HEY THERE, FRIEND!

When you were in elementary school, or perhaps middle school (also known as junior high), did you make friends with some boy or girl who was a special friend?  Someone you went bike riding with on Saturday, or someone who would come and share a meal at your house?  Perhaps even a friend who would go on vacations with your family? 

On the Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls
Two friends on the Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls

I suspect that everyone has had at least one such friend.  Now, fast forward decades later … how ever many decades apply to your life … and ask whether you have spoken to that friend recently or whether you have visited with that friend in the past year or two.  Unfortunately, for me, there are a number of friends who have not had any communication from me for many years. 

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

Proverbs 27:6

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Proverbs 17:17

True friends provide wise counsel and their words are for your benefit, even if they seem to hurt when first said.  Not so with those who would harm you.

In Psalms, David tells of his close friend and companion who betrayed him when the man sided with Absalom in an attempt to unseat David from the throne:  

“Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”

Psalm 41:9

Even Jesus had a “friend” who betrayed Him to those who hated Him.

“Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.”

Matthew 26:50

Praise the Lord for the friends you have, especially for the friends who rejoice when you rejoice and who weep when you weep, for the friends who love you even when they know you well, for the friends who stay by your side through thick and thin (that’s an old-time expression, it means all the time!).

I recently had occasion to visit with friends from my ancient past.  It was a delightful time and many humorous stories were told, and retold, as we thought back to our youth.

In our day and time, communication is so easy and all encompassing. Technology has made it possible for us to communicate with, and even see in real time, people all around the world while we are sitting in our home or office.  We can be on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media and can tell people all that is happening to us on a moment by moment basis, something that mankind could not even begin to imagine for millennia past.  We have removed the impediment of distance so that communication is possible wherever and whoever you want to speak with.

And yet, in our culture, people would rather communicate via email than have a verbal conversation. In short, we fail spectacularly in our communications face-to-face.  We readily tell others what we want them to know, but we don’t necessarily want to hear what they might say in response, so we tell them our side and then turn off the electronic device so that we can move on to other things.  All the while, we are satisfied that “I have reached out to them” but, I have not interacted with them!

We read in Exodus 33:11 that Moses was a friend of God’s.

“Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.”

People come into our lives at various times, and we become friends and share our family’s stories with each other.  This is as it should be, we are social beings and we need interaction with others.  And, the reality in our 21st century is that people will move away, with increasing regularity.  The family compound is no longer in one place.  Most families are split apart geographically as children leave the nest to find their employment elsewhere, as they marry and move to the location where their spouse has work, as the grandparents move to the retirement home in Florida or somewhere warm so their arthritis doesn’t hurt so much; the reasons for moving are as varied as are the families involved, but the fact of the matter is that each move requires making new friends, and it also has the unintended result that the friendships formerly made are torn asunder.

As it does for any personal interaction, it takes work to keep a friendship strong.  It takes work to keep a marriage strong.  It takes work to keep your Christian life and witness strong.

Cherish your friends.  Keep in touch.  Speak to them on the phone or in person, don’t just rely on the email that you have programmed in the Hallmark app so it goes out to the list automatically. 

Blessed is the one who calls someone else friend.  Blessed, indeed, is the one who calls Jesus not only Friend but Savior and Brother.

Thank You, Lord, for giving us the marvelous gift of friendship with others, the gift of joy and laughter, the gift of memories and sweet thoughts about those who have come into our lives.  Thank You, Father, for giving us the best friend we could ever imagine, the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Brother, our Everlasting Friend.

Canine Friends and Devotion!

Let me preface this post with the note that I am an unabashed dog person.  We had a cat for 18 years and I loved him, but never felt as close to him as I have felt with our canine children.  Therefore, it is from this perspective that I write this post.  I certainly mean no disrespect to those of you who love felines!

As an only child, I had a friend that was a constant in my life for a long time – my dog named Tippy.  She was all black, shaggy and soft, except for the white tip on her chin [hence, her name!].  

tippy-at-the-piano
Tippy showing her proper posture and her white chin!

She was my constant companion, confidant and comfort.  She sat with me at the piano and endured horrible playing with gracious patience.

linda-with-tippy-at-piano
Tippy with me at the piano … long ago but not so long ago that it was a harpsichord!

Doris Day is quoted as having said:

“I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.”

I agree with her.  Tippy would lay next to me on the sofa when I was ill and just provide comfort without saying a word! 

linda-and-tippy
My canine friend giving comfort when illness would come.

I guess you could say that I have had a canine companion almost my entire life.  Tippy has been gone for decades, but I still smile when I think of her.  Other canine blessings have been Missy and her daughter Winnie.  Here they are with my infant son many years ago.  

jonathan-with-missie-and-winnie
Missie (left) and her daughter Winnie (right) with infant son in between.

Skippy who was the head puppy in charge, at least he thought so.

skippy-close-up
Skippy, the Lhasa Apso/Poodle mix who was love on four paws.

Glitz, Goldie and Sweetie were marvelous retired greyhounds who graced our presence with their stately tranquility and incredible speed.  Goldie loved to travel in the RV:

dog-sweet-goldie
Goldie thought riding on the sofa in the RV was appropriate since she was in her retirement as a racing athlete, after all!

Now we have our MinPins, Cuddles and Snickers, along with our granddog, Haley.

spring-lake-the-three-friends
Three friends, enjoying the sunny day at the campground lake.

Of course Tippy was not my only friend, I did have some playmates who were even called “best friends”.   

Children swinging
Children swinging at the campground playground.

Now it is BFF – Best Friends Forever!  That “Forever” may seem likely at the time we speak it, and some of those persons do remain friends for many years.  Others, however, disappear from our lives but they leave imprints on our heart and spirit just the same.

With Facebook and other social media, we can have friends all over the world and never even meet them or speak to them in person.  To my way of thinking, this takes the meaning of “friend” and stretches it so that it bears little resemblance to its meaning in decades past.  But such is the reality for millions of youth today.

Scripture talks a great deal about friends. 

Probably the best example of a real BFF is the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Old Testament.  In 1 Samuel 17, David defeats Goliath and is brought before Saul as the victor in battle.  The very next chapter introduces us to Saul’s son, Jonathan, and we read in 1 Samuel 18:1 that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”  Their friendship continued for years, even through the time that Saul was hunting David to kill him, with the two men making a covenant between them that they would care for each other’s families if harm should come to them.  1 Samuel 20:42.

David remembered his covenant with Jonathan even after both Jonathan and Saul, his father, were dead.  King David asked if any of Jonathan’s family were still alive and we read in 2 Samuel 9 of the story of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan, who from that day forward sat and ate at the King’s table. 

We may not recognize the significance of this but in those days, all the family members of the preceding king were killed so that there would be nobody who could contest the validity of the kingship.  Mephibosheth escaped this fate when his nurse took him and ran, hiding him far from the king. 

In other words, it would be rare, indeed, for a son of a deceased king to sit at the current king’s table and to be brought under the care and protection of that king.  But this is what happened to Mephibosheth because of the friendship King David had with his father, Jonathan.  That’s a BFF!

While he was loyal to the covenant made with Jonathan, not all of King Davids friends were loyal to him, however.  In 1 Chronicles 27 we read of Ahithophel, the king’s counselor and Hushai the king’s friend.   Ahithophel was definitely not a BFF because he sided with David’s rebellious son in an attempt to take the throne from King David.  Scripture tells of the pain David had when he turned into an adversary:

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

Psalm 41:9

Sometimes friends betray us, and that is painful.  For this reason, we tell the children that their friends are important.  We tell them that the type of person they befriend can have an influence on them beyond just the immediate friendship.  We tell them to choose their friends carefully because of the strong influence friends can have on them.

In Exodus we read of God’s relationship with Moses:

Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.

Exodus 33:11a 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this type relationship with God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of the Universe?  

Well, I have some news for you …  the reality is that we can have this type relationship because of the sacrificial death of Jesus for our salvation.  When the Holy Spirit is within us, we can even address the Almighty Creator God as Father.  That is even closer than a mere friend!

Friends – we need them so that we can be socially healthy and so that we can live a full life.  But, we need Jesus Christ so that we can have a relationship with God because in and of ourselves we are sinful and unable to even approach God, let alone please Him. 

Praise God for our salvation; and praise Him too for the gift of Christian friends who encourage, support and love us in our good times and through our difficult times as well. 

Cuddles and Snickers
Cuddles and Snickers, our two MinPins

And praise God for the gift of our canine friends who love us unconditionally and who give of themselves in cheering us up, in grieving with us when we are hurt, in snuggling when we are ill, and in running with glee when we are happy.  Oh that we as Christians would be as kind to others as our canine children are to us!  

 

But we err if we think that is all that is required of us as followers of Christ.  Rather, unconditional love is the initial threshold that Christian love should pass.  Jesus’ love for us, and thus our love for our fellowman/woman, is to be sacrificial, not self-centered. When we love others as Jesus did, we will tell them the good news of the gospel and of the kingdom of God.   And it all is to be to the glory of God, our Father.

 

Father, your kingdom is one of marvelous wonders and goodness.  Thank you for the gift of canine friends, of feline friends, of the friendship of so many of your creatures in this world.  Thank you also for the gift of Christian friends who show us Jesus in their love and service.  May I be Jesus to others as I live through the power of your Holy Spirit.

THE BENEFITS OF COMMUNITY

Helping others – giving each other an assisting hand in time of need or difficulty.

used-helping-papa-and-grandson-feeding-squirrels-c
Papa helping youth reach squirrel feeder.

We sometimes think of this concept as the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12: “”So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”).

Helping child to overcome fear of water
Father helping child overcome fear of the water.

In studying the Scriptural book of Ecclesiastes, you find a myriad of comments on the difficulty of life, the dreariness of toil, the futility of materialism, the fleeting nature of life.

Again, I saw vanity under the sun:  one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.

Ecclesiastes 4:7-8

The writer here describes the solitary person who was striving for goods and his toil was difficult.  The description of the futility of a man gaining much worldly possessions through hard work but not having any pleasure while not having anyone to leave those goods to after death is described as vanity (futility) and an “unhappy business”.

But the next series of verses extols the benefits of community.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him–a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Two workers are better than one – they can help each other in difficult times.  Some think of this “falling” as not only physically falling but spiritually falling into sin.  Having a friend with you can help prevent physical as well as spiritual injury.

In his Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Poole has this to say about the proverb at the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 4:12:

A threefold cord is not quickly broken; if a man have not only one, but two or more friends, he is so much the safer and the happier.

The Church is an illustration of this proverb.  When one believer is alone, his witness is difficult, his spiritual life suffers by lack of attention, and he can neglect his study, prayer and devotion to the Lord.

church-with-steeple
Church on a hill with steeple.

In contrast, the one who is active in his church, who studies his Bible and prays by himself but also with others in a small group or Sunday School, who attends worship to lift his voice in song in praise to our Father and who hears a Bible-based sermon expounding on the truth of the gospel, that individual is strengthened in his Christian life and he will grow through the Holy Spirit into the likeness of the Lord.

In other words, a solitary believer is subject to the attack of Satan and to the lure of sin and will succumb to the attack much more readily than one who has the community of believers around him.  Our brothers and sisters in the Lord are those who will hold us to account and who will warn us if they see us swerving into sin’s path, and they will be there to pray for us if we need them to do so.

There is an old story about the man who stopped going to church after his wife died, he no longer desiring to worship with others and believing that he could connect with God on his own.

After a long absence, the pastor visited the church.  Upon entering the home, he saw it was heated by a blazing fire.  Neither of the men spoke a word.  They both sat in front of the fire and rocked a few minutes.

Then the pastor took the tongs and picked up a blazing coal from the fire, placing it on the hearth, away from the fire.  Both men silently looked at the coal and it began to stop burning, slowing losing its energy and growing cold.

When the transformation ended, the pastor took the tongs and placed the cold coal back into the warmth of the fire, and almost immediately the coal began to blaze on its own, as it was surrounded by other burning coals.

Still without speaking, the pastor stood up and turned toward the door, when he heard the man speak from behind him … “Pastor, I’ll be in the worship service on Sunday.”

Friends – two are better than one.  Three are better than two.  Many are better than three.  Brothers and sisters in our Lord are the best!

Father, thank You for providing us with your Son Who died for our sins and Who lives now as He intercedes on our behalf before your throne.  Lord Jesus, thank You for giving us your Church, the Body of Christ, and our Christian brothers and sisters who encourage, strengthen, hold accountable and bring joy to us as we walk along the way.