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?