “Oh man, that’s too hard. We’re not going to do it.”
Also, we’ve got some cray-people in our lives. Anybody cray in your life? Are you kidding me? How do you know if you’re dealing with a cray-friend? They’re not really a friend, they’re just crazy. Well, you can see the whites of their eyes when they talk to you. They invade your personal space. They blow up your phone. That’s the cray friends. It’s all about drama and trauma. You know drama doesn’t just walk into your life. Have you discovered that? You either create it, invite it, or associate with it. Isn’t that the truth? The cray-people. And Jesus even dealt with them. We love the fray people. We love the cray people. Yet, they are not the right ‘they.’ And I believe the enemy puts the fray and the cray in everybody’s way to keep us from the right ‘they.’ I truly believe that. And we spend so much time in the fray and with the cray that we miss the beauty and the depth that God has for us.
So you’ve got the fray people, you’ve got the cray-people, and then you’ve got the way people. The way. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” They’re on the way. They’re on the way, they’re not in the way. They’re showing you the way.
Let me talk about self esteem, because self esteem is inseparably linked to what I’m talking about. If you hang out with the wrong ‘they’ you begin to compare yourself to them. And you’ll never become you, you’ll just become one of them. Because you’re not looking to God, and they’re not pointing you to God. You’re just looking to your right and to your left. I love social media but social media is ESPN living. It’s highlight-reel living. It’s not real. I mean, it’s not a real person’s real life.
And there is so much comparison and envy and jealousy and “I’m not doing that,” and “they’re doing this,” and “I’m here and you’re there.” It can jack you up if you OD on that. You’re like, well I wouldn’t OD on that. Are you kidding? Now our phones are like part of a table setting in a restaurant. Are you kidding? Over the Christmas holidays I looked around and everybody in our family, including Lisa, were just … you know. It’s amazing! So we have to balance that. And social media, as I said earlier, has redefined all of this.
So we’ve got to be very, very careful what we put into our lives. The right ‘they’, they give us our secondary props. Our primary props come from God. A healthy self esteem is, OK, I see myself the way God sees me. That’s a healthy self esteem. But also we’re made as relational creatures. So the right ‘they’ in your life and mine will point me back to God. There’s not going to be jealousy or envy or drama or trauma or fray or cray. No, no, no. ‘They’ are going to show me, and show you, the way. Well, who are your friends? I mean, who are the ‘they?’ Who? Let’s be honest.
ILLUS: One of the first jobs I ever had, I worked in a tuxedo store, a formalwear store. We sold tuxes and we rented tuxes and all sorts of formal wear for men and women and kids and everything. One of the first jobs I had at this store was to take inventory. I mean, that wore me out! Going through all of these formalwear outfits and measuring and sizing and putting them on the right hangars and the racks and all of the stuff you do. I was taking inventory and my mind would wander. I’d be like, I wonder who wore that. I wonder what they did? I wonder where they went? And then I started thinking to myself, who are ‘they?’ and my mind would wander? And my boss would go, “Ed! Where are we in the inventory?”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” and then I’d go back to what I was doing.
T.S. I want to take a friendentory and I want you to take a friendentory with me. I want us to go through some hard questions, some Bible questions, to ask and answer, to contemplate this week about the relationships in our lives.
Because remember, we’re relational creatures. Remember we have no training on friendships. Our schools don’t talk about it. I mean, the books we read at best are going to be from glassy-eyed gurus or the armchair experts. We, though, can read from THE relational expert, I’m talking about the God of the universe. Because if the Son of God needed the right ‘they’ (and we’re going to talk about Jesus’ right ‘they’) I think you need it and I need it as well. That’s a good Bible question, the right ‘they’ for Jesus. This is kinda extra-credit. Peter, James, and John. We’ll talk about this later.
So let’s go through a friendentory, six questions, and once you go through these and answer these honestly and sincerely, you’ll know. OK, I’m hanging out with the right ‘they,’ or I’m hanging out with the wrong ‘they.’ And if you’ve got a wrong ‘they’ problem you’ve got to turn and swim away from the ‘they’ to the right ‘they.’ And it’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s tumultuous. And we’re going to talk about that during this series.
#1 – Do they motivate me to love God more? More. Do they motivate me and stimulate me to love God more. The Bible says in Hebrews 3:13, ““…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today.’”
When you think about something encouraging, don’t just think about it, say it. Is this person like Negative Ned? Are they like always down? Donna Drama and depressed and you’re always having to lift them up and pick them up? You’re with the wrong ‘they,’ baby. The wrong ‘they.’
#2 – Do they celebrate God’s blessings in my life? Proverbs 11:10 (NLT), “The whole city celebrates when the Godly succeed.”
ILLUS: There was a friend that I had a while back, I had these friends, and I enjoyed hanging out with this guy for a while. But then I thought, man, this guy doesn’t celebrate anything in my life. And when I was with him I felt like I was on stage sort of, and he was judging me, you know, kinda looking down on me. And then I had some good things happen to me. He didn’t show me any love. He didn’t say, “Hey, man, that’s great!,” you know? “That’s a really good thing that happened to you. You did a good job there.” You know, basic stuff.
And I thought to myself, life is too short for this… I’m going to <gurgling talk> swim away from him. And I swam away from him. I was thinking as I was preparing for this message over the last several weeks, I thought man, maybe I should text this guy. Maybe I should call this guy back. But then I thought, “why? I’m doing all the initiative stuff. He’s just tolerating me.”
So a long time ago, after this wrong ‘they’ I thought to myself I’m going to go where I’m celebrated, not tolerated.
And that’s an important thing to remember. So friends complement one another. Haters are sad over your successes or they’re a fan of your failures. The right they, they’re like, “Man, you don’t work half as hard as I do and you made all that money? Good for you! Man, you did such a great job!”
I mean, I could easily be envious over Derrick or Hope or John Adams. They have so much talent! Man, why can they sing? Why can they dance? I mean… hey! Good for you! Man, that’s awesome! That’s amazing! Because God’s favor is not fair. We’re all uniquely gifted and the right ‘they’ is going to applaud you, they’re going to cheer you on and point you to God.
#3 – Do they have my back? I’ve got your back. Do they have your back and my back. Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”
Your real friends are the people who are in your corner when everyone else has bolted. All you have to do is go through a time of betrayal, a time of difficulty, a time where things aren’t going that well, a time when it’s a bear market and see who is with you.
I remember David. You remember David? You know, God’s man… a man after God’s own heart. David was on the run away from psycho Saul. And we’ll talk about his friendship with Jonathan, which was absolutely epic. The mighty men, David’s mighty men were coming around him. And David asked them one question. I think this was fascinating. He didn’t say, “How deep are you spiritually?” He didn’t say, “How many hours are you spending in prayer a week?” He didn’t ask those questions! I’m like, David! You know what he asked the guys? Are you with me? Are you with me? The right ‘they’ are with you.
#4 – another question. Do they hold me accountable out of love and friendship? This is a major, major, major, major question to ask and answer. Accountability, though, emerges out of affinity. You don’t just walk up and say, “Man, you’re messed up! There’s sin in your life!”
That’s not accountability. It emerges out of love. Jesus said to speak the truth in love. You have to earn that right. And I encourage you with your right ‘they’ to have a personal Board of Directors.
I’ve had a personal Board of Directors in my life for several decades now. That’s why I feel some authority to be able to talk about this, to come alongside you and go, OK, here’s what God has taught me. I want to give you the 411 on Scripture. This stuff works. I’ve not done it perfectly but I’ve done it God’s way. I’ve pastored here for 25 years and Lisa and I have amazing friends, amazing ‘theys’ that God has deposited into our lives. Yes, over the years we’ve had to swim away from some. I understand all that and we’re going to talk about that. But God’s way works. When it comes to relationships, God’s way works. And people have to love you enough to tell you the truth.
Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy <kissing sound effect> multiplies kisses.” Sound effects mine.
Again, let’s go back to David. David totally messed up. He was in the deep weeds and somebody on his personal Board of Directors, Nathan, looked at him and said, “David, you’re messing up.” David received it. OK, OK. Because he knew that Nathan had his best interests in mind. Do you have a personal Board of Directors? Maybe you need to go home and think about firing some of your friends. Maybe you need to do a friendentory.
Here’s another one, #5 – Do they live what they believe? Psalm 119:63, “I am a friend to all who fear You, to all who follow Your precepts.”
Do they live it out? I mean, do they live it out? If you meet someone and you’re wondering, “well, are they a follower of Christ? I’m not sure.” That’s the wrong ‘they.’ If you meet someone and they’re not actively involved in a Bible-teaching, Bible-believing church they’re not going to be the right ‘they.’ I can tell you that right now.
ILLUS: Growing up I was involved in athletics and I was involved in going to public schools and I remember even as a young guy, 3rd, 4th, 5th grade, making relational choices based on what I was learning at church, based on the authority of my parents, and based on what God, what the Holy Spirit was teaching me even as a little guy.
Do you realize right now, moms and dads, our children’s churches are being taught how to choose the right ‘they?’ We’ve written our own curriculum for the right ‘they.’ You’re not going to find this anywhere else. It’s not going to happen on the soccer field or at club cheer. It’s not going to happen in a history class. It’s not going to happen on some college campus. You don’t just drift into it. We’ve got to think about it.
So we’ve got to ask ourselves, do they live what they believe? Are they serving? Are they generous? Are they praying for those who are outside the family of God? Moms and dads, we monitor our kids’ relationships and friendships. We better look at our own because remember we’re looking in a mirror. This is some heavy stuff. There’s someone here that’s a member of the right ‘they’ for you. You begin to get involved and you serve. You look to the right, look to the left, God will show you who they are. And I’m not saying that everybody here is the right ‘they,’ but you’re going to find them here. They’re here.
#6 – Do they have the right ‘they’ in their lives? Whoa. Look at their track record. How do they spell relational relief? 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” Whoa! Is that profiling? Some liberals would call that profiling. What? “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
What’s going on here? Our best friends, the right ‘they,’ we have to be equally yoked. I’m not talking about an egg, I’m not talking about egg whites here. No, no. A yoke is a piece of farm equipment where you would hook up animals of the same kind and of the same strength. They would plow straight lines. God wants us to walk in unison, to have the right affiliation, participation, and destination. He wants us to go on a straight line and it happens when we’re equally yoked. So, so, so, yeah. Are you equally yoked? Again, what did ‘they’ influence you to do that you would not have done if ‘they’ hadn’t been around?
ILLUS: I wrote this book, not “Fifty Shades of Grey”… “Fifty Shades of They.” I wrote this book because of something that unfolded in my life when I was a sophomore in high school. I played basketball with a guy for many years, great, great athlete. His name was Larry. And I noticed that Larry began to associate with the wrong group of people, the wrong clique, the wrong squad, whatever you want to say. I invited him over to my house and talked to him some, and I just knew he was messing around with the wrong people. I saw him a lot. But even in high school, I had friends, fray friends, that were in high school. My real friends, though, were always in church.
And I’ll say it again. The church is the only place to meet the right ‘they.’ It is, it is. You might stumble over one now and then somewhere else but it’s going to be in the church 99.9% of the time.
Well, Larry started messing around with stuff and he got involved with stealing some things and, you know, he served a little bit of time away. Yet he always came back and we forgave him and on and on and on. And then I moved out of state. For years I didn’t hear from him. I asked around about him… nothing about Larry. When I was a newlywed the phone rang one night and I picked it up and my friend said, “Ed, have you heard about Larry?”
I said, “No, I’ve not heard from him in years.”
He said, “Well, are you sitting down?”
I said, “Do I need to?”
And he goes, “Yeah. Larry has murdered somebody and he is in the state penitentiary.”
I said, “You’ve got to be kidding! Larry???” The guy that came from a great family, had so much going for him, and everything.
Well the next time I visited the town where I grew up I made an appointment with Larry. I walked into the state penitentiary and went through door after door. Finally I got to the prison yard and I was sitting at a picnic table and saw Larry walk up to me, tears streaming down his face. I said, “Larry! What happened? What happened?” And he said four words that I’ll never forget…
“I had these friends.”
If I could tell you how many times I’ve heard that phrase. Whenever I come alongside someone, whenever there’s some sort of a trauma or someone has ended up in the deep weeds.
“Hey, what happened?”
“I had these friends…”
Let’s move from “I had these friends” to “I have these friends.” What do you say? Would you join me over the next several sessions as we discover what our great God has for us regarding the right ‘they.’ Let’s bow for prayer.
[Ed leads in closing prayer.]