What if they could, scientifically, dissect a human being and find out what makes us tick?  What makes us flourish?  What makes us healthy?  What makes us happy?  They actually tried to do this, not by dissection but by study.  Back in 1938, roughly 80 years ago, the Harvard Study of Adult Development embarked on one of the longest studies ever done.  It’s been going on for the past 79 years. They’ve been interviewing as many of these men that are still alive; 724 started in the study and around 19 are still alive.  Now they are starting to interview their kids or their grandkids.  They would send out an annual survey and ask a number of questions trying to figure out if they were happy, if they were healthy.  They would ask about their workplace, they would ask about their home life, they would ask a number of questions.  They even interviewed some of these men in their homes. What they found out is that there was one variable, one factor, that contributed most strongly to happiness and to health.  If you were to cut inside of us and be able to figure out what it is that makes a human being tick, what it is that makes a human being flourish, there would be one thing for all of us in this room that would be a foundation for flourishing.  They found out that it had nothing to do with wealth, because they had a wide variety of socio-economic statuses involved in this study.  It had nothing to do with fame or power.  It had nothing to do with work or how hard somebody worked.  The number one thing they found that determined flourishing for human beings was good relationships.  Here’s how a director of this study framed it (Robert Waldinger, the fourth director) — “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”   Good relationships, according to him, keep us happier and keep us healthier period.

As someone who believes in the validity of the Scriptures, this is recognizable.  The Bible has been saying what that study proved for years!!  Listen to the way it’s said in Genesis 2:18 — Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.  Now, just some background here.  After the first chapter, this is a surprise. In chapter one of Genesis, God says five times ‘it is good.’   He creates…it’s good; he creates…it’s good; he creates…it’s good.  Day six, he steps back from his creation, high fives himself and goes, “I’m really good.  It’s VERY good.”  Chapter two, we see it’s ‘not good.’  Nothing has changed.  Sin has not entered the picture. Brokenness has not consumed, or impacted, God’s creation.  Nothing’s changed.  God looks at the world he’s created and goes, “Listen, we’re missing something.”  When he says it’s not good, he’s not just talking about marriage that the context directly applies to, but he’s talking about relationships.  He’s talking about friendships.  He’s talking about what the Harvard Study of Adult Development has found out, surveying 724 people over the course of almost 80 years.  That it’s not good.  Maybe you’ve experienced seasons of loneliness (and maybe you’re in one right now), or seasons where it felt like there was nobody you could call in order to share what was going on in your life.  Maybe you’ve lost somebody who was really, really close to you, they were that person for you.  You would raise your hand, or if you were on this platform, you would go, “Absolutely! It is not good.”  It hurts on the soul level to get to the point where we feel like we’re alone or we’re abandoned.

In 1985, they did a poll and asked people all around the United States, “How many people do you feel you have to call if something were to go wrong, or just to share your heart?  Somebody you could tell anything to.”  In 1985, people typically answered around three.  People had three people they could call and say anything to. They did a similar study recently and found that the number has dropped from three people to two people. You’re going, “Paulson, that’s not all that much.”  We’ve lost a third of the people we could call.  What they’re finding out is that even in an age of social media and hyper-connection, we, as a human species, feel more disconnected than we ever have.  With all of the things we have to AID connection, we feel more disconnected than we ever have.  If that’s you this morning and this resonates with you, or you agree with this, or if you feel it’s something you need to dig deeper into and figure out what’s going on, this morning is for you.  If you feel like you’re lonely, this morning is for you.  {Will you look up at me a second?}  So much of the time when we talk about relationships, it’s easy to identify ‘I don’t have people in my life that I can talk to’ AND to blame it on everybody else.  So as lovingly as I can, can I propose to you that you are THE only common denominator in all of your relationships.  Whether they’re flourishing or whether they’re failing.  I say that to you in love and I want to follow that up by saying to you, “There’s hope!”  It’s way to easy to get into the pattern where it’s everybody else’s fault.  So let me just throw it out there — Maybe it’s your fault.  That’s okay.   There is something that you and we, together, can do about it this morning, because like I said, the Bible has been talking about the importance of relationships for millennia.  It’s been saying that this is something that causes human flourishing from the dawn of creation.

As we embark on this study in the book of Proverbs, we shouldn’t be surprised that when God talks about wisdom, and when Solomon writes about wisdom, he talks about friendship.  It takes wisdom to know how to navigate relationships.  If you’ve ever been in a relationship or a marriage, you know it takes wisdom to know how to navigate relationships.  Anybody want to say amen?  Amen, it does!  It’s really easy to get into a pattern where we start to experience death instead of life.  The book of Proverbs is going to warn us, encourage us, and edify us to choose a different path.  Remember, proverbs are short, pithy statements about the way the world generally works.  They’re principles, not promises.  They’re going to help align us with the way God’s wired the world to work.  Friendship is one of the things, relationships are one of the things we need to know….God, how have you designed this thing to work, because part of our human flourishing depends on it?  Here are a few tidbits from the book of Proverbs that might be helpful.

Proverbs 21:19 — It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.  {Wouldn’t it be great to have a coffee mug with that on it?!}   It’s difficult to live with somebody who constantly wants to fight.  Here’s another piece of friendship/relationship-wisdom from the book of Proverbs (25:17) — Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.   Some of the things we talk about today, you’re just going to want to temper with yeah, you have to have wisdom in the when and the how much. There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing.   You might be that good thing.  {That’s for free.}  Proverbs 27:14 — Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.Anyone want to say amen to that?  This is a 10:45 service; the 9:45 service didn’t get that.  You guys get it. Solomon is saying that the content of what you say matters, but the timing of what you say matters too.  This is the better part of wisdom.  If you call somebody early in the morning—even if you tell them something good—they’re not going to like you.

And Proverbs 27:17.  I would consider this to be one of the most popular verses in all of the Proverbs, and probably one of the most prolific passages on friendship in the entire Bible.  Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.  The Harvard Study of Adult Development can identify that human flourishing happens because of human relationships, but Solomon’s going to take it a step further.  He’s going to say it’s not just any type of relationship that causes human flourishing.  There’s a type of relationship that’s iron on iron. {Ryan uses a hatchet and a (steel) file to visually show this point throughout the sermon.}  It’s two people who care about each other coming in contact with each other.  Solomon says that type of interaction changes us.  That type of interaction shapes us.  That type of interaction causes us to grow and become different types of people.  Here’s how we’d summarize it today:  Relational devotion is designed to inspire personal development.  You know this.  You know the type of people who you go out to a meal with, and you sit around a table, and you walk away from it going, “I’m encouraged,” or “I’m challenged,” or “I feel like they know me.”  Or maybe it’s even just a quick text conversation you have with somebody you know cares about you, you know loves you, you’re walking through a difficult season and they get back to you and say, “I’m with you.  I’m praying for you.”  It’s that relational devotion that strengthens us, that encourages us, that builds us up.  That’s part of the way God’s wired the universe Solomon is saying.  We grow as we connect with each other.  None of us are designed to be an island.  Part of the power in gathering together as a community of faith is these relationships that happen and start to take place.

I love the way the author, Ruth Haley Barton, puts it:  “Spiritual friendship is a relationship devoted to paying attention to the invitations of God in our lives and supporting one another in making a faithful response.”  Let me repeat that so it can soak in a little bit.  Spiritual friendship is a relationship devoted to paying attention to the invitations of God…..so God, where are you in my life?  Where are you in this person’s life that I’m walking with?  AND supporting one another in making a faithful response. That’s what it means to be in relationship with people of faith.  I want to fight for your good.  I want to see you flourish.  I want to be that iron-on-iron type of a person for you and in your life.  I want to see you grow.  True friendship is about mutual formation.  It’s not just about fun, it’s not just about enjoyment, it’s walking together in life and being mutually formed more and more into the image of God.  Which means that there are times when friendship is painful, when it stings a little bit.  There’s times when it’s providential, when God uses a word from a friend.  Have you ever experienced this?  God uses a word from a friend to just sort of get you beyond that place where you’re stuck.  That friend just sort of gives you that proverbial push in the right direction. {Look up at me just a moment.}  Our lives are either enhanced or diminished by the people that are in our closest circle of friends.  It’s the number one factor that determines the vitality with which we walk through life.  This morning I want to walk through this passage specifically, and I want to explore some other passages in Proverbs that give us instruction on what it looks like to have genuine friendship that do this for each other….they pay attention to the invitations of God and support each other in making a faithful response.  Here’s the thing….if you’re going, “Hey, Paulson, I wanted some meat today.  I wanted some theology,” I just want to push back gently and encourage you that this may be one of the messages we all most need to hear.  It’s so practical.  My hope is that you walk out of this with an encouragement, number one, and a challenge to say, “There are some things I’m going to do differently because of what I’ve seen in the Scriptures.”

Here’s the way that happens.  Proverbs 27:17 again.  Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.  Did you know that iron very rarely comes into contact with iron accidentally?  That may be hard for you to believe. It just doesn’t happen on accident.  Not only that, it doesn’t happen at the right angle and at the right rhythm with the right sort of force by accident.  Neither to relationships.  They take some pursuit.  They take some intentionality.  Proverbs 27:17 would say listen, if we want to live this type of life—the type of life that flourishes because of relationships—then we’ve got to choose to make it a priority.  I understand that we live in a very busy culture, we live in a very busy time, you always have things you could be doing with your time….Solomon would say to us that this is such a priority—-your sharpening, your vitality, your flourishing depends on it—-we need to create space in our life to forge and form friendships.  Acquaintances happen by accident.  You can run into somebody and have a few things in common and that’s an acquaintance and that happens by accident.  Friendships happen only through intention.  Only through intentionality do you form the type of friendship that Solomon is talking about.  Here’s one of the challenges — Whoever isolates {Whoever builds this sort of wall around himself or herself….} himself seeks his own desire.  {Solomon would say I get it….introvert and extrovert….that’s a real thing and there’s ways that people are wired and programmed, but if you choose to have zero contact with other people, that’s actually a selfish thing, you’re seeking your own desire.  He says not only that, but it leads to a place where this person who isolates….}  …. he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Prov. 18:1)   They start getting so in their own head, they can’t see the outside world for what it actually really is.  There’s time where we need people to speak into our life.  He’s saying we should be intentional about breaking through the tendency that some of us have to be isolated.  Maybe for you it’s….I’m going to make the phone call to that person that we’ve lost contact for a few months and I really need to follow up with them.  Maybe it’s a phone call.  Maybe it’s an invite to somebody to come over for dinner; or maybe you invite yourself over to their house.    What’s the intentional step that God would have you take in light of this?

It’s not just presence, it’s not just being in proximity with a person.  It’s actually being open to a person.  We all know that we can be physically close and emotionally closed.  Yes?   We can with somebody and not give them access to us.  Not give them access to our hearts.  Not give them access to our minds and what’s really going on. One of the biggest challenges we have is not that we live in a culture of isolation, it’s not that we live in the rugged individualistic West….one of the biggest challenges we have as human beings is the same challenge that human beings have had since the dawn of creation.  It’s the challenge of shame.  It’s the ability to say to somebody else, “I’m going to let you know the full, real, true me.”   I’ll give you the ability to see the dirt, the things that I wish I hadn’t said, the things I wish I hadn’t done, and I’m going to believe, because of the relationship we have together, that you’re going to love me anyway.  Most of us have this tape that plays, this narrative of shame that plays in the back of our minds that tells us this lie — If they know the real me, I’ll be rejected.  If they know the real me, they won’t want anything to do with me.   We hear express pursuit and we go, yeah, I’ll make a phone call, or yeah, I’ll invite somebody over to dinner, but I’m not going to let them know the real me because I don’t want them to hurt me.  When we say we’re pursuing other people in a life-giving community that sharpens each other, it’s not just being in proximity, it’s being known.  It’s intentionality AND…AND…AND it’s vulnerability.  It’s getting to the place with people who you trust, where, because of what they know about you, they could hurt you if they chose to.  Do you have people like that in your life, who you’ve been that honest with, that raw with?  Solomon would say our vitality depends on it.  The life that we long for is actually found in that place.  Do you have that type of sharpening relationship?  Or, maybe better said, do you want that kind of growth?  Maybe, just maybe, the Spirit would put his finger on some things in your life, this morning, and say, “I’m inviting you to a different face of being you.”  Open.  Vulnerable.  Honest.  The person who isolates himself seeks his own desire and walks in judgment, meaning he doesn’t experience life fully.

Proverbs goes on talking about friendships, relationships, and says this:  Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend;  {How many of you have been wounded by a friend before? Or someone said something to you that was true, that was honest, that was good, but you didn’t love it, but it didn’t feel good at the time.}  …profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Prov. 27:5-6)  It’s better to have friends that speak truth to you than it is to have enemies who tell you a good thing.  My wife, Kelly, absolutely hates driving in the snow. She would rather walk to work, which is five-plus miles away, than drive in the snow, even if it’s like a little bit. Here’s what we learned about Kelly this last winter — she has a really good prayer life.  It was really dry this whole winter.  You can thank her….she prayed away all of those storms.  But here’s what I learned — It takes friction for us to go.  It takes friction for us to drive in a car.  The only reason your car makes it down the road is because there’s friction between the tire and the street.  You take that away and it’s really hard to get anywhere.  It takes friction to go; it also takes friction to grow.  What happens when iron hits iron is that there’s a friction that happens between each piece of iron.  That sometimes isn’t fun.  If we’re going to be the type of people who thrive in relationships the way God’s designed us to, we’ve not only got to express pursuit—-say I’m going to be intentional and I’m going to be vulnerable—-we have to also be willing to embrace friction.

In my chronological reading through the Bible this year, I read a story in 2 Chronicles 18:4-8 about two kings. One was the king of Israel, Ahab, and the other was the king of Judea, Jehoshaphat.   They made this alliance, this friendship, together.  They were debating whether or not they were going to go to war against Ramoth-gilead.  In 2 Chronicles 18:4-7, listen to how Jehoshaphat frames the decision:  And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the Lord.”  {What great advice!  Hey, you know what we should do before we go to war?  You know what we should do before you make that decision about that relationship?  You know what we should do before you make the job change?  Let’s ask God.  Let’s see what God thinks we should do.}  Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?”  And they said, “Go up, for God will give it into the hand of the king.”  But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?”  {Is there anybody else who has something to say about this?  Is there anybody that maybe has a dissenting opinion? Maybe we should ask another person.  Verse 7 says this…} And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil.”    Ahab did not say there’s this guy Micaiah and I hate him because he’s always wrong.   Or, I hate him because he always prophesies something that actually doesn’t come to pass.  No.  What he says is I hate him because he doesn’t tell me what I want to hear.

Here’s what I found throughout the course of my life, it is really hard to have a Micaiah in your life, is it not?   But the truth of the matter is they didn’t listen to Micaiah, they went off to war, and they got destroyed because of it.  This type of friction in a relationship, in a friendship, in a group, is not something that is optional, it’s absolutely necessary. We need to surround ourselves with people who don’t just tell us what we want to hear, but who tell us the truth.  Because that’s what sharpens us.  You could find a hundred people who would just tell you what you want to hear, but to find a Micaiah who’s going to tell you the truth…that’s a gift. Do you have that kind of person in your life?  Do you have the Micaiahs in your life who, even when it’s not popular and even if they know you’d rather hear something else, are going to tell you what’s true.  We need it. We need it because we all have blindspots in our life.  We have things that are going on, decisions that we’re making, attitudes of our heart that we can’t see ourself.  We need people in our life that have the guts, have the bravery, have the love to speak into our life….Hey, here’s what I see.  I see you going down a road that I don’t think is going to end well for you.  I don’t think having that relationship is going to be good for you.  I don’t think taking that job is going to be good for you.  I think you need to let go of that dream.  We need people in our life who are going to speak truth, as Paul would say to the church at Ephesus: But rather, (saying to this church) instead of going this direction against the ways of Jesus, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way. (Eph. 4:16)  The Apostle Paul just said that you and I, we grow as people speak the truth to us in love.  Not only that, we grow as we speak the truth to others in love.

Iron sharpens iron, but marshmallows do not sharpen marshmallows.  It’s that willingness to speak up, and to speak life, and to speak truth, but here’s the problem.  For you and I to be the kind of people who speak the truth in love to others, we need to stand firmly on the gospel of truth.  We need to stand firmly on the reality that my worth and my identity is not tied up in what other people think of me, so I’m willing to say things that may be difficult for people to hear.  If I don’t stand on that foundation, I’ll just tell people what they want to hear all day long.  I love the way Henri Nouwen puts it.  He’s talking about what allows for the bravery to do this, because we need it.  It builds each other up in love.  Here’s what he says:  “The greatest spiritual task facing me {Think of the gravity of that statement.} is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world—free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless…  I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.”  YES!  That’s the power of gospel infusion into this topic of friendship and relationships that makes it all possible.  It makes it all possible because we stand on a foundation of his love that’s unshakable.

Quick clarification — Speaking the truth is all that we’re called to do.  Speak the truth in love, right?  This verse and this idea that true friendships involve friction is not a license to be a jerk.  It’s not a license to just…well, it’s true so I’m just going to say it, right?  That’s not what they’re saying.  Speaking the truth in love….you can say things multiple ways.  Some ways people can hear it, and receive it, and respond to it.  Some other ways people resist it.  It’s the challenge I face every single week preaching.  There’s multiple ways to deliver one message.  My goal, because I love you, is to deliver it in a way that you can actually hear.  Honesty does not equal harshness.  It doesn’t!  It means truth.

What does this actually look like and what does this actually mean?  Let me give you a few things this actually means in real life.  How can we do this?  How can we create the type of friction in relationships that leads to growth?   1) We can ask better questions.  Which means that we need to be better listeners.  We need to actually hear what people are saying and listen actively in a way that allows us to push the conversation a little deeper, a little bit beneath the surface, to really get to know people.  To be able to ask not just about the objective facts, but ask about the feelings beneath the facts.  2) Invite feedback.  Our new executive pastor, Larry Boatright, has modeled this for me really, really well.  We’ll get out of an interview that we’ve done together or a hard conversation that we’ve had to have with an employee and he’ll come into my office.   The first time that happened, he came into my office and said, “How could I do this better next time?  What type of feedback would you give me?”  The first time I was a little bit caught off-guard.  The second time I was like “Oh, so I guess this is a thing.  So we do this now.”  I can tell you that to have a platform to speak truth to somebody….they’re going “I want to hear it.  I want to hear the stuff that’s hard, the stuff that’s dark, the stuff that I don’t see.  Tell me please.”  It opens up all sorts of conversations.  If you want to take a relationship deeper with a friend, or a spouse, or a roommate, invite feedback.  What would you tell me about myself that I maybe cannot see on my own?  Then put on the gear and back up a little bit, right?  Because my guess is they’ll have something to say.   3) Tackle tough conversations.  Instead of letting things fester get it out in the open. You know the longer you wait to have that conversation you’re dreading, the worse it gets in your mind and in the mind of the other person.  Not only that, the longer you wait to have the conversation, the less true it actually becomes.  These things take on a life of their own in our mind and they grow.  The sooner you have that conversation….and my guess is, in a room this size with this many people, that most of us have something in our mind, a conversation we would have with somebody if we knew it would turn out well.  My encouragement is have that conversation. Don’t put it off.  Here’s the last thing.  If we’re going to be in the type of relationships where we embrace friction instead of running from it, we have to 4) assume the best about people.  Give them the benefit that they’re coming from the place of love.  Even if we don’t necessarily agree with what they say, we agree to choose to assume they’re coming from a place of love.

So, we ask better questions.  We invite feedback.  We tackle tough conversations instead of running from them. We assume the best.  In those types of relationships, you know that not only does iron sharpening iron need contact or pursuit.  Not only does it mean that we embrace friction, it’s not only how we go, it’s how we grow. So we’re going to ask better questions, we’re going to invite feedback….we know that if we do this long enough, there’s going to be some heat that’s created, yes?  There’s going to be some heat created, not only between the iron and the iron but between friends.  So what do we do with that?  Here’s what the book of Proverbs says:  A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Prov. 17:17)  Yet these are the moments that friendship is created for.  Those moments of friction, those moments of heat, because those are the moments we’ll look back at and go “Yeah, that’s when I grew the most.  That’s when I changed.”   So, we express pursuit, we embrace friction, and we endure the heat.  In the marriage, we endure the heat.  In the friendship, we endure the heat.  When it’s easier to run away, when things get uncomfortable, when things get to a place where we normally say “That’s where I tap out,” we choose, as a people of faith who stand on the foundation of being loved by the King of kings and the Lord of lords, to stay when it’s easier to go.

Here’s the way Solomon would say it looks like.  A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov. 18:24)  There’s a difference between a companion and a friend. A companion, when things get hard, is gone.  A friend, when things get hard, sticks close.  My friend, Donna Burns, (part of our writing group that meets every Thursday) told us there’s this great picture from old Westerns.  There’s two types of friends in Western movies.  There’s the type of friend who when the gun battle breaks out they’re the runner and they’re gone.  Then there’s the type of friend who when the battle breaks out goes “I’m right by your side and I’m not going anywhere.”  It would be really easy to ask if you have those kind of friends in your life….the ‘standers’ rather than the ‘runners.’  Let me ask a tougher question — What type of friend are you?  Are you a ‘stander’ or are you a ‘runner?’  When life gets hard, when the heat gets turned up, are you a stander or a runner?  When the heat gets turned up, Proverbs would encourage us to address it quickly — The beginning of strife is like letting out water {Picture a dam.  When there’s conflict in a relationship, it’s like a little stream of water that gets let out of a dam, but eventually it takes on a life of it’s own.} ..so quit before the quarrel breaks out. (Prov. 17:14)   We’re going to choose to address things quickly, and we’re going to address things honestly, because that’s part of the way we endure the heat.

I think the second thing is more important, because sometimes the heat in relationships is around the way that we’ve hurt each other.  Here’s what Proverbs would say about that — Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.  (Prov. 19:11)   That’s an interesting phrase.  It’s to someone’s ‘glory.’ Literally, their ‘weightiness,’ or their ‘beauty,’ or their ‘majesty,’ when they overlook something that someone’s done that hurt them or was wrong.  So we address conflict immediately and we offer forgiveness freely.  We just started a class called When Sinner’s Say, “I Do.”   It’s the recognition that people who are married are married to somebody who’s imperfect.  How do we life together?  How do we embrace a relationship where both parties are imperfect?  That class will be addressing that.  If you’re engaged or married, I’d encourage you to check it out.  But that’s the way that we do it.  We do all three of these things — we express pursuit, we embrace friction, and we endure heat.

Here’s the way Solomon concludes this thought.  There’s something that happens when iron hits iron.  It doesn’t just create friction and heat.  That actually serves a purpose.  It creates sharpness.  It creates usefulness.  It creates more joy.  As the Harvard Study of Adult Development found, it creates human flourishing.  We expect that.  We expect that there will be sharpening in our life.  Actually, what happens when you sharpen a knife, or hatchet, or ax is that one piece of iron starts to shave down or take off the impurities of another piece of iron. That’s how it makes it sharper.  It got jagged by getting used and when you sharpen it you shave off all of those rough edges and you bring it back to “normal.”  Jesus talks about the exact same thing going on when he says he prunes us in John 15:1-2.  I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Do you have friends like that in your life that are sharpening you?  If not, can I encourage you….the three things we talked about — pursue, embrace friction, endure heat.  Maybe those are a word from God for you this morning.

In 1948, Billy Graham sat with three of his really good friends in a hotel room in Modesto, California.  Graham had just finished a real successful evangelistic tour with Youth for Christ.  He and his friends sat in this hotel room—Bev Shea, Grady Wilson, and Cliff Barrows—and made this commitment to each other.  It went on to be referred to as the Modesto Manifesto.  They committed to each other to guard against allegations of abuse of money, sex, or power.  From that day forward, Bill Graham pledged not to eat, or travel, or meet with a woman one-on-one, other than Ruth, his wife.  It’s now called the Billy Graham Rule.  If you were to sit Billy Graham down now and ask, “What was the thing that allowed you to sustain through a really difficult, fruitful, and beautiful ministry,” he would answer, “The partnership he had with those three guys.”  He would say that that manifesto, that agreement, that accountability, that they entered into was one of the things that shaped his ministry more than anything else.  I love that Billy Graham was humble enough to know that he needed that, was wise enough in order to pursue it, and was determined enough to follow it over the course of decades.  And what God did in his life…..it flourished and so did his ministry!

I want that for you too.  I want you to get to the end of your life and know man, I walked well with the people who God put around me.  I pursued people.  I allowed them to really know me.  I embraced the friction….those hard conversations, I was willing to have them and I received them well when people had them with me.  Man, when the heat got turned up, I wasn’t somebody who ran away and found something that I thought was better, but I endured and it made all the difference.  Friends, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you have every resource at your fingertips to step into this type of relationship with other people.  Think about it!  The King of kings and the Lord of lords has said, “I’m pursuing you!”  Think about it!  He’s going “I know you’re messy, I know you’re messed up, but I’m not going anywhere!” I’m with you, heart and soul, good times and bad, mountaintops and valleys, and nothing, nothing, nothing….  “I’m going to endure the heat,” he says.  Nothing can separate you from the love of God that’s in Christ Jesus, your Lord.  Friends, that’s the foundation you stand on, and my encouragement for you is to use that foundation to step into the life-giving relationships Jesus is inviting you to pursue.  It’s not going to be easy, but it will be life giving.  Let’s pray.

Before you go rushing out of here this morning, I just want to invite you to ask the Holy Spirit….maybe it’s just one little piece of that.  Maybe it’s one of those things….it’s pursue, it’s friction, it’s heat, it’s sharpening. What’s he inviting you to this week that may be different?  Jesus, we, as your Scriptures teach, believe that part of the thing that allows our souls to come alive is relationship with other people.  There’s so many things that can stand in the way of that.  Things in us, things in others, things in the world.  I would pray today, would you give us a bigger vision for walking with people you’ve placed in our life.  In more honesty, in more light, in more goodness.  Father, I pray, would you take one thing this morning, in each person here, and impress it on their heart that they might walk into relationship with you, more fully, and with each other, more fully.  We pray it in the name of Jesus.  Amen.