Friendship, part 1

Friends generally make life better. Our very own LIFE Group leader Ken Marler has learned in his LifeWay research that one of the primary indicators about whether someone remains in the church (and groups in particular) is whether or not they make a friend in the church. Such is the same for those yet to believe among our unchurched neighbors and co-workers: can we be Christian witnesses to them through authentic friendship? For this week, reflect on this list about biblical friendship from biblestudytools.com: “What Does the Bible Say about Friendship”.

Loneliness is Killing People . . . well, Sorta

I wanted to kickoff a series about loneliness as one of the major contemporary curses in our community. A meta-analysis study published in 2015 show an increased likelihood of mortality of 29% for social isolation, 26% for loneliness, and 32% for living alone.1 Loneliness is actually shortening lives.

Reflect on Acts 2.46 as you read the statistics below: “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting TOGETHER in the temple, and broke bread from HOUSE to HOUSE.” From a Cigna survey of more than 20,000 adults ages 18 and older concerning loneliness measured against the UCLA Loneliness Scale:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling lonely or left out;
  • One in four Americans rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them;
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others;
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people or feel like there are people they can talk to;
  • Only around half of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis;
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation.2

Groups are the remedy. The church has been designed to do community better than any other “institution” in history. We’re created for it; liberated for it; and empowered for it through the work of our Triune God. Begin praying about battling loneliness in your neighborhood.

 

1. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, Mark Baker, Tyler Harris, David Stephenson, “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review,” in Perspectives on Psychological Science 10, 2 (2015). Accessed https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1745691614568352?journalCode=ppsa on May 15, 2019.
2. Ellie Polack, “Research Puts Spotlight on the Impact of Loneliness in the U.S. and Potential Root Causes.” Accessed https://www.cigna.com/newsroom/news-releases/2018/new-cigna-study-reveals-loneliness-at-epidemic-levels-in-america on May 15, 2019.

 

 

Mustard Seeds in Israel

LIFE Group leader Julie Gilbreath shares a reflection from her trip to Israel to encourage and challenge us during this series, “Gospel Conversations: You will Be My Witnesses.”

Julie Gilbreath with Mustard Plant, Israel

During a lesson in Israel, our leader was talking about how the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). Then he pointed out that I was sitting right next to a mustard plant! I had no idea, but as soon as I was told (and after multiple selfies) I began to see it everywhere. In the South, we have kudzu. In Israel, they have mustard plants.

When Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, he wasn’t just referring to its size. Once a seed hits the ground, it’s unstoppable. It’s invasive and unwelcome, and it outgrows everything around it. One seed can overrun a garden, then a yard, then a neighborhood, then a country.

God works in unexpected ways. A baby born in a stable. A carpenter. An itinerant rabbi and prophet. Crawling out of a tomb after being executed. It all sounds crazy. But God is mysterious and supernatural. His kingdom is sneaky and subversive. Inverted. The opposite of what we’re looking for. It’s near us, among us, but until someone points it out and tells us what it is, we never see it even though we’re sitting right beside it.

Shortly after his resurrection, Jesus talked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus but they didn’t recognize him. Mary thought he was the gardener until he said her name. Thomas needed proof. We’re all the same, and that’s why God came down. It was Jacob’s dream come to life — “Surely the LORD was in this place and I was not aware of it.” (Gen. 28:16)

This is the good news of gospel: the king came to us — a heavenly kingdom within reach. And now it’s everywhere. Relentless and unstoppable. But we didn’t recognize it until someone told us it was there all along. So go and share the good news, friends. Go plant a seed.