Monday, December 28, 2015

Ponder out the Old; Pray in the New!

Family members have returned home...
Advent candles have all been lit and extinguished...
Christmas programs are completed...
Christmas decorations packed away for another year...
Leftovers from family meals are all consumed and the fridge is bare... (In fact, I've begun dieting, since all I got for Christmas was fat!)
Presents have found a new home somewhere around the house...
Signs of Christmas-present have become Christmas-past...
But, my heart has been warmed.
Any time I get to spend with these "treasures" is a delight to my soul...

This morning, I start turning my mind toward a new year.  Many have traditions they love for "bringing in the baby..." Some will party until the ball drops in Times Square (or on into the wee hours of the morning), some will plan, some will ponder. In the past, I've just gone to bed. However, before I do, I always have a little tradition of working through a few questions. I've posted them before, but since it was a few years ago, here they are again for "pondering":

Looking back on 2015...

What were some of my personally defining moments of last year? 

What did I learn from someone else that impacted me in a positive way?

Are there some things I neglected - projects, goals, standards that I did not complete? 

How are my relationships?

What do I need to do about these things to bring closure to 2015?

Turning to 2016…

What do I hope to accomplish in this next year? Dreams/Visions/Projects?

How do I personally want to grow?

Are there goals to improve my spiritual health? my emotional health? my physical health? my relationships? my finances?

What actions can I take? What books can I read? Are there mentors I could turn to for advice? Events I can attend? Classes I could take? Podcasts to listen to? 

What one word will summarize my focus for 2016?

What will I do Monday through Friday to intentionally do these things?

This year, after I have pondered out the old, I'm praying in 2016. Along with the above questions (which I will still ponder), I'm intentionally going away to do some strategic battle...just me, along with a friend (a silent retreat of sorts). I sense a lot of change in this coming year, and my heart tells me it is BIG. I want to make sure I'm suited up with the proper armor and that my sword is sharp. To be honest, I've sensed lately that I've lost cutting edge... I've gotten too comfortable. I've been productive, serving the Lord, doing the "work" for the Kingdom, but somewhere along the way the flame has been dimmed. Prayer revives that passion. I'm not worried about it, even Timothy (Paul's prodigy) needed his flame fanned from time to time. Paul reminded him to be intentional to see to taking care of that little flame regularly (For this reason, I remind you to keep fanning into flame the gift of God...which is in you...2 Timothy 1:6). Neither Tim or I can do anything more about reviving passion than pray (because passion, like faith, is a gift of God). So, pray I will...and lean into this promise through the lips of Hosea, the prophet:

He will come to us like rain, like the spring rain, watering the earth!
Hosea 6:3.

(I'd even take a snow fall on my soul, like the kind we're currently seeing...)

So, whether you are partying, planning, pondering, praying...or doing some of all four...may your Lord come to you in 2016 and water the soil of your soul reaping a fruit of joy that spreads all around. May your passion be fanned into flame and your work for the Kingdom be profitable for all with whom you come in contact! Have a blessed year...

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Great Gift This Christmas

When I got up to write this morning's blog, the timing seemed just right for bringing this whole theme of friendship to a close. I have to say, as I've looked at the number of hits on the blog site over these past few weeks, I've been a bit surprised (and, mostly, humbled) at the high numbers of readers. Overall, since we started digging a little deeper on what friendship looks like through the lens of Scripture, this blog's had a great response, which tells me the topic has resonated. If so, I'm glad. If it's clarified, helped, or brought about some renewed thinking, then I'm grateful. With this in mind, I picked up my Bible to where I'm reading in Colossians, wondering just how I was supposed to bring this to an end.

Paul reminds me how important relationships are. He opened the book of Colossians with a prayer of thanks for the faithful believers at this little church, and he closes the book with a string of greetings to and from specific individuals. Paul makes no bones about it; he considers his wealth to be the friends he has made over the course of his life. We've all heard the phrase "rich in friends." As I sat and contemplated this truth, it dawned on me that if I have just one I call by the title friend (in the Biblical sense of the word), I have found a treasure.

It is the Christmas season, undoubtedly there are a few gifts you've purchased, and a few gifts you'll be given...but, perhaps this Christmas, the best gift you can offer is that of your friendship. I have this problem of looking in the mirror a little too much. It's not because I want to see what I look like, but I want to measure my life, size it up, by what I think I see about me. A part of that measure is scaled (wrongly) on how many friends I have, and wondering, "how do people feel about me?" Instead, I need to look outward, what can I do to authentically be an "if-the-Lord's-the-Lord-of-them friend?" Especially at this time of year, there are many who could use one of those...many who are lonely, many who are in need of comfort and cheer; who could use a warm hug, an encouraging, hope-filled smile, and a meaningful conversation. Who do you know in your world that could use a friend? "If you want to have a friend, be a friend..." (remember it's not easy, but it's so NEEDED!).  There's no better time to start putting into practice a few building blocks.

This Christmas, give the gift of friendship...

AnD tHeN, there's this is JuSt don't forget:

Monday, December 14, 2015


I don't know who said this first, but I was told at an early age, "If you want to have a friend, you must be a friend." Undoubtedly, you were given the same little adage, as well. For goodness sakes, I've even heard myself spouting it a time or two. We all like pithy statements, but there's nothing pithy about the work involved in being a friend, especially a biblical one.

Three building blocks of friendship have already been identified. Trying to be clever, and perhaps, a bit memorable, I've given them three "C" words. Good friends (if-the-Lord's-the-Lord-of-them friends) will be committed, cautious, and curative. So, in an attempt to keep up with this theme, I've picked a Greek word for the final, and fourth building block. The word is "charis (English transliteration)" and means "grace." The kind of friends who "stick closer than a brother," "love at all times," "know when to speak and to be silent," and offer us "friendly wounds," are also "grace-remembering-givers." They are CHARIS.

Paul David Tripp (one of my new favorite authors), in his devotional New Morning Mercies (which I highly recommend by the way!), said this: "Maybe one of the biggest sins in our relationships with one another is the sin of forgetting. I wish I could say this is not my problem, but it is. It is so easy to forget how profound your need of grace is, and it is equally easy to forget the amazing grace that has been freely showered upon you. And when you forget the grace that you've been given, it becomes very easy to respond to the people around you with non-grace." In other words, our greatest hindrance in building quality relationships is that we are grace amnesiacs. We are! I am!

From time to time I tend to think I'm deserving, that I've earned, or achieved, the spiritual blessings that have been lavished on me. When I get myself out from under the shadow of the cross, that's when my amnesia hits me the hardest. It's absolutely critical I stay there! Because remembering that grace came at such a huge price keeps me grounded and grateful. Remembering my great need and the ONE who "delivered me from the domain of darkness and transformed me into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom I have redemption, the forgiveness of sins," is essential to "putting them all away: anger, malice, slander..." and "putting on the new self...holy and beloved, compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, bearing with one another, forgiving one another..." These are the things that comprise charis...grace-remembering-givers.  

I'll close with one more quote from Tripp's devotional. It's worth the pondering, even if you've read nothing else. It is the bottom line of this essential building block:

For the believer, harsh, critical, impatient, and irritated responses to others are always connected to forgetting or denying who we are and what we have been given in Jesus.

Think on that this week...and stay grounded in the shadow of the cross. It might just change all your relationships...

**Words in red are from: Colossians 1:13, 2:13-14, 3:5-14a.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Building Blocks of Biblical Friendship

Reminder - Public Service Announcement: Advent Devotional based on past blogs, entitled "I Dropped Baby Jesus" available by clicking on the link.


In an earlier post, I mentioned that friendships are discovered along the pathway of our lives. Yet once they are discovered (and our hearts are connected, in a Jonathan & David sort of way, because we share common beliefs, passions, and, even struggles), friendships take some work to build and keep. Two have been mentioned already...

Last week, we focused on this verse, "A friend loves at all times..." Building Block #1: Commitment. It takes commitment to be that kind of constant friend who still does love when we are at our worst. It's a huge deal to find a friend who is willing to go the distance with us.

The week before, when we zeroed in on Job's three friends, we discovered Building Block #2: Cautious. Good friends are careful and cautious before they speak. They know us so well that they have learned when to hold their tongues, and when to share God-words from their heart that will be for us.

For everything there is a season...a time to keep silence and a time to speak.
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7b

They also know when to be there, and when to leave...

Let your foot be seldom in your friend's house, lest he have his fill of you... 
Proverbs 25:17

This week, Building Block #3: Curative. I picked this "c" word because here are some of its synonyms: corrective, beneficial, helpful, insightful, restorative, shot-in-the-arm, therapeutic, and what-the-doctor-ordered. Who better to speak up, when we are in a better place, to help us see things correctly than a good friend, someone we trust? We desperately need truth tellers. While the Lord made us holy at our salvation, we don't always live what we are. We have blind spots. We are often a little too myopic and narrow-minded. (I need to make this personal), I desperately need people who love me enough to speak God-words to me. Proverbs calls them friendly wounds.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, profuse are the kisses of your enemy...
Proverbs 27:6.

In fact, if you are too frightened to speak truth to me, according to the parallel of this passage, you are no friend.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourselves, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law (referring to the "law of love") of Christ. 
Galatians 6:1-2

When God-words are spoken, the following can happen:

All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 
2 Timothy 3:16-17.

Lessons on Friendship

Biblical friends assist one another to holy living


Good, Biblical, friends are concerned that we are equipped for Kingdom work as long as our feet are on this planet. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

At. All! Times.

Public Service Announcement: Advent Devotional based on past blogs, entitled "I Dropped Baby Jesus" available by clicking on the link.


Here's a focal verse for the week. It's found in Proverbs 17:17(a). Ponder it. It's only six words, but packed with a powerful punch. I find it to be the most convicting verse on friendship in the Scriptures. These words are hard to live up to on a daily basis.

The verb "love" is understandable. It's even do-able from time to time. I struggle with the phrase "at all times." Repeat that loudly: at all times! AT. ALL! TIMES.

Think what that means. If you're my friend (an "if-the-Lord's-the-Lord-of-them" friend), you will love me:
When my hair is a mess; and, I have bad breath.

When I stink and am in need of a shower.

When my attitude also stinks and needs cleansing... When I'm grumpy, irritable, resentful,
argumentative, and totally unlovable.

When my theology doesn't match the reality of my life, and I'm hypocritical, forgetful of truth, and judgmental.

When I'm less than patient, kind, compassionate...

When I talk too much, and I'm filled with conceit.

When I don't rejoice with you, or weep with you as I should.

When I keep a record of wrongs and forget to show mercy, canceling your debt against me, with forgiveness.

When I'm greedy, joy-less, and let emotions over-rule my head.

YUCK! An "if-the-Lord's-the-Lord-of-them" friend is ALWAYS choice!

They are Jesus-with-skin-on.

These friends are RARE! Rare, because at times like I've mentioned, being a friend is messy. It's not easy. They have to hold the pail for the verbal vomit. They have to hand us tissues for snot-runneth-over noses, and river-flowing-teary-eyes. They have to be OK with our skewed momentary perspectives, and able to hold us in their hearts without judgment. They are the settled, wisdom of Jesus; but more importantly, when it is hard for us to find the presence of the Lord (because He just "feels" distant), they are His presence. They help us find JOY...

So, yes, I'm convicted by this difficult-to-do verse. I've had to ask myself the same question I was asked years ago, "Do I even KNOW what a good friend is truly like?" Have I ever been that kind of friend? Certainly in spurts...but, AT. ALL! TIMES? 


Monday, November 23, 2015

Know When to Speak - A Lesson on Friendship

Gotta tell ya, I'm a little discouraged as I sit to reflect on paper about friendships this morning. I'm not one to dwell too long on the negative, and after three weeks of unfriends, I rather want to throw up my hands and say, "Friends? Who needs them? Are they worth the effort?" Of course, they are; and, we know that God wants us to be in community. Those of us who have experienced the "if-the-Lord's-the-Lord-of-them" kind of friend (the kind who encourages us in the Lord), know this to be FACT. However, before I can move on and get away from the unfriend, there's one more type of unfriend we don't necessarily need in our lives. Have you looked lately at Job's friends? We have to sleuth them out before we move forward.

At first glance, Job's friends were GREAT. They did friendship so well...

Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him...they came together to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. They raised their voices and wept, and tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. 
Job 2:11-13

Right there, those are good friends. When we're in the middle of our suffering (and keep in mind, when it is our suffering, it is always GREAT, because it is so personal), we need those around us who see it, understand it, weep with us, and say nothing! Good friends walk, stand, and sit beside us, but they don't have to say a word. Their best support is just being there. Good friends connect with us on a deeper level that goes beyond the talk...

BUT THEN, Job's friends began to open their mouths. After seven days and seven nights, being quiet got old. I credit them with taking that long to speak. My quietness has limitations. I can maybe listen well for a minimum of about fifteen minutes. Then, I have to give advice. I have to heap more coals on the fiery pain of people with the "shoulds," the "musts," and the "coulds." You should do this. Of course, you could try this. Their advice was more along the line of "you must repent." Job's friends figured he had done something wrong to deserve all that suffering. Their judgment was something to if they were sinless perfection. It's pretty easy to pass judgment on someone else's pain! One of those guys, Bildad, even said this:

If you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself on your behalf... 

This goes on for knowing that Job was upright; us knowing that Job had done nothing wrong; us seeing the back story that they didn't know... It's something to remember when we pick friends, or we stand alongside friends who are suffering: WE DON'T HAVE THEIR WHOLE STORY. Nor, do we have God's story on their behalf moving forward.

When we choose friends, when we be-friend, good listeners are better than good talkers. Patience in silence is far more desirable that those who can fill the gap with words.

He who has understanding spares his words, 
And a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. 
Proverbs 17:27

Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace.
Proverbs 17:28

Emily Dickens once said, "Silence is sometimes the best answer."  

The point is that good friends are slow to speak. Good friends don't have to advise in the midst of suffering. Good friends don't have to fix the problems for us. Good friends don't try to put their words in God's mouth, and thus, misrepresent Him. That's what Job's friends were rebuked by the Lord for doing:

My anger burns against you...for you have not spoken of me what is right...go to my servant Job and offer up a burn offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
Job 42:7-8

For whatever it's worth, I want to be the kind of friend who doesn't have all the answers...and, I think I want that kind, as well. Sometimes silence is the best encourager in the Lord.

For everything there is a season...a time to keep silence and a time to speak.
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7b

May we know the difference.


After finishing this blog, a little earlier, I ran across this YouTube video that describes for us the difference between empathy (connectedness) and sympathy. What we need are friends who are good at empathy...this was what Job's friends didn't get.  Click below for a two minute reminder of what this means (it's an easy listen):

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Unfriend (rather like the "un-cola"), 3

To repeat:

This week, we play Sherlock, and stalk "the scoffer (to mock, deride, be disdainful...literally, one who makes a mouth at)." After, wading through many passages in Proverbs, allow me to share a tale of two young women.

During my years at Arizona Christian University, I met with many young gals as a mentor/counselor. As I studied this week, memories of these two gals rushed back: Student A and Student B (for humanity's sake, and so they don't seem like stiff letters, I'll name them Alea and Barbie, simply because those were the names that came to mind, and I never met with any girls by those names). Alea and Barbie were similar in many ways. They were both the same age when they came to ACU, though their stay was over different years. Both had been raised in very difficult family situations. Both girls struggled with trust issues, clinical depression, and social skills. They were clingy, needy, and messy as a result of their past. They both wrestled with using self-harm as a coping mechanism ; and, on top of that, had mild medical issues. Both girls sought the privacy of my office, seeking help, saying they wanted to see change from the inside out. Over the course of three plus years, I met with these gals. 

Yet, the end of our season together, brought totally different results. Alea "did the work," while Barbie "made excuses." Alea humbly submitted herself to teaching and, when needed, reproof. She asked for corrective steps to take, and took them. This was not so with Barbie. Barbie didn't need teaching, or correction. She was "wise in her own eyes." Barbie even argued with clear Scriptures, questioned God's character, and walked away from anyone who reproved her, unable to see that sometimes reproof, when given in a gentle and truthful way, is the highest form of love. Alea began to build solid relationships, real Biblical friendships. She learned how to be encouraged in the Word of God, and how to find strength in Him on her own. She became less needy, less clingy, and more dependent on God's guidance and love. Barbie went through relationships, as fast as a puddle of water disappears on a sidewalk in 110-degree-Phoenix-heat. Today, Alea is a successful teacher. She's married with a rambunctious toddler. She serves Jesus passionately in her church and often travels on short term missions trips. She's a different woman. This is not true of Barbie. She has trouble holding down a job, still wrestles with depression, hanging on to friends, and cycles through the same pattern of lifestyle behavior. The issues in her life back then are her issues today.

What was the difference? One was teachable, and invested in change. The other was what the Bible calls a "scoffer": arrogant, always right, unteachable, angry, and foolish. I was privileged to see transformation in Alea, and journeyed life with her from mentor to friend, even past graduation. However, months before Barbie graduated, the Lord made it clear that spending more time with her was of no value. I terminated our weekly meetings, hoping that someone else might get through to her where I failed. To date, things are the same...nothing has changed.

When we continue to sit with friends who are scoffers, we quickly find how easy it is to get caught in their tornado of issues. 

Being with a scoffer is like being on a merry-go-round that is spinning out of control with no place to get off. 

These friends need to talk about their "stuff," but they come up with every excuse in the book as to why they can't change. Their favorite lines are "Yes, but..." and "I can't..." So, nothing ever changes, and the friend who tries to ride the merry-go-round with them, gets sucked into a vortex of foolishness (some call that insanity: doing the same thing over and over, yet hoping for different results). 

If you find yourself in a toxic relationship, where arrogance, and an unwillingness to be taught, or to take steps to change are common, re-evaluate the friendship. Otherwise, it changes you...and not in a good way!

...a scoffer will not listen to reproof (Proverbs 13:1)

...a fool does not delight in understanding; only in revealing what is in his own mind (Proverbs 18:2)

...leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge (Proverbs 14:7)
...don’t make friends with an angry person...lest you entangle yourself in a snare (Proverbs 22:24-25)
No need to stay on that horse; jump off the merry-go-round! The landing may be a little rough, but you'll bounce back. Promise!

Again, before leaving, I must ask myself some tough questions and give honest answers. Do I have to be right? Do I argue my point just for the sake of winning? Do I listen to rebuke and am I teachable? Do I always have to have the last say...and make corrections? Are my life-issues more important than other people's problems? Do I make excuses for my problems, or do I allow others to speak into my life? Am I a good listener, or do I just want to reveal what is in my own mind? Am I easy to anger? If I lose relationships easily, is there a common denominator for which I need to look internally? Do I "make a mouth" when I think someone else is wrong, and deride their thinking, even to the point of coming back at them with this: "I was just joking?" 

Sweet Savior...sometimes I just need to be rescued from own pride and arrogance. My own stubborn ways. My need to put myself at the center of everyone else's universe. Be my redemption, yet again!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Unfriend (rather like the "un-cola"), 2

Three verses have been driving the direction of this blog for the last couple weeks, and at least another more. Here they are:

A righteous man chooses his friends carefully (Proverbs 12:26a).

Be not deceived, bad company corrupts good morals (1 Cor. 15:33).

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers...(1)"

Last week we looked at the first "un-friend": the wicked
This week we'll follow a Scripture trail to "spy on" the sinner

I struggled with this one, because I. Am. A. Sinner. Romans 3:23 declares me so! Of course, aren't we all!? Every single one of us has "missed the mark," and have followed after our own way, ignoring the Lord. So, reasoning this through, if this be the case, then we can't really develop friendships with anybody. Yet God calls us to be in community. He's the one who declared it wasn't good for man to be alone... That sent me digging a little deeper into this particular passage; and, traipsing after the bread crumbs along the way, I've discovered something that clarifies this a little more specifically. We're warned in Proverbs 1, that sinners can be fairly enticing; and, further on in chapter 16, we're told if we give in to that enticement, the sinner will lead us in a "way that is not good." Looking more closely at the same passage in Proverbs it leads to this characteristic of a sinner: Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain (v. 19). Surprisingly to me, the word sinner is often used synonymously with greedy

Here's the big HOWEVER...HOWEVER, greedy isn't used just in terms of gaining more, or hoarding (though that certainly can be an extreme problem). If I'm greedy, I'm unsatisfied, thirsting, discontent...selfish! I don't just want more...I'm not satisfied with what I have, and truly believe I'm deserving of better. As a result, I am constantly looking for ways to fill my emptiness, and others become my hope of salvation, my road to happiness. Obviously, only Jesus fills the Savior-shoes. 

While the wicked have a "voice" problem; the sinners have a "worship" problem (in actuality it is a "me" problem). The wicked can't be trusted; and, the sinners don't know how to love. They tend to love things and use people to their advantage. The letter to the Colossians states it best, when Paul says, "Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry (3:5)."

Those are some pretty harsh words generated for the sinner: greed, selfishness, idolatry. Whatever word you use, it is a seeking after one's own well-being, filling a great need to feel good about oneself. Their's is a me-first attitude, a need to be the one in control, and even, manipulation to that end. The sinner often leaves in his/her wake a long line of hurt individuals who just can't wear Savior-shoes.  Just as with the wicked, past pain is at the heart; but in this individual, add to their hurt, a deep-seated fear that's stemmed from insecurity and loss. The biggest problem is that these folks are hard to identify. They've learned to manage their persona well. They are often funny, sarcastic, enjoyable to be around (until you get to know them better), and they hide behind a socially acceptable mask. Eventually, what's in the heart is shown for what it is for out of the mouth proceeds that which is from the heart. In the end, everything comes back to my-needs-first with this kind of unfriend.

The result is that "Disaster always pursues sinners (Proverbs 23:21)..." and many are "the sorrows of the sinner (Ps 32:10)." To follow after, to "stand with and walk alongside" the sinner, means the same for me. However, rephrasing Psalm 1:1, "Happy is the one who does not follow in the same habits and way of life as the one who loves things and uses people (Peg's paraphrase)..." And by all means, 

"Don't (even) envy the sinner, but continue in the fear (the AWE) of the Lord (Psalm 37:17)!"

Again, before I look around me, I must look inside: Is my conversation always me-driven? Am I a good listener? Do I look to others to make me happy, fill my heart, make me satisfied? Do I want to "hoard friends," and do I seek to keep them just for my benefit? Am I motivated by what is good for me? Do I look for people who help me feel better about myself? Do I frequently hide behind socially acceptable masks? Am I overly critical of others (another symptom)? Do things mean more to me than people? Do I try to control and manipulate situations to benefit me? Am I trying to fix other people's problems for them, rather than be supportive and encouraging? 

Oh, sweet Savior, Jesus, help me to be about the OTHER. May I always follow you, who set for me an example of One-Anothering others, not seeking to maintain even what was in your own rights...

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Unfriend (rather like the "un-cola"), 1

Many years ago, Bay and I sat with a seasoned youth pastor over lunch. He was a gentleman greatly respected in the field. I don't remember what brought up the topic, but we entered a conversation about friendships, and he introduced to us the concept that as Christians, we are to "be friendly with everyone, but befriend selectively." This godly mentor reminded us that as a side-bar to the story of the rich young ruler in the New Testament, Jesus let the man walk away. He didn't chase him down; he didn't run after him, and beg, "Now, wait a minute, we can still be good friends..." He also reminded us of the passage in Corinthians that instructs, "Don't be misled, bad company ruins good morals (1 Cor 15:33)." This required a little paradigm shift in my thinking - I thought it was a good thing, as in a godly thing, to make friendships inclusively. Yet, from the passages of Scripture above, this is far from true. Caution is required lest we be led astray (Proverbs 12:26), or find our character maligned (1 Cor. 15:33). Choosing carefully is protective.

When I ran across the Proverbs 12 passage a little over a week ago in my search for God's Word on friendship, it made me pause again, and remember friends, especially friends in the intimate, inner circle, are chosen carefully. The word literally means to "spy them out." I found that not only interesting, but a little humorous when my mind started to picture a Sherlock Holmes character stalking a person-of-interest as a would-be-buddy. 

Clearing my brain of that image, I recalled that Psalm 1 gives us some good instruction on where to not look for friends:
"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers...(1)"

When we're exploring potential "if-the-Lord's-the-Lord-of-them" friends, we quickly rule out: the wicked, sinners, and scoffers. I gotta tell you, if this weren't in the Scriptures, I would rather struggle with this whole concept. However, it's there, and the question that arises is this: how do I identify these folks? I've done a little research. This week, we'll spy on "the wicked."

Basically, the "wicked" refers to someone who is "morally wrong;" but, in order to get a full picture of  the kind of person the Psalmist was referring, we have to follow the bread trail set out for us through Scripture. That's what I spent several mornings doing this week. Here's what I found in Proverbs (primarily chapters 4, 6, 15, 16) as a common theme started to emerge. The "wicked" have a vocal problem. They are "whisperers." Their "mouth pours out evil things." They "sow discord." Their speech is "crooked" and "devious;" and, they find it difficult to sleep until they have caused someone else to "fall, stumble, or be cast down." Typically, people like this have been deeply hurt. Remember the saying, "Hurt people hurt people." They do. It doesn't make what they do right. It doesn't justify their behavior. In fact, if anything, we all have to take ownership for our bad behavior. However, they don't. Their pattern of life is to "bring another low" by the way they talk about "friends" and acquaintances-usually, behind their backs. It's their way of trying to "lift themselves up" out of insecurity and pain. I get that; but, people like this make terrible friends. Bottom line, they can't be trusted. If they "whisper" about someone else, they are undoubtedly back-stabbing me, too; and, here's the bottom line:

A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.
Proverbs 16:28

Listen carefully before choosing your friends. What do you hear? It will tell you a lot about their character, and the road they walk. There may be some, like these, whose path you want to avoid as a way of life.

More importantly, if someone is paying attention to me, what would they hear? Am I an "if-the-Lord's-the-Lord-of-them" kind of friend? Would my way be worthy of linking arms and walking alongside?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Between You and Me

A few weeks back I spoke at a women's retreat, and over four sessions, summarized the topic of joy (that was not easy trying to condense). At one point during the retreat, a friend asked me a question. Her query had to do with Robin Williams (who to her epitomized "joy") and his suicide. How did the two make sense? Several responses crossed my mind, the first being that while Robin Williams portrayed happiness (outside), what was on his inside was not joy. We often think happiness=joy, but that would be a myth. We rather lie to our kids when we sing "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart...and I'm so happy, so very happy..." We can have joy and yet not be happy, because when Jesus' love is down in our hearts, when we are in a HARD place, there still can be a internal calmness of soul, and a settled mind... The second thought was this - depression (which the actor suffered greatly from) is a true struggle requiring lots of HELP! However, the third thing that I believe is also true is this: We can't have internal biblical joy if we don't have a relationship with Jesus (now, please keep in mind, I wasn't being a judge of Robin Williams, as I never met the man...this was a general statement). Here's why: if Jesus isn't our Savior, biblical joy isn't possible. Why? Because BIBLICAL JOY IS A GIFT OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD (Galatians 5:22). Please note the qualifying word biblical! 

All of the above to now say this: The same is true of BIBLICAL FRIENDSHIP. We can't build strong lasting friendships without Jesus. Remember the whole discussion last week about the Michael W. Smith song, "Friends?" The qualifier was this: if the Lord's the Lord of them...  We can be friendly. We can enjoy the company of all kinds of people. We can love to do life with them, but what we can not do is expect friendship from them that they can't live out. Deep, life-long, lasting relationships are built when Jesus stands in the middle, between you and me. I've often heard this said, which I think is rather freeing, "we can't expect regenerate behavior from those who aren't redeemed." What I really need are a few "if-the-Lord's-the-Lord-of-them" friends! 

In light of this, I ran across this verse from Proverbs this week:
The righteous man chooses his friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.

The righteous man chooses his friends carefully...that had me pondering! A LOT! There's really way more to "if-the-Lord's-the-Lord-of-them" friends than what I've already pointed out, but I did run across a passage that I think gives us a little outline for the kind of friends to be cautious of; as well as the kind of friend we should "test" our friendship against. So, that's what we'll be examining over the next couple of weeks. 

In the meantime, remember this - having Jesus in the middle "between you and me" is crucial. It is no guarantee, mind you, because humans are just that...human. Sometimes, just by nature, we are less than stellar in our approach and responses within relationship. That means sometimes misperceptions, current experiences that color our way of seeing things clearly, poor communication, and just plain old-fashioned selfishness and sin get in between us instead of Jesus (and maybe we'll look a little more at specifics later, too). However, when this happens, we have to do all we can to make course corrections, and work hard at reconciliation (as far as it depends on at peace with all men)! So, while Jesus between us is no guarantee, it is certainly critical for a beginning foundation. Without Him in that place, our relationships are being built on rocky ground from the beginning...

Monday, October 19, 2015

If the Lord's the Lord of Them...

Who doesn't remember Michael W. Smith's most popular Christian hit? In just .29 seconds, I found approximately 2,170,000 hits on the internet when I Google-searched for it. Released in 1983 and written for a friend who was moving away, this song was sung at more graduations I attended through the 90's, and early 2000's, than I can recall. It was also sung at our commissioning service the night before we left for Africa in 1987. When I hear it, my eyes still water. Who hasn't had to say good-bye to a good friend? We all relate to this in some fashion...probably why the music and lyrics gained such popularity.

"...friends are friends forever (link to song on YouTube),
if the Lord's the Lord of them..."

There's a big "IF" in the middle on that famous line...because friends do come and go. That's a truth we can't deny. I'm thankful for a lot of people with whom I have spent a season of life, but not everyone has hung around. Some moved away. Some just left...but still live close. Some friendships aren't forever. It's just a fact. Things change. Life circumstances put distance between us. Time and life, just make it hard to stay in touch. Friendships take work... BUT, there are some, who, when we get back together, nothing has changed, and time, as well as distance, simply disappear. These, generally, fit the "if" in that line of Friends are Friends Forever..."If" the Lord's the Lord of them!
Between you and me stands Jesus. When Jesus comes between us, nothing separates!

Here comes the transition between the MWS song and the story of Jonathan and David. When we find the "if-the-Lord's-the-Lord-of-them" kind of friend, it's generally because Jesus-in-them has left us with a little bit of themselves that makes them undeniably a piece of our lives forever. Some of my "if" friends have taught me to laugh a little more at myself and not take myself too seriously. Some have taught me the value of vulnerability. Some have left me with a little more courage to take a sensible risk or two. Some have just given me a little more Jesus. That's the piece Jonathan left with David. When David was in a tight spot in the wilderness-of-his-life, Jonathan taught him how to find his strength in God and God alone. Jonathan didn't just go to David and encourage him. He didn't enable David. It wasn't as if David had to have Jonathan every time he was in a tight spot. Jonathan left David, not with just more courage to endure, but Jonathan left him knowing what to do if he was ever in a wilderness place again. How do I know?

Just seven chapters after the passage we've been reading the last two weeks in 1 Samuel 23:16, we find David in another desert-situation (literally and metaphorically). This one was a doozy. David had been where he shouldn't have been...amidst the Philistines. David had a habit of doing that (being where he shouldn't on a rooftop when everyone else was at war). While he was away from the home camp (located in the Negev desert), the Amalekites raided. They burned everything and kidnapped everyone. When David and his mighty men returned, there was no small amount of wailing. They wept and mourned until they had no more strength to weep. Then the mighty turned on their leader. They talked of stoning him, because there was so much bitterness of soul. Then comes this (vs. 6):  David was greatly distressed...But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. 

There it is. Jonathan passed on the "how to." Even though by this time, Jonathan was dead, he'd left David with a little piece of himself. Good friends do that...good friends recognize that it's not healthy to have to be needed forever. Good friends know they won't always be in the arena with us. So, biblical buddies leave us with the strong parts of we keep on keeping on...forever. That's exactly what Jonathan had promised David when they first met (see 1 Samuel 18:1-5). At their first meeting, Jonathan took off his robe, his armor, even his sword and his bow and belt, and gave it to David. Those weren't just things. These weren't just any old second-hand gifts. Each item was symbolic: the robe represented Jonathan's identity; the armor represented Jonathan's strength; and the sword, bow, and belt were symbolic of Jonathan's promise to protect and defend. Jonathan was true to his word. Good friends are. What biblical friends promise, they fulfill. Jonathan knew David would take the throne one day, so he did his best to prepare him, to strengthen him, to protect him for that day...

What a friend! Jonathan didn't just die and leave the scene of David's life. Jonathan lived on in David's heart and memory forever, because of the greatness of the gifts he inherited: a new identity, where to go to gain his strength, and an ability to fight right.

Again - what a friend!
So, as I close, I ask myself a what question. What part of me, the best of me, am I leaving as a forever-inheritance to my friends?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Never Expected...Always There

David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul's son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. 
1 Samuel 23:15-16 (ESV).

It's been a long time past, but the words still sting. Of all the things someone could have said about me, might have said about me, or have definitely said about me, this statement came out of the blue, and, whammy (!), took me by surprise, and shook me to my core. I never saw it coming... "You are a terrible friend! I am not sure you even know what a good friend looks like." I can still remember every little detail that surrounds that conversation. When I started breathing again, and rationally processing, here's what I did with that out-of-nowhere-remark. First, I remembered that this was a highly charged moment, and that statement wasn't really about me, it was more about the person who said it (my friend was in need, and I wasn't able to meet her need - not the way she wanted). I also recalled that in every criticism there is some element of truth. What we have to do is sift out what is true, make changes where needed, and throw the rest away. So, what was true? As in every aspect of our lives, there is always room for improvement. Certainly, I could be a better friend; and, yes, I definitely could learn more about what that should look like. I took that to the Lord, and His truth, to determine what personal changes I could make.

My first stop was the biblical account of the friendship of David and King Saul's son, Jonathan. The introduction of this friendship is a great story, but the above passage is the first one that resonated with me (as in conviction). This piece of the puzzle that was their friendship is LoAdEd with some identification markers about friendship. 

Friends aren't always what or who we expect. They don't always look like us. Fact is, they may be the most unlikely, different people, we could have imagined. Jonathan was a prince, a warrior. David was a shepherd boy from a low class family. Jonathan was Saul's son; Saul was King; that meant Jonathan was next in line to be the King. One day, Samuel-the-Prophet, showed up at the sheep ranch. God had instructed him to anoint one of Jesse's boys as the next king. It certainly wasn't the son-of-Jesse that Samuel expected. Instead God had chosen the youngest, the runt (David). God liked his heart. This meant that David would one day strip the throne from Jonathan's hands. They should have been enemies, but when they met, their hearts were "knit together" (they forged a strong bond that not even competition over the throne of Israel could sever). Here's are some truths from this fact: we can't plan for friends, they are discovered along life's journey; and, there's some internal heart-thing that simply draws us together. We know it when we find it; and, when we find it, then it has to be developed. So, when we discover friends, to keep them, we have to invest in the relationship. That's what Jonathan and David did: they invested time, commitment, and trust. Their's wasn't a scenario of keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Their's was a bond forged in spite of everything that should have divided them.

Friends know where to find you. David was in the wilderness. He was in a tough spot in life. The toughest. King Saul was dead set to kill him (and, he was prone to throwing spears). So, David the wilderness! His location probably matched the condition of his heart. Wildernesses aren't fun places. They tend to be dry, desert-type regions. There's not a lot of water in the wilderness. As a result, our thirsts aren't satisfied. Besides that, they are filled with snakes, scorpions, and very little vegetation - wildernesses are dangerous and make us very vulnerable. However, there are a lot of caves to be found. Somehow, Jonathan knew where to find David when his heart was heavy; and he was willing to join him there. Not only that, but he didn't give David's hiding place away to his dad. Biblical friends are willing to join you in the desert places of your life. They are willing to sacrifice their honor to walk the journey with you. They protect us and hold our confidences, dear to their hearts. That's a whole lot of TRUST...and loyalty!

Most importantly though, our friends know how to help satisfy those thirsts in the dry and weary lands of our lives. Good, Biblical, friends always take us back to the Lord. "To strengthen" literally means to fasten or to secure. David's perspective was skewed. He needed someone to settle his heart, and secure his mind, back on the only One who could fulfill his heart's desire and satisfy his soul. If there's one thing that Jonathan teaches us about a good friend, it's this: when a true friend comes into our lives, they leave us with a little more courage. 

Jonathan was the full-friend-package. He set the bar high. It wasn't easy to be David's friend; but God had given David this man "for such a time." My prayer has been since that one day in early 1988, "God, form my heart to be a Jonathan-kind of a friend..."