Toxic Relationships! (Bridge Message)

For those who don't know; I live in an intentional Christian community on the north side of Chicago, I also work in a large homeless shelter in the same neighborhood of Uptown and spend a lot of time doing outreach to those sleeping outside. I tell you this because I have all these different relationships or friendships in these vastly different communities. They affect me and I affect them both positively and negatively. 

The truth is, it doesn't matter where we are and what we do, we all live in a world where we are affected by others and we have the power to affect others too.

Years ago, I was a taxi driver. At that time, I had recently finished Bible College and had also done a 9-month mission trip. I felt strong, I had my bible and had hopes and dreams of bringing the power of the gospel into my cab. Yet, as I drove, I watched those hopes and dreams quickly dwindle as I was overpowered by a very different set of hopes and dreams; dreams to get high, dreams to get drunk, dreams to have sex, dreams to get money and dreams that had nothing to do with Jesus! Let me tell you what happened....

When I drove a cab, my customers saw me as quite different from most taxi drivers. Because of that, people thought I was pretty cool; I was younger than all the others, had long hair, a crazy goatee and was willing to turn the music up! I also drove the graveyard shift, so nearly everyone who jumped in the cab was going out to party, drink, get high, to gamble or to have sex. Because I was young, they wouldn't ignore me, so they'd hop into my cab and energetically tell me all about it; the fun they were having and how that night and the goals they had was what life was all about. I would work long hours, and there would be nights when that's all I'd hear, hour after hour after hour! Before I knew it, jealousy entered me and their dreams, their desires, their fantasies and their hype became mine!

I thought I could go out there by myself and influence the world for Jesus and bring about change, but the relationships I formed in my cab influenced me more than I influenced anybody.

I thought I was strong enough to do it myself, but man was I wrong! Nearly everybody I met, nearly all the people I had any sort of relationships with were basically into and promoting the same jive. As a result, I felt a lot of guilt, I struggled and got quite depressed at the time. 

What happened to me, happens to others! I see it all the time. People come into CCO, fresh with new dreams and hopes, speaking confidently of how far they've come, only to make new friends and take a few steps back. I also see others try and hold firmly to their hope by ignoring everyone and trying to go solo, only to go through the same struggles themselves. 

We can't do it on our own and there's always going to be people around us, who we have relationships with, who are our friends, who have a different agenda, who have different goals and different dreams! With everyone we meet, with everyone we know, with those we have to see and spend time with, we need to ask ourselves, how do we stay on track and not be influenced by them?

The writer to the Hebrews offers this advice.....

“Let us hold firmly to the hope we claim to have. The One who promised is faithful. Let us consider how we can stir up one another to love. Let us help one another to do good works. Let us not give up meeting together. Some are in the habit of doing this. Instead, let us cheer each other up with words of hope. Let us do it all the more as you see the day coming when Christ will return.”
Hebrews 10:23-25 (NIRV)

In light of tonight's question, I want to emphasize 3 things from this passage. 

The writer says, "Let us hold firmly to the hope we claim to have. The One who promised is faithful." Even when you think He's gone, God is with you, He hasn't forgotten you, He hasn't forsaken you. This is why we can hold firmly to the hope; God has made promises, He will keep them because He is faithful. 

When I was driving cabs, while I being tempted in every way and trying to flee from God, He was still there loving me and reminding me of His promises, He didn't let me forget who He was and what He's done for me. 

The best way I can describe it is like this; all day, every day I was hearing the endless voices from the relationships I had telling me that hope and the meaning of life can come only through drinking, through drugs, sex and so forth, but at the same time, there was a silent voice that wouldn't let me rest, that called me and reminded me that real hope and the real meaning of life doesn't come through these things, but through the One who died for us! 

Even when we feel we've got no positive relationships in our lives, Jesus remains and reminds us He's still with us and hasn't forsaken us! Listen to Him!

I was seeking other answers, I was trying to cling onto something fragile and fleeting, but He remained faithful and kept calling me and reminding me what real hope is. "The One who promised is faithful." He is why I'm not drinking and drugging today. He is why I'm here today. He gives us hope, He gives us meaning, He gives us purpose when there seems to be none!

After reminding his readers that God has made promises and that He is faithful, the writer encourages them to find, go to and meet others who are on the same page! He tells us "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing." 

I had heard God's voice, I had prayed to God and sought His help, but the temptations and loneliness were still there! I was still driving a taxi and the endless voices were still there! I was still trekking alone through rugged terrain, and that is why we need to surround ourselves with others who understand us, empathize with us and will walk with us! I needed to go, find and meet people who were on the same page as me. I realized how weak I am, that I can't do it on my own and that if I didn't seek out others, I would slip into despair again. 

Most of us can't escape certain relationships, so the writer to the Hebrews is telling us to intentionally seek out relationships that will help us grow in the Lord. My problem as a taxi driver wasn't that I was dealing with people who were toxic to me, it was that I wasn't meeting with those who could give me strength and encouragement for my journey. I wasn't meeting with people who could lift me up when the terrain seemed overwhelming and too difficult! 

Just before I went to Bible College as a 20-year-old, my pastor gave me some advice I've never forgotten; he encouraged me to intentionally seek out relationships with people who I could learn and grow from. He'd been there before and he knew that even at Bible College, we can form relationships with people that can lift us up or tear us down. He encouraged me to seek these positive relationships so that my life at Bible College would be one where I could grow. 

Finally, the writer encourages us to be intentional when we meet together! He says, "Let us consider how we can stir up one another to love. Let us help one another to do good works." And "let us cheer each other up with words of hope. Let us do it all the more as you see the day coming when Christ will return."

Jesus knows life on earth isn't easy! He knows how hard it can be! He knows we need others, and that's why we need to spur one another on to love and good deeds. People in our lives are going to tell us life is all about how much money we have, how much power we possess, how much drink we can toss down out throats and so forth, and that is why we need to intentionally meet with one another and encourage one another in the faith! 

When we stir up one another to love and good deeds, when we cheer each other up with words of hope, the influence of those other relationships will become less and less toxic. When we inspire each other with God's Kingdom, all other kingdoms will lose their power, influence, and toxicity in our lives.

This is the very reason places like the Bridge are important, this is the very reason AA and NA meetings are important, this is why followers of Jesus need to meet together, they are places where we can encourage one another to persevere when everything seems impossible and unfair, they are places where we can stir up one another to love and good works. They are places where we can encourage each other to walk the walk!

We live a rough unjust world, but as followers of Jesus, we are told to be salt and light in that world! He doesn't want us to become hermits, He wants us to be in it and represent His Kingdom here on earth! We can't escape certain people, but when we rally together, when we spur one another on, when we give each other a boost, our strength will rise, our hope will increase and the love of Jesus will spread! 

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission: USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" are all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
This was a sermon preached on 5/16/2017, in response to this question; "Staying out of toxic relationships"

I’m already dealing with enough toxic relationships, I don’t need any more, so how do I steer clear of toxic relationships? How do I maintain trust, respect, and understanding? How do I recognize the signs that things aren’t right?

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