daily Broadcast

Building Trust and Friendships, Part 1

From the series Not Beyond Reach

No matter a person's background, religion, or age, we all long for connection and closeness with others. In this program, guest teacher Aaron Pierce explains why establishing trust is an essential first step in leading someone to Jesus. Learn what you can do to build authentic relationships with those who have drifted or are far from God.

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Message Transcript

The first session, we talked about understanding the post-Christian shift, that we have experienced in this culture. The idea that we used to live in a Christian nation in which most people identified as a Christian and now we live in a post-Christian nation. The fastest growing religious group in America is the religiously unaffiliated. And it is not just affiliation, it’s attitude as well. So, people’s attitude has gone from predominately positive view of the Church to apathetic, if not outright hostile.

I had a meeting yesterday with some people and I have this story pretty much all the time. Their adult kids have walked away from the Lord and they don’t know what to do about it. And it’s probably the thing that is prayed for at churches across America more than anything else.

And so, the challenge is: How do we reach people that are in that apathetic to hostile side of the spectrum? And how do we engage them and recognizing that there’s a number of key realities.

One is that people have become increasingly suspicious of institutional religion and are far less likely to walk into a church.

The second being that secular people do not have the same assumptions about truth and morality and the nature and existence of God and the Bible as previous generations.

And then the third key reality being despite all of that, secular people are still open to spirituality.

And today we are going to be talking about the second topic, which is: How to become friends, how to develop authentic friendships with non-religious people and then the three other sessions are going to be: How to start a spiritual conversation, which is distinct from a gospel conversation. We’ll talk about that. How to introduce Jesus and the message of the cross and to start a discipleship relationship. And then the last one is navigating politics, social justice, sexuality, and other fun topics, which are challenges that we face in our culture.

So, today it’s all about how to build relationships and friendships with secular, non-religious people.

So, a Harvard study last year showed that sixty-one percent of young adults feel serious loneliness. Sixty-one percent feel serious loneliness. This was last year. And there’s a bunch of reasons why loneliness has become an epidemic, which is so common. So, there are a number of reasons.

First is just basically the concept of cheap sex. We have rejected the biblical sexual ethic, right? Where, that, where sex is supposed to be between a man and a woman in the context of marriage, that has been rejected. And basically, sex is nothing more than a physical act that is about personal pleasure, you know? So long as you’re not harming others and it’s governed by this sense of mutual consent, you can do whatever you want. Right? And so, that’s the sexual ethic of the day.
And it’s also led to kind of cultural changes. Right? Where we are delaying marriage, we are delaying kids, and what is so ironic about that is we actually desire intimacy. We desire connection, but we are pushing away the design where we are supposed to find that most meaningfully in our human existence is in the context of a family. And so, that’s being delayed and pushed away.

And then, of course, you’ve got just pornography and hookup culture, which is a pervasive culture of our day. You’ve got, you know, crazy things like dating apps where people are connecting with strangers with very personal, very little personal connection, but they are connecting sexually. And it’s leading to all sorts of brokenness and loneliness, because of this concept of cheap sex.

The other is technological changes that we have experienced with social media, video games, and now the emergence of the metaverse, which is a whole big thing as well. And so, basically what you’ve got is this sense of filtered reality, right? Which is that on social media, but also on these other things, we are presenting a view of ourselves and we are seeing a view of others that is filtered. It’s not real. It’s projecting a view of ourselves that looks good, but it’s not who I am authentically. It’s not real. So, in that sense, all my connections are superficial and they are not authentic. And so, you have a lot of this filtered reality.

And then you have a sense of escapism. And the idea here is that rather than face the issues or the dark thoughts that I’m facing, I can escape into the world of video games or metaverse, or I can just keep scrolling. It’s like the Finding Nemo movie where it’s like, “Just keep swimming,” you just, just keep scrolling so I don’t have to think about these big, deep, scary thoughts. I escape into the world of video games. And which is how so many people are responding to the challenges and the difficulties they face.

Where the way that God has designed it is that when we face challenges, we have a community, right? That we connect into and instead we move to an escapism.

And then we have this sense of living someone else’s story, which is a big thing that we experience. One of the, like, the things that people love to do is follow a particular social media influencer, right? And so, it’ll be someone on YouTube. There’s a kind of the modern-day Seinfeld. There’s a girl called Emma Chamberlain and she basically has a YouTube channel about nothing.

But she’s this charismatic girl that posts these videos of her just doing daily life. And people love it because they connect and they live through her story. And so, she has millions and millions of followers on YouTube and other platforms and she’s not doing anything particularly interesting, but people really connect because they get to live someone else’s story.

And that is true also for the world of video games where you live a kind of fantasy world of, you know, living some character out. Or in the metaverse where people are finding their kind of identity in an avatar in some metaverse reality.

And so, you’ve got all of these things technologically and then our sexual ethics that is creating this deep sense of loneliness. And, of course, God has created us to be in community. So, when we are missing that sense of community, we feel this deep longing for something. And so many people are experiencing it, so many people sense that there’s something missing.

And so, the truth that we need to understand is that secular people are looking for deep relational connection and belonging. That is a deep desire that people have. You can bank on that truth when you’re connecting with people. They desire for deep relational connection and belonging.

The challenge is that we have this false idea and the false idea is this, and this is a cultural lie that we have today, which is to love or be in relationship with someone I have to affirm their lifestyle or their worldview.

And here’s the thing that’s really important to understand is that Jesus demonstrated that association and relationship with sinners, and I put that in quotes only because we are all sinners, right? But association and relationship with sinners was not synonymous with affirming their lifestyle. Jesus demonstrated this in a really powerful way over and over and over again.

So, let’s talk about this. Because one of the challenges of our day is tribalism. Alright? It’s this us versus them mentality. It’s this toxic trait of modern culture. Basically because of social media algorithms, cable news, Internet conspiracies, it’s this intense sense of us versus them. The other side. We kind of straw-man-argument the other side and what they are about and how they are out to get us, right? And so, you have this toxic tribalism of the day. But the thing is, tribalism existed during Jesus’ day as well in multiple ways. And one of the good examples of that was actually the Jews and the Samaritans.

So, the Samaritans were these kind of racially mixed people of Gentiles and Jew background. And the Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Like, Jews would actually, there would be a direct path to go somewhere, through the Samaritan area, but they would go around it just so they wouldn’t be associated with these unclean people, right?

And so, it was in that context in John 4 that Jesus goes to Samaria and He meets the woman at the well, which is an incredible example of Jesus defying the tribalism of His day. Where He defied it in a radical, counter-cultural way, because He ended up engaging. He actually initiates contact with this woman. Just the fact that she’s a woman, that is already breaking some boundaries.

But then the fact is that this is a woman who has been married five times and now is currently living with a man that is not her husband. In that day, like, the fact that He would engage this woman was just beyond comprehension. And it speaks to how Jesus loved people so much that He wasn’t going to be, you know, He was going to cross those cultural boundaries.

So, but that didn’t mean that He affirmed their lifestyle, right? That didn’t mean that He accepted the way that someone lived and said, “Nah, just do whatever you want.” He challenged people to sin no more, even as He approached them with great mercy and grace.

And so, that’s the thing we have to understand. But what that means as well is that Jesus was, He offended the religious people of His day and He offended them because He spent so much time with sinners, because that’s what happens when you just spend time with sinners, you get accused of being one yourself, whether you’ve… And so what happens is we were afraid to associate with those people, lest I get lumped in with them. And, like, I’m agreeing with them. And so, that is one of the challenges that we have. But, again, Jesus did this all the time. Luke 15:1 and 2 said, “The tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus, but the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” And eating with people in that culture was a very intimate thing to do, you know?

And so, He, Jesus, was willing to be very intimate with these people, even if it offended the religious establishment. And so, that’s part of what we have to deal with today. So, part of it is understanding the power of friendship with people that are not like us, with people that wouldn’t walk into a church.

So, the first idea is that friendship humanizes them. Right? It’s so easy to talk about “those people” and the way, you know or what “they” do. But when you sit across from someone, it’s a lot harder to hate them. Right? When you’re sitting and having coffee with them, it’s a lot harder to hate them.

And then friendship actually allows you to demonstrate the gospel with your life. So, a lot of secular people have a lot of false assumptions about who Jesus is and what Jesus’ followers are like. And they, like us, they make these kind of misconceptions. And when you get to be with secular people and live a life, you can actually reflect the gospel in a way, through your actions, that can break down some of those walls.

You know, Philippians 2:3 and 4 is such a powerful verse, because if we can live this verse out in front of secular people, it’s the kind of verse that does not make sense to secular culture. It’s the idea of: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, rather in humility value others above yourself, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others.” If you live that kind of life in front of secular people, it blows them away, right? Because that is something where you are laying down my needs, my desires for someone else’s sake.

The religion of this culture is secular humanism, which is the religion of self. Right? And it’s all about me and pursuing my happiness. And when you see people lay aside their happiness for the sake of others, it’s radical, countercultural that really opens up the opportunity to connect with people.

The other thing that friendship does, it helps you to understand. So often we don’t actually understand people or understand how they came to be where they are or understand why they believe what they believe. And so, because of that, we are not able to communicate the gospel effectively. So, when you build friendships, you can actually get to know them and then you’re able to communicate the gospel in a way that connects with them.

And then beyond that, it allows you to earn the trust, to actually challenge their views and speak truth. We live in a very sensitive time in which if you challenge my views, I’m going to get offended. But when I build the relational trust and credibility, then I can actually speak into your life. So, the power of friendship in engaging secular people is amazing. And also what is beautiful about this is you don’t have to be super talented or a really persuasive, apologetic person. You can just be a good friend. And so, it’s accessible to all of us and each of us can build a friendship with a few people that God puts in our life.

To me this is encouraging because I can do this. Anyone can do this. And we are going to talk more about what that looks like.

But here’s the thing. In order for you to do this, you’ve got to count the cost, because one of the addictions of our time is busyness. We are so over-scheduled. And as Christians, we are often overscheduled doing good things like five different Bible studies and eight different church events.

All good stuff, but there is literally no room, no margin to have a relationship with a secular person. And as we all know, relationships take time; they are costly, right? And so, we need to make room, which means we need to have a shift in priority and lifestyle.

This starts with a broken heart where we repent and say, “God, my heart is cold, it’s not right, I’m sorry. Would You give me Your broken heart?” And when your heart is broken, then you’re willing to sacrifice, then you’re willing to say no to whatever thing or things that you’re doing in order to create space for you to have relationships with secular people in your life.

And to understand that friendships, they take time and that they are cumulative and that they are exponential. Like, the more you develop a relationship over time, the more it grows, the more you can build that trust, the more you can speak into their life, the more they can see your lifestyle in action. But that takes time and it’s going to take sacrifice. So we need to count the cost and intentionally build the margin in our life in order to have these kinds of relationships.

Alright, another key point has to do with the idea of holiness versus relevance. So, at Steiger, we have a number of values. And two of our values are holiness and relevance. And holiness and relevance is an interesting concept, because they can feel like tensions or like they are actually on the opposite sides of two spectrums.

Because what relevance is about is it’s about being with people, and being connected to people, and knowing people, and understanding how they see the world, and to be able to communicate in an effective way. Whereas holiness is about being set apart. It’s about being different and distinct.

And so, what happens is you can actually err on either side. So, you can be completely “relevant” to the point where you look exactly like the world. And so, that’s kind of one extreme end of the spectrum.

The other spectrum is that we are so “holy” that we isolate ourselves from the world. And so, the tension is how do we actually be in the world but distinct? We don’t compromise morally or theologically, but we also don’t hide from the world either.