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.

WHAT DID I SAY?

The other day I was looking at our table setting and pondered the place mats.  On the front, as I was looking at it, is a border with a paisley design running down the center.

placemat front

The back is the same fabric as the border, uniform and without any extra design. 

placemat back

The place mat performs the same function, no matter which side is up; but the two sides are definitely different.

It made me think of what people say, and how sometimes they say one thing when, immediately thereafter, they say something else.  Or, they may say the same words on two occasions, but the meaning is very different.  For example, consider the words “Bless her heart!”  Said with a loving spirit, the words can be comforting, to be sure.  But, said with a condescending tone (as sometimes occurs in the South!), those same words indicate anything but blessing! 

Scripture says much about our speech.  Indeed, a search for the word “word” reveals hundreds of instances of its use in the text of Scripture.  Here are some illustrations of speech and its ramifications:

Words can bring about thanksgiving and praise to the Lord, such as when Abraham’s servant found Rebekah and she was given to him to take to Isaac as his wife:

“When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the LORD.”

Genesis 24:52

Other words can bring sorrow and strife within the family, as when Esau found out that Jacob, his twin brother, had taken Esau’s birthright blessing.

As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!””

Genesis 27:34

The Psalmist wrote of the power of words on multiple occasions.  Here are a couple for consideration:

“And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words, while his heart gathers iniquity; when he goes out, he tells it abroad.”

Psalm 41:6

“For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. …”

Psalm 59:12

In these verses we see the one who comes and brings platitudes, probably with a smile on his face, but the real purpose of the visit is to gain information, not to bring comfort.  Then, when the visit is over, the phone line lights up with the “dirt” discovered during the “comforting” visit!

There are many references to words in the Book of Proverbs as well.

“The eyes of the LORD keep watch over knowledge, but he overthrows the words of the traitor.”

Proverbs 22:12

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Proverbs 29:20

Lest we think only harsh pronouncements are made in Proverbs, we also read:

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

Proverbs 16:24

In today’s American culture, this proverb may not have much meaning to the general reader.  But, I well remember when my own Father would get a jar of honey, which included the honeycomb.  He would relish the sweetness of the honeycomb, including eating it in front of me with his eyes closed and a soft “Mmmmm” sounding from the depths of his being. 

Such is the picture of one uttering gracious words to another who is in need of love and encouragement.

We seem to capitalize on the flippant, hasty word, but such is not the perspective of Scripture.  Indeed, the Lord takes what we say seriously, often more seriously than we take our own words!  This truth is evident in Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:36-37

Considering the number of words that I speak each day, Jesus’ words cause me to stop and contemplate what I have said or what I am in the process of saying.  My prayer is that of David, so long ago, as recorded in Psalm 19:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”

Psalm 19:14

placemats 2

Father, I speak so carelessly, and there are times that I want to retract what I have said but I cannot put my mouth in reverse!  Forgive me, Lord, when I have spewed forth things that are unloving, unhelpful, or even untrue.  May my words be acceptable to You, my loving Lord and Savior.

 

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.