Friends

FriendsOn two consecutive days this past week I enjoyed visits with two different friends. (Actually, three.  It was a good week.  But to simplify I’ll just talk about two.)

One friend is “old,” not in age, but in duration–we’ve been friends for over two decades.  (Although the longer we are friends, the more both meanings of the word “old” apply!)  We lived in the same town for a little over two years.  Our mutual love for the Lord is the glue that holds us together despite time and distance.

The second friend is “new.”  We’ve known each other for about two years.  She lives nearby, and is a couple decades younger.  We also share a special bond in the Lord, which makes the age difference seem irrelevant.

And I need them both.

“Old” friends ground us.  When I’m with them I look back.  I remember who I was, who I still am.  We’re a part of each other’s history.   We know each other’s stories.  Conversation flows effortlessly, punctuated with laughter.  (Or “cackling,” as this particular friend’s husband unwisely called it.)

“New” friends inspire us.  When I’m with them I look forward.  I see who I can be.  We’re a part of each other’s present lives.  We know each other’s struggles.  Conversation runs deep, peppered with “aha” moments.

“A friend loveth at all times.”  (Proverbs 17:17, KJV)

Tiny, forest green ‘x’s spell out this verse in a cross stitch which hangs in my hallway.  It was lovingly created for me by another “old” friend.  It serves as a reminder of those special friends “who have been long tried and proved, and found faithful,” and that “…these should be kept to and valued…” (John Gill)

Reflecting on the benefits of newer friendships, this verse comes to mind:

“Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away.” (Proverbs 27:10b, NAS)

Because sometimes you just need to sit face to face with someone who can be “Jesus with skin on.”  Someone who will listen as you pour out your soul over a cup of coffee (or, in my case, tea).  Someone you can text at 3:30am to share one of those “aha” moments.  (Yes, she did.)  Because “…a neighbour that is a fast and faithful friend, and who is not only near as to place but as to affections is more serviceable and, useful to a man in time of distress…” (Gill)

So we need them both.

Old friends, who fit us like a pair of well-worn jeans; familiar and comfortable.

New friends, who lift our spirits like a cute, new outfit; fresh and promising.

Both are gracious gifts from God, given to remind us that:

“…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24b, NAS)

For don’t we need His friendship most of all?

In Him we find the best of both friends; perfect and timeless.

Lord, thank You for friends near and far, old and new.  You give such good gifts.  Thank You for being “(The) Friend who sticks closer than a brother (or a sister!).”  YOU are the very best gift!

(Quotes are taken from Gill’s Exposition of The Entire Bible.)

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An Experiment in Isolation

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Feeling somewhat burned out spiritually, I decided to take the month of January to rest, refocus and seek God.  So I requested a leave of absence from my volunteer commitments at church and initiated a month-long Facebook fast.  I just never imagined I would feel so very… isolated.

An unexpected visit from the Flu Fairy didn’t help matters any.  I literally did not set foot out of the house for over a week.  On the days I left the confines of my bed it was only to relocate under a blanket on the couch.   A couple of sweet friends brought meals.  One joked about leaving the food on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell and running.  I couldn’t blame her.  I’d avoid this flu like the plague.  Despite my aversion to needles, I am vowing from this day forward to get an annual flu shot.

But my big takeaway from this month of self and influenza-imposed exile is that we were never meant to do life alone.  There are certainly benefits to withdrawing for a time from the busyness of life to commune with God.  Jesus Himself modelled this.  But withdrawal is never healthy as a long term lifestyle.  We are hard-wired for human contact.  The fact is:  We Need Fellowship.  Jesus modelled and taught this as well.

In the 1970’s, Reuben Welch penned a little gem of a book that was extremely formative to my early Christian growth, called We Really Do Need Each Other.  I dusted it off today and was challenged afresh by the relevance of his words:

I have come to believe with all my heart that the life that Jesus brings is a shared life.  The life of God in the world does not have its meaning in isolated units, but in a fellowship of those who share that life in him.

Isolation = bad.  Fellowship = good.

When we feel like we are slipping spiritually, or growing cold, or indifferent, we have a tendency to withdraw and pray it through, or to get hold of God, or get back to where we ought to be, so we will have something to give to others–and that’s false.

Ouch.  Guilty as charged.

Of course we believe in the total adequacy of Jesus Christ to meet the total need of the total person.  But we must remember this also:  he saves in the context of the community of faith.  It isn’t “Jesus and me,” it is “Jesus and we…”

I’ve always remembered that last line.  I just don’t always remember to live it out.

A month of near seclusion is more than enough time to remind me of the importance of community.   This bear’s had enough hibernation for one winter.  I am more than ready to re-emerge and re-engage.

“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25, NLT)

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Just Passing Through

I first met Diane when she joined our weekly “Moms in Touch” prayer group.  She and her family had recently moved to the prairies of Wyoming from the beaches of Georgia, where she had belonged to a similar group.  She knew the value of consistent, focused times of prayer for her children and quickly sought out a group to pray with here.

It’s funny how you can feel like you’ve known someone for awhile even though you’ve just met.  Fellowship in the Lord is like that.  Mothering children of similar ages and stages also creates an instant connection.  But opening up your heart and soul in prayer develops an understanding and an intimacy that goes even deeper.

I’m thankful for the time I had with Diane, for she and her family moved back to Georgia within a year, preferring the humid coast to the arid high plains. (And who could blame them?)  Wyoming was not their home.  It was almost as if they were just passing through, never meant to stay here permanently.

Today I received a call telling me that Diane had been diagnosed with cancer this past fall, and had passed away last month.  I hadn’t picked up on the one or two subtle references to health issues and difficulties on her Facebook page during that time.  But then, Diane wasn’t one to draw attention to herself.  Her focus, during the brief time I knew her, was always on others, especially her three kids.

And just like that, she’s gone.

I bet she prefers the crystal seas of heaven to the barren, in comparison, landscape of this earth.  (And who could blame her?)  This world was not her home.  She was just passing through.  She was never meant to stay here permanently.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 3:20)

And now I’ve got another friend waiting for me there.

Beautiful Diane, on her GA beach

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Sharpened

Lately I’ve noticed a consistent correlation between my motivation to blog and time spent with friends.  Give me a couple of hours engaged in deep conversation over a “cuppa,” and I will return home energized and inspired.  Caffeine could certainly be the culprit.  But I believe there may be an even more powerful stimulant at work here.

Hebrews 10:24 instructs us to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”  Did you catch the word “stimulate?”  It is the Greek word paroxusmos.   The root of this word literally means “to make sharp, to sharpen.”

This brings to mind a similar verse, Proverbs 27:17:  “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”  After time spent with a friend, my mind is clearer and my thinking does feel sharper.  Barnes’ Notes on the Bible describes it this way:  “Two minds, thus acting on each other, become more acute.”  I have enjoyed several “iron sharpening iron” conversations in recent weeks that have sparked blog posts on topics that we discussed.

Another original meaning of the word “stimulate,” according to Barnes, is “to arouse, excite, to call into action.”  He goes on to say that true fellowship between believers should “excite them to persevere in the Christian life.”  I have experienced this firsthand.  Time spent with like-minded believers motivates me to step out in faith and pursue God’s call on my life.  These friends spur me on in following Jesus and remind me that the Christian life IS an exciting adventure not to be missed sitting passively on the sidelines.

Paroxusmos is found in only one other place in the New Testament:  “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” (Acts 15:39)  Um, excuse me?  This wasn’t the uplifting verse about the benefits of Christian fellowship I was expecting.  Paul and Barnabas, friends and partners in ministry, apparently had an “iron sharpening iron” moment of their own.  Sparks were flying, all right.  Yet I’m thankful the Bible doesn’t gloss over the reality that relationships in a fallen world can sometimes be…messy.

The Amplified Version of Proverbs 27:17 acknowledges this double-edged nature of the sharpening blade:  “Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend (to show rage or worthy purpose).”   At times “the saints’ communion,” which was designed to be “comfortable and delightful” (Gill, in his commentary on Hebrews 10:24) can become uncomfortable and hurtful.  Unfortunately I have some firsthand knowledge of this too.  But the Lord has faithfully used these experiences to sharpen and refine me as well.  And I can say without hesitation that the blessings and joys of fellowship have far outweighed the pain and challenges.

So I’d like to close with a word to my friends.  Thank you for sharpening me through your words and lives.  Thank you for the ways you stimulate me to be a more enthusiastic follower of Jesus Christ.  Thank you for encouraging me to persevere and for extending grace to me when I fall.  I am a better person and Christian because of you.

(Oh, and the inspiration for this blog post?  Yep.  Time spent with a friend.)

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