When I was growing up, my mom and dad were obsessive about knowing my friends. According to my parents, I couldn’t hang out with a new friend or even call them my friend until they had been thoroughly vetted by my parents. Where did they live? How did I know them? Who were their parents? Where did their parents work? And last, but not least, where did their family go to church?

Other Baptists were preferred, and the denominations were ranked according to my mother’s thoughts on how serious they were about having Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I don’t know if there was a point system, but I definitely got the idea that each answer either added to or subtracted from how good of a friend my new friend would be allowed to be. Some of my friends were allowed to come over. Others weren’t. Some were allowed to stay overnight. Others were not. And yes, there were those who weren’t able to be my friend at all.

They couldn’t come up with enough points to be called my friend. I never figured out her system. I just know she had one.

My mom and my dad - to a point but in my family, mom was the enforcer - were relentless in their concern about my friends. Choosing the wrong friends was inviting the devil into your life, and before you knew it, you’d be on that wide path that leads to hell. Under the influence of the wrong group of friends, you’d start making bad grades and sleeping through Sunday School. People who came to worship only didn’t really love Jesus.

I was told by my parents, teachers and other mentors in my life to be careful about the group I chose to run around with because they would determine my future. Whether or not this was actually true was never debated. The statement was assumed as true by everyone in authority in my life.

The worst thing that could be said about someone was they were a “bad influence”. This person had the charisma, respect, authority or enough cool factors to make you do things you probably wouldn’t do on your own. When you hung around these people of bad influence bad things suddenly seemed cool and wrong things were fun. Uptight people and people with hang-ups were determined to keep us from having fun, but these friends of bad influence could see through this social hypocrisy and lead us to a new truth.

There were few things worse that could be said about a person than “bad influence”. If someone was a bad influence, I was absolutely forbidden from hanging around them.

I was always puzzled by the inconsistency of this rule. There were people whom I couldn’t hang around me because they would influence me, but as far as I knew, there weren’t any people who couldn’t hang around me because I would be a good influence. No one at all was worried I would be a Christ-like influence on them.

That bothered me. It bothers me now. I have yet to receive a phone call from a community parent asking me to do something about the children of our church because, when they hung around her kids, they unduly influenced their children to be too joyful, too peaceful or too loving. No one in our community seems to be worried about being infected with Christ.

Right now, everyone is concerned about being infected by COVID-19. What makes this particular virus so dangerous is how long it takes to show symptoms once you’re infected. That means, you could have the virus and while not knowing you have it, be infecting others with the disease.

To get COVID-19, you have to be around someone who has the disease. Your immunity system has to be somehow weakened by some kind pre-existing condition or you’re so close to the infected person that your immune system is simply overwhelmed by the virus.

To prevent the spread of this virus, we’ve voluntarily self-quarantined. Schools have shut down and businesses have closed. We’re disinfecting anything we’ve touched, and we’re wearing masks to protect us from breathing contaminated air.

I jokingly told a few friends the president should have called Baptists about how to keep the virus from spreading. We would have called it “evangelism” and no one, I mean no one, would have ever been infected. We wouldn’t have shared it with anyone.

And that’s a shame. Our world desperately needs to be “infected” by grace. All of us need to catch “peace” and “love”. One of the issues hampering our nation’s response to the pandemic is our tribalism. We’ve divided ourselves into too many groups who distrust all of the other groups. Spreading a little compassion would be a welcomed infection.

Let’s go back to an earlier point. To be infected you have to be around someone who is already infected. My guess is this is a bigger problem than we want to admit. Too many who claim to be “Christ-followers” aren’t infected with Jesus at all. They haven’t been around Him enough to “catch” Him.

In this time of self-quarantine, I would pray every Christ follower spend as much time in prayer and Bible study. I would want all of us to spend enough time with Jesus so that we’re infected with Jesus to the point we’ll infect everyone we meet with Him.

Sooner or later, we’ll go back to normal. When we do, I’d love to be part of a world that’s infected by grace.