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.

PERSONAL, PRIVATE PRAYER – DO I HAVE TO DO IT?

When we look at the New Testament scriptures, we see a pattern that reveals the importance of prayer, not just corporate prayer during Sabbath services but private, personal, intimate prayer with our Creator, Savior, Loving God.  In all things, Jesus is our example, so we look to Him for our understanding of personal prayer.

Jesus prayed intensely in the Garden of Gethsemane before being betrayed, arrested, tried and crucified, and He asked three of His disciples to support Him during this time.

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”  And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

Matthew 26:36-44 ESV

He was sad, sorrowful, asking the Father if there was a way that His assumption of our sin could be avoided.  In other words, “isn’t there some other way?”  Haven’t we cried the same thing to our Father?

But Jesus’ prayer didn’t stop with a refusal to do what the Father directed – He continued to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, saying, in essence, “Your way is the best.  If you want me to do this, so be itI will obey.” 

We have all had the experience of confronting a huge problem, frightening news that upends our universe.  Perhaps it is news of a deadly disease, or the fracture of a marriage that had seemed perfect.  Perhaps the violent, unanticipated loss of a child or spouse, or perhaps the agonizing vigil with an aging parent who no longer knows who you are.  We pray hard during those times.  We seek the Lord’s face and ask the hard questions, most of which begin with the word “Why”. 

There are a myriad of reasons that God allowed the difficult circumstance and we will never ever know all of them, but we can have confidence that they are all directly tied to His plan for your life.  He loves you and, even in the hard times when all logical arguments fail and it is sheer pain, unadulterated panic, and fear, if you are His child, He is holding you in His hand.  He wants you to understand that His grace is available and that His power is all-sufficient … trust Him and let Him hear all your fears, pain and panic.  Don’t try to sugarcoat your thoughts and feelings — He already knows them.  He will hold you and respond saying “my grace is sufficient for you.”   2 Corinthians 12:9.

USED Giant praying hands in Webb Missouri
Praying Hands in Webb Missouri

Jesus not only prayed when faced with the agonizing ordeal of the cross, He prayed, routinely, regularly, even when His ministry was at its peak and he was beset by many who wanted to be healed and to hear Him teach.  

“But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

Luke 5:15-16 ESV

In fact, He often would withdraw from people so He could be alone with His Father, in prayer. 

“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.

Matthew 14:23 ESV

“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.

Luke 6:12 ESV

Jesus even told His disciples and those around Him that private prayer between them and the Father is more important than praying before others, as the hypocrites did.

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:6 ESV  The disciples understood that prayer was important, so in Luke 11:1 we have the record that, after Jesus had been praying, they specifically asked Him to teach them to pray.  It is this request that gives us what we call “The Lord’s Prayer”. 

Private prayer was important in the Old Testament — David said:

“But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.”

Psalm 88:13 ESV

Private prayer was important in the New Testament — The New Testament church also prayed earnestly for the spread of the Gospel and for the growth of the church.

“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

Acts 1:14 ESV

“So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”

Acts 12:5 ESV  This is the humorous scenario that we read about, when Peter was miraculously released from prison and came to the house where people were praying for his release, but the maid would not let him in because she didn’t recognize him as the one for whom they were praying!

If prayer was important to Jesus, if prayer was important to the disciples who lived and walked with Him, if prayer was important to the early church, it should be important to us.

Individual prayer – it is important.  Take time to be away from work, household chores, telephone, television, children, spouse, even well-meaning prayer partners … have dedicated time to talk with God on an intimate, individual basis.  Then listen.  Prayer is a benefit that Christ has secured for His sheep.  Don’t ignore it. 

So, have you prayed today?

Father, forgive me when I have ignored spending time with You.  Forgive me when the trivial has overridden the important, when materialism has crowded out the eternal, when I have sinned by saying a “prayer” that is a thinly veiled demand that You act on my behalf in a certain way.  Forgive me, Father.  Help me to put Your desires ahead of mine so that You will is done in my life and in the lives of those with whom I come in contact.  May I sincerely say “Your will be done”.

PLANNING AND WAITING EXPECTANTLY

Have you ever planned something a long time in advance, like 18 months or more, and then it came time for the event, and you almost missed the fun and excitement of it in the worry and concern about details?

I admit that I am a hopeless planner.   When our daughter got married, I had lists to keep track of the lists — the overarching list was of things that had to be done and then the other individual lists of each of those things with detailed points to be checked off as the task was completed.

bride-down-the-aisle
Our daughter as she walks down the aisle with my husband … a glorious day indeed!

If a trip is being discussed, I will have a list, usually in Excel, where each day is outlined, things to do are identified along with address and phone number, hours of operation and sometimes even the cost of admission.  If a day has 3 or 4 events, I am a happy camper.  My lists are not set in concrete.  If something else looks interesting, we can and should do that, but in case we can’t find anything else, I have my lists.  I don’t want to have empty time … fill it up and then eat!

I can rationalize this mania for lists, of course, but the reality is that sometimes, in the preparation and scheduling, I miss the point.  When she got married, we were celebrating this creation of a new home and were asking God to bless it with His presence and guidance through the years to come.  When we are going on a vacation with our children and grandchildren, we want to forge memories, to tell stories of how God has been involved in our lives through the years, to pass the torch from generation to generation.  That’s what important, not what schedule we will have or whether the event goes along without a hitch.

When I get lost in the detail, I forget the big picture and sometimes I run the risk of missing it entirely.

This characteristic of mine makes me think of the Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jesus’ day.  They kept the rules; they taught the dos and don’ts; they were zealous for God.  But they missed Him when He came.  The Old Testament has numerous prophesies about the Messiah, and these teachers could read the verses from Isaiah and Psalms and probably quote them by heart, but they were so lost in the details of dogma that they missed the important One.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

king-size-bed
The manger that provided a place to sleep for our Savior was, on that day, a bed for the King.

Their preoccupation with the rules and details of what they expected resulted in them missing the Messiah’s coming.  Even more than that, it resulted in the actual rejection of the very One they said they were waiting for.

 

They rejected Him when He did not fit the mold they were expecting.

 

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.

Matthew 26:3-4

 

They were waiting, as they were told to do so in the Old Testament, but they were not waiting expectantly … in short, they r-e-a-l-l-y didn’t think anything was going to happen.  They did not expect the Savior to be born, certainly not on their watch!  He would certainly not come as Jesus did, so they rejected His message and His life – they set out to kill him and, ultimately, they did so.

 

In today’s world, we are still waiting for the Lord, but this time it is for His second coming.  This time it is waiting for Him, when He will usher in the end of time and the beginning of our eternity.  We are told to wait for Him and He promised that He would come again.

 

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.  When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”

Matthew 25:13. 31

 

He said that He would come back.  Do we wait expectantly for our Lord to return?

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

John 14:3

 

Are we weighed down with the cares of this life so that His second coming is nowhere on our radar screen?

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  … Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:27, 33-36

 

Are we longing to see Him and to leave this world behind for the life we will have with Him in heaven?

 

I may be able to list out the details of a wedding or a trip, but I cannot list the details of the second coming of my Lord and Savior.  I can, however, trust what He says in Scripture. The details of this incredible event are unimportant to me here and now. I don’t need to know all the ins and outs of the details.  Those are in God’s hands.  The fact that Jesus will return is based on the truth of Scripture.

 

God’s Word is true.  Unless my body quits and I die first (at which time I will be met by my Lord in heaven), Jesus will return and take me to join the Church Triumphant.  Praise His holy Name!

 

Lord, may I be so in tune with You and your Word that I don’t get caught up in the detail but I rest in You and your righteousness, love, mercy and grace.  May I not get so entwined with the goods, activities and cares of this world that I forget to watch and prepare for your return.  Thank you Lord for salvation and the blessing of your Word and for the security and truth of your promises!