Andy Stanley, lead pastor of the mega-sized North Point Community Church, nestled in the heart of Alpharetta GA, is an amazingly challenging teacher. I regularly listen to his sermons and recently ran across one everyone should spend time appreciating and digesting. In case you do not have the time to listen to the complete sermon, I have written my notes from the sermon below.
As of today, 7/15/2010, you may click on the following link to watch the sermon “Guard Rails – Why Can’t We Be Friends”.
Guardrails are “a system designed to keep something from straying into dangerous or off-limit areas.”
Only God knows how many thousands of miles of guardrails line our roads and interstates. Guardrails are designed with simplistic purpose. They create a small accident to protect you from a larger incident. We rarely pay attention to or think about guardrails until we need them. When we need or use them, they can save our lives.
Applied to our lives, spirituality and relationships, guardrails can help guide and protect us. In this context, Andy redefines guardrails as “a standard of behavior that becomes a matter of conscience”. Most likely our biggest mistakes in life could have been avoided if we had guardrails steering us in the right direction.
The goal should never be to see “how close I can get to a guardrail without crashing”. Ideally we will never get anywhere near the guardrail. We need guardrails to keep us from ever going “too far” or from moving in a dangerous direction.
Friendships are powerful. They mold, define, and grow us in a direction. They impact our present and future. We do life with friends. We all have wonderful stories of soul-touching friendships, and unfortunate stories of mistakes and pain. Often, our biggest regrets are made in the company of our closest friends. We are honest, vulnerable, and exposed with friends. We become less careful, drop our guards, and are easily influenced by friendships.
Whether you like it or not, you are deeply associated with the company of friends you maintain.
The wisest man in the history and future of humanity, Solomon, said the following of friendship:
Walk with the wise and become wise,
for a companion of fools suffers harm.
Simple right? Solomon offers a promise (walk with the wise and become wise) and a warning (a companion of fools suffers harm). As much as we do not want to admit it, we know this.
Good parents are constantly monitoring their children’s friendships. You may remember being belligerent towards your parents when they did not allow you to spend time with certain kids in grade school. Somewhere along the way, however, we can forget to exercise the same level of caution as we develop friends in adulthood and as married couples.
Growing and maintaining friendships when you are married can be quite confusing, difficult, and awkward for a variety of reasons. In the beginning, we bring short or long-term friendships into our marriage that do not necessarily include our significant other. Sometimes these life-long friends may be of the opposite gender, so managing, guarding, and potentially ending the relationships can be emotionally and spiritually stressful.
Once married, it can be difficult finding couples with whom both you and your spouse get along well. Sometimes the husbands or wives do not mesh. In other, potentially more confusing situations, the wife and husband within each couple may “click” more than the wife-wife or husband-husband.
A touch more confusing are scenarios involving single or even married couple friendships from “back in the day” (a.k.a: when you were an idiot and not really pursuing a relationship with God).
Also in the mix… it’s important for husbands and wives to each have same-gender friends for counsel and accountability. Obviously, the most important friendships are between you and your creator, then you and your spouse. In the hustle of life, managing all these relational connections can be outright exhausting.
Based on all the above, Andy developed the following “guardrails” that we should ALL put into practice.
As you read the “Guardrails” you may have immediately pictured certain faces in your mind. Take note of that and pray for wisdom, discernment, and courage. The next part is very relationally complicated, which is precisely why most people do not bother handling it or doing what’s right.
We often tell ourselves lies like “I’m just being Christian and showing acceptance, compassion, or love by staying in this relationship”. You may also think “But I really love these people… Jesus modeled that we should love people.” These are sly lies from the depths of Satan. You are using compassion or love as an excuse for inaction. You are lying to yourself. This is not about your friends… it is about YOU and YOUR MARRIAGE.
NEVER confuse or polarize compassion and wisdom; they do not compete with each other. Compassion should NEVER require you to make an unwise decision for yourself or your marriage.
Intentionally drawing back from these relationships can be the most loving and compassionate action you ever take. The best thing you can do in life is stay on the correct side of the guardrail. This is where you model Christ’s heart. When people crash or when “crap” hits the fan… your friend will probably run to you first. You will be the “go-to person”. It is in these moments where we have true opportunities to witness with extraordinary wisdom, compassion, help, insight, and love. By withdrawing from the relationship(s), you allow yourself to be healthy and ready for these opportunities.