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..."

Monday, October 5, 2015

A New Road to Explore

I'm sitting on my favorite old couch with a fresh, blank page waiting to be written on, with a new topic, on a new day, of a new week, in my favorite month of the year. Here's a side note, that has nothing to do with anything to come, but which I find myself quoting often:

The sad thing is I'm still asking Jesus for His direction for this blog. What do we need His perspective on right now in this season? I have a little niggling thought, and unless I have some internal thunderbolt (in about two seconds) to go a different direction, that's probably the road I'll venture down for a while. What the Lord has to say about any topic is worth exploring, right?

It's more than a niggling thought, really. Months back, it was a suggestion from one who was struggling in this arena. Then, in the past weeks, it has come up more often. I've had more conversations with friends and acquaintances about this topic than I've kept count: what does true biblical friendship look like? I do believe from these conversations those lines are getting blurrier and blurrier, especially with the rise of social media. I fear the inauthenticity and distorted reality of social media has the ability of warping our perspective (don't get me wrong, I use it, see the value of it, but know there should be a warning sign posted when we engage in it).

Also, as a part of my joy study, and realizing that people are often our #1 stealer of joy, this seems to be a natural follow-up. However, this fact should not be. As part of that study, it became quite clear, that we are to be in community solely for the purpose of restoring one-another's joy, not taking it. In fact, back on January 26th, the blog was totally focused on our community of believers: one-anothering one another to joy. So, I reckon that is where the road turns for now on this journey with Jesus. Biblical friendship - As with joy, I've no road map. We'll look randomly at Scripture, and perhaps find our way to some simple reminders, and, perhaps, even some new truths.

Tucked away in the middle of a story about King Saul's put-to-death-pursuit of David, post Goliath, is an easily missed passage on true biblical friendship. Here's our first verse (see below), and probably the key one in all/every relationship:

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).

Here's another translation of verse 16:

And Saul's son, Jonathan, went to David...and helped him find strength in God (NIV).


Jonathan, son of Saul, left Saul, and went to David...He encouraged him (strengthened his hand) through God (NET).

This has always been my go-to passage as I think about what a good friend is truly like. It's what I look for in relationship, because it's foundational. Fortunately, even in my new-believer-ignorance, it's what I found in my dear husband. Right now, it doesn't need my commentary. What that passage needs from us all is reflection. There's A LOT OF MEANING behind the words that are strung together. Let's chew and meditate on what it says this week. We'll re-visit it next week. Have a good one, and thank the Lord for these people in your life. Maybe thank them, too...