FRIENDS –CHERISHED GIFTS FROM OUR LOVING GOD!

Humanity has long known of the importance of friendships. People are social creatures, whether it is a family, a club, a church congregation.  For some, even a gang provides the social connection that is necessary, although it is in a negative context.  In short, friendships are important to our mental, psychological, and physical well-being.  Animals understand the value of having friends, perhaps not in the same language as we do but in packs where each looks out for the other.

Dog - Two friends waiting for family

Two friends, our greyhound and chow/spitz mix, protecting the yard from squirrels and cats, while looking for the family to return.

 

Friendship has been on my mind this week because of our visit with a beloved lady who has been a dear friend for over 35 years.  Our children were close friends through preschool and elementary school.  Although she moved away and our visits were seldom after that, we have remained close through the heart bonds of love in our relationship with the Lord and with each other. 

 

Although she and I have visited together in various locations, I have not seen her son in many years.  We were reunited as we stood in their home with his wife and children around us.  The years melted away and it was glorious.  He explained to his children that when he was young, I was his second mother, Mama-J, and that I had also been his Cub Scout Den Mother!  (That made me remember the pumpkin seeds that were strewn all around the family room after the Cubs hollowed out and then carved their Halloween pumpkins.  But, since that was a fond memory, the seeds were worth it!)  It was wonderful to see him face-to-face.

 

Scripture speaks of friends in numerous places.

 

In Exodus 33:11 we find: 

“The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”

 

Scripture even gives us examples of true friendships that were time-honored and God blessed.

 

In 1 Samuel we read of the friendship between Jonathan, Saul’s son and presumptive heir in line for the kingdom, and David, the one who God selected as the next King of Israel.  At 1 Samuel 20:42 we read:

Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.”

 

The “Rest of that Story” is found in 2 Samuel 9. After the death of Saul and Jonathan, and after David became King, he looked around to see if anyone of Jonathan’s family had survived the battle and his ascension to the throne.  Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s infant son at the time of the war, did survive because he was secreted to safety by his nurse.  When the King called to have this sole survivor of Saul’s family brought to him, Mephibosheth rightly thought he was going to die. 

 

Instead, King David brought Mephibosheth into his family, and he ate at the King’s table the rest of his life.  Why?  Because of the oath between friends that had been made years earlier.

 

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

2 Samuel 9:7.

 

Sometimes, those we think of as friends do not act in a way that is good for us.  An example of this is found in the actions of Ahithophel, King David’s close confidant and friend, who sided with David’s son, Absalom, in his rebellion against David.  2 Samuel 15-17.  David’s pain at this betrayal is described in Psalm 55:

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.

Psalm 55:12-14

 

We also see the example of Job’s three, sincere but misguided, friends:

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job 2:11-13.

 

Often we think of these friends with disgust when we hear of them telling Job to repent of his sin while Job maintained his innocence.  And, in the end, God upheld the honor and longsuffering of his servant, Job, expressing anger at the friends.

After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7.

 

Without focusing on their misguided advice, consider what these men did.  They came a long distance to comfort Job.  They wept for his condition.  They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  They did not speak one word to him because of his great suffering.   

 

Have we done this for our friends?  Have we sat at the hospital, even one day let alone seven, comforting them?  Have we wept for their condition?  Have we extended the gift of service, perhaps holding a hand or putting a cool cloth on a hot forehead?  Have we honored them with our presence, sitting quietly and praying for them, without the disruption that constant talk brings?  Have we repeatedly prayed for them bringing their condition before our Healing God in earnest prayer?

 

Jesus spoke of friends frequently in his discourses to the disciples and others around him. One of the most pointed statements is found in John 15:13-14:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.

 

Friends … what blessings from God and how important they are to us as we grow, age, mature and remember.  And, to be considered a friend of God, when we do what Jesus has commanded us to do, is beyond comprehension.  It is a gift of grace, and grace alone.

Praise the Lord that He has procured our salvation through His righteousness.  It is in Him that we can call Him friend and that we can stand before the Holy God and can say “Abba, Father”.  Praise His Holy Name!

 

Father, we thank You for the gift of friends.  We pray that we would be faithful friends who support and encourage each other in our walk of discipleship.    We pray for those who feel that they have no friends, and we ask that you would enable us to befriend them in a meaningful way that reflects your love to them, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

THE FRAGILE GIFT AT CHRISTMAS

The Presidential Prayer Team devotional for December 15, 2015 is entitled “Shaking Not Necessary”. It is an excellent devotional thought that begins with the Christmas gift exchange experience of shaking the package and wondering what it contained. I would encourage you to read the devotional for yourself, at http://www.presidentialprayerteam.com/devo.

Christmas tree
Decorated Christmas Tree with Presents scattered underneath.

 

When I read the opening paragraph, my mind immediately went back to a Christmas almost 30 years ago when my daughter was trying to guess what her present was. I was wrapping gifts in the bedroom with the door closed and she was on the other side asking if she could “help”. As parents, you would understand that the help being offered was actually an attempt to see if she could identify her gifts early.

 

I declined her invitation and she wanted to know why. I told her I was wrapping her gift and she then began a barrage of questions about what it was, how big, etc.   Finally, in frustration, I told her that she should not bother me anymore because I had to be careful. When she asked why, I said it was fragile and I didn’t want it to fall off the bed while I was wrapping it. She was quiet and I finished wrapping the gift.

 

When the wrapping was completed, I opened the door to find her sitting on the floor, leaning against the door, waiting to carry her fragile gift to the tree. The irony was that this was not her only gift, nor was it the most expensive. But because it was the one that I told her was fragile, it was the paramount gift under the tree as far as she was concerned.

 

She scooped it up, v-e-r-y slowly and with great care. Holding it out in front of her as if it were nitroglycerin and walking with “baby steps” so it would not be jostled. She went down the stairs and arrived at the tree.   After putting the precious gift on a chair, she knelt down and made a space under the tree so that her fragile gift would not touch anything else. Then she placed the gift under the tree.

 

Each day before Christmas she would look at the tree, check to be sure that nothing encroached on the space she had cleared, and her fragile gift was intact.  Her brother would move packages around so they would almost hide THE gift, and she would patiently move everything away so that nothing would harm the fragile gift being given to her.

 

Seeing her concern made me sick at heart. I was proud of her care for the gift, but the reality was that her gift was a just plastic bottle of bubble bath, obtained from Walgreen’s, and it now had the cherished place under the tree. I even asked my husband if we should switch packages and get something that actually was fragile. Holding the course, the package remained.

 

On Christmas morning, it was the first to be opened. And the family had an incredible experience watching her realization that she had been tricked – it was not a fragile gift at all. Even today, if someone mentions a fragile present, my daughter’s cheeks flush and she gets her ire up and the whole story is retold.

 

Clearly, I did not intend to hurt her feelings and I apologized profusely after she opened the package. The statement was made when I was tired, frustrated about wrapping presents, and as attempt to stop her incessant demand to come into the room.  [She did, by the way, get several very nice presents that year, but the only one that is remembered is the giant bottle of bubble bath.]

 

Christmas nativity scene
The Nativity Scene on a cloth that my daughter and I made as well as represented by figurines above, Mary is holding the Babe.

 

My daughter’s gift was not fragile. The gift that God has given us is not fragile either – it is as strong as the Almighty God’s love and mercy.

 

Her gift was cheap bubble bath.  In contrast, God’s gift was not cheap, it was His priceless Son, born as a Babe who ultimately died as our Sacrifice.  God’s gift ultimately provided salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior whose birth as a babe is celebrated at Christmas.

 

The gift at Christmas from God is not a joke. It is not something that looks good on Christmas day but breaks or shuts down the next day.

 

The gift of God is Salvation – eternal life with God Himself.

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

 

Praise the Lord for His grace, mercy and love that was extended to us when Christ was born, and which was completed when Christ was crucified and raised again from the dead. His death atoned for my sin; so the salvation granted by the Lord is, indeed, a gift for which i am eternally grateful.

 

Praise Him, this holiday season. Remember the babe in the manger, but remember too that the babe is our Savior and Lord.

 

Father, thank you for your saving work through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thank you that you have given us salvation through faith in Christ. Thank you that you have sent the Holy Spirit to seal our salvation and to bring us into right relationship with you. Thank you for your love, mercy and grace. May you be honored this Christmas Season.

Creative Talents on Display

I confess to not being the most artistically creative person in the world.   In fact, when the children were small, I would begin to draw an illustration for them and they would stop me, saying that they could do it themselves. In short, the concept of sculpting something out of a block of something is as foreign to me as is the thought that I would go out and fly an airplane tomorrow! I do, however, appreciate both the pilot and the artist!

My husband and I were privileged to come across such artistic activity in Reedsport, Oregon where, quite by accident, we found an international chainsaw carving festival competition. As you might suspect from the subject, the tools used were chainsaws and the medium was wood – huge logs, more precisely! These logs were mammoth … at least 6 feet tall and who knows how wide. This is the stack left over as the competition had already begun when we took this picture.

Logs for chainsaw carving competition
Logs ready for the competition

Now, to me, this is a sawed off tree. Perhaps I could make some firewood chunks that would fit into the fireplace to keep us warm during the winter, but that’s about it. Oh, you could also hang a squirrel feeder on it … that would make the woodland animals happy!

But these folks had other ideas. LOTS of other ideas.   I love the little bear that is under the wooden blanket; he captured my heart. If we had driven to Oregon, we would have carried him home with us.

Bear snuggled under blanket
Bear snuggled under blanket

Some creations were humorous.

Humorous carving
Humorous carving “Go Away”
Mountain Man
Mountain Man
Chainsaw bears
Chainsaw bears

And some were monumental. The mountain man was intricate and not yet completed when we took its picture.

As I wandered around, I was praising the Lord for giving people the ability to pursue this calling and make something beautiful out of materials from God’s own creation.  Romans 12:6‐8 states:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

While various gifts and talents are unique to each of us, each of them should be used for God’s glory – they are, after all, the gifts that He has provided to us. Left on our own, without the input of the Lord, we would not be able to do what Paul says in Romans as they are outside the normal scope of human nature; but I believe that even the creative gifts of art and sculpture are from Him.   Surely, whatever our gifts and abilities might be, they are given their highest and best use when rendered in service and in honor of the Lord.

May I appreciate the talents that others have and may I use the talents He has given me to glorify God, the Father, to whom all glory and honor is due.

What talents do you have that could bring praise to the Lord?