Posts tagged ‘Friendship’

Who Needs Friends When You Have God?

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A new study from the University of Michigan suggests that those who have a strong faith in God are often isolated from others.  Todd Chan, a doctoral student at the university, explains:

For the socially disconnected, God may serve as a substitutive relationship that compensates for some of the purpose that human relationships would normally provide.

This is an interesting hypothesis, but studies like these do not seem to provide consistent results.  W. Bradford Wilcox, the Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, has found that:

…religion generally fosters more happiness, greater stability, and a deeper sense of meaning in American family life, provided that family members – especially spouses – share a common faith.

In other words, contrary to what Mr. Chan found, faith in God can actually deepen and sustain relationships instead of serving as a substitute for relationships.

Certainly, there are people of deep faith who find themselves bereft of human companionship and, consequently, lonely.  The Bible admits as much, while also seeking to offer comfort and a promise of companionship to those in isolated situations:

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.  (Psalm 68:5-6)

God does indeed promise to be there for someone when they have no one.  But He doesn’t stop there.  He also “sets the lonely in families.”  In other words, He doesn’t just serve as a substitute for human companionship, He actually grants human companionship.

Christianity has always confessed a Triune God, in relationship with Himself from eternity, as the model for and the giver of deeper and better relationships with others.  This is part of the reason why Christianity first took root in the more densely populated urban areas and why it was initially less prevalent among more rural areas.  As Rodney Stark notes in his book The Triumph of Christianity:

The word pagan derives from the Latin word paganus, which originally meant “rural person,” or more colloquially “country hick.”  It came to have religious meaning because after Christianity had triumphed in the cities, most of the pagans were rural people.

Christianity first flourished in cities because those were where the largest communities of people were.  Christianity, it turns out, is irreducibly communal.

Jesus famously summarizes the whole of Old Testament law thusly:

“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.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Jesus is clear.  A relationship with God can and should lead to better relationships with others.  Regardless of what Mr. Chan’s study may assert sociologically, theologically, God is not a second-string substitute for human relationships.  Instead, a human, who had an intimate relationship with God and was Himself God, became our substitute on a cross so that we could have a relationship with God in spite of our sin.  God is not a last resort relationship when you’re lonely, but a first love relationship who promises never to leave you alone.  And there’s just no substitution for that.

September 10, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Explaining Our Existence

Creation HandsI recently came across two articles – both dealing with gender concerns – that caught my attention.  The first article is by Lisa Wade of Salon and addresses the deep friendships – or the lack thereof – between men.  Wade opens her article:

Of all people in America, adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than other types of friendships. When men get together, they’re more likely to do stuff than have a conversation …

When I first began researching this topic I thought, surely this is too stereotypical to be true. Or, if it is true, I wondered, perhaps the research is biased in favor of female-type friendships. In other words, maybe we’re measuring male friendships with a female yardstick. It’s possible that men don’t want as many or the same kinds of friendships as women.

But they do. When asked about what they desire from their friendships, men are just as likely as women to say that they want intimacy. And, just like women, their satisfaction with their friendships is strongly correlated with the level of self-disclosure.[1]

Men want friends, Wade contends – real friends, with whom they can share real cares, concerns, and fears.  But most do not have these kinds of friends.  Why is this?  Wade chalks it up to society’s assertions concerning what it means to be a “real man.”  She explains:

[Real men] are supposed to be self-interested, competitive, non-emotional, strong (with no insecurities at all), and able to deal with their emotional problems without help. Being a good friend, then, as well as needing a good friend, is the equivalent of being girly.

Real men, our society says, keep their emotions hermetically sealed.  This is why so many men eschew forming deep and abiding friendships.  But as many men seek to be really masculine through sensitivity sequestration, they only wind up being really isolated.

The second article I found interesting is by Sarah Elizabeth Richards of the New York Times. Richards tells the story of Andy Inkster – a woman who underwent surgery and took testosterone to become a man, but has now stopped taking testosterone because she wants to get pregnant.  As it turns out, Andy had trouble getting pregnant and sought fertility treatments from Baystate Reproductive Medicine.  Baystate denied her request.  She received help from another clinic and got pregnant, but sued Baystate for discrimination.

Such a desire of transgendered people to have children is not unique to Andy:

One study published last year in the journal Human Reproduction of 90 transgender men in Belgium found that 54 percent wished to have children … Other research, published in 2002, by Belgian fertility doctors with Western European transgender women found that 40 percent wanted to have children, and 77 percent felt they should have the option to preserve their sperm before hormone treatment. As fertility technology improves and becomes more widely available, transgender people are realizing that they will have more options in the future.[2]

Transgendered people apparently have a strong desire to have children in biologically traditional ways despite their deep reservations with their biologically assigned genders.

At first glance, these two articles seem to address phenomena on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum.  The first has to do with entrenched machismo while the second has to do with blurred gender identity.  But for all their differences, there exists a common theological root:  the divorce of human existence from divine creation.

Foundational to the Christian conception of the cosmos is the belief that everything came from somewhere.  Or, to put it more precisely, Christians believe that everything came from someone.  We do not just exist.  We were created.

It is from the Scriptural story of creation that we learn not just that we are, but who we are.  We are creatures and not the Creator (cf. Genesis 3:5).  We are fashioned in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:27).  We are fearfully and wonderfully made (cf. Psalm 139:14), which is to say that God intentionally and lovingly fashioned us to be a certain kind of person, the corruption of sin notwithstanding.  In the old “nature versus nurture” debate, the story of creation tells us that nature does indeed shape us, but not by naturalistic means.  Rather, we are shaped through nature by the One who made nature.

Both of the articles above exemplify with a convicting candor what happens when people forget this story.  Men who try to play the role of the sturdy and strong lone ranger forget the part of the story where God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  People who undergo surgeries and treatments in an effort to change their gender forget the part of the story where God revels in how He has created us “male and female” (Genesis 1:27).

The apostle Peter warns there will come a time when people will “deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed” (2 Peter 3:5).  They will forget their existence is a product of God’s creative word.  And they will forget their existence is to be guided by God’s sacred Word.  May it never be so of us.  May we always be able to say:  “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth…and of me.”


[1] Lisa Wade, “American men’s hidden crisis: They need more friends!Salon (12.7.2013).

[2] Sarah Elizabeth Richards, “The Next Frontier in Fertility Treatment,” New York Times (1.12.2014).

January 27, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Law of Retaliation

"Saul Tries to Kill David" by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld, 1850's, Wikimedia Commons

“Saul Tries to Kill David” by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld, 1850’s, Wikimedia Commons

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we discussed the importance of friendship.  Every person needs a friend for encouragement, for challenge, and for consolation. In the words of Proverbs 17:17:  “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  For good times and for bad, everyone needs a friend.

Perhaps the most famous example of friendship in the Bible is that of David and Jonathan.  These two guys far more than just bar buddies.  1 Samuel 18:1 describes their relationship like this:  “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.”

Though David and Jonathan’s friendship was strong, it was also fraught with peril.  Jonathan’s dad, Saul, the king of Israel, hated David and wanted to kill him.  But Jonathan was so deeply devoted to his friend that he went to bat for him, telling his father:

“Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you.  For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the LORD worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?” (1 Samuel 19:4-5)

In my sermon, I talked about how Jonathan, in order to defend his friend, appeals to the lex talionis, a Latin phrase referring to the “law of retaliation.”  This law is classically expressed in Leviticus 24:19-20:  “If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.”  This law, of course, is not meant to promote violence, but to contain it.  The lex talionis stipulates that “the punishment must fit the crime.”  If someone takes your eye, you can’t take his arm.  The example I used in my sermon is, “If someone steals $100 from you, you can’t sue him for $1 million because of emotional pain and suffering.”

The way Jonathan uses the lex talionis in 1 Samuel 19 is especially fascinating.  For rather than appealing to the lex talionis responsively to punish a crime, he appeals to it preemptively to prevent a crime.  Jonathan’s essential argument to his father is this:  “You can’t kill David!  The law of retaliation says you can only hurt someone if he first hurts you!  And David hasn’t hurt you!”

I have gained a deep appreciation for Jonathan’s argument to his father because Jonathan essentially turns the lex talionis into a catch 22.  You can hurt someone, but only if he hurts you first.  Someone else can hurt you, but only if you hurt him first.  This means no one can hurt anyone because no one can make the first move to hurt someone because, by sheer chronological necessity, there would be no prior just cause for such an injury, thus breaking the lex talionis!  Far more than regulating violence, the lex talionis prevents it.

This use of the lex talionis is nicely in line with Jesus’ commentary on the rule:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39).  Jesus essentially says, “Even if you are unjustly wounded, never give anyone a reason to use the lex talionis on you.  Self-control, even in the midst of terrible adversity, is paramount.  If you don’t hurt someone else, then that other person has no ground on which to stand if he hurts you.”

What tensions and quarrels do you have with others?  The best way to end them is to refuse to give the person with whom you are in conflict any reason to retaliate.  Your cool and collected response to someone who is angry may just be what diffuses a fight, ends a conflict, and restores a friendship.

June 10, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Friend Me!

True friendship is not easy.  Many people do not understand, or refuse to accept, this.  Guys hang out at the bar after work.  Ladies go on shopping sprees.  But these times together, even if they’re fun, do not usually foster deep, meaningful relationships.  When a friendship gets complicated – when a buddy runs into a problem in his marriage or when a lady struggles with her self-worth – these so-called “friends” have little to nothing to offer in the way of support or guidance.  True friendship is not easy.

The Proverbs understand the burden true friendship brings.  For true friendship involves many weighty things.  True friendship involves sticking with someone through thick and thin:  “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).  True friendship involves loving someone even when they’re utterly unlovable:  “A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17).  True friendship involves pouring time, energy, and trust into a select few people, rather than being content merely to hang out with many “acquaintances” who know little about you:  “A man of many companions may come to ruin” (Proverbs 18:24).  True friendship involves faithfulness in saying things to a friend that may be hard for them to hear: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6).  True friendship is not easy.

Sadly, the term “friendship” has been largely stripped of its biblical content in our day.  For many people, “friendship” means nothing more than a person they happen to know.  This is not to say that it is bad to know many people, but when you are “friends” with everyone, you become close companions with no one.

One of the things I enjoy doing is checking my Facebook page.  It is fun for me to keep up with a whole bunch of people, some of whom I haven’t seen in years.  I like to read about what’s going on in their lives – their joys and their challenges.  Sometimes, when it seems appropriate, I’ll even drop someone a note on Facebook letting them know I’m praying for them.

Currently, I have 550 Facebook “friends.”  Though I do care about every single person with whom I am “friends,” I also know that I am not a friend to every one of these people, at least not in the biblical sense.  For I do not live up to what the Proverbs have to say about friendship.  Nor could I.  I simply do not have the time, strength, or smarts to be a perfect friend to everyone.  The good news is, where I fall short when it comes to friendship, Jesus does not.

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).  Jesus says these words to His disciples shortly before He is betrayed by Judas to be crucified.  He calls His disciples His “friends,” even Judas, who is no friend to Jesus.  And Jesus is indeed a true friend – to each and every one of His disciples – even when His disciples are not faithful friends to Him.  And He is a true friend not only to His original twelve disciples in the first century, but to the countless billions of disciples that have since followed.  He is a friend to you!  As the song says, “What a friend we have in Jesus!”

Are you a true, biblical friend to others?  If not, you are called to be.  Do you have true, biblical friends for yourself?  If not, you need them.  We all need friends to share in our joys and support us in our sorrows.  Finally, is Jesus your friend?  If not, He can be.  By faith, you can be a friend of Christ, for Christ wants to be a friend to you.  I can’t think of a better friend to have.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Krueger’s
message or Pastor Josh’s ABC!

July 25, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Team Lifting

A few months back, I purchased a treadmill for my wife.  The one we previously owned had worn out and it was time for a newer, more powerful, more advanced model.  I was very happy with the deal I received on the treadmill.  I got it for about 50 percent off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price!  As I was paying for the treadmill, the customer service representative asked me, “Would you like to pay an additional $100 to have the treadmill delivered and set up?”  I didn’t even have to think about it:  “$100?  No thank you, I’ll pass.”

A couple of days later, I returned to the store with my truck and a buddy to pick up the treadmill.  It was going to be simple.  We would load the treadmill in the bed of my truck, haul it home, set it up, and be done.  The plan was perfect.  That is, the plan was perfect until we tried to actually pick up the treadmill.  It had to weigh 1,000 pounds!  Thankfully, a couple of guys from the sporting goods store came out to help us.  When we finally got it into the bed of my truck and drove it back to my house, we took it out of the box, piece by piece, to haul inside.   After a whole lot of sweat and an aching back, I decided I should have paid the $100.

As I was trying, without success, to lug the huge and heavy box out of the sporting goods store to the bed of my truck, I noticed an icon the box’s side.  It had two people picking up a hug box with these words:  “TEAM LIFT for your safety.”  When I saw the icon, I thought to myself, “Would anyone even think of trying to pick this box up by himself?”

In Luke 10:38-42, we meet two sisters:  Martha and Mary.  These sisters could not be any more different.  Jesus and His twelve disciples are joining the sisters at their house for a supper, and Martha wants to make sure everything is just perfect for her guests.  And so she goes about preparing a lavish feast.  But with her recipe books strewn across the kitchen, pots and pans boiling over on the stove, and flour flung across the floor, Martha’s meal becomes more than she can bear.  She need someone with whom she can “team lift” in preparing.  But Mary, her sister, seems unable or, worse yet, unwilling to help.  When Jesus and His disciples arrive, Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet, listening intently to what He says.  Finally, in exasperation, Martha complains to her Lord:  “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40)!  The Greek word for “help” is synantilambanomai.  This one word is actually a compound word made up of the words:  synanti, meaning “with,” or “corresponding to,” and lambanomai, meaning “to take up,” or “to lift.”  Thus, when Martha asks for her sister’s help, she is asking her to do some “team lifting.”

Now surely, Jesus should empathize with Martha’s plight.  After all, her hard work could break her back!  But Jesus’ response to Martha is altogether surprising if not even offensive:  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).  Jesus will not send Mary to “team lift” with her sister.  Because finally, Martha doesn’t need a team lifter, Martha needs Jesus.  Martha needs to learn from Jesus, like Mary.  Martha needs to follow Jesus, like Mary.  And Martha needs to rest in Jesus, like Mary.

Be it in friendships between children or marriages between adults, I often hear people complain that a partner in a relationship is not “pulling their weight.”  These people explain that they are left all by themselves to do the heavy lifting of a relationship.  Though it is true that friends and spouses certainly ought to help each other, before you complain that another person is not pulling their weight, perhaps you should first go to Jesus.  Perhaps you should ask Him to heal and reconcile your relationship.  Perhaps you should ask Him to give you the strength needed to maneuver your way through what can sometimes be complex and weighty relationships.  Because before you need someone to “team lift” with you, you need Jesus.  Because Jesus doesn’t just help you with some of your burden takes your burden and nails it to His cross.  So find your strength – and your rest – in Him.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

June 27, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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