Good friends are hard to come by. Why? Because many people aren't sure what it means to be a good friend! God has given us His Word to shine wisdom on this issue. Namely, in Proverbs we find much wisdom about relationships including six marks of a good friend:
1. A Good Friend is Faithful.
"Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?" Proverbs 20:6
At the end of the day, a good friend is faithful. They will not abandon you when things get tough or bail out on you when you need them most. They are constant, present, and reliable.
2. A Good Friend is a Listener.
"A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." Proverbs 18:2
Bad friends talk more than they listen. They love for you to hear about everything going on in their life, but give little time to listening to what is going on in yours. "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding" is the opposite of what a good friend does. A good friend takes pleasure in listening and seeks to never make you feel unheard.
A good friend takes pleasure in listening and seeks to never make you feel unheard.
3. A Good Friend Helps you Grow.
"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17
Good friends stretch you. They are constantly pushing you to grow and change. Some of the best friends I have are those that tell me what they are learning and teach me things I didn't know. Are you helping your friends grow?
4. A Good Friend is Honest.
"Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy." Proverbs 27:6
No one likes a liar. Yet, often times we fail to be honest with those we love most. Why? Because we love comfort. We love peace-filled relationships that are undaunted with conflict and disagreement. Good friends don't shy away from being honest for the sake of comfort. In fact, they love you enough to be honest with you. Even if they suffer the consequences.
5. A Good Friend Is Gracious.
"Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends." Proverbs 17:9
A good friend is not easily annoyed or offended. They are gracious with you. The look at your weaknesses and cover them with love. They don't allow them to become hindrances in your friendship. Gracious friends are those who are willing to walk with you as you grow. They pray for their friends instead of criticize or gossip about them.
Friends need time together and friends need time not together.
6. A Good Friend is Not Clingy.
"Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you." Proverbs 25:17
Benjamin Franklin said, “Guests, like fish, stink after three days.” Friends need time together and friends need time not together. A good friend realizes this and doesn't attach themselves to their friends. They give them space. They don't constantly inquire when they can spend time together. Instead, they live life and let the friendship take it's course. Bad friends choose to center their lives, happiness, and well-being around other people. So they think that every day, week, or month they need face time with their friends. Good friends understand the wisdom of giving space to those around them.
Recently my wife and I had our bank accounts hacked into by someone pretending to be me. Obviously the situation was scary, frustrating, and upsetting. Why? Because my identity, my wife's identity, and your identity are unique to who we are. When someone steals your identity, they are stealing something that is unique to you and you alone because your identity is the makeup of who you are. For Christians, our identity is no longer in who we are but in who Christ is (John 1:12). Because of the person and work of Jesus Christ, we place our faith in Him and are called "the children of God." This means that we are all that God says we are. What a wonderful reality!
However, we are constantly in an identity crisis. Like a thief trying to steal another's identity, we can try to find our identity in someone other than Christ. How can you know if you are in an identity crisis? Here are three warning signs:
1. You Determine your value and worth on someone else's thoughts and actions.
One of the sure fire ways to find out if you are in an identity crisis is when you begin determine your worth by looking to what someone else thinks or says about you. This is subtle. We don't wake up in the morning and think, 'I wonder what so-and-so thinks about me today.' Instead, we live in such a way that we are fearful of upsetting others because we want them to carry an honorable opinion of us. When we sin, instead of pursuing a person to confess and find help, you hide your sin because you are afraid of them having a low view of you. Are you finding your worth in what other's think about you?
For Christians, our identity is no longer in who we are but in who Christ is (John 1:12).
2. You Seek to Find in someone else what you can only find in God.
God has given His people the gift of community. We can find comfort, help, and encouragement in other believers (2 Cor. 1, Eph. 4:29-30). However, this is merely to be an aid in our sanctification process. The moment you try to find all of your comfort, joy, peace, and love in a person is a sure sign that you have an identity crisis. Are you looking for someone else to give you what only God can give you?
3. Your greatest hopes and desires are found in a person, not god.
God, by His grace, saves us and gives us new desires in our hearts to seek Him and do His will (see Psalm 37). The problem is that we often drift into placing our greatest desires and hopes in people. We desire someone so much that if they were taken from us or we can't have a relationship with them like we had hoped, we despair and turn away from God. We place our hope in someone so that when they fail us or sin against us, we are in utter agony and subtly drift away from God. Are you placing your hope and desires in another person?
The moment you try to find all of your comfort, joy, peace, and love in a person is a sure sign that you have an identity crisis.
Here is the truth: we are often guilty of identity theft. We attempt to take someone else's identity and try to function through it. But the reality of the gospel is that Christ has bought us with His own blood so that, by His grace, we might be called the children of God. And that, my friends, is an identity that brings the greatest comfort, rest, and joy that can be had.
Reading. What a wonderful gift God has given us in books and most of all, in THE Book. I love to read. I love to read books on theology, productivity, history, biographies, and on and on. This love for books has lead to me reading and collecting a great amount of books to this point in my life. Because of this, I often have people in my church or outside of my church contact me and ask me some pointers on how to read more, what books to read, etc. So I thought I would collect some thoughts on reading as a whole here in this post for those who want some wisdom on reading.
Buying a Book is Easy, Reading It Isn't.
Chances are that if you are reading this you know exactly what I mean. It is a lot easier to buy a book from Amazon or your favorite book distributor than to actually read it. So here is my encouragement: only buy books you are going to read within a month of the purchase. The reason I keep this principle is because it is easy to grow discouraged in having a big stack of books 'to read' that never get read and only keep increasing in number. Don't discourage yourself. Instead, buy a book that you are committed to finishing within a month. I find this practice invigorating. I finish books faster because I want to move on to other books on my 'wish list!'
It is easy to grow discouraged in having a big stack of books 'to read' that never get read and only keep increasing in number.
Reading is a Discipline.
Just like exercise, working out, or writing, reading takes discipline. You must make time to do it. I fear that many set out to read with a great desire, but never really read much because they lack discipline. Facebook, Twitter, and television distract the well-meaning 'wanttobe' reader and they never end up reading much. I find that I am far too easily distracted, so I shut off my screens when I read. I turn off my phone, computer, and whatever else could grab my attention. This helps me to stay focused and think better as I read.
Reading Must Be Planned.
Reading doesn't just happen. It must be planned. Take your schedule and find a block of time (even if it's only 15 minutes!) to read. I usually read around lunch time, middle of the afternoon, and for an extended period of time before bedtime. Find what works for you and plan it!
I fear much reading doesn't happen because it is never planned to happen.
Buy Authors, Not Titles.
I always recommend people to buy books by an author they like, not according to titles. Some of the best books I have read were about subjects I wasn't very interested in at the time, but I read the book because it was by an author I had previously enjoyed.
These are my spontaneous thoughts on reading. I hope they have been helpful and have at least served to spur you on to more and better reading!
Perhaps you've heard the old adage, "The grass isn't greener on the other side." The point is that things aren't always better somewhere else compared to where you are currently at. I have found that this is true in regards to church.
Many in the church today seem to point a finger at all that is 'wrong' but fail to recognize their own contribution to that wrong (we are all guilty). In fact, I think church members (me included) need to be reminded on a daily basis that the reason their church isn't perfect is because of two reasons:
1. You Go There.
How easy it is to functionally forget this! I say 'functionally' because I think every Christian theologically believes they are a sinner (or at least they should!). Yet, in the moments when we see shortcomings in the church and in the lives of other people, we become theological amnesiacs. We forget what we believe! Self-righteous people have their Ph.D in this. They are quick to point their fingers at others while forgetting what they themselves contribute to the problem! See, self-righteousness begins when we think that the sin outside of us is greater than the sin inside of us. We are all guilty of this and we need to constantly be reminded that our churches are not perfect because we attend!
Self-righteousness begins when we think that the sin outside of us is greater than the sin inside of us.
2. People Like You Go There.
Your church isn't perfect because people just like you attend there: sinners in need of grace. But yet, how easy it is to view others as problems instead of as sinners in need of grace. That problem woman in the church who always gossips can be viewed as a mere problem instead of as a fellow image bearer in desperate need of grace just like you and me. The hyper-critical man who always critiques everything can be viewed as a cancer of the church when in reality he is just a fallen man in need of the rescuing grace of God. Friends, we would do well to remind ourselves that we are not much different from those we look down upon. We are sinners in need of grace who make up an imperfect church. But praise be to God that He readily offers grace to undeserving sinners like you and me.
We would do well to remind ourselves that we are not much different from those we look down upon.
"When we humble ourselves each morning by casting all our cares on the Lord, we will start the day free of care. The humble are genuinely care free. I've discovered how true that is about myself and my soul. Where there's worry, where there's anxiousness, pride is at the root of it. When I am experiencing anxiety, the root issue is that I'm trying to be self-sufficient. I'm acting independent of God. What's the solution?
"Humble yourself," God says.
"Acknowledge your need for Me! Cast your cares upon Me, and I will transform you, (enter your name here). For though I'm opposed to your pride, I'll give grace to you when you humble yourself, and I'll make you care free - not responsibility free, but carefree. You'll be free from care. You'll instead be characterized by joy and peace.""
-C.J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (page 689 on Kindle).
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My church was blessed to have Dr. Mark Shaw for our EQUIP series this Summer. His message was entitled Addictions and Addiction-Proof Parenting based on a book he wrote several years ago on the same topic.
By way of permission of Dr. Shaw, I have made available for you to download both the PowerPoint and notes from the presentation below:
Interested in purchasing the book? Click the picture below:
"Now then, little man, for a short time flee from your business. Hide yourself for a moment from your turbulent thoughts. Break off now your troublesome cares, and think less of your laborious occupations. Make a little time for God, and rest for a while in him. Enter into the chamber of your mind, shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him, and, when you have shut the door, seek him. Speak now, O my whole heart, speak now to God: 'I seek your face; your face, O Lord, do I desire.'"
-Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion.
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I've recently read Paul Tripp's book What Did You Expect? and absolutely loved it (check out some of my posts about it here and here). Thanks to Crossway Books, I am giving away three copies of What Did You Expect? and Paul's most recent book, Awe.
Read about what some people are saying about the book Awe:
The giveaway will end Saturday August 20, 2016 at 12:00am EST. The winner will win a copy of both What Did You Expect? and Awe. To enter, you must do the following:
1. Enter your name and email address in the form below.
2. For an increased chance to win, share the link below on your Facebook and/or Twitter and tag me (@brad_merchant for Twitter, find me at Brad Merchant for Facebook).
Winners will be contacted on Monday August 22, 2016.
***Registration is now closed***
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Share this post and tag me to double your chance to win.
Use this link in your posts: http://go.shr.lc/2bhbkHp
"And it is devastating because no human being can see this glory (God's glory) without God's help. This is not because we are helpless victims of blindness but because we are lovers of blindness. "This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil" (John 3:19). We are not chained in a dark cell, longing to see the sunshine of God's glory. We love the cell, because sin and Satan have deceived us into seeing the drawings on the wall as the true glory and the source of greatest pleasure. Our prison cell of darkness is not the bondage of external constraint but of internal preference. We have exchanged the glory of God for images (Rom. 1:23). We love them. That is our blindness."
-John Piper, A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness (page 16).
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Recently I attended a minor league baseball game with my wife out of state. As we walked into the stadium and started heading towards our seats, something caught my eye. It was a small booth set up with glass cases surrounding a middle-aged man with a baseball cap. Behind him was a large shelf containing posters of various athletes and sports stars. Being quite the sports fan, I took my wife's hand and walked over to the booth. The glass cases contained a multitude of baseball, basketball, and football cards.
I was amazed.
The collection instantly brought back memories I had as a young boy spending all of my allowance money on sports trading cards. I would collect, buy, sell, and trade cards for years as a child and found a great deal of pleasure in doing so. In an instant, I was overcome by a desire to take back up the hobby of collecting sports cards.
As my wife and I walked to our seats in the stadium, I began wrestling with a question many of us wrestle with when thinking about pursuing a new hobby: is it wrong?
Maybe to frame it another way: is having a hobby wrong? When does a hobby become sinful? How can we know the difference between a God-glorifying hobby and a sinful hobby?
A Theology of Hobbies
God is not a cosmic killjoy. In fact, God is the ultimate source and giver of pleasure (Ps. 16:11). God's delight is in you making Himself your supreme delight (Ps. 147:11, Ps. 37:23, 1 Chron. 29:17). God gives us pathways or things through which we can delight in Him more by accepting them with thanksgiving and gladness (Ja. 1:17, Col. 3:17, Eph. 5:20). Your delight in bacon sizzling on the stove, spending time with your kids, taking your spouse on a date, watching your favorite team play, working out, reading a book, going on a walk, driving in the car, your routine, and more are designed to be things that you delight in with thanks to God knowing that He has given you those things and experiences to delight in Him through them. This is an important foundation to have laid in our theology. God is for your utmost delight in Him through everything He has given you. Therefore, the hobbies that you and I have are not designed to be ends in and of themselves. They are designed to be ways through which we delight in God more in our everyday lives. All hobbies are meant to be vehicles through which you are carried to greater and stronger delight in Him.
Hobbies are designed to be ways through which we delight in God more in our everyday lives.
So here is the question: how can I know if am delighting in God through my hobby?
Hobbies, like all things created, can become things that we worship instead of use to worship God (Rom. 1). As John Calvin is noted for saying, "Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols." In other words, you and I are skillful in turning things into gods. Hobbies are no exception. Things that were created to be avenues through which we glorify and delight in God can quickly be used as ends of themselves. The hobby of working out that is designed to be a way for you to delight in God more as you steward your body well to have more energy and health to serve Him can be used as a functional identity. You being to determine your self-worth with numbers on a scale and an image in the mirror than by the Lord and His love for you.
So how can we know when a hobby is an idol and no longer a way through which I can delight in God? When you look to your hobby to give you what only God can give you. When you begin to look to your hobby to be your greatest source of delight and joy, your hobby is no longer a hobby. It is an idol. You no longer use a hobby to delight in God, instead the becomes the god you delight in. So ask yourself, what am I looking to to give me what only God can give? Hobbies make great servants, but awful masters.
How Can We Master Our Hobbies?
This is the question we need to answer, isn't it? How can we master our hobbies and not allow them to master us? The answer is simple: do all things for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Our hobbies subtly become idols when we neglect to use them to delight in and praise God. The person that uses their hobbies to delight in and glorify God understands that everything is the Lord's (Ps. 24:1) and that he deserves glory from all of it. What does this mean for us? That we need to have our eyes fixed on God in the midst of all the delights God graciously gives us to enjoy Him.
Our hobbies subtly become idols when we neglect to use them to delight in and praise God.
So when you mow the grass, keep up the garden, go on a run, grill up a steak, or collect baseball cards, do it all to the glory of God by knowing that all good things come from Him (Ja. 1:17) for us to enjoy Him more.
I am a Husband to Clarissa, Lead Pastor Resident at College Park Church in Indianapolis, 'Tweeter' at @brad_merchant, and avid reader of books.