Sunday, March 12, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#1—Befriended by God
Introduction and offering:
Today we kick off a new series called Befriend. I want to talk with you about friendship—friendship with God and friendship with people—especially with people who are different from you. The inspiration for this series came from three things.
First, I thought it would be a great follow up to Our Big Deal for 2017: Think 3. To Think 3 means every generation thinks 3 generations into the future, and one on either side of you. A healthy church like a healthy family is multi-generational. One of the best ways to Think 3 is simply to be friends with people who are older or younger than you.
ILL: David Lewellyn spotted some Threenkers (he has patented this name for Think 3-ers) in the wild and snapped this photo at a coffee shop. Kristi Burns (in her 60’s) is meeting with her friends Shelbi and Kyha (in their 20’s). You go girls! Think 3…you Threenkers!
We all tend to gravitate toward people who are like us. In this series, I’m going to challenge you to befriend people who are different from you—including those who are younger or older. Think 3 and be a Threenker!
Second, I was inspired by Scott Saul’s excellent book, Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation and Fear. The book is a collection of 20 essays, each encouraging you to befriend someone different. The big idea in Scott’s book: real friendship happens when we move toward the people we are most tempted to avoid. And that leads to…
Third, I want to return to the theme of the Gracism series. We touched a nerve during that series. I said that we could overcome racism with gracism: move toward the person who is different from you. Be a friend. That message was well received by most of you, but was completely missed by others who got stuck on side issues related to race. I got more angry pushback on that series than anything I’ve ever done in 39 years. It shocked me, and made me think I need to preach on this again. In fact, it reminded me of a story.
ILL: John Ortburg tells a story about Clarence Jordan visiting a country church in South Carolina in the 1950’s. Jordan was a New Testament scholar and farmer who wrote the CottonPatch Gospels—a paraphrase of the New Testament as if it were written to churches in the American South. Churches were still segregated, so Jordan was stunned to preach to an integrated church of hundreds of blacks and whites together. He asked the hillbilly pastor how this happened. The pastor told him that when he took over, there were only 20 people left, and he preached the first Sunday on Galatians 3:28: “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” He told his church that Jesus makes all kinds of people one, including black and white. When the deacons told him that they didn’t want to hear any more of that kind of preaching, he fired the deacons and doubled down on the preaching. “Once I found out what bothered them people I gave it to them week after week. I put the knife in the same place Sunday after Sunday.” He preached that church down to four people! But those people were ready to love everyone always—and their church took off!
Sometimes you need to put the knife in the same place. So I want to circle back and come at this idea from a different and larger angle. I want to encourage you to move out of your comfort zones and befriend people who are different—whether it’s different race or age or faith or political persuasion. Move towards the other! Love Everyone Always! Befriend!
The Big Idea: Real friendship happens when we move toward the people we are most tempted to avoid. God has moved toward you!
Today, I want to share the good news that God has moved toward you. God has made you His friend.
Offering here. We have a new way for you to give: by text! I tried it—it’s very simple. You text 84321. In the message box, type the amount you want to give—just a number, no dollar sign required. If it is your first time, you will be asked if you want to use your bank account or credit card. Respond to the prompts. It takes about a minute. After your first time, all you do is text 84321 and fill in the amount and boom! It’s done. It’s so much fun that I’ve been walking around all week just texting money!
Also, many of you give by using automated payments. If you want to be a regular giver, this is one of the simplest and best ways to do it. You can set up automated giving through your bank, or on our app or website.
- We are reconciled: God moved towards His enemies.
ILL: During the Revolutionary War, there was a pastor named Peter Miller who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania and enjoyed the friendship and respect of George Washington. In that same town lived a man named Michael Widman, a troublemaker who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor, including spit in his face, trip him when he walked by and once even punched him. One day, Michael Widman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled fifty miles on foot to Valley Forge to plead for the life of the traitor.
“No Peter,” George Washington said. “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”
“My friend!” exclaimed the old preacher. “He’s the most bitter enemy I have; but I don’t believe he is guilty of treason.”
“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked fifty miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I’ll grant your pardon.” And he did.
Peter Miller took Michael Widman back home to Ephrata—no longer an enemy, but a friend.
I love that story! It’s such a clear example of what God did for us. He moved toward us, His enemies, and made us His friends.
Romans 5:10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.
I want you to notice two things from this verse: two “we were’s.”
First, we were God’s enemies. The Bible never says that God was our enemy, only that we were God’s enemies. God is for you, not against you—always has been, always will be. He wants the best for you. God was never your enemy. But we were God’s enemies. Michael Widman was Peter Miller’s enemy—but Peter was never Michael’s enemy. The problem was entirely with Michael, not Peter. And in the same way, we were God’s enemies—the problem was entirely with us. We rebelled, we sinned, we rejected God—and all the while, He continued to love us.
ILL: When songwriter and singer Carolyn Arends saw a killer deal on a laptop on Ebay, she told her friend Spencer about it. “Usually when a thing is too good to be true…” he warned. “Be careful.” Annoyed, Carolyn assured him that she wasn’t born yesterday. She sent off $1300 and quickly learned she’d been scammed. She felt like a fool, and didn’t want to tell Spencer. So the next time his caller ID popped up on her phone, she didn’t answer. She could just imagine his, “I told you so.” She began avoiding Spencer completely and soon started resenting him. Why did he have to be so judgmental? Why couldn’t he be on my side? She became Spencer’s enemy—not because of anything he had done, but what she had done.
This is what happened with us and God. Our sin made us pull away from God. We became His enemy, but He was never our enemy. It was all our problem, not His. By the way, when Carolyn bumped into Spencer, he asked about the computer and she told him, and all he said was, “I’m sorry, Carolyn.” She felt more foolish about being Spencer’s enemy than getting fleeced on the computer! They were friends again.
Now usually, when a relationship is broken because of one person’s failure, who do we expect to mend it? The person who failed. That leads to the second thing I want you to notice
Second, we were reconciled by God’s effort, not ours. God could have said, “It’s your fault; it’s your problem; you fix it.” But He didn’t. Instead, God fixed it. Michael Widman was in the wrong, but it was Peter Miller who took the initiative to reconcile and make him a friend. In the same way, I was wrong, but God took the initiative and reconciled me to Himself and made me His friend. We were reconciled—it was all God’s doing, not ours. All we can do is what Michael Widman did: gratefully accept it as a gift and go home friends instead of enemies. That’s grace.
And notice what God did to reconcile us: we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son. (Romans 5:10) When did Jesus die for us?
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
When did Jesus die for us? When we were still sinners—when we were still God’s enemies. I want you to understand that when it comes to reconciliation with God, you brought nothing to the equation but your sin. No one can say, “Oh yeah, God and I are friends. We had a problem, but we worked it out. We negotiated a deal.” We didn’t work anything out—God worked it out. Michael Widman didn’t negotiate a settlement—he didn’t do anything—he simply accepted what Peter Miller did for him. We were reconciled—it’s all God’s doing. This is clearly stated in another important passage on reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:17–20
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Who did the reconciling? God did. It says it twice, in verses 18-19: God reconciled us to Himself in Christ. God did it! God made us His friends. God moved toward His enemies to make them His friends. Just like Peter Miller moved toward his enemy, Michael Widman—literally, walking 50 miles to get to him—so God moved toward us in Jesus.
What can you infer from this? God must really want to be friends with you!
ILL: Rick Noll has been my best friend for over 40 years now. We were friends in Eugene, and when Laina and I moved here in 1978, we often traveled back to Eugene to see family or for church meetings, and we always spent some time with Rick and Janine. We didn’t go to Eugene just to see them, but because they were friends, we always made sure we did see them when we were there. But they made regular trips to Spokane to see us—not for any other reason—no church meetings, no family in Spokane, no business, no other reason than just to hang out with us. I’ve always thought it was cool that they valued our friendship that much—it’s a long drive from Eugene to Spokane! They really wanted to be our friends to make that trip!
God must really want to be friends with you. He moved towards you—all the way from heaven—when you were His enemy, when you wanted nothing to do with Him. He really wants to be your friend!
We are reconciled to God because He moved towards us when we were His enemies. And now…
- We are God’s friends: Portraits of friendship.
Here’s a question for you. What do you assume God feels when you come to mind? What is the first word that pops into your mind? Does God feel disappointment when He thinks of you? Anger? Hurt? Frustration? Listen to this verse:
Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
What do you assume God feels when you come to mind? Did any of you think, “Delight!” Or “joy!” The prophet Zephaniah wrote these inspired words from God to Israel in the 7th Century BC. Israel wasn’t doing very well; most of Zephaniah’s prophecy is predicting judgment. But at the end, he reminds Israel of God’s love for them, in spite of their rebellion. This verse was written to a sinful, rebellious, idolatrous people. God still delighted in them and rejoiced over them.
What do you assume God feels when you come to mind? What do you feel when your friends come to mind? What if you were God’s friend? What if He is delighted with you?
I want to look at a couple portraits of friendship with Jesus. The first one is found in:
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 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. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Jesus calls His disciples His friends. Does that apply only to them, or does it apply to us as well? If you are a follower of Jesus, this is for you—you are His friend. Did you notice that this passage begins and ends with “This is my command: love each other.” And specifically, “Love each other as I have loved you.” We are to love each other just as Jesus has loved us. So how has He loved us? He paints a beautiful portrait of His friendship with us. Three things:
First, He gave his life for His friends.
13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Jesus loved us by giving His life for us. There is no greater sacrifice one can make for a friend—and Jesus made it for you.
ILL: James Bryan Smith, in The Good and Beautiful God, tells an amazing story about how author Brennan Manning got the name “Brennan.” While growing up, his best friend was Ray. The two of them did everything together: bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, went to school together and so forth. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together and fought on the frontlines together. One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the foxhole. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded, killing Ray, but Brennan’s life was spared.
When Brennan became a priest he was instructed to take on the name of a saint. He thought of his friend, Ray Brennan. So he took on the name “Brennan.” Years later he went to visit Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Mrs. Brennan got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “What more could he have done for you?” Brennan said that at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, Does God really love me? And Jesus’ mother Mary pointing to her son, saying, “What more could he have done for you?”
The ultimate portrait of friendship is Jesus giving His life on a cross for you, His friend.
Second, Jesus tells His friends everything.
14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 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.
“You are my friends,” Jesus says. I know that the “if you do what I command” sound conditional, but I think it’s meant to be reciprocal. Jesus has just said that He gave everything for His friends, and friends naturally reciprocate and give back. Jesus invites us into a reciprocal friendship, each of us giving our all to the other. It’s not 50-50 friendship; it’s 100-100 friendship.
Jesus not only gives His life for us, but He makes known to us everything He learned from the Father. Servants don’t know the master’s business; but friends do. You share your secrets with your best friends. Jesus invites us into His confidence. He opens His heart and shares freely and fully with us what He knows from the Father. This is beautifully illustrated in another Jesus story, found in:
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus, were some of Jesus’ closest friends. In this story, Jesus and His followers stop in Bethany to stay with them. Martha busied herself making preparations. How would you feel having 13 men drop in for dinner and the night? That’s how Martha felt. She was busy cooking, cleaning, setting the table, bustling back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room. And while she worked, what did Mary do? She sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him. And with every trip to the dining room, Martha got more upset, until finally she burst into the living room and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me.”
Not fair! Mary should be doing her fair share! You would expect Jesus to side with Martha, and gently tell Mary to go help her sister. But as usual, Jesus surprises us. “Martha, Martha,”—can you hear the affection in His voice? The repetition of a person’s name in a Semitic language was a term of endearment. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her.”
What was the “one thing” that Jesus thought was needed? Let’s back up even farther: why did Jesus stay with Mary and Martha? Of course they needed a place to stay and a meal, but why at Mary and Martha’s? Why not Motel 8? Because they were His friends, and besides…it’s cheaper. Jesus wanted to hang out with His friends. Talk and catch up. Which is precisely what Mary was doing—and exactly what Martha was missing. Earlier, Luke told us that Martha was distracted by all the preparations. Distracted from what? Friendship with Jesus. Jesus stopped by as a friend, and Martha was missing the whole point of the visit. “Sit down, Martha; let’s visit. Dinner will wait. Let’s talk.”
I don’t want to be too hard on Martha. She was serving, always a noble task, and was practicing the gospel virtue of hospitality. What she was doing was good. But at that moment, it wasn’t what was best. She was distracted from the one thing needed—friendship with Jesus. He wanted to talk with her.
Does that ever describe you? Distracted by the good from the best? So busy that you don’t have time to be friends with Jesus, to sit and listen? I wonder how many times I’ve left Jesus in the living room alone while I busily worked for Him. What He wants most of all is a relationship—He wants to be my friend.
Here’s the clincher. Jesus said that He tells His friends everything. While Martha bustled, Mary sat and listened. And while we don’t know exactly what Jesus told His friend, I think He was telling her what He was about to do: go to the cross for us. Jesus had tried to tell His other friends about this and they either didn’t get it, or they corrected Him. Remember Peter saying, “Never Lord! This will never happen to you.” And Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan.” Jesus told them and they didn’t get it—but Mary got it. Here’s how I know:
In that final week of Jesus’ life, He visited Mary and Martha and Lazarus again. This time, Mary brought out a jar of perfume worth a year’s wages, and poured the whole jar on Jesus. His friends protested, “What a waste! This could have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Jesus intervened. “Leave her alone. She has done a beautiful thing for me. She has poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare me for burial.” Everyone else wondered what Jesus was talking about. He was about to ride in triumph into Jerusalem. They believed He was the Messiah about to set up His kingdom. They had no idea that within a few days He would be arrested, beaten, and nailed to a Roman cross. They had no idea He was about to die—but Mary did. Why? Because she was Jesus’ friend; Jesus told her everything, and she listened. While Martha was distracted, while the other disciples were making their own plans, she listened to Jesus and she got it.
It’s a beautiful portrait of friendship, isn’t it? Jesus wants to talk with you. Don’t be so busy, so distracted that you can’t spend some just being His friend. He talks with His friends. Are you listening?
We’ll finish back in John 15.
First, Jesus gave His life for His friends.
Second, Jesus tells His friends everything.
Third, Jesus chooses you to be His friend.
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
I love this. I didn’t choose Jesus; He chose me. What do you choose? You choose what you like. You choose what you want.
ILL: Here are two choices for your lunch/dinner. Liver and onions or surf and turf. Which do want?
You choose what you like. Jesus says, “I choose you.” Is it possible that Jesus likes you, and wants you to be His friend? I think so. I think that’s why He chose you.