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The Playground: Friends

Today, we are launching a new worship series called “The Playground”. Many of us learned valuable life lessons on the playground. It was on the playground where many of made our first friends, developed our first crush and fell in love. The playground may have been the place we made our first enemies, experienced bullying, rejection, a blow to our ego – or puffed up our ego. It’s on the playground where we encounter both selfishness and selflessness.

Whatever your experience has been like on the playground, we hope this series will help us grow together to be a stronger and more united community of Jesus followers.

Last Sunday, I promised an embarrassing story about trying to impress my first crush…well, you’re going to have to wait a week. I was so excited to embarrass myself, on my own terms, that I jumped a week ahead. It will be worth the wait…well, it might be worth the wait.

Today, we are going to focus on friendships and I have a video that shows how quickly strangers can develop new friendships. Video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfHV4-N2LxQ

Ever since I first viewed that video, I find myself thinking that maybe what our world needs is more ball pits.

Maybe the world needs more playgrounds…places that are intentionally designed for fun and connection. Maybe every workplace needs a playground and mandatory recess…or at the very least, a ball pit.

In full disclosure, when I watched that video on Monday morning, I got a little teary-eyed. Maybe I just didn’t have enough coffee or I was just having a rough day or I’m turning into a sappy old man…Seeing the joy when people find points of connection is deeply moving.

I don’t know about you, but some of my best friendships developed on the playground. There are people that I am still close friends with today that I first met on the Royerton Elementary School playground. Our playground, it was the 80’s and safety regulations were slightly different, had this tall, metal slide with absolutely no safety measures. There was a bar at the top that you could swing off of to get a bit more speed. During recess, we would all head down the slide and run back to climb up the ladder as quickly as possible to see how many times we could go down. There were no rules about how many kids could be on the ladder at a time…well, until a kid fell off the side and broke his arm. Around that slide, many friendships were both formed and put to the test.

Now, in the spirit of honest, as great as that video is, I think ball pits are disgusting cesspools of who knows what kind of germs, viruses and disease.
• Have you ever seen anyone cleaning or sanitizing those play area ball pits?
• It never failed that when I’d break down, crumbling under the persistent begging and let my kids get in the ball pit, some runny-nosed, hacking up a lung kid would come out of the pit proclaiming that he’d had an accident.
• I’d immediately remove my children, hose them down with hand sanitizer, make them shower as soon as we got home and then, just for good measure, spray them with Lysol because it kills 99% of bacteria and viruses.
• One of the benefits of being back to wearing masks is that I can just assume you all are smiling when I go off on these little rabbit trails!

Back to the playground: The playground is a place where we form friendships, find our BFF’s and face fears of not making friends

One of my earliest, best friends was a kid who lived down the street named Adam: on paper, polar opposites:
• Cubs/Reds; Bears/Vikings; band/show choir; he’s a little bit country/ I’m a little bit rock n’ roll
• Every day after school we played – baseball, football, ride bikes, build forts
• 3rd grade: Adam was diagnosed w/cancer – as a kid, you don’t know what to do in situations like that…As a result, Adam had more and more days that he couldn’t “come out and play”
• Our friendship routine was disrupted

Thinking back to Adam’s battle with cancer, it reminds me that not everything on the playground is peachy keen. On the playground, we have to…
• Deal with bullies (today extends beyond the literal playground to social media – in fact, I would maybe say that today’s playground is Instagram – or TikTok – or whatever the kids are using these days)
• Growing up, my SS teachers & Youth pastor issued warnings: Stay away from bad influences (headbangers – it waw the 80’s, druggies, skateboarders) (1 Corinthians 15:33 – Bad company corrupts good character)
• Frenemies (kind of friends, but know they’re out to get you)
• Exclusive cliques (the cool kids – but even the “schoolies” and the “nerds” are reluctant to welcome outsiders – even happens at church – (Emily/tables/person got up and went to a “cooler” table)
• Forced friendship- parents want you to be friends (play dates)
• Friends can disappoint us, let us down, ditch us for cooler friends

It should be different in the playground of the Church. Jesus calls us to radical inclusion- exclusivity is something to avoid in the community of faith as the Scriptures are pretty clear about practicing hospitality and welcoming all people

Having been in high school in the 90’s, every graduation I attended featured Michael W. Smith “A Friends a Friend Forever” in his high-pitched, whiny tone voice: (And friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them, and a friend will not say never, ‘cause the welcome will not end, though it’s hard to let you go, In the Father’s hands we know, that a lifetime’s not too long, to live as friends)
• People would cry and pretend to be better friends than reality would suggest, swaying back and forth to a cheesy Christian pop ballad. It was embarrassing!
• If they had to play a friendship song, I would have preferred War’s “Why Can’t We be Friends”
• Of course, as a kid growing up in the cornfield suburbs of Muncie, I obviously gravitated towards and would have truly preferred the hip hop stylings of Whodini’s song “Friends” (Friends, how many of us have them, Friends, ones we can depend on”)

Adam made a full recovery and we went back to our normal routine – but, as we aged, we grew apart, lost touch

It’s part of our human nature to long for authentic community and friendship which requires trust, faith and love. There is risk involved in developing friendships.

One of the reasons I believe we need Jesus and the church is for the community and the friendship we can offer one another. In a world constantly attempting to divide us, Jesus is the One Thing that can unite us.

The last year and a half has been a litmus test for the quality of many friendships. How many of us have lost friends (or at least had some friendships tested) over the last election cycle or throughout the coronavirus pandemic? Too often, we allow political issues to separate us – often leading to the end of once treasured friendships. I believe that Jesus weeps as we allow our allegiance to our modern-day Caesar’s to divide us. Jesus is longing for us to put those distractions aside and look to Him.

When we unite, we come together to encourage one another, to spur one another to love and good deeds. We can accomplish so much more good together than on our own. We are better together! Jesus knows we are better together.

Here’s the deal, the Enemy also knows that we are better together…that’s why the Enemy works so hard to divide us!

Surveys indicate that young people today feel more isolated and lonely than any other time in history. In a time when, through technological advancements, we are more connected than ever. Yet, people feel more isolated and lonely than ever.

I have a stupid number of Facebook friends, but there are times I feel totally alone…desperate for connection.

There’s never been a more important time for the church to be the church than right now…to break down walls, to extend hope, compassion, hospitality and love to all!

At FWS, our desire is to go beyond surface level friendship and acquaintances as we go and love, together…Scripture reveals that authentic community, deep and healthy friendships are something God knows we long for and need. God desires that we form deep, authentic friendships because God knows we are better together! God knows we need one another to encourage and spur one another on towards love and good deeds. God knows we will encounter situations in this life that will require the love, support and strength of our faith family to navigate. Some of us can share testimonies about how we have faced moments in our life where the love and support of our church family was the strength we needed to make it through.

Are we looking for ball pits and playgrounds today? Opportunity to begin to develop new friendships today- walk down to Calhoun Street for Open Streets and participate, talk to people, extend some invitations.

Developing new friendships and strengthening existing friendships requires intentionality. Start with Prayer- God, place people in my path with whom I can connect and develop trusted and meaningful friendships. You may find yourself encountering opportunities to develop friendships at work, school, your favorite coffee shop, the ball diamond or wherever you encounter other people. The important step is to respond to the opportunities that God places in our path.

I’m convinced the world needs more ball pits and playgrounds because they help break the ice, break down barriers

Maybe if we’d be willing to break down some barriers, we’ll be able to connect with others on a deeper level.

Our Scripture from the Gospel of John reminds us that friendship is all about love…God’s love for us, our love for God, our love for one another, our love for those not like us…even our enemies

God knows we need one another as we face the highs and lows of life.

Examples of strong friendship…Scott, Shane, Gern – I’ve talked about these goofballs before – but they are the kind of friends who I know I can text/call at any moment and know they will pray, they will listen, they will show up. Difference between this friendship and others is not only a commitment to one another, but our commitment to Jesus. Our faith is the foundation of our friendship! We don’t always agree on political, social or moral issues…but we agree on Jesus. And, that allows us to overcome those differences that have the potential to divide.

Sometimes, deep friendships and authentic community requires us to take a risk…to step out of our comfort zone…to be open, honest and vulnerable. One of my favorite people in Ft. Wayne is someone I didn’t want to like – different theology, different politics, doesn’t like coffee – but I can’t help but like him – and he’s one of the very few people who regularly asks me not only how I’m doing – but asks about each member of my family, by name.

First Wayne Street, how can we spur one another on towards love and good deeds? How can we encourage one another? How can we be for one another and our community?

As God leads us to be a welcoming, missional and multiethnic community of faith reaching the diverse community living and working downtown by embodying and extending the Good News of Jesus, will we take the risk and jump into the ball pit?