RETRO – BACK TO THE BASICS
February 4-5, 2005
You know, after last week’s message a 62-year old guy turned to his son and said, “There are some people I need to cut from my herd.” The force of friendships, the sure power of relationships, it’s quite staggering when you think about it. Friendships cause either positive or negative inertia. Friendships happen against the backdrop of time. So how we spend our time has a lot to do with who we spend it with. Who are you spending your time with? What kind of friend are you? Because every single person who’s hearing my voice right now is a friend to someone. And you’re either causing negative or positive inertia in that friendship.
Some of you are lifting others up. Some of you are encouraging one another, you’re supporting one another, and you’re challenging one another. Others are pulling their friend down. Some of you are causing people to compromise. You’re causing them to live a life of mediocrity. You’re causing them to trip up, to hydroplane, and to end up as relational wreckage.
Friends are forceful. Who do you need to cut from your herd? I don’t care if you’re 2 or 62, you need to cut someone from your herd. If we right now could see the relational track, the friendship freeway, that God has in store for all of our lives, we wouldn’t believe it. We’d be like, “God, I had no idea you wanted me to hook up with that person! You want me to be friends and have this relationship and you want us to soar and all that stuff?” We wouldn’t believe it. It’s that awesome. It’s that amazing.
Yet friendships, great friendships, don’t happen in a vacuum. They don’t happen in a neutral setting. Neutrality equals compromise because the enemy knows, he knows, the force of friends. And he knows what he can do in your life and mine if he gets in there. And he knows the influence, the negative inertia, that friends can cause. That’s why when it comes to relationships he’s not going to sit idly by in a Jacuzzi sipping champagne while we just go about and make all these phenomenal friends. He’s not going to do that.
Who are your friends? Whose are they? Where are they taking you? God wants us to live on the next level. He wants us to be the kind of people who he desires for us to be in a unique way. He wants the absolute best for us relationally speaking. And we can discover it if we live in sync with his relational track. But if we don’t, if we disagree with God and do our own thing, well, we’ll end up as relational wreckage.
When you look for friends, where do you look? What kind of people do you look for? Does it just happen? Is it accidental? Great relationships are intentional. In fact, I would argue that every relationship we have is one of intentionality. What context do you find your friends in? Where do you look for them? Do you say, “Well, you know, if they’re just around the office or on the team or at school or whatever. You know, I just kind of hang out with people and it just kind of happens”?
If that’s the case, I’m going to challenge you over the next several moments to really get serious, to really get intentional, about where you choose your friends, what kind of friends you choose, and where are they taking you. Because we should choose friends not based on where we are today but where we want to be. I want my friends, I want my inner circle, I want my Peter, James, and John group, to be people who challenge me and encourage me; people whom I respect concerning their relationship with God, regarding how they treat their spouse and kids, regarding how they love the local church and their work ethic. I want to get up close and personal with them and see that they handle money God’s way, that they give generously to others and to the church, that they’re conservative. I want people around me like that. And God wants people around me like that. And God wants people around you like that, too. And he wants you to be those kinds of people.
God wants you to be an awesome friend, a friend of force. And he wants the same thing in my life. But why, I ask you, why do we struggle so much in this area? Who do you need to cut from your herd? Who’s pulling you down? Who’s messing you up? Who’s tripping you up? Come on now, be honest. You know I’m talking to you. Maritally, corporately, recreationally, who’s pulling you down? Who’s tripping you up? Who do you need to cut from the herd? Don’t think about something else because right now names are coming up in your mind. Names are coming up.
“What are you telling me to do, Ed? Are ya telling me to diss them, to do the Heisman on them, to say, ‘Hey, I’m a cop; you’re a robber. I’m a good guy; you’re a bad guy. White hats, black hats’”?
No! No, no, no, no, no. Based on God’s word, I would never tell you that. We’re to love everybody. Everybody matters to God. And because they matter to God, they should matter to us. I am saying, though, based on Scripture, that we must move toward positive friendships. We must have that positive inertia instead of negative inertia. And I’m saying that we have to be very, very strategic in the way we befriend and meet people who might cause us to compromise. Speaking of compromise, if you’d do one thing around a certain group of friends that you will not do around another group, you are living a life of compromise. Who do you need to cut from your herd? What kind of friend are you? Are you causing positive or negative inertia?
When you look for a friend, what’s some of the big stuff you look for? Romans 5:11 tells us, “Now we rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God…” Isn’t it great that God’s a relational God? “…all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done in dying for our sins—making us friends of God.”
Check this out. This is amazing. We broke the relationship. We messed the relationship up because of our sin. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing we can do to repair our relationship with God. Nothing. Zero.
“Well, Ed, I’m Catholic.” Who cares? “I’m Baptist.” Who cares? “I was baptized.” Who cares? “I went to seminary.” Who cares. “I’m a pastor.” Who cares? There is nothing we can do to bridge that gap. We’re in a tight, bad situation here. We deserve hell, eternal separation. That’s what we deserve.
What did God do? Did God leave us in the lurch? Did God hurl us to hell? No, God doesn’t hurl us to hell. We make that choice, because God did something. He bridged the relational gap. He sent his best, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins, bridging the gap. And we have the opportunity—don’t miss this—to become friends of God. Wow! Through Jesus Christ. Not through anything that we’ve done or can ever do. We don’t deserve it. We don’t merit it. We receive it by grace, unmerited favor. Once we do that, we’re brought into a right relationship with God. God’s standards are holy, perfection. Jesus met God’s standards. And because we receive Christ, when God looks at us he sees Jesus. We’re friends of God.
So the first thing I need to think about when I am thinking about developing a friendship with someone is, “Are they are friend of God? Are they friends with God?” I’m not talking about this pitiful stuff you’ll see. You’ve seen this shirt “Jesus is my home boy”? How pathetic is that. How sacrilegious is that? How blasphemous is that? And most people who wear the shirts are clueless anyway. But, I’m talking about real friendship here, real connectivity, real community with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Is this person a friend of God?
I’m known as a pastor. Lisa calls me her husband. My four kids call me their father. You have different titles, too—homemaker, real estate broker, teacher, coach, athlete. There’s a guy in the Bible named Abraham. Abraham had a cool title. He was called “a friend of God.” Now wouldn’t that be great? “Oh, there goes Ed. He’s a friend of God. There goes Lisa. You know Lisa? She’s a friend of God. Hey, there’s Gary. He’s a friend of God. Martha? Yes, she’s a friend of God too.” Wouldn’t that be cool? Friend of God, friend of God, friend of God. Yeah, I like that.
Last time we looked at a verse that really unpacked some deep stuff in all of our lives. I can’t tell you the emails and comments we’ve received over the last several days about this verse. Proverbs 27:19, “A mirror reflects the man’s face (we know that), but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.”
Friendship is intentional. You want to know who you are? Look at your friends. People will say, “Well, who am I?” Look at your friends. And here’s the crazy thing. I don’t even have to meet you. All I’ve got to do is talk to your best friends and I’ll know all about you. You’re friends tell you who you are. Who are your friends? Who’s in your Peter, James, and John crowd? Who’s in your inner circle? Who do you run with? Who are you tight with? Who? Because we only have two, three, or four people in this inner circle.
Jesus had an inner circle. He also had the twelve. And he also had other relationships. But today I’m talking about this deep level stuff. I’m talking about people that you are really, really intimate with. Who are they?
Let me phrase it another way. Who do you need to cut from your herd? I hope you feel the tension in the room because on one hand, the Bible tells me that my best friends, those in my inner circle, must be Christ followers. On the other hand, the Bible tells me I need to hang out and associate with people who don’t know Christ personally. How do you do that? That’s a tall order. It’s a tough deal because whenever you’re with one group, there’s that tendency to compromise, that tendency to be pulled down. When you’re with the other group, man, you’re ready to step up to the next level. How do you do that?
We turn again to Scripture. 2 Corinthians 6:14—this text will start a relational revolution in your life if you live by it—“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” You might be saying, “Well, man I’m an egg whites man. I’m a body builder.” No, no, no different yoke. “Do not be yoked together as unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
This is a farming term. A yoke was a big wooden structure with two holes. Animals’ necks fit in the holes, and any smart farmer would put animals of the same kind and equal strength in the yoke. That way he would plow a straight line. Conversely, a farmer who had no clue would put maybe a donkey on one side and an ox on the other—two different kinds of animals with different kinds of strength. The plow wouldn’t work right.
That’s what God’s saying. That’s what the Bible is saying here. We need to yoke up, to hook up, with believers. Our best friends, obviously people we date, people we marry, need to be believers. And once we own this verse and accept this verse, wow! All hell will break loose, because two-thirds of the potential candidates are gone! And of course the application is obvious in the dating realm. Two-thirds of all people are gone. But that’s a whole other subject, a whole other series.
“Man, what’s God doing? Is he being discriminatory? Is he being capricious and cruel? Why is God raining on my relational parade? Why would God be doing that?” He’s doing it because he has your best interest and my best interest in mind. He’s doing it because he wants our relationships to soar.
I was speaking one time at a banquet. I was eating that rubber chicken—you know, that all banquets serve—before I was supposed to speak. I was sitting beside this man. I looked over at him and I thought to myself, “I just need to be by myself and go over my talk. I don’t want to talk to you.” I was thinking that. He starts talking a little bit. I’m thinking, “Man, I could tell this guy I just don’t want to talk to him.” Then he mentioned the magic word—fishing! You had to pry us apart. Four hours later, they were putting up the chairs and saying, “Okay, you guys have got to go now.” We’re still talking about fishing. I’d already spoken and everything. We shared a common bond, a common love.
Well, take that and multiply that exponentially. God wants us to be able to share it on the deepest level with our friends. He wants us to be able to share our common love which is an intimate, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. He wants our friendships to have a depth that the world doesn’t have.
Direction—God wants our friendships to have a direction that other friendships don’t have. We’re going somewhere. We have this relational freeway. We’re on this journey—Christianity. I was talking to a group of people last night. Christianity, I said, is an event followed by a process. It’s a journey. We have a direction in a friendship. We’re operating off the same road map, the same play book, the same page. God wants friends to hit on all cylinders like that.
How about development? God wants us to develop one another, to help one another, to challenge one another, to encourage one another, to sharpen one another. Proverbs 27:17 doesn’t say, “As iron sharpens plastic…” Iron sharpens plastic? Some of your friends are plastic. Who do you need to cut from the herd? Who’s messing you around? Who’s pulling you down? Who’s causing you to compromise?
[Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)] “As iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend.”
Once again, God’s priorities are basic. Intellectually, everyone will say, “Oh, yeah, I sign off on that. God, family, relationships, church, and work.” But in what context, what venue do you see this happening? Does it happen around the neighborhood? Does it happen on the soccer field? Does it happen on the court? Does it happen in the classroom? Does it happen in the board room? Where do you find these people? Where can you see this stuff exhibited? The answer is in the local church.
The church is to be a social entity. It’s to be a place where we look and see the stuff, where we see the walk and the talk, where we see passion for God, family, relationships, church, and work. We see it within the church. And we’ve got to be consistent enough and serve enough and see people who do the stuff enough to take advantage and to take initiative to build friendships. We’ve got to expose ourselves to people who have these values. And let me say this. Just because you meet someone at Fellowship Church does not mean they should be in your inner circle. It does not mean that you should be great friends with them.
Just because I go to Circuit City does not make me an iPod! There are a lot of people here who are wheels off. They’re kicking tires and testing waters. Just because they come to Fellowship Church does not constitute their Christianity. You’ve got to see it. And once you see it, then you can take the relational risk. Every time we take a relational risk, every time we step out, we’re mirroring the image of our relational God.
What did God do? Go back to what I said earlier. What did God do? Did he leave us in a lurch? No. God initiated a relationship. Our best friends must be believers. And see, we have this tendency, don’t we, to surround ourselves with people who are comfortable; not people who challenge us, people who are comfortable. And now and then challenging people will get dangerously close to us, but we never really open up to them because we don’t want to hear what they have to say. We know what they would say, but because we want to live a life of compromise and comfort we just back off.
If you have a bunch of people, a bunch of quality people, getting next to you and then backing off; if you’ve got a bunch of quality people doing the Heisman towards you, then maybe it’s you. Go home, hit your knees and say, “God, what quality about me and my spouse, what quality is keeping people from me? What quality is keeping me from the depth, direction, and development relationally that you want?” And this is for the real deal here, man. This is Christianity 301. Step up and ask one of those quality people, “Okay, what is it about me that keeps you [from hanging out with me]?”
Again, if you don’t want to step to the next level, just disregard what I’m talking about. If you want to live in mediocrity, just disregard what I’m talking about. If you want to have a life that’s boring and predictable, if you want a life of wasted potential, don’t pay attention to what the Bible says about this stuff. But again, the choice is up to you. I can’t make it for you. I can’t force you to do it. That’s the great thing about the Christian life. It’s a choice. It’s a decision that you make and I make. I can tell you, I can illustrate it, I can write it here on this cool Plexiglas board. But we either do it or not.
Our best friends must be believers, but we build bridges of integrity with those people outside the faith. We build bridges of integrity with the two-thirds. In other words, we meet them in areas that don’t cause us to compromise. We meet them on a neutral playing field. Those relationships have to be love-driven. We love those people because they matter to God, and because they matter to God they matter to us.
Those relationships must be invitation-driven. We’re inviting them into a personal relationship with Christ and in body with the church. And here’s the pathetic thing about a lot of Christians here. Because you’ve blown it, because you live a life of compromise, you can’t talk to anybody about Christ because you’re not living it. Who do you need to cut from your herd?
Let me tell you something. You’re looking right here at a walking, talking, living example of a guy who has made phenomenal, unbelievable, relational decisions. Great stuff. I’ve done it. I’ve not messed around. I’ve not gone this way, that way, and all these testimonies, “Well, I was strung out on drugs. I messed around here and there and then I came to the Lord.” You know what? I’ve been consistent my whole life. Don’t go there. Don’t waste your life.
“Man, are you bragging, dude?” Are you kidding me? Bragging? It’s by the grace and power of God. I’m a sinner, a self-centered sinner. I don’t deserve anything I have. Zero. It’s by God’s grace. But also, too, my parents. By God’s grace and my parents. They modeled God’s grace and they monitored my relationships. They guided me to the right friendships. Where did they do that? The local church. Church was not optional. It wasn’t like, “Ed, do you feel like going to church tonight? Ed, I know you’ve had a long week. Do you feel like going on that junior high retreat? What do you want to do? You tell me, baby.”
If those are the conversations you’re having with your kids, you, Mom and Dad, are blowing it. Read my book, Kid CEO. You’re losing the game. You’re in charge. You run the show. You only have your kids for what, eighteen years? Make it count. I beg you, parents. Make sure to have your kids up here for age appropriate teaching. My parents did. Because, and this going to be heavy, the relational patterns your kids are cutting at 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 years of age will take them through junior high, high school, college, single adulthood, marriage, children, grandchildren…the whole nine. Moms and dads, the kinds of friends that you have mirror the kinds of friends your kids have. Where are you choosing your friends?
Are you going to tell me you’re not going to take advantage of this? Are you going to sit there and tell me you’re not going to take advantage of the relational opportunities here? What are you smoking? I’m serious. I know the deal. I’ve been there.
Junior high and high school students, listen to me very carefully now. Let’s talk straight. I’ve been there. Peer pressure will circle you like a school of tiger sharks. Your self-esteem is all tied into it. You want to run with the herd, don’t you? You feel that cross pull. “Ah, man, I’ve got to run with them. I’ve got to mess around with them. I’ve got to get high with them, man. I’ve got to get drunk with them. And I’ve got to be in the ‘in’ crowd, the cool crowd. Yeah, that’s what I’ve got to do!”
You make those decisions. You’re right now in the midst of making those decisions. And some of you students right now are messing up right at this very moment with who you’re hooked up with. Don’t take the bait. Don’t take it. Do it God’s way. God’s way is the best. I’m telling you, it’s the best. In junior high and high school, I wasn’t with the popular crowd, man. I wasn’t with the cool crowd. I didn’t hang out with them. I felt the cross pull. I saw past that, though, to what they were [actually] doing. I believed what my teachers and leaders taught me in church. I modeled what my parents did for me. It’s all by the grace and mercy of God. I didn’t go there. I didn’t mess around with that stuff. I said, “No.”
And once you say no four or five times, you won’t believe it. You will not get invited to a lot of the parties. You won’t get invited to a lot of stuff. You will not have the dates; you will not have the popularity. It’s not going to happen. But every sacrifice has been worth it by God’s grace and power. Worth it. I would not be where I am today without it. Please hear me. Don’t take the bait. Look past the bait to the frying pan. It’s not worth it. Don’t waste your life in whacky friendships.
And here is another thing that God has shown me. You feel this peer pressure. Parents you feel it, too. You feel this peer pressure. In junior high and high school you think, “Man, I don’t know if I can resist it. The pull is so strong, the cross pull. I’m not sure I can stand up to it.” You can’t by yourself, but God will give you the strength. Just say, “Okay, God, give me the ability.” And if you stay with it, if you build your life around the church and your inner circle, here’s what will happen. The pressure will subside. It’ll subside. When I graduated from high school I looked back and I said, “Ha, ha! You mean I was worried about those people accepting me? You mean I felt that cross pull? That was it? Those people? Man, it was nothing. What was I doing worrying about that?” You’ll go through the same thing.
Well, let’s talk college, Florida State University. I was a thousand miles away from home, by myself. Hugh Hefner rated Florida State the number one party school in America while I was there. Three to one ratio, girls to guys. Yeah! I was in the athletic dorm, if you can call it that. Florida State, man, we did some crazy stuff. This dorm had 500 people in it. Only 10% of us were athletes. We had our own rooms and maid service. It was a co-ed athletic dorm. Cash Hall.
The first Sunday three out of 500 people went to church. Three! I was one of three. The next Sunday, three went to church. Next Sunday, three. Next Sunday—three, three, three, three. Man, I really felt lonely. I really felt persecuted in a lot of ways. I kind of felt like I was the odd ball. And God leveraged that loneliness in my life to drive me to him and to see humanistic relationships through the lens of loneliness. I saw the shallowness of ungodly relationships. I saw the emptiness of ungodly relationships. And I’m not perfect by any stretch, but because to the best of my ability as I surrendered to God’s grace, because I kept those commitments, I believe God used that as a test. He showed me some stuff. And now in my life I have the most amazing friends a guy could have.
I’m here to tell you God’s way works! God’s way works! Choosing friends God’s way works. Some of the time? No! ALL of the time. Who do you need to cut from your herd? Who are you compromising with? You can’t share Christ, believer, with a lot of people because you’re messing around so much because of what you put on your body in front of them, because of what comes out of your mouth, because of the places you go, because the jokes you tell. You can’t do it. Who knows? You could be the only link that person ever has to Jesus. And you might be blowing it. Try that one on.
Matthew 10. What did Jesus tell his disciples? He said, “You go into a town and if people welcome you in my name, stay with them. Hang out with them.” He said, “If people diss you, if people reject me, if they turn their back on you…” You know what Jesus said? Jesus said this: “Kick the dust off your shoes and go somewhere else.”
We need to kick the dust off our shoes, don’t we, in a lot of situations and a lot of relationships. Don’t hear the Bible or me saying for you to diss someone or talk down to someone or belittle someone. No way. I’m talking about positive inertia to move toward the right stuff. And I’m talking about moving around and hanging around friends who challenge you, not who comfort you. Life is too short to be comfortable. We need some challenging people in our lives. The context of the local church, the commitment is seen in the local church, because God wants us to have the kind of friends that will take us to the next level. Look at Christ’s friends—Peter, James, and John. They assisted him with his mission. We need friends like that because we all have a unique mission. Who do you need to cut from your herd?
There was once a newscaster who was totally burned out. This guy went to the doctor, his doctor told him, “Hey, man, you need to chill. You need to go somewhere and take a sabbatical.” So the newscaster knew a friend that had a real working ranch in Texas. So this newscaster just showed up on this working ranch and his friend put him to work as a ranch hand. This newscaster was a ranch hand, and that’s pretty funny in itself. Well, this newscaster met this young cowboy that people would make fun of because he had a horse that he’d reared from a colt. And this horse followed this cowboy around like a dog.
And all the other guys were like, “Man, is that your wife or something?” They were messing with him. But this cowboy loved that horse. And one day the horse turned his ankle. You know, that will happen sometimes. So the cowboy took the horse out into the far pasture to let him heal up.
A couple of days later a herd of wild horses broke into the far pasture, galloped off, and this guy’s favorite left with the herd. Needless to say, the cowboy was devastated. He searched for this horse for like two weeks. Nothing. Until one day another ranch hand said, “Hey, I saw your horse miles and miles from the ranch running with the herd.”
And the cowboy said, “You know what? I’m going to get my horse back! I’m gonna wake up tomorrow morning at 3:00am. I’m going to ride and I’m going to get my horse back.”
And the newscaster said, “Well, hey, man, can I come along with you?”
This cowboy said, “Yeah, are you kidding me? I don’t want some green horn with me. No, you’re not going with me.”
And the newscaster begged him, “Please, please, please.”
Finally, the cowboy, after he asked that, said, “Okay, okay, okay. But you’ve got to stay back though.”
So the newscaster said they rode and rode and rode. And finally they were looking over the rim rock and they saw the herd down there and the cowboy spotted his favorite horse. Cowboy said, “Shhhh, you stay here. I’m going to sneak down and get within range to call my horse.”
He said, “Okay.”
So this newscaster said the cowboy walked down the mountain. He got close enough to the herd where he knew they could hear his voice. And he stood up and he called this horse. And the moment he called his horse, the entire herd turned and just bolted! They were out of there.
But after about 20 steps, his favorite stopped in his tracks and turned around and looked back at his master. The herd was running one way; his master was calling the other. And this horse was caught in the middle. And the newscaster said, “You could feel the cross pull in the horse’s heart. You could just feel it,” he said. The horse wanted to run with the herd; yet he heard his master’s voice. And then he began to run toward the herd. Then he finally stopped, dropped his head, turned and went to his master. His master put a bridle on him, gave him some sugar, led him to the ranch and put him in his herd.
Cross pull. A lot of us are just like that horse aren’t we? We’re caught in the middle—wanting to run with the herd, the wild herd, yet hearing the voice of the Master. Follow the Master’s voice. He’ll lead you to his ranch and put you in his relational herd.