Jesus: Our Model for Friendship
About the Guest
How intentional are you about making friends? Long-time friends John Vawter and Jim Wetherbe tell what brought them, and kept them, thriving as friends over the decades. Jim and John look to Jesus as the model for friendship, and talk about the give and take required for real friendship.
How intentional are you about making friends?
Jesus: Our Model for Friendship
Bob: Ask most men to give you a list of their closest friends, and you are likely to get a blank stare. Why? Here’s author and speaker, John Vawter.
John: What I say to men is, “Understand that, if you don’t have any friends, then, you are putting yourself above Jesus Christ because He needed friends; or you don’t understand who He was, as He walked the earth.” Secondly, I say to them, “You have to take a risk, and it depends on the moment and the day.” We have to be open, we have to be vulnerable, and we have to ask ourselves the question: “Is this person going to help me become more conformed to the image of Christ?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 8th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about men and the importance of friendships. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. When you were in high school, did you have a best friend?
Bob: What was his name?
Bob: How did you and Kim become friends?
Dennis: I just say we grew up together—
Dennis: —and joined sports together, and going hunting and fishing, and hanging out together.
Bob: Just over time—common interests—things you liked together?
Bob: And are you—do you know where he is today?
Dennis: You know, we kind of lost track with one another. He went to Vietnam—and saw him a couple of times after that—but haven’t hung out with him since. But you know, here’s the thing, Bob, the friends that seem to last the longest—now, I’m not saying this is automatically true—but a lot of them start at college—who—you begin to hammer out your experiences with in college or, perhaps, in your first vocation. It really has been true of me that some of the guys I still—not a lot, but some—that I’m still close with occurred back in those days.
Bob: Well, and I have found that common interests are one thing; but a common faith and common convictions—those really take a relationship deeper than the surface.
Dennis: And I’ll tell you this—the one thing I’ve found true of all friendships, between men, is that they are difficult. We have a couple of friends with us in the studio—a new friend and an old friend—Dr. John Vawter and Dr. Jim Wetherbe join us on FamilyLife Today. Jim, John, welcome back to the broadcast.
John: Thank you—nice to be back.
Jim: Glad to be here.
Dennis: John Vawter is a friend. He goes way back to the Campus Crusade for Christ®, when it was named that. He served on the staff for ten years with Cru®. He has been a pastor, seminary president, has written a couple of books, and is a speaker. He and his wife Susan have been married for 43 years. He’s collaborated with Jim to write a book called Achieving High Performance Friendship, which is a book for men.
Jim has been a professor at the University of Minnesota, the University of Houston, and the University of Memphis—currently, at Texas Tech University—has written more than 30 books, and married to his wife Bren for eight years. I want to know how you guys started your friendship. I mean, you talk about, in the book, about getting a good start or selecting a friend or choosing a friend. How did you guys choose each other?
Jim: Well, I learned about John from my mother. We had moved up to Minnesota; and I was not really attending church, at the time. My mother and father moved up so they could be nearby—we could take care of them. She started promoting this pastor, John Vawter. Now, to me, that was a negative because my mother was one of those people who just really took faith at a very, very easy level—so, I figured he was probably kind of one of those pie-in-the-sky type of pastors.
Dennis: You weren’t interested in God, let alone a pastor.
Jim: Well, I was interested in God; but I just hadn’t found pastors that would preach in the more pragmatic, logical way that I needed to hear—the message that would work for me.
Jim: But actually, my mother was right. She knew me, and she was spot-on that John would be good. I went to his church and immediately was drawn to him. I quickly realized: “This is a guy that’s very pragmatic. He’s very practical.” I saw him as someone—because I deal with a lot of CEO’s in my consulting, and speaking, and so forth—I said, “This guy could be a business executive.” I just found that his messages had good progression of thought and logic. So, I approached him, and just started having conversations with him, and found him to be very authentic and someone I could learn from.
Bob: John, do you remember the first time Jim approached you and had a conversation with you?
Dennis: Yes, what is it that you said earlier that he came up and said—what?
John: Well, he said to me, “If all the people who sleep in your sermons were laid end-to-end, they’d be more comfortable.” [Laughter]
Bob: So, he started off with a little smack-talk to start the relationship; huh?
John: No, it’s actually a joke! I never tell anyone that’s a joke. But to answer your question, I don’t remember the first time I met him.
But I told a story, in a sermon, that when I was 15, a man propositioned me, sexually. He was the uncle of one of my best friends in school. I didn’t tell anyone for 14 years. The sermon was the first time I had stated that publicly. I just said, “He propositioned me.” Jim came up, afterwards, and said, “That man sexually abused you.” I said: “No, he didn’t. He propositioned me.” So, we were like two junior high kids: “Abuse,” “Proposition.” “Abuse,” Proposition.” But that was the start of it because I realized I could respect and trust Jim because he was willing to come up to correct me, and confront me, and doing it in a loving way.
Bob: Now, that’s interesting—the start of a relationship—because he was a guy who was willing to correct and confront. We don’t typically think of correction and confrontation as the seed-bed for a great relationship.
John: Right. And then, one day, he called my office. When the call came through, he said, “May I tell you something?” I said, “Yes.” He said: “When I called the church, I asked for you. The receptionist said, ‘I’ll put you through.’ I thought I was coming to you; and I came to your assistant, who said, ‘John Vawter’s office.’” He said: “You may want to correct that because it’s a little bit rude. I thought I was coming straight to you.”
I realized that he cared enough about me, and cared enough about our ministry, and the way we were perceived by people that he would tell me about that, professionally, and give me that professional courtesy. I thought: “This is a man I’m going to like. This is a man I’m going to see if we can develop a relationship—a friendship.” It’s grown since then.
Dennis: You guys came together to write this book. You had to write it because of a common conclusion—that I’ve come to—because I’ve read your book—I’ve come to, as well: “Men don’t achieve friendships easily.” They can live a lifetime—many men—and not have truly a single friend who is truly an intimate friend. Am I right?
John: That’s correct. Most of the men, to whom I talk, say, “I have no friends,” or, “I have few friends,” and, “I have few friends with whom I can share.” That’s the purpose of the book—is to help men understand how Jesus modeled friendship when He was here on earth and, then, to help men know how to begin developing friendships.
Dennis: Why is it men don’t have those kinds of friendships?
John: Well, I think part of it is our society. Somehow, our society teaches men to be competitive, to be like gorillas in the jungle, beating our chests and bragging.
At my high school 50-year reunion, I had a better time talking to the women than I did the men because the women wanted to talk seriously about life—they wanted to talk about their marriages, they wanted to talk about their kids. A lot of the guys were still competing because, I think, it’s our culture that says: “Men simply compete. They don’t relate to one another, and they don’t tell one another they care for one another and love one another.”
Dennis: The Bible starts out affirming that presupposition—Genesis, Chapter 4—Cain and Abel. They were competing—ultimately, resulted in murder. Now, that’s two brothers; but it’s two men relating to each other. We, typically, don’t want to give another man competitive advantage; do we?
Jim: Sure. There is a dynamic of being macho: “Big boys don’t cry.” Showing your vulnerabilities shows weakness. It’s always amazing—John and I have wonderful wives—and the way they can just connect with other women, so quickly, around issues, such as children and feelings. They are just very open, very quickly; but men are much more guarded. That just doesn’t provide the accessibility.
Bob: Jim, you strike me as a fairly competitive guy. I mean, you are in an academic environment where competition is kind of the part of the way of life there. Avocationally, you like to race fast cars.
Bob: There’s a competitive side to you; right?
Bob: So, have you had to overcome that; or how has this relational dynamic, with other guys, been cultivated with you?
Jim: I was fortunate, I guess. John and I have talked about, “Why do we have so many friends?” We both just realized we needed friends. In order to have friends, you have to—there is a give and take. That was just something natural that happened. So, you can be competitive and still have friends. That’s not inconsistent.
In fact, it’s fun to have competitive rivalry, where you can share—and you know, there’s the old saying, “If you want to play better tennis, play tennis with a better tennis player.” So, you can have that type of friendship where you are helping each other grow. The same can be true of how you are just growing as an individual.
The greatest thing is to have a friend that, when they give you feedback about yourself—whether it’s about the way you’re handling a work situation, or a personal situation, or a spiritual situation—and in fact, one of our litmus tests: “If I don’t question, for a second, that you are telling me this out of love and caring, then, that makes that extremely useful feedback,” because not getting good feedback is like hitting golf balls in the dark. You just don’t know how you are doing.
So, if you have reliable friends—who have come to you from a position from love and caring—and they can share with you observations they are making—that can be helpful to you because when we’re effective—if we see ourselves as others are seeing us, that helps us grow.
Dennis: You know, in Genesis, Chapter 2, God came to Adam and said, “It’s not good that you be alone.” He made a helper suitable for him. I think—where you are starting here—in talking about how men have to admit that they do need friends is a great starting point. What would you say to the guy, who is listening and goes, “You know, I really I don’t think I need friends”?
John: We say that Jesus Christ is the model for friendship. For me, the paramount point of His life is when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, after He had left the upper room. He’s now praying before He is arrested, and we know what He was saying to the Father. We know what He was thinking because He allowed three of His closest friends—Peter, James, and John—to be close enough to hear what He was saying and what He was praying.
Then, He said to them—this is my translation—“I need you with me.” He comes back to them, and they had fallen asleep. He says, “Can’t you stay with me for a short while?” So, Jesus was modeling that we should not be alone. Here, He was—the God-man, the Savior of the World, the Teacher of the World—and He was saying: “I don’t want to be alone, at this time. This is the worst moment in history. I’m beginning to deal with the sin of the world.” So, if Jesus needed not to be alone; then, we need not to be alone.
If I could just give you one example—Jim and I flying in to be with you two men—the man, sitting in front of us, thought we were talking too loudly, and turned around, and said, “Could you girls be quiet?” [Laughter] I didn’t hear what he said, but I knew by the look on Jim’s face that he had said something. I said, “What did he say?” He said, “He called us girls.” I knew I needed to say something. So, when we landed, I said to him—I put my hand over the seat and said, “I’m sorry if we ruined your sleep.” He apologized for what he said. I said, “I understand you called us girls.” He said, “Yes, that’s how my father told people to be quiet.”
But it was interesting. Later on, Jim said to me: “You handled that very well. I’m proud of you.” I didn’t understand how I had handled it well. I just tried to diffuse the situation. So, I said, “Why?” Well, then, later, Jim said to me: “You know, I tried to pay you a compliment; but instead of asking me, ‘How did I handle it well?’ and thanking me, you said, ‘Why?’ which sounded like a competitive word.” I wouldn’t have known that I had done that except that Jim cares enough about me to say, “The way you handled my compliment was not a good way to handle it.” I think that’s what high-performance friends do for one another.
Dennis: You know, I agree with you. I started reflecting upon the number of friends that I have in my life—and you have a great quote in your book. The guy has to be French because I can’t pronounce it. He said, “A true friend is the most precious of all possessions and the one we take the least thought about acquiring.”
Now, I might argue about what “the most valuable possession” might be; but a friend—two men who are truly friends—are really valuable in one another’s lives. I would not be the man I am today without a number of men, who have sharpened me and built into my life. One of them is sitting right here, Bob Lepine. Friends really do what the Proverbs talk about—“As iron sharpens iron….”
Jim: Yes. You know, I had a Sunday school teacher that talked about getting hooked on pornography. I was absolutely stunned because this, to me, was someone who just had God’s fingerprints all over him. I just would have never anticipated—I was so surprised he was willing to share that. He talked about how he had a friend—that he said: “I need to deal with this. So, I want you to hold me accountable.”
There is a lot of research that shows that people who really go down the wrong path don’t have someone who calls them on their behavior. So, he actually reached out to someone and said, “I want you to check with me, on a regular basis, and call me on that so that I know I’ll have to answer to you as a friend about any activity in that area.” He said, “That was the thing that really helped me get passed that.”
So, it so nice to be able to reach out to someone and say: “I need coaching. I need growth in this area,” and feel comfortable that they will do it from a place of love and caring as opposed to just being judgmental and critical.
Bob: When I was shooting video interviews for the Stepping Up™ video series, that we put together, one of the guys I talked to was Pastor James MacDonald in Chicago. Interestingly enough, he did his doctorate work on James 5—the verse that says, “Confess your sins one to another and be healed.” He looked at it in the context of men friendships—
Bob: —men in relationships. One of the things he said in the interview—and it’s a part of what we talk about in the Stepping Up video series—he talked about the fact that men are not naturally inclined toward the kind of self-disclosure—the kind of transparency and vulnerability that is a part of healthy friendships. They need to have it modeled for them, and they need to see it reciprocated.
“If a guy,” he said, “comes forward and says, ‘I need to confess something,’” he said, “The other guy better pretty quickly confess back.” He said, “Because if the other guy goes, ‘Oh, man, that’s too bad!’ it’s like you’ve just shut off the faucet. ‘I’m never telling you again.’” It’s almost like we have to have this shared trust. We have to open up our lives to one another before we can feel safe.
Dennis: You are hitting on an issue I want these guys to comment on; and that is, I think a lot of guys want that friendship, in their soul. They have a longing to both know and be known, but they do not know how to get started. So, what would you say to the guy, who is saying, “Yes, I’d like to start a friendship—I’d like to go deeper in my relationships with men”?
John: First of all, I want to go back to Jesus, again—that, I think, He was open. Just an example—we all know about where He healed ten lepers; and only one came back to say, “Thank you.” Jesus said, “I thought I healed ten—how come only one came back?”—seemed like that was very open—very vulnerable moment in His life—what He did in the Garden, when He was praying.
What I say to men is, “If you don’t have any friends, then, you are putting yourself above Jesus Christ because He needed friends; or you don’t understand who He was, as He walked the earth.”
Secondly, I say to them, “You have to take a risk.” It depends on the moment and the day—but I, recently, met a man that I really liked. I thought, “This could be a friendship.” I asked him out for Coke®, or lunch, or whatever it was. He said, “I’ll get back to you.” He’s never gotten back to me. So, I realized that that relationship is not going anywhere. In fact, it’s not a relationship.
So, the first thing I say is that we have to take a risk. We have to be open. We have to be vulnerable; and we have to ask ourselves the question: “Is this person going to help me become more conformed to the image of Christ?”
Bob: Did you feel a little rejected by no follow-up; and does it make you think, “I’m not asking another guy to do that”?
John: No, I feel good enough about myself that it didn’t bother me—just that I thought this was a relationship that could have benefitted both of us.
On the other hand, I met a man, last fall, working on a committee for a men’s conference in Phoenix, where I live, and had the same sense about him. I asked him if we could have lunch, and we’re on the way to becoming great friends. In fact, we use the phrase—if you think about the Catholic Church—when we want to talk very privately, we will say—and confidentially—we will say to one another, “May we step into the confessional for a moment?” understanding that what we’re going to say needs to stay there, in the confessional. We’ve really relied on one another in a couple of situations.
Dennis: You really talked about two things: One, admitting your need; secondly, taking the risk. I would add a third to it and, then, a practical application to what we’re talking about. I think, after you admit that need and take the risk, you have to begin in some kind—and I think this is just true of guys—we have to begin the journey, somewhere, around doing something together. It may be athletics. It may be a Bible study. It could be a small group.
Here is where I go back to what you helped create, Bob—the Stepping Up video series—where a guy could step out and get a handful of guys in a small group—but I’m going to promise you something. The questions that are in that small group—by the time you finish ten sessions together, you’re going to know some guys at a level way beyond the casual conversation, where you are talking about sporting events, and the weather, and how things are going at work.
You’re going to know what some guys really think, what’s the most courageous thing they’ve ever done. You’re going to know about their steps of faith they’ve taken, but it doesn’t occur all at once. It occurs in bite-size pieces—kind of enables guys to get their feet in the water and, then, begin to ease on in. I think it’s where a lot of guys are picking up some incredibly valuable friendships for their lives that are going to benefit them for the long-haul.
Bob: Well, that’s one of the goals. I mean, as you look at the Stepping Up video series, one of the goals is to help guys understand God’s design for them as men; but there’s another objective, and that’s to help them develop those kinds of relationships that they are going to need throughout a lifetime, if they are going to walk with God.
Dennis: A book, like what Jim and John have written here, is going to be incredibly instructive at helping guys beginning to understand, “What is taking place inside of me as I venture out into these”—as John talked about—“these risky relationships,” because any relationship is risky.
Bob: Yes. You can go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. There is information there about how to order copies of the book, that John and Jim have written together, called Achieving High Performance Friendships. Again, you’ll find it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
And speaking of the Stepping Up video series, we are hoping, this fall, that some of our listeners—and I say some of our listeners because I’ve already talked, this week, about the fact that we have somewhere between 250 and 350 thousand men, who listen to FamilyLife Today every day. Now, what if 1percent of those guys—2,500 guys—1percent of you—would call us this week and say: “You know what? I would be willing to take ten of my friends through the Stepping Up video series that you guys have put together,”—guys from church—maybe, you can get together from a group of guys from work and do this before work hours—maybe, it is fathers and teenage sons going through it together.
But if 1percent of our male listeners to FamilyLife Today would call 1-800-FL-TODAY, this week, and say, “I’ll take ten guys through this material, this fall,”—first of all, if 1percent would do that, that would be 25,000 men, or more, taken through the material this fall. Secondly, if you’ll be one of that 1percent this week, we’ll send you the DVDs for free. All you have to do is call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Say, “I’ll take ten guys through it”—at least ten guys—order manuals for the guys that you are going to take through the material—and we’ll send you the DVD set for free. Okay? All of this because we would really love to see tens of thousands of men taken through this material—trained, equipped, discipled—in what it means to pursue biblical manhood.
So, call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions or if you are ready to hold up your hand and say: “I’ll take ten guys through this material. I can do that.” Call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’ll send you the DVDs, free. All you have to do is order the manuals for the guys you are going to take through it. They can pay you back for the manuals, once you are signed up and ready to go. Again, the toll-free number: 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329.
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This week, if you are able to help with a donation, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of a conversation we had with Dr. Steve Farrar on how a man can anchor his family in Christ for a hundred years. We’ll send you that CD when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”, and make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone. Ask for the CDs on anchoring your family in Christ, and we’ll get those sent out to you. And let me just say we are grateful for your support of this ministry, and we always appreciate hearing from you.
And we encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow. We’ll continue to talk to John Vawter and Jim Wetherbe about high-performance friendships among guys. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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