Lesson 3 - Growing Closer to God Through Being a Friend

The longer I have been a part of the Lord's church the more I have come to realize that often times people visit church needing a savior but don't fully understand that. Many times they come just wanting a friend. They come here because they realize there was something missing in their life that they longed to have filled. They have a God shaped whole in their heart that can only be filled by His divine presence. The challenge is they don't understand this at first. Instead they just simply want someone who they can connect to. Someone they can depend on. Someone they can trust. It is up to each Christian to rise to meet this challenge. It is up to us to be their friend. Otherwise they will leave and try to find what they are looking for somewhere else.

This all sounds so simple doesn't it? Being a friend is easy, right? Then why are there are those who visit, or even those who attend church regularly, that feel alone. That feel isolated. That feel they do not have a friend? This is because Satan knows that if this need is met, he will lose. So he put some stumbling blocks in our way. Here are a few:

---Long time members - I have noticed that the longer people are at a congregation the more content they are with their lives and struggle to reach out to visitors. This is also true if they have lots of family in the congregation. This isn't a blanket statement but it does seem to be the case a lot of the time. This violated the ideal Jesus established in Matthew 18:12-13. When we have a stable full of safe sheep, it isn't our job to go find any sheep that need that same safety. It is important to remember, the church is not a museum for the saved, it is a hospital fr the lost.

Matthew 18:12-13
"What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains, and go and search for the one that is lost? 13 And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that have not gone astray.

---Cliques - I have heard teens say will not go to a youth event, especially if it is service based, unless "their friends" are coming. Let me be blunt, this is a thought straight from the Devil himself. To turn your back on your fellow Christians, and those who are seeking Him, for such selfish reasons is shameful! This isn't the very definition of clique thinking. It's funny thing, everyone says they do not like cliques, and yet cliques thrive.

---Contentment - Peace is a good thing right? Sure, as long as that peace doesn't cause us to think we are ok. It isn't good if it causes us to be lazy. It isn't good if it causes us to look down on others. In Amos 6:1 we are given a "woe" (warning) statement against being at peace in Zion. Peace and comfort are times where we should seek to actively grow our faithfulness and the church as a whole. Unfortunately sometimes we don't take advantage of these times, and instead sit on our success. The same applies to friendship. I heard a lady say one time, "I have all the friends I need" in an off-handed way. There was a new member at church who, had really looked up to the lady, and she heard this statements. This was years ago and to this day the new member (who isn't a member here) mentions it to me often. Maybe you aren't bold enough to say this out loud, however you can say it with your actions. Here are some ways to test your friendliness:

1. Quite simply do you, deep down, feel like you are better than others?
2. Do you only sit by people you are already friends with?
3. In the past 30 days have you made a new relationship or any effort to grow a relationship?

Amos 6:1
Woe to those who are carefree in Zion,
And to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
The dignitaries of the foremost of nations,
To whom the house of Israel comes.

---Biases - Looks, money, clothes, cars, athletic ability, intelligence, humor, social skills, church experience, and on and on. Each of us are different. Each of use are special in God's eyes and very importantly because we have a place and a responsibility in God's Kingdom. Make no mistake, God sees the inward man and not the outward.

In this lesson we will learn from James says about how we are to minister to the world, and to you another, by simply offering ourselves a friend to someone's who needs it.

Growing Close to God through being a Friend

James 2:1-4
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Jesus told us to treat others like we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). We have heard this so many times it may have become "noise." In this passage James provides some details on what this principle actually looks in in practical life. First, it is important to understand that no matter how highly we think of ourselves, it is only by the grace of God that we are allowed to live. Everything we have has been given to us to use for Him. Don't get caught up with the shallow and temporary things in life. If we do not use what we have for Him or we are at risk of losing it all.

Likewise no matter how pitiful we think we are it is critical to understand that God has great plans for everyone. Christ died for all and His sacrifice gives you worth and value that is of so much significance than worldly things.

Look at what James says. Treat everyone the same. Don't judge a book by its cover. Walk in someone shoes before judging them. How would you feel if someone treated you that way?  Beauty is only skin deep. Be kind. Be nice. Be a light. All of these statements are familiar to us. They are easy to say, but hard to live. There are been many books and movies that tell the story of someone who is considered "low" for one reason or the other. We all read and watch these stories and cheer for the person and feel so good when it all works out in the end. We admire those who have the courage to break with the norm and step up to defend and support the person. But do we live that story's in our lives?

James 2:5
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?

James gives us insight into the hearts and character of man. He tells us that people society considers lowly, are often the best candidates to hear and obey the gospel. This does not relieve our responsibility to teach everyone, but it challenges us to pay special attention to those it may be easy to overlook. 

James 2:8-13
If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violators. 10 For whoever keeps the whole Law, yet stumbles in one point, has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do murder, you have become a violator of the Law. 12 So speak, and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

This passage should really grab our attention because it's has the quote, "you are committing sin." Anytime the Bible specifically calls out something as a sin, we should make sure we understand what is being said, and that we are not guilty of it. James writes that if we like someone better for superficial reasons we are sinners no matter how prefect we are in keeping all of the other commandments. Showing someone "mercy" means mercy will be shown to you. Mercy is welcoming a visitor. Mercy is showing interest in someone. Mercy is spending time with someone who is lonely. Mercy is sitting by someone so they don't have to sit alone. Mercy is opening your circle of life to others. Mercy is just being a friend.