“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38).
When you are hurting, you need a friend.
Even our Lord did.
At a denominational meeting, a man approached and introduced himself. It turns out he reads this blog and is acquainted with my cartoons. And he said something that lingers with me to this day.
“Sometimes I think about calling you. It gets so lonely where I’m working and I just need someone to talk to.”
As I recall, he is not a pastor of a congregation but works with pastors and other ministers. Therefore, he has no regular constituency. And often, that means no one is looking after him. He is bearing this burden alone.
I tore off a piece of paper and wrote my phone number. “Call me,” I told him. “Please!”
That is one courageous man.
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” –Philippians 1:3
I remember you…from time to time.
Some people I think of often and reflect frequently on what they mean to me. Other people, I have a completely bizarre remembrance.
I’ll be somewhere and see an old friend of forty or fifty years ago and think, “I always loved him (or her) so much. Why have I not thought of them in all these years?”
I’ve been in a cemetery for a funeral and spotted the gravestone of a friend of bygone times and had the same thought. “They were so precious. I would love to see them! Why have I lost them in memory?”
Recently, I read a novel about a character with perfect memory. When something happened that required him to revisit a past experience, he had no trouble. He would activate his memory and return to that moment in time, recallingl every detail, every word spoken, every nuance. He could read the license plate of a car, could tell you the temperature, and give you as accurate a rendering of that moment as though he were standing there at that moment. In the book, this was a special gift.
But it’s not.
Unrighteousness is being aggressive. Evil is on the march. The world, the flesh, and the devil are having a field day. What should God’s people do?
A lot of people who call themselves Christians disagree with Scripture’s answer to that question.
In most cases, this aggression takes very specific forms. A new city ordinance discriminates against churches and makes it impossible to do ministry. A perversion of sexuality has become acceptable and local authorities insist that it be taught as the norm in schools. A decent public figure with traditional values is being targeted by wicked people and slandered. The list is unending.
Many calling themselves followers of Jesus Christ would say, “Organize! Confront! No more Mister Nice Guy! Take the fight to the enemy!” “Show them you can be as mean as they can!” “We have the power of God on our side!”
“After all,” they will say, “Jesus took a rope and cleansed the temple!” “Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.”
When God’s people begin name-calling, verbally attacking, and using the world’s methods, eventually someone will get a gun and go calling. In recent years, we’ve had extremists in the pro-life movement shooting up abortion clinics and murdering doctors.
Never mind replying that “You and I are not Jesus” and “Neither are we Old Testament prophets.” He has not sent us to do such things.
“I planted, Apollos watered, God gave the increase” (I Corinthians 3:6).
“Even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities” (Philippians 4:16).
I have no patience with signs in front of church buildings that read “Independent (whatever) Church.” There is no such thing as an independent church. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we need each other.
Some more than others.
The believer or the church that believes he/she/it is independent and has no need of all those others is going against everything Scripture teaches and contradicting what they see happening all around them every day.
“Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation” –Psalm 51:12.
Just because salvation is for eternity, anchored forever in the faithfulness of God, does not mean you cannot lose the closeness and fellowship with our wonderful Lord. A married couple can lose their joy and intimacy for a season, although the marriage is still valid and intact.
God’s faithfulness does not wax hot and cold depending on what we do or how we felt when we woke up this morning. He does not undo our salvation when we weaken and falter. The blessings upon us are conditional to our faithfulness and may dry up, but the relationship never varies. Forever, we are His and He is ours.
My children may be in or out of my favor at given times, but they are still mine.
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
I stood before the congregation holding two letters in my hands. “Both came to my office this week. I thought you’d like to hear what they say.”
“The first letter is from a member who moved several hundred miles away last year. She is missing this church. She wrote, ‘The churches here are not friendly like our church back home. No one speaks to visitors. I miss our loving, friendly congregation.”
I said, “Do we have a friendly church?” Heads nodded all over the building.
“Well, then, listen to this.”
“The way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15)
What started this was a note from a fellow who took issue with something I said about the church. He had no use for the church, he said. Every church he’d ever attended preached a shallow message, the sermons were mind-numbingly boring, and the people were dull and listless. After venting, he wondered if I’d be interested in some essays he’d written about the church. I declined.
In our exchange, I said, “Could I tell you something that happened to me? IEven though I’ve been preaching for over half a century, at least twice during that time, I have gotten out of fellowship with the Lord. What we call “backsliding.”
And when that happened, I noticed something surprising. I became negative about my fellow church members and critical of the other ministers. Then, when I humbled myself and repented, I saw them in a new light and found myself loving them. That was a fascinating thing to learn.
This was as gentle a way as I could find to tell the man that my money is on his being in rebellion against God. In his backslidden state, he is down on the Lord’s people.
Backsliding. Interesting term, isn’t it? It says what it is, and needs little explanation.
“I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:17-18).
As amazing as he was and as capable in ministry, as brilliant in theology, and as bold in his witness, the Apostle Paul needed people.
Does that surprise you as much as it does me?
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).
Around here in Southeast Louisiana you’ll see billboards that say “Friends don’t let friends eat imported crawfish.”
I know people in other parts of the country who would change that to say “Friends don’t let friends eat crawfish, period.” 🙂
A friend speaks up when his buddy is in trouble. A friend tells the truth even when doing so is uncomfortable for both parties. A friend rebukes his colleague if he’s doing something dangerous or self-destructive.
I want to be such a friend; I want to have such friends.
A few years back, while in Birmingham, I sought out a few friends whose opinions I treasure and handed them a brief manuscript I had labored over.
After all, who should know better than Calvin Miller, Fisher Humphreys, and Charles Carter whether my writing is sound, on target, helpful, and publishable?
“I need you to be brutally honest,” I said.
On the farm, in the yard where we kept the chickens, you noticed something. Some poor hen ranked at the bottom of the pecking order–a real phenomenon, by the way–and could literally be pecked to death by all the others. Unless someone stepped in and protected her, her life was miserable and grew worse by the day.
Humans don’t play foolish games like that, do we?
Let me tell you a story.
Bill was a big awkward, homely guy. He dressed oddly, and drew the attention of a few fellows in the shop where he worked, guys who enjoyed making fun of him.
One day someone noticed a small tear in Bill’s shirt and reached over to rip it a little more.
It became a joke that morning. Anytime anyone passed Bill, they tore the shirt just a little more.
Bill was hovering over a machine, working on it, when the ripped part of his shirt got caught in the wheels. Inside of two seconds, he was in real trouble. Alarms sounded and someone shut off the machine just in time and trouble was averted.
The foreman had seen all this. He walked over, pulled the switch on the power for that section and called the men around.