Friends Needed

6 Aug

Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

I wonder. Do you have one of those friends? You know, the one who will tell you to lighten up on the amount of garlic you eat because it is causing a disturbing body odor. Or, the one who will mention a habit you have that offends others—like a nervous laugh at inappropriate times.

I recall one of the major TV stations had hired a new weather forecaster. He did his job quite well, but he had this irritating laugh. People began turning to different news stations because of it. I also remember when he got rid of the laugh pattern. Someone had to have been that friend to him, maybe even helped him find a way to re-channel his emotion. Whoever that was took a risk that paid off in abundant returns.

With my writing, I participate in two critique groups. I’ve learned to examine my writing partners’ comments closely. My wife’s critiques were sometimes the most cutting. Early on, I told her she was misreading what I’d written and missed the point. A well-directed question on her part got me to explain what she couldn’t see. To that, she pointed out I needed to put what I said on the paper because it wasn’t there. I changed. I learned to hear my lack of clarity through the critiques of others. I appreciate having writing friends, but I need more daily living friends who take such risks.

I fear our society has lost the treasure found in those friends, lost them to the I’m-OK-you’re-OK thinking, the believe-your-own-truth philosophy, the political correctness pit, and the as-a-matter-of-fact-the-universe-does-revolve-around-me mentality. Add social media to the recipe, good friends then become a rarity, and friendships become a disposable commodity.

From Master to Friend

Before Jesus was arrested, he called his disciples friends. “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you,” (John 15:15, NKJV).

This declaration over his disciples suggests they could move their tassels on their graduation caps, but the disciples don’t react, or at least nothing is recorded. Did they sit back? Lean in closer? Maybe some put their arms around the neck of the one standing next to him and gave a slight hug. By Jesus’ words, their relationship to him shifted from disciples (understudies) to equals. They received their divinity degrees. The one who created all things called them friends. That should have meant something to them and gotten a reaction.

The dialogue doesn’t reveal any reaction by the disciples until several verses later in the next chapter. Even then, their reaction has nothing to do with the cosmic shift that took place in that verse.

Reading through the rest of the chapter into the next two, Jesus tells his closest followers what they can expect from their Jewish friends, family, and neighbors—especially those in authority. He then draws his teaching to a close by plainly stating he came from the Father into the world and would be returning to him.

The disciples finally heard what they had been waiting on for three years. Their response reads like a unified sigh, declaring they now believe because he spoke without mincing words.

Jesus questioned their claim because he knew they would soon scatter and deny knowing him, leaving him alone. (See John 16:28-32.)

That had to have hurt. Again, John doesn’t record the disciples’ reaction. Jesus doesn’t even pause to let the correction sink in, or so it seems. He gives a comforting word. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).

Eleven True Friends

He then prays for them, and they go to the garden. Jesus said things that hurt and followed it up with words of comfort and hope. Judas walked up to him in the garden and gave him a kiss.

Another verse in Proverbs connects with this muse of mine that I can turn into a prayer. Proverbs 18:24 A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Lord, send me more true friends by helping me be a better friend to them.

Love’s Answer

23 Jul

False accusations. Unjust decisions in the courts. Deep political and philosophical divisions pit neighbors against neighbors. Intolerance. Blaming. Persecutions. Lawlessness. Corrupt leadership dragging the region into chaos. Christians feeling the brunt of it all.

While it might, to an extent, sound like today’s newspapers articles, this is Paul’s description of the church in Thessalonica. In fact, the people of the city were warned to expect this and worse should they decide to follow Christ. Yet, they chose to believe in and follow Jesus.

Paul’s letter goes on to confront false teaching, fear of men, and their questioning the great hope they had learned. He reassured them that what they believed in the beginning is true. Circumstances have no effect on God’s promises. Not even death can prevent it. After one sets himself up as God and wages total war with the Lord’s faithful, Jesus will come to gather his followers—both living and those already dead—and will defeat once-for-all his and our enemy.

His exhortation on how they should respond to their situation has undoubtedly encouraged Christian generations since then. To strengthen his word, Paul reminds them of his own experiences. His challenge calls us still today when we may want to strike back. My paraphrase: Let Jesus draw you deeper into the Father’s love and patience in the Holy Spirit to be manifested outwardly to those who oppose you. That redefines tough love, but it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.

Help me, Lord.

How has the Lord been teaching you to let him fight your battles?

If you want to see more of my musings, be sure to like and follow me.

Puzzle Pieces

16 Jul

For the past few years, we have had extended family living with us. At different times, one son or daughter (or more) has moved back in. Some with their own families—be it two legged or four. The congestion and confusion the stays brought to the house nudged out one of our long-standing traditions. When our children were young, we loved doing jigsaw puzzles together. Cindy and I would browse through stores to find the next puzzle challenge, set up a card table, and start putting the edge pieces together.

For a few minutes each day, each of us would meander to the table and put a few pieces in place. A particularly difficult puzzle might take us a week to finish. One puzzle from those years stands out in my memory. Nearly done, we had three or four pieces left that did not fit into the empty spots. We were about to put the puzzle back in the box, concluding a mix-up in the factory gave us pieces to a different puzzle. But, we noticed the pieces had the coloring that indicated they did belong to the puzzle before us.

An Ahaa Moment
A couple of us bent over to examine what we had assembled. That’s when one of us discovered a piece that didn’t look quite right. It belonged in one of the blank spaces. We looked for more until our “extra” pieces found their home and the puzzle was complete.

Our lives can be like that puzzle at times. Things enter our schedules, disrupt our routines, or maybe cause us to crash emotionally. Our first thought is often that what we’ve encountered doesn’t belong in our lives. It doesn’t fit.

I don’t think the Apostle Paul had jigsaw puzzles back in his day, but I think he had something akin to them when he wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28, NKJV).

Our Current Puzzle
I’ve been trying to keep that in focus as we are in such a time. After the last of our extended family moved out, we began the process of restoring our home from the wear and tear that too many people in a house cause. We started emptying bookshelves and boxing books and everything else we didn’t see a need for in the near future. We shopped for carpeting, flooring, paint, and countertops.

Our resources had been committed to the rehab, but new puzzle pieces were being forced into our picture. Our car left us stranded alongside the road for the second time in three months. Our house air conditioner stopped working and has been patched to limp along a few more days. I had surgery and was put on limited activity for about six weeks during all this. Complaining about these pieces did no good. Through our own efforts, we got them placed, but we have yet to see if we made as good of choices as we think we did. God may have to pull them out and put them where he wants them. (That creates another disruption for us to deal with.)

Learning Anew
Once more we find ourselves in God’s classroom needing to sit back, close our eyes and ears to what is demanding our attention, and listen for God’s instruction. He knows how all things will work together for our best.

Genuine vs Copycat

9 Jul
All creation sings

And all the trees of the field with clap their hands…Isaiah 55:12

“I’m old enough to remember _____.” I usually like those memes when I see them because they take my imaginations down a path I haven’t tread for many years. I filter the scenes that play out in my mind to block the unpleasant and highlight the fun and love.

Secret Code

As I sat to write today’s blog, I remembered something that happened when I was in fifth grade or earlier. Across the highway lived a family with two daughters, both older than I. We had fun together in spite of our age difference. With only one phone in each household, we were not allowed to use it to call one another just to talk. So, we devised a loud whistle signal to call a meeting at the half-way point next to the highway to talk, make plans, or whatever our minds came up with. The signal had two long blasts followed by two short and one long.

Impersonator or Imposter

One slow summer day I heard the signal. I jumped up and ran to the spot, eager to find out what news or ideas had come up to break up the sluggishness of the day. I waited at the spot for about five minutes. No one showed up. I went back to my house. Once inside, I heard the signal again. I thought maybe their mom stopped them from meeting me, assigning them some chore before being released for our diversion. Again, no show.

When it happened the third time, I stood there facing their house letting my irritation with their game grow out of proportion. Then I heard the signal again behind me in the woods. A mockingbird had decided to adopt our signal for a new song. That explained why it didn’t have the same tonal quality their whistle normally had. I should have followed my suspicions instead of rushing to accusing them of toying with me.

Verbal Flood

Sometimes distinguishing the Lord’s voice from the Imposter’s can be difficult with the barrage of voices demanding attention. Advertising, programs pushing for a better you (physically, sexually, financially), and inner peace gurus. Yes, even my blog. When I feel overwhelmed by the noise, I like to seclude myself where I can’t see even one logo, pray for the Lord to quiet the tempest raging in my mind, and wait for him to speak. One of my favorite places and times is early morning on our patio with a cup of coffee. I regret that I’ve not been able to do much of that lately. If it’s not raining, I have time restrictions brought about by appointments or things that require immediate attention. Then, I must make time—even if it is only five minutes or less between activities.

I am learning how precious and necessary those moments with the Lord are. My one regret is that I am discovering this so late. My wife knows I don’t like time-travel fiction, but—in answer to those memes—if I could go back, I would impress upon my young self what I know now. I wonder what would change and where would I be now in my faith.

How do you refresh/reboot when too many people and things demand your attention away from communion with the Lord?

How has it made a difference for you?

Crown-worthy Preparation

2 Jul

My life took a tumble within the last few weeks. On top of surgery and recovery, I went through hard to swallow disappointments, discouragement, and dashed dreams. Paul wrote that I can rest assured that what I’ve experienced is not uncommon, so I know you can relate to me. Perhaps some are in the tossing, turning, and free fall of life right now. If so, take heart. God has a purpose.

Have you ever watched clothes in a dryer? Especially noticing your favorite shirt rolling up the side then dropping down, disappearing, catching a glimpse of it in the back before showing up again pressed against the glass? Knowing it will in the right time come out of the chaos dry and wrinkle free gives us patience to let it continue.

Recently, I read an article on how to polish rocks using a rock tumbler. I couldn’t help but see a metaphor for what I’ve been going through and of life in general, especially the Christian life. The rock polishing process begins with selecting the right stones. And once selected, they are scrubbed to remove surface crud. That may include knocking or chiseling off sharp protrusions before being put into the tumbler.

As much as we say we found Jesus, the fact remains he chose us–before the foundations of the world Paul tells us. And after our being joined to him, we often see much of our crud purged from our lives. Joy fills us when we realize for the first time how great it is to be free of those things.

When we think life couldn’t be better, we experience upset. Confusion, pain, and disillusionment tosses us like the shirt in the dryer and like the stones in the rock tumbler. Here is what to remember. After the choosing, scrubbing, and shaping, the craftsman puts several stones into the tumbler along with some hard grit and water. He then turns on the tumbler for a specific amount of time. At the end of that time, he turns off the tumbler, washed the stones, and checks their progress. Then the process is repeated.

Jesus is the master craftsman. He has a purpose for each one he chooses, a purpose far greater than scrubbing away our crud. He puts us together with others {we aren’t alone in our tumble}, uses the washing of the word and the power of the Holy Spirit to smooth out other imperfections. The stone-polishing process is repeated until the ugly rock shines with the brilliance of a precious gem. (Note: the gem was there all the time, but only the Master could see it.) And so it is with us. Jesus is changing us from “glory to glory.”

As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…”
Perhaps the next time life is a jumble with no stable ground to stand on we can remember our heavenly stone polisher. Instead of fearing or complaining we can say, “I’m becoming what God sees in me and shown to the world–a gem suitable for being part of his crown of glory.”

Call Me Radical

11 Jun

I want to be accused of being a radical Christian. Not as the term is used most often these days. No. That would never do. I’m talking about radical Christians who make themselves obvious by their love. They don’t consider themselves holier than others. They don’t identify with this cause or that one. They focus on their relationship with Jesus and the expression of it to those around them, impacting others lives. And they are immoveable in their beliefs, which seem radical.

They believe Jesus truly is the Son of the Living God, the only God. They believe He is the only way for man to be restored to a loving relationship with God. They believe Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose on the third day. And they believe that by faith they have been crucified, buried, and made alive with Him to live in the power of Jesus’ resurrected life. Now that’s radical. But wait, there’s more.

The resurrected life means true believers can live in the kingdom of God while yet in these physical bodies. The radical Christians believe, as Paul wrote, that they are a new creation. Christians are not simply fallen, sinful men who have been forgiven. They are men, women and children walking about with God’s Holy Spirit residing within. The wisdom, knowledge, and power of Jesus is available to touch and change lives just like we read about Jesus and His apostles doing. Can it get more radical than that? Yes, it can.

Jesus Defined It

Jesus painted a clear word picture of what He planned for His disciples. He said they must first recognize their best behavior and best deeds are worthless in the kingdom. His disciples must recognize they are broken and bankrupt before they can experience the kingdom of heaven, but once they do it is theirs. (Poor in Spirit, Matthew 5:3)

The next thing He said surely stopped some from going off in wild fantastic tangents. He said to those listening to Him and to each of us today that even though we can revel in having received the kingdom, we must grieve. Sin has destroyed so much that was beautiful and meant for good. Sin continues to try to darken lives with burdens, guilt, and hardships, but those things are symptoms. Mourn instead that sin continues unchecked. Grieve over its effect in your own life and the lives all around. (Mourn, Matthew 5:4)

Then submit to the heart of God. Radical Christians subject themselves to God’s wisdom even when their own wisdom directs them toward another path of action. Victory in our circumstances depends on our being willing to let go of our skills and to rely wholly on God’s. (Meek, Matthew 5:5)

If that is not enough, Jesus said true disciples hunger and thirst after Him. Picture it as the pursuit one gives for the person he wants to spend the rest of his life with. The love of his or her life occupies nearly all their thinking whenever they are apart. They long to be able to back in one another’s arms. The radical Christians have hearts that burn for righteousness—His righteousness—to fill every part of their being and are quick to kick out any bit of jealousy, pride or enmity that tries to jump up. (Hunger and thirst for righteousness, Matthew 5:6)

Being radical also means to be compassionate for the hurting and to be there to help bring healing no matter what ailments assail others. They give when others pass by the hurting on the other side. (Merciful, Matthew 5:7)

And the hearts of radical Christians are squeaky clean. They go about serving others without any expectation for things in return. They have no hidden motives. (Pure in heart, Matthew 5:8)

Their ultimate goal is to bring others to a place of peace with God. Without the relationship between the two being healed, no one can ever experience real peace. No sense of beauty and joy can surpass the thrill of being the peacemaker, ushering another into the presence of God Almighty and watching the rejoicing that takes place in that moment both on earth and in the heavenlies. (Peacemakers, Matthew 5:9)

What’s impossible with man is possible with God

Jesus said those who do those things are the salt and light of the world. I say those are true radical Christians. A part of me says that I can’t do all those things. I can’t be that type of Christian. But, I am reminded by Paul that it is God who works in me to have both the will and the ability to do those good things. (See Philippians 2:12-13.) It’s that simple—just like the initial entering into salvation. As a believer, I claim Jesus is in my heart. If He is there, then His heart toward others is also in residence in me. I have the will to do those things because Jesus is in me. And I have the strength and authority of the one who called Lazarus from the grave backing me up to do His good work. That’s the radical Christian I want to be.

Life Is a Food Court

28 May

Forrest Gump’s analogy of life: it’s like a box of chocolates. I get it. All the chocolates look scrumptious, but each one hides a different flavor inside—some delightfully delicious, some create photo ops for posting. In the same way, you never know what life might put in your way. However, I say life is also like a food court. Large ones can be a carnival of choices. Burgers to egg rolls. Meaty to vegan. Snacks to full entrees.

The array of choices and the reasons for making them mirror life. We face thousands of choices every day. We try to prioritize, schedule or budget our time, smile at the successful project sure to wrap up soon, and then interruptions derail us. Too often, our subconscious steps in and makes decisions for us through habitual reactions. We are usually okay with that because it’s what has worked well for us other times.

Sometimes, passively accepting it and following through with our self-programmed response creates the worst outcome, maybe not apparent until years later, as in Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” That ballad tells the life story of a child who seeks his daddy’s attention only to be put off for a more convenient time. Then as life passes by, the daddy becomes the one who wants and needs the help and attention of his son, only to be given his own answer back to him: don’t know when we’ll get together, but we’ll have a good time then.

At times, it may seem like all we can do is make a choice and hope for the best. But Jesus didn’t see it that way. He told his followers, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst,” (John 6:35 NKJV). That’s a direct quote from the One who holds all authority in and of the universe. All power in heaven stands behind those words.

Jesus is not an hors d’oeuvre for society to politely sample to quiet the spiritual stomach growls. He’s the banquet. We are to feast on him—his life, example, word, and wisdom. We find our sustenance and total satisfaction in him, by him, and through him. Stopping when we think we’ve had enough cuts short his plans for us. We must partake until the Holy Spirit fills us to overflowing.

I didn’t become a coachman driving the important dignitaries to the feast (standing with the horses and hoping someone will think to bring out a morsel to me) when I decided to follow Jesus. I am one of those chosen ones responding to his invitation to come. Answering his call each time he calls means I’ll not suffer spiritual hunger. Life-giving bread can’t be found anywhere else.

Jesus stated we must also believe (have faith, hope, confidence in him, his promises, and his teachings) then we will never be a thirsty, dry twig. Elsewhere he said we would have springs of living water within us.

Box of chocolates. Food court. Going through life accepting whatever happens or making choices on whims. None of those can promise any certain good. Jesus offers himself as the choice we mustn’t pass on or take lightly.

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