How Many Friends Can You Handle—Really?

If you needed a friend in the middle of the night, who would you call?

If you’re on Facebook, how many friends do you have?

The average Facebook user has 338 friends. 

If you’re on Twitter, how many followers do you have?

The average Twitter user has 208 followers. 

If you’re on Instagram, how many followers do you have?

The average Instagram user has 843 followers. 

Have you encountered anyone who has a sense of pride—even braggadocio—because of the number of Facebook friends they have? I don’t know if these folks are trying to boost their sense of self-worth or make up for the lonely years in the middle school lunchroom. I wonder.

How many friends can you adequately handle?


That’s it. Robin Dunbar, an Oxford University anthropologist, says our brains really can’t handle more. Even those with large numbers of friends (Facebook allows up to 5,000) only keep an “inner circle” of 150. [read more]

I wonder how many of these “friends” are more accurately defined as acquaintances. Maria Konnikova, wrote in the New Yorker:

With social media, we can easily keep up with the lives and interests of far more than a hundred and fifty people. But without investing the face-to-face time, we lack deeper connections to them, and the time we invest in superficial relationships comes at the expense of more profound ones.

Dunbar also says that we truly only handle five close friends at a time. Only five BFFs.

So if you needed a friend in the middle of the night, who would you call?

Let me ask you to dig further on that. What makes these close friends so close? I believe it goes deeper than just shared interests. You share deeply rooted convictions and commitments.

You gotta love the example of Jonathan and David. Read their account in 1 Samuel and you’ll see two people who shared a deeply-rooted commitment to the God of Israel. They both knew who they could call on in the middle of the night.

We all want a close friend or two like that. The challenge for me is not to find that friend, but to be that friend to others.

  • Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (Ecc. 4:9-10).
  • My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 12-13). 

Be that kind of friend. 

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Forge True Friendship” in Bible Studies for Life.


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A Different Type of Memorial Day

I love the Memorial Day weekend. A long weekend usually infused with the perfect weather. The kickoff to summer.

We’ve given Memorial Day a celebratory feel with our long weekends, outdoor grilling, and sales, sales, sales. But that was not the original intent. It was first called Decoration Day. Immediately after the Civil War, mourners would gather at the graves of the fallen solders and decorate their graves with flowers. It was a truly somber event.

We should take time to remember those who died in service to our country, even if we don’t treat it like the somber occasion our great-grandparents did. We have the freedoms we have because of the thousands of men and women who fought to defend those freedoms—and we should especially remember those who died in the process.

I do not want to take away from the memory of those who died in battle, but I would like to propose another type of Memorial Day. It’s not one everyone would observe, but for those who are followers of Christ, we should not forget those who died in their service for the kingdom of God.

Some soldiers go to war unwillingly or die without ever knowing what hit them. Christian martyrs, however, died willingly for Christ. Many were given the option to recant and live. They died willingly, because they knew there is something far greater that awaits them.

Even in death, a martyr advances the kingdom of God. They bring glory to  Christ, because they prove there is something far greater than anything this earthly life offers. They stand in the truth of a relationship with  Christ that is not altered by physical suffering and death.

  • Kayla Mueller, a humanitarian worker in Jordan, was killed in 2015 by ISIS for her faith in Christ.

    Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

  • Paul said, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
  • About the martyrs: “They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11).

I don’t know if such martyrdom is headed to America or if it something I will encounter. If it does, I will stand with Christ. I can truly say I do not fear death, but if that moment comes, I would seek strength and boldness from God to face death with grace and love.

Let’s honor those who gave their lives for Christ.

When Social Networks Become Anti-Social

If you use Facebook, you’re not alone.

  • 1.9 billion people use Facebook
  • 700 million use Instagram
  • 500 million use LinkedIn
  • 328 million use Twitter

We are more connected that ever before, but our relationships may not be any better.  In many ways, we have lost connection.

Let me first set the record straight: I like social media.

  • I have rekindled friendships from high school (sparing me the need and cost of traveling to one of those high school reunions we all dread).
  • I can stay in regular contact with former church members whom I served alongside in Texas.
  • I have several family members who serve overseas in missions. When Hudson Taylor left in 1853 to serve Christ in China, he told his mother goodbye, knowing he would never see her again. But today I can stay in touch with family overseas on a daily basis.

But social media has its downside.

1. Social media is intended to connect us with each other, but since we usually view these sites while alone, we can actually feel isolated.  We’re viewing the events in others’ lives from a distance.

2. Multiple studies have pointed to a link between social media usage and depression and low self-esteem. These feelings are triggered by “social comparison.” This can happen as we follow the lives of those with more friends/followers and those who appear more attractive. But the key factor is that we tend to only post about the best in our lives.

  • We post photos of us on our best days, not those days when our complexion looks like the dark side of the moon or we’re wearing that ratty T-shirt we bought in 1998.
  • We post pictures of that exquisite dinner at a nice restaurant, not the bowl of Fruit Loops we ate while watching Wheel of Fortune.
  • We post about the happy events; we rarely post about the mundane routine of our lives.

You do it—and your friends do it. So depression kicks in for many of us because all we’re seeing is the “highlight reels” of others’ lives.  Who am I compared to that? I can’t measure up.

There is a remedy. Spend face-to-face time with people.  Sit down with real people, not the digital, online versions of them. Online, we put our best face forward, but live conversations help us see and connect with people as they really are. Sure, some people still like to put up a mask, but when we’re face to face, we have a far greater opportunity to see the real person.

Be the presence of Christ in the lives of others. See them as Christ sees them—and love them like Christ loves them.  Consider how the many “one another” passages in Scripture call for a physical connection to people.

  • “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). 
  • “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Rom. 12:16). 
  • “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7).
  • “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11).
  • And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25).

Set down the phone. Walk away from the computer. Get in the presence of another person and live out these verses. You’ll feel better and you’ll build stronger relationships.

For a printable version: click here.

For further reading on social media’s impact on depression:

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Love Like Christ” in Bible Studies for Life.


Everyone Should Get This Vaccination

Vaccinations remain one of the hot topics of debate, but regardless of which side of the needle you fall on this issue, there is one vaccination you need.

But first, read this fascinating story.

Before ebola, AIDS, and other serious infectious diseases, there was smallpox. Smallbox spread by human contact, and about 1/3 of those who caught it died. Those that lived were often severely scarred over their faces and bodies, and many were left blind.

All that changed with Edward Jenner (whose birthday—May 17—is remembered this week).  It was 1796 in England, and Dr. Jenner noticed that the local milkmaids were not concerned about getting smallpox. Their work with cattle gave them cowpox, which turns out to be similar to smallpox, but extremely mild by comparison. Consequently, they acquired an immunity that also worked against smallpox.

Hmmm. Jenner began to wonder about the connection between the two infections. So when a local milkmaid, Sarah Nelmes, showed up for treatment for cowpox, Jenner took the opportunity to test an idea.

Today’s American Medical Association would severely frown on his methods, bar him from practicing medicine, and reduce him to playing doctors in commercials rattling off the 300 side effects of this week’s newest drug, But things were different in 1796. Jenner took the young son of his gardener and cut him, creating a small open wound. He then had Sarah Nelmes rub the cowpox lesions on her hand against the boy’s open wound. No surprise: the kid got sick with cowpox.

In another act that would’ve gotten today’s medical profession cheesed, Jenner intentionally exposed the boy to the dreaded smallpox a few weeks later.

Nothing happened.

Dr. Jenner’s unorthodox methods showed that a mild case of cowpox served as a vaccination against smallpox. And within 200 years, the dreaded, deadly smallpox disease was eradicated from the world. (The last known case was in 1977.)

Cowpox provided the needed immunity, and by mixing a small amount of someone else’s infected blood with your own, you gained both the infection and the immunity.

Christ offers us His blood. He took our sin—our deadly infection—upon Himself. He shed His own blood on our behalf, and His blood offers us immunity from the death we deserve.

  • Christ is identified as the one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5).
  • Consequently, His followers are identified as those who are “sprinkled with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2).
  • And every time we observe communion, we are to remember this blood transference. As Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:53-54).

Since Edward Jenner’s day, science has made great strides and improvements in the process of vaccination. But we cannot improve on the ultimate vaccination we need: freedom from sin and death.

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

The blood of Jesus Christ is still the only way.


Six Keys to Building a Bridge to Someone

Would you cross a bridge built by someone who had no experience building bridges?

In the 1870s, St. Louis was the fourth largest city in our country, but it was the hardest to reach. Standing between it and most of the country was the ginormous Mississippi River.

James Eads set out to change that. Only problem was he’d never built a bridge. But he had two things going for him: he was a designer/inventor, and he knew the Mississippi River.

When the bridge was ready for use in 1874, not everyone was eager to use it. Not only was Eads an untested bridge builder, his bridge was radically different.

  1. No bridge had ever been built with alloy steel and wrought iron.
  2. No bridge had ever depended entirely on cantilevers.

Would these things hold against the currents of the river and the weight of traffic?

To provide his bridge was safe, Eads walked an elephant across it. Then he ran 14 locomotives across the bride. The elephant did not drown, and the locomotives lived to see another day.

Since then, bridges like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate bridge have surpassed the Eads Bridge as recognizable icons of America, but Eads paved the way.

James Eads had never built a bridge before, but he proved that we can build bridges in difficult situations. You can build a bridge too—even if you’ve never built one.

The apostle Paul was also a bridge builder.

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:20-23).

Let’s follow Paul’s example, building bridges into the lives of other people—even people we don’t know or who are different from us.

1. Be friendly.  Well … duh. Seriously a friendly word, even just a smile, can make a world of difference to someone.  People are willing to talk to those who make the simple gesture of smiling and saying hello.

2. Assume they also want a relationship. Assume that because it is probably true. Even cranky people. We are surrounded by lonely people who have put up a wall, but deep down they’d love a human connection.

3. Accept them as they are. We can build relationships with individuals without embracing their lifestyle.

4. Ask questions. Don’t just talk about yourself. Get to know the other person by asking questions. People like to talk about themselves, and they feel valued when others want to get to know them. If the person is from another culture, ask about it. Their culture is a part of who they are, so again, they feel valued.

5. Be persistent. Some people, while inwardly wiling  to form a connection, may be initially shy or untrusting. Don’t abandon them; just keep building a bridge—brick by brick.

6. Invite them. Invite them to a party or an event your Bible study group is hosting. And invite them to participate in your Bible study. Do this with caution, though. Your goal is to build a bridge—a relationship—and not give them the impression proselytizing is the only reason you’ve talked to them.

The best thing we can do is build a bridge to a person that will ultimately lead them to cross another bridge, the one that leads to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Bridges take time, but once they’re built, they’re worth crossing.

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Life on Mission” in Bible Studies for Life.

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A Word to the One Who Has Failed as a Mother

This is a personal note to a woman I know who feels she has been a lousy mother.

For those times when you feel you blew it with your kids—yelled at them, didn’t listen, accidentally played favorites, was too controlling or too lenient—you’re not alone.  I wonder if the following women ever felt that way. Consider their background.

  1. Tamar was married to a wicked man, so wicked that, well, let’s just say God “took him out of the picture.” Tamar was angry with her father-in-law, so  she tricked him into having sex. So Tamar raised twin boys in a dyfunctional family setting (Gen. 38).
  2. Rahab was a prostitute in a seriously evil city, Jericho. Now she did a good thing when she protected the Israelite men who had come to spy on Jericho before they attacked (Josh. 2), and she is remembered for her faith and trust (Heb. 11:31). Yet I wonder if guilt of her past affected her parenting or if her children were laughed at because their mother had turned tricks.
  3. Ruth had a story we love to tell. She was not Jewish, but she embraced the faith of her mother-in-law Naomi. But one part of her story usually gets glossed over. Boaz was a man related to Ruth’s deceased husband, and in their culture, he was a candidate to step in and marry her. But instead of just informing Boaz, she went to where he was sleeping and lay down. Scholars disagree on how much of a sexual advance we should read into this—and if that was Ruth’s intent, Boaz was righteous enough that he did not take advantage of the situation. And that may not have been Ruth’s intention, but she sure made it easy for the whole scene to take a bad turn.
  4. Bathsheba had an affair with King David, which resulted in a pregnancy.  After her husband was killed, she married the king and her child died. She had at least one other child, Solomon, but her entrance into motherhood was marred with sin.

There you have it. Four women whose background would make them suspect in the local parent-teacher association. Were they good mothers or bad? We don’t know, but I can assure you of one thing:

God used them.

All four of these women are mentioned by Matthew in his account of the genealogy of Jesus. He didn’t mention Eve, Sarah, or other women who surely had better pasts. He mentioned these four women by name.

Yes, they were not perfect women—and by extension, we can assume they were not perfect mothers—but God used them to ultimately bring us the Messiah.

God uses us in spite of our mistakes. If there are things you can correct, do so. If you need to ask for forgiveness, ask. But rest also in God’s grace and ability to work in the lives of your children—even your wayward children.

God is not through with your kids. And He is not through with you.

Happy Mother’s Day.


They’re Sitting Right Next to You

If Jesus had first launched His ministry in America in 2017, I wonder where He’d go.

If you’re a regular reader of books (and I hope you are), there’s one part of a book I’ll venture you rarely pay attention to: the margins. Every book and magazine has margins, but we never notice them. (The graphic designers I work with at LifeWay are the exception. Margins are a big deal to them. But I digress.)

In his book, Jesus in the Margins. Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon, wrote that society has margins just like a book.  Unlike the blank margins in a book, though, society’s margins are full of people.

“Society—our world, our culture—has margins just like this book does. They’re places occupied by people who go unnoticed, misfits who seldom figure in when the mainline world defines and esteems itself.  But they’re there.”  —Rick McKinley, Jesus in the Margins 

We don’t notice them, but they’re there. People in the margins. Even our secular culture recognizes this and has a name for them: marginalized. People pushed to the periphery.

So if Jesus launched His ministry in America in 2017, where would He go? He’d hang out among the people in the margins. After all, those are the kind of people He spent time with in the first century. Tax collectors. Sinners. Those who didn’t fit normal society.

You probably assume I’m going to turn this blog into a call to start a ministry to the marginalized in society. And why not? Our society has a lot of “misfits”—those who may look out of place in our white-bread suburban evangelical churches—and they need Jesus. Yes, that would be a good thing to do, but …

Reach out to the marginalized in your church.

They’re there. You just don’t notice them. After all, they’re in the margins.

  • The awkward teenager who comes to church but doesn’t hang out with the other students.
  • The single adult man who dresses badly and has that annoying laugh.
  • The shy “wallflower” who’s there every week, sitting quietly and hoping someone will talk to her.
  • The family that attends regularly. They don’t lead in any way; they don’t volunteer. They’re not stand-offish or unfriendly, but no one really engages them in conversation. And no one knows their family is falling apart.

Society is full of marginalized people—and so is the church. These are people who love Jesus like you do, but they’re on the fringes: socially awkward, uncomfortable to be around, living in a tough situation, and not quite fitting the niche of your church group.  They’re in the margins—right where Jesus is.

And that’s where we should be too.

In teaching about His return, Jesus spoke of separating the people as a shepherd would separate sheep from goats. He told this about the sheep:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt. 25:34-36).

The sheep responded with surprise. They did not realize that, as they cared for these marginalize people, they were ministering to the King. The King replied, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40).

Here’s the kicker. Jesus called these marginalized people “brothers.”

The marginalized include our brothers and sisters in Christ. Next time you’re gathered at church, look around. They’re sitting with you. They may even be in your Bible study group. But don’t just notice them. Talk to them. Build a relationship with them. Love them. Support them. Encourage them.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40).

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Life in the Community” in Bible Studies for Life.

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