You were born to influence.
These are the notes from a sermon I delivered at the high school youth group at the church I’m interning at a couple weeks ago.
I want us first to set ourselves in a place of receiving if you can do that with me.
Jesus says in Matthew 18:20:
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
Because I really believe that no matter where you are right now, where God’s Word is is change for the better, although it may not be the kind of change we’re envisioning. If it’s God, it’s always good. So if you don’t know if you believe that, or maybe you so solidly believe that and you’ve heard a million messages and sat here and listened and you’ve had a mediocre day and your thoughts are elsewhere. Wherever you find yourself I just want you to try something with me. Close your eyes, and think about thousands of years ago. Before anything else, there was God. Who is perfect Love, and who held you and your existence somewhere in His being. Who created you and said you were good. Who wanted to use you to influence people in this short life, who created you for a purpose, and who created you that you would have eternal life. Even though you’ve ignored Him and chosen to do your own thing or gone on missions where you thought you’d be okay with Him. Even though you’ve thought more about yourself than your neighbour. Even though you’ve listened to negative influences, lied, sought after the future rather than thanking Him in the present. In the midst of all those things that same God, in the person of Jesus, is here right now, hugging you, smiling over you, speaking to you. Maybe you’ve gone up to this point listening to other voices, whether it be in your head or the voices of other people, that you don’t even feel like you know how to hear Him. But here is what He says, that “according to the riches of His glory, He will strengthen you with the power of His Spirit.” “That He has gone to prepare a place for you.” and that “He is beginning a good work in you HERE ON EARTH, that will be complete when Jesus comes to restore.” It all starts and ends with Him. If we are influenced by Him as our source, believing this to be entirely true, we will submit ourselves to Him and find joy that’s not just temporary, but eternal.
We have the capability of submitting to anything. PRAY.
When I was little, I was a trendsetter. Or so I thought. I lived by this notion that being entirely myself was the best way to be and so as a preteen, I wore Halloween and dance costumes to school, and I thought I was the coolest. I wasn’t very easily influenced by those around me. Until one day I remember vividly a friend of mine telling me that what I wore made me look “ugly.” That really hurt, and I started to think differently about myself. I became suddenly very aware of the social hierarchy around me, and the way people “fit in” according to whatever standard, or the way they didn’t. And I began to realize that the people that fit in got to decide the people that didn’t. From middle school, it was about where you sat to eat lunch and who you hung out with at recess, and in high school, it was about who got invited to parties and who got drunk. And in high school, that mattered to me somehow. I might not have vocalized it, or even realized that I thought it, but I lived in a way that said I believed that success was measured by my popularity.
We have the capability of living in submission to anything. Let’s break down this word “SUBMISSION.”
the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in submission to anything that isn’t true or real or what I’m actually meant to live in submission to.
In the middle school, I lived in submission to the idea that my own way was coolest. That going against the grain was coolest. That I could be my own trendsetter.
In high school, after running for co-prez and losing but having gained this popularity and confidence through the way people perceived me, I started for the first time going out with friends, drinking, making poor decisions. Living in a way that said I didn’t care about those around me. Living for myself and my image, and influenced by not necessarily bad people, but an accumulation of untrue thoughts.
Thoughts like: If I miss this party, people won’t like me as much.
If I don’t get drunk, people won’t like me as much.
I have to hang out with the cool kids to fit in.
Because these were the thoughts I submitted myself to, obviously this reflected the kind of influence I was going to have.
I didn’t acknowledge these thoughts, but they were embedded in me somewhere. And so, in high school, I lived in submission to the idea that others’ ways were the coolest.
This talk is all about Influence and your friend groups. So far, we’ve talked about identity, Amanda talked about the way we can put our identity in other things but that putting it in Jesus is the way. Then Nat taught us that when we live with this firm identity, we are able to be selfless. To think of other people and have genuine compassion and purpose in that. And last week we talked about the fact that as humans, we’ve all slipped up and been forgiven graciously by our amazing God, and that we need to offer that forgiveness to others. As Christians, it’s our call to seek forgiveness and to forgive.
Now we’re at influence. Despite what you might be thinking, I’m not going to give you the “don’t hang out with negative influences” talk. I’m not going to echo, maybe your parents or anyone who’s told you not to hang out with “so and so,” in this particular talk. I’m not going to tell you that. What I’m telling you is that who and what you’re actually influenced by is what– WHO– is going to make you a good or bad friend, and determine the kind of influence you have on others, and who is going to help you decide who to hang out with. But I am going to ask you to think and engage with me, because unlike biology class or conversations about video games or crushes at the caf table today, this is really important stuff and I do believe it’s for you.
So let’s see. Do we think it’s better to shine ourselves, to live like we get to set the trends and do whatever we want? Or is it better to fit in and go with the flow of the crowd?
I’m a cook. I love baking. And so forgive me if this analogy is a bit of a stretch but I hope it speaks to you or at least you get a little bit of food porn here. Who else when you scroll by these you just get kind of like mesmerized? I know, I love it. And if you know anything about baking or cooking, you know about the importance of this one little ingredient that seems so unimportant but makes all the difference.
So if you don’t know anything about baking here’s a little lesson for ya… If there’s no salt, in food, the flavours of all the other foods aren’t brought out and don’t shine. If there’s too much salt, however, salt is all you taste. No salt in chocolate chip cookies means you want to eat three of them because you just want to really TASTE the cookie you know is there.
Let’s break that down. For example, my friends in high school that I partied with are amazing people who were genuinely oblivious at the time to the fact that their constant drinking was a cycle that caused drinking and partying to become their idol and life. I witnessed parties become life, to the point where my entire relationship with these friends was partying. If we weren’t at a party, honestly not doing much (standing around, or playing beer pong, or looking around, talking to people about…. nothing) we were talking about last weekend’s party where, yeah, not much happened. So and so got really drunk. These people “hooked up.” We would just talk about what happened at parties and not much else. And I always felt like I was on the cusp of so much bigger, actual purpose out there and I would grab on to it one day, but at least for high school I’d just focus on fitting in. In other words, hanging out with these really great people without realizing the kind of influence God wanted me to have and receive was like eating a chocolate chip cookie that didn’t have salt. I constantly felt like I was on the cusp of something good, but knew at the same time that my life was “bland.”
It was no fun. I did a lot of things that caused a lot of hurt by submitting first to my image and not thinking much about others.
There came this turn when God reached out to me and made me aware that He was the vital thing I was missing. He created me and I was meant to live for Him.
But when I turned from this way of thinking and became aware of the King of my Heart, started reading my Bible and was blessed to be surrounded by more Christian people– also when I started hearing these mixed messages from the church and Christian people, and I wondered if the right thing to do was to isolate myself from people who partied and got drunk and hooked up with people every weekend (and again, this is just one example of stereotyped *non-Christian activities*), and because I knew many of these friends to be kind people who were also incredibly selfless and devoted friends, I believed some of these were people God had placed in my life for a reason, friendships that were valuable. Some of them. Others of them, not so much. There were some friendships that I realized were destructive, where the friend was just taking and not investing back, where selfishness and gossip dominated.
For both cases, I had to pray and go to God and spend some time with Him, asking for forgiveness and allowing Him to found me on Him. Once I was able to confidently say that HE was my influence, His Spirit and Word and Life were where I was getting my influence and what my identity was founded on, then I was able to maturely let some friendships go, and the ones that were valuable only became so much better. I still have fun with those friends that love to party, but with Jesus in me I have no desire to drink to the point of sickness or selfishly consider my own image above caring for a friend. These friends have witnessed that change in me and not only respected it, but asked me lots of questions, commented that “I don’t think I wanna drink anymore,” and inspired much better conversations and hangouts. When I see some of these friends that are still in the realm of talking about drinking like it’s the only thing to talk about, or gossiping about those around us, I not only recognize that I used to engage in these conversations knowing there was SO MUCH MORE, but I can’t not ask them about more important things, and am reminded that those simple questions of caring and consideration mean so much, to anyone, because it’s a showcase of the kind of love that Jesus is already loving them with… that, as Christians, we’re called to love with.
So, was it better when I was in middle school and loudly setting all my trends, going my own way and thinking I could do whatever I wanted? No– there was too much salt, and so my pushing my own way was all people saw.
The same is true of our Christianity.
Now, again, the last thing I want you to take from this message is to only have Christian friends. Let’s look at this passage in 1 Corinthians as an example.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
*Really important* This Word is telling us directly that Paul is not talking about not associating with people that aren’t Christian. He’s telling us that it’s a lot more dangerous to hang out with people who claim to be Christians, but don’t live out of the Spirit, don’t expel the kind of love and selflessness regularly but rather are not very good people. So when we actually have a firm foundation on Him, we’re actually CALLED to hang out with unbelievers, because we’re going to be the kind of witness and influence that can have great impact.
Wondering how to be this kind of friend?
- Always check your doctrine with the Word, in prayer, and then with fellow Christians. Growing in your faith involves these pillars: God’s Spirit most importantly, b) does it line up with His Word? And c) talking to people whose spirits you trust. When influence comes first of Jesus, we live closer to Heaven, closer to the way He called us to live. We are called to have the powerful influence of Jesus living inside of us.
Psalm 1 does remind us that those we hang out with can influence or sway us from alleigance to Jesus if we’re not careful.
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
But here’s the thing. This Word doesn’t say to avoid “the wicked.” It says not to walk in STEP with the wicked. Not to submit to the wicked, or be influenced by the wicked.
But being a good influence doesn’t necessarily mean talking about Jesus all the time. Randomly bringing Jesus into conversation can sound a lot like judgement– and, frankly, often is out of judgement. Real friendship of any kind is a walk alongside someone, and, as Christians, our faith should probably be coming up in conversation with our friends, God changing both people, but that is in alignment with what He is doing, not pushing it of our own will. If you’re sprinkling salt randomly in your cookie dough, salt is all you’re going to taste. If you’re throwing Jesus randomly in your friends’ faces, they’re not going to see Him for who He is, and He’s got Perfect timing. *He’s in control, and when we realize that, we WANT to engage with what He’s doing, and be a part of how He’s already speaking to us and influencing us.* When you use just that teaspoon of salt as it’s designed for in cookies– ie, When you let Jesus be Jesus through you– the flavour and warmth and beauty of that incredible cookie dough will shine through.
Are you getting it?
Here is what I’m asking you today, because I’m sure many of us are in different places.
RED LIGHT FRIENDSHIPS
- Some of us may be in a place where we’re realizing right now that we’re living in alignment with something that isn’t true. We’re being heavily influenced by friends and doing things just to please those friends or to “fit in,” and maybe we need to step back and allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives, to understand the kind of influence HE wants to have in our friendships.
- Maybe some of us are realizing that our friends aren’t very kind people, or we’re associating with people who just take and take and take, are dominantly selfish in the friendship, and we’ve been putting up with mistreatment that has allowed us to believe lies.
- Maybe WE OURSELVES are becoming aware of a negative influence we’ve BEEN in other friends’ lives, and need to ask forgiveness of those friends. (When I was in a place of making those very obviously poor decisions, I was very outwardly a negative influence, a time that I learned a lot from. Not to say that I’m a perfect friend now, but my Jesus is, and He’s in me so I can be confident in His strength through me. Urges me to call on Him).
YELLOW LIGHT FRIENDSHIPS
- Maybe some of those friends are good people and these are good friendships, but we need to recognize God as the King of our hearts and listen for His voice in order to be the kind of friend He calls us to be. He still calls us to be a part of those people’s lives, but with God as our king and loving them through His influence.
GREEN LIGHT FRIENDSHIPS
- e) The ideal friendship is one in which both people are influenced by God, challenging each other, putting God first and loving the other through Him. But this isn’t the only kind of green light friendship, I would say we’re actually going against the Word entirely, against the whole person of Jesus if we say that. He calls us not to discriminate, but also to interact with all people seeing them for the amazing potential they have through Jesús, and He empowers us to change lives and actually point people to Him when He is our own priority.
- Maybe you’re frustrated with non-Christian friends and have just been judging them out of a place of just wanting them to know that they can have relationship with Jesús, but we’re not going to Jesús to do that in a loving way. I know i’ve done this too. You know these Truths and feel confident in your relationship with God, and you’ve been pushing Him on other people. Go to Him to love. Let Him love through you, and be patient with those in your lives. He speaks loudly when we’re listening, and it’s never a boring thing.
Or maybe you have a range of these friendships! Whatever the case, I want to pray with you now.