“A friend loves at all times. He is there to help when trouble comes” Proverbs 17:17 NIRV.
Over the years, I’ve had the fun-tastic pleasure of taking several motorcycle trips with great friends. Nothing puts a smile on my face more than riding the back roads of God’s country with the wind in my face and surrounded by buddies.
We laugh. We play. We ride hard. We see beauty beyond description and enjoy the delight of companionship.
Once on the way home from a trip to La Grande, I started to think about what makes a good friend. Here are some ideas I came up with:
• A friend is someone who invests time in the relationship.
• A friend is someone who listens (even when they’ve heard that story a hundred times).
• A friend is someone who protects you by pointing out the dangerous gravel and potholes along the way.
• A friend is someone who willingly shares with you (especially when you forget sunscreen or anything to clean your bug-smattered bike).
• A friend is someone who might tease you about snoring, but they’d never really complain.
• A friend is someone who is unafraid to say hard things in love.
• A friend is someone who looks you in the eye and says, “I love ya, man!” and you know they mean it.
What other qualities of a good friend can you think of? Do you possess these qualities as well?
If you read this and thought about a good pal, thank Jesus for that person, and pick up the phone to invite them to coffee soon.
If you read this and wish you had a friend, follow the advice my momma gave me decades ago, “If you want a friend, be friendly, and find someone looking for a friend just like you.”
May I pray for you?
Jesus, thank you for modeling perfect friendship so that by imitating you we can become friends who love at all times and help when trouble comes. Continue to show us how to serve each other in ways that please you. Amen.
We all have things that push our buttons and tick us off. Even the gentlest and kindest among us have at least a few complaints about the practices of others we deem foolish or frustrating.
Most of my pet peeves have to do with the stupid or rude driving habits of others:
When entering a freeway, it’s wise to enter at freeway speed, not 30 mph!
For the last hundred years or so, all cars come with blinkers for a reason!
When I signal (using the wonder of a blinker), that is not a racing challenge to drivers behind me. Instead of speeding up to prevent my lane change, why not be courteous and let me in?
The visor mirror was not created so you can drive while putting on your face!
If you want to do the speed limit (or less), please don’t drive in the fast lane!
Riding my bumper in the fast lane does not make me go faster if there is no place for me to go due to the snail driver ahead of me!
When you pull into a drive-through coffee shop (where you have the option of going inside to order), don’t order six blended drinks for all the gals at the office. It’s supposed to be a quick drive-through, not a parking spot!
Okay. I feel better because that’s off my chest, but here’s my BIGGEST pet peeve: When people make their pet peeves more important than people.
Like I said, we all have personal beliefs and practices that create tension in us when ignored or unknown by others. We get frustrated when the other seven billion people on the planet aren’t nearly as smart as we are. Sadly, our anger seems justified when our desires are trampled on by the selfish or the ignorant.
Some of the meanest and most ungodly words to ever come out of my mouth have happened in my car. I yell at people all the time even though the only one who ever hears my temper-tantrums is my poor wife. I stopped honking my horn in anger some time ago after I did so to a parishioner in my church (that was embarrassing), but if Jesus were riding shotgun, He’d be disappointed with my language.
But what if?
How would my attitude be different, and my words kinder, if I valued people more than my pet peeve? What would it be like if I put the needs of others before my own? Perhaps life would be better if I had this attitude:
Oh, you need to order six drinks, and I only need one; that’s okay, please go ahead of me.
Maybe that old guy has suffered from a terrible auto accident and he’s bound by fear; that’s okay, please go as slow as you need.
Perhaps the mom not using her blinker, or not stopping at the red light, is an emotional wreck today because of a horrible relational issue. Lord, give her peace (and protect her!).
By no means am I excusing sin or foolish behavior. Of course, there’s right and wrong. Yes, for the common good, laws should be obeyed. I’m not rationalizing idiocy or encouraging stupidity. But when we violently lash out at others because they’ve crossed a line, we cross into vileness. When we return evil or cursing for evil, we become the ones in error.
What’s your pet peeve? Tattoos? Loud worship music? Pit Bulls? Preachers in jeans? Parents who bring kids to R-rated movies? Beer? Homosexuals? People who throw gum on a sidewalk? Jerks who take up two parking spots? Democrats? Republicans? Bad spelllors?
What ticks you off so much that your reaction to people reveals your love for being right more than your love for being relational? Without question, Jesus had high standards and He was always right, but He loved even the wicked because that’s what love does.
You can have your pet peeve, but please don’t put that above being like Jesus who was kind and loving to messed-up people like you and me.
“Love your enemies, do good to them . . . .
Then your reward will be great,
and you will be children of the Most High,
because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
Luke 6:35 (NIV)
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In the midst of some extremely tough losses and difficult decisions several years ago, my uncle looked me in the eye and said, “I believe in you.” The power of those four simple words profoundly encouraged me. I remember thinking, My uncle Don believes in me more than I believe in myself . . . incredible.
Recently, I was with another uncle over the 4th of July holiday. In fact, he’s the only uncle I have left in this world, and that makes him pretty special to me. We celebrated his 81st birthday, and I only hope I’m as strong as he is when I’m in my 80s. Uncle Bruce has always been a hero in my life. Just before he left, he put his arm around me and said, “I’m proud of you.”
King Solomon wrote, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21, NIV). His wise words still ring true even thousands of years later. We can build up or tear down. We can encourage or discourage others through what we say to them and about them.
I was sixteen and my first boss was a big guy named Ron. He managed the grocery store where I spent the majority of my time during high school. Typically, I stalked shelves from 4am to 8am Monday through Thursday, and I’d go in at midnight on Friday to put in an eight-hour shift. How I graduated with a 3.6 GPA is a mystery.
Ron was tough. He came from the old school of managing people, and he believed the best way to motivate was to intimidate. Unfortunately, he was very good at it. I’m not sure if he had any kind words in his vocabulary, but if he did, he never used them on me.
Why bring up a guy I worked for over forty years ago? Because the negative power of his words are still fresh in my memory. In fact, after busting my butt working for him for months, he said one day, “I’m terribly disappointed in you and in your performance.” (I found out later, he said that to everybody, but it still hurt.)
I forgave Ron decades ago. I carry absolutely no animosity toward him. I realize now that if I didn’t suffer from performance-driven insecurity, I probably would not have cared as much as I did. But his words cut into my soul, and those cuts ran deep.
Why is it so easy for us to be negative? Why do we tend to say hurtful things so often? What sick, dark, and broken part of us prompts us to verbally abuse the people in our lives? We know, from firsthand experience, that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words do, in fact, also break us, and yet we say them anyhow.
I fear that in a culture that values sarcasm and devalues self-control we have become masters of cutting people to shreds with our tongue.
To put someone else down is to lift ourselves up (or so we think).
We think it’s funny to leave someone speechless with our witty retort.
We have drifted from healthy debate and constructive criticism to degrading and verbal ugliness.
Again, Solomon wrote, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18, NIV). What would it be like if our words consistently brought healing? How would it radically change the nature of our relationships with our kids, parents, friends, neighbors, and co-workers if we were known for “encouraging and building others up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)? How would the people around us respond to “I believe in you” even when they blow it and let us down?
Of course, there’s a place for truth, but it is always to be the truth in love. Didn’t the Apostle Paul write, “If I speak in the tonguesof men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love . . . always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 4-6, NIV).
Sounds like love believes the best and always speaks with patient kindness.
May I pray for you?
God, help us to not only guard our hearts, but to guard our mouths. Reveal the source of negativity in our minds, and renew our thoughts and the words that flow from them to others. Teach us to speak the language of love. In a world filled with hate and destruction, help us to be beacons of light that heal. In Jesus’ name and for His kingdom’s sake, Amen.
Over the past four weeks, we’ve looked at some relational disorders in others that are difficult to endure. My hope is that you’ve seen how to better relate to the challenging people in your life. We all have them, and we probably always will.
But what if it’s you? What if you’re the one suffering from one or more of these negative relational problems? What do you do if you’re the critic, the control freak, the volcano or the sponge? Is there really any hope for you or are you locked into a personality and way of life that cannot truly change?
Many years ago, a man came to me after a service in our church. He was in his 50s, married, and he had two sons. With tears in his eyes, he told me the highlights (or better put—the lowlights) of his life. He was a recovering alcoholic. He’d been in prison. His sons despised him. His wife was afraid of him. You could say he was the poster-boy for three of the four things we’ve covered in this blog series. He had a terrible temper, was as negative and critical as anyone you’ve ever met, and he was the ultimate control freak.
That day he asked me one question: “Can God change me?” And without hesitation my answer was, “Yes, restoration is His specialty!” That man died about ten years ago, but God did radically change him and his relationships during the last years of his life.
I believe with all my heart that whatever we are does not have to be who we will become. Whatever character issues or problems you have right now can be healed and resolved by the transforming power of God in your life. You can change, and there is hope because nothing is too big for God.
That being said, we do have a responsibility to cooperate with God.
Let’s take a look at our part in the process:
1. Be honest.
It’s imperative that you take off whatever mask you tend to live behind. The first step toward genuine and lasting change begins with honesty. As long as you live in denial or pretending to be something that you’re not, you hinder the transforming power of God in your life.
It’s like tying a knot in a hose; there can be all sorts of “living water” available, but it can’t get beyond the obstruction you’ve created or allowed.
King David understood this better than most when he wrote, “When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.’
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” Psalm 32:3, 5
No one is perfect. So why pretend or hide? Wouldn’t it be better to get real and to take off the mask?
2. Get help.
It is important to admit that you’re broken, but it’s not enough. You could walk around the rest of your life saying, “Man, I’m messed up!” But acknowledgement is only the first step. Once you’ve owned your sin, you need to get the support and encouragement that comes from accountability. You can’t do it on your own.
This is hard for some of us (most of us) to admit. Our culture admires rugged independence. We are stubbornly autonomous, and we believe that strong people are self-sufficient and only weak and needy people require the help of others. What a bunch of hooey! What a lie. We all need help and it’s okay. We desperately need God’s, and we absolutely need the help of others.
The guy I mentioned earlier got into the Word of God. He learned to walk in the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit, and he developed significant relationships with two other brothers who loved him and helped him grow. He told me once that it was like being on a roller coaster, lots of twists and turns, slow at times and occasionally scary, but always moving, changing, and growing.
You are not alone, and you were designed to function best when you are properly related vertically with God, and horizontally with others.
3. Be patient.
I’m not a very patient man. Once I know something or see something, I then want something, and I want it now! However, on a regular basis the Lord reminds me: “You didn’t create this situation or mess overnight, and it might take more than a night to change it and you.”
Just because you now realize what you’ve been doing and how you must change doesn’t mean that change will come quickly or easily. Can God do an instant miracle? Of course, He can. But often with Him the process is as important as the end product.
I want it now; He wants it to last.
I want it my way; He wants to teach me His way.
I want it easy; He wants me to grow.
Patience is far more than a virtue; it’s a way of life that must be cultivated.
Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 7:8 (NIV), “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.”
You also must be patient with your friends, family, and those who might have written you off as a lost cause. It’s vital that you give them time and opportunity to see what God hasdone and is doing in you. If they’ve been wounded or abused by you, then healing of your relationship will take time. Endure.
Above all, hold on to hope. God can and will change you and heal your broken relationships. But He needs you to yield to Him, to cooperate with Him, and to trust the work of His love and His power in your life. The God who saves us, transforms us from the inside-out. How cool is that?