Best Friends

I got another one of those emails from a salesperson who opened the message with a personalized greeting meant to draw me in and make me more favorable to their pitch. But their “personal touch” was a scam. They proved they don’t know anything about me by calling me “Dr. Andrews.” Just because I work at an institute of higher education, doesn’t mean I have a Ph.D. I am, in fact, struggling to finish my master’s. It was not a genuine greeting.

Using someone’s name implies some kind of connection, a level of personal knowledge -whether casual or intimate. One of the first things we do when meeting someone new is to share our name. It is like opening the door to our home. But we don’t let everyone inside. Some people don’t get past the doorway, some step into the front hall, and others are welcomed to the kitchen – the heart of the house. I’m a pretty transparent person. Still some people may know my name but they don’t know me. My closest friends gather around the kitchen table over a cup of coffee (or tea).

When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai, he pleaded with the Lord to accompany him and the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land. God replied, “I will do the very thing you have asked because I am pleased with you and I know you by name” (Ex 33:17). He wasn’t just talking about the name Moses was given at birth. The original Hebrew means “I know you because you are mine.”  Back up a few verses: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (v. 11). Do you understand what that means? God claimed Moses as His friend. He knew him.

Not only did He know Moses, but He also revealed Himself to him. Moses asked God to show him His glory. And He did – as much as He could without killing him.  He “came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed His name, the Lord” (Ex. 34:5). Did you catch the last part? “He proclaimed His name, the Lord.” He knew Moses. Now Moses knew Him.

Nobody knows you better than God knows you. And nobody loves you more than God loves you. He said, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Is 43:1). God has claimed you, Beloved. You are His friend. His child. His own.

Advent 2022: There’s a Place for You

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).

Several years ago, while living in a Florida university town, my family was blessed to serve in college ministry. We helped prepare Thanksgiving dinner at the Baptist Student Center. We brought them with us into Shoebox ministry and I taught the College Sunday School class for a season. But the best part of that time was just having them all around my house. We came to love so many of those precious students, their feet were often under my kitchen table and it was not uncommon for them to crash on my couch for the night. One night we hosted a bonfire and had 45 young men and women in our backyard, from 9 different countries! It is one of my sweetest memories. These kids were—and are—dear to us and many still call us “Mom and Dad.” Through that time, I came to understand Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (2:8). Like Paul, we made room for others out of love.

Love opens doors to the lonely. Love puts one more plate on the table. Love slides over to share the seat with a weary soul. Love pours a cup of coffee. Love labors in prayer. Love sleeps on the couch so the visitor can have the bed. Love opens the circle of friendship to add one more person. Love doesn’t shut others out; love welcomes people in.

In the town of Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago, a baby was born in a dark, damp, smelly stable—little more than a cave hewn out of a hillside—because there was no room for His little family in the inn. His father and very pregnant mother were turned away because there was no love there. Now—think about what Jesus told His disciples just before His death: “In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Why?

Because love makes room.

Faithful Friends

friends“Some men came, bringing a paralytic, carried by four of them” (Mark 2:3).

I just couldn’t pray.  I couldn’t pray because the pain ran deep and wild like muddy water rushing through a broken dam.  I couldn’t pray because I was an intercessor; I’d never prayed for myself.  I couldn’t pray because I couldn’t find the words to say.  My mind was numb, my heart was shattered.  I was a broken woman, paralyzed by the crushing burden I was bearing.  And I had to keep it all to myself.  I was the one others looked up to, the one with wise answers and a verse for every situation.  If they saw me now, I would lose their friendship and respect.  I became very good at wearing the mask and hiding my feelings.  I fooled everyone.

Well, not quite everyone.  Two friends looked past my disguise and saw the raw, open wounds of my heart.  They could not be duped into believing I was okay.  And because they loved me – the real me – they prayed the prayers I could not.  They prayed over me on the phone.  They prayed over me at my office.  They prayed over me at the altar and after Bible study (which I was still teaching).  They prayed over me at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart and wherever we were.  They carried me to the Father when I couldn’t carry myself.

In Mark’s Gospel, a group of friends are bringing a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing.  Four of them bore his weight as they held the corners of his mat.  They climbed onto the top of the house and tore away the roof to get their friend to the only one who could help him.  Interestingly, Mark says “When Jesus saw their faith. . .” he forgave the man and healed him.  Their faith.  No the paralytic’s faith.  The faith of his friends.  I wonder if, like me in my time of distress, the man had any faith himself at all.

Someone you know needs your prayers.  Someone needs you to pick them up and carry them to Jesus.  They have no strength of their own.  They are paralyzed by life’s struggles and unable to come to Jesus by themselves.  The Lord honored the faith of the man’s friends, just as He heard and honored the prayers of my friends.  Healing came for the paralyzed man and for me; borne on the wings of others’ faithful intercession.  Beloved, let’s look beneath the surface of our friendships.  Let’s seek out the ones who bear the heavy burdens, and let’s bring them to Jesus.  When my faith was almost gone, the faith of my friends carried me.  Who needs your prayers – and your faith – today?

Peace Between You and Me

“When you enter a house, first say ‘Peace to this house.’” Luke 10:5

The promise of peace came to us, wrapped in rough cloths and laid in a humble manger.  This Baby was God in human flesh, and He is our hope and our peace.  As we’ve considered this Advent week of peace, we have focused on peace with God, peace in times of fear and peace in the face of the frustrations of life.  One major cause of frustration is – well – the people in our life.  How can we have peace in our human relationships?  Let’s see what God’s Word has to say.

God made you and me as very different people.  We all have our own opinions, tastes, preferences and ideas.  Yet God calls us to live together in peace.  Sometimes relationships become strained and feelings are hurt.  Yet God calls us to live together in peace.  What is important to me may not be as important to someone else in my family.  Yet God calls us to live together in peace.

Paul gave some very good advice about living in peaceful relationships.  He said to “honor one another above yourselves” (Rom. 12:10).  “Do not be proud” (v. 16).  ”Bear with the failings of the weak” (Rom. 15:1). “Comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:4).  “[Speak] only want is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Eph. 4:29).  And most especially “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). This is how we “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:15).   Paul issued this important perspective: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everybody” (Rom. 12:18) Hebrews 12:14 makes it even more personal: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men.” That certainly brings it right to my doorstep.  I am to make peace with others a priority, to pursue peace and keep a humble attitude toward others.

Jesus prayed that His followers would have a spirit of unity.  This comes when we are, first at peace with God, and them at peace with our fellow Christians.  No doubt we will have differences of opinion.  Baskin Robbins doesn’t feature 31 flavors of ice cream because everyone likes chocolate.  God made us all unique, with different passions and gifts and quirks.  But we all share one very important thing: we are all made in the image of God, and that is the place to begin building peace with one another.

Holy Father, I choose to live in peace with others, my family, my friends, my co-workers and the stranger you will send my way today.  Help me to put peace with others at the top of my “To-Do List” today.  Amen.

A Friend Indeed

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

I have burdens. You have burdens. All God’s children have burdens. It’s a fact of life on this rock. Because Adam and Eve gave in to temptation and sin, burdens and struggles have been man’s constant companion. No one gets through life unscathed. And no one gets through life alone. I believe that one of the greatest gifts God has given to us, following the gift of salvation, is that of family and friends. Surely He sent me to help you and you to help me. If friends were a tradable commodity, the wealthiest people on earth would be the ones with the deepest friendships.

Paul was a man rich in friends, and he understood the power and privilege of those sweet relationships. He also knew and taught that with privilege comes responsibility. The responsibility of friendship is caring for and about one another. He wrote our key Scripture to encourage the Galatians in the responsibility of “carrying each other’s burdens.” The word “burdens” actually holds a dual meaning in Paul’s letter. The burdens of the Galatians were certainly the sufferings of life, the trials and struggles and heartaches that still weigh us down today. But he was also referring to the “burden” of temptation, a burden that we so often try to bear all alone. A burden under which we will always fall without the help and support of others. The rise of “accountability groups” is a tremendous and powerful tool in the battles we all face with temptation. These groups are putting into practical use the words of Proverbs 27: 17 – “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

It brings to mind the story in Exodus 17 of the Israelites’ first battle after leaving Egypt. The Amalekites attacked the weary wanderers and Joshua was appointed as captain of the Israelite army. The battle was fierce and the enemy powerful. As Moses watched from a nearby hill, he held his staff high above his head as a visual symbol to the Israelites of God’s power on their behalf. As long as the staff was lifted high, the Israelite army had the upper hand. But Moses’ arms grew tired, and when he lowered them to rest, the Amalekites began to overpower the Israelites. Joshua and the army carried the burden of the battle, but they depended on Moses, who bore the burden of encouragement. Seeing their army struggle as Moses weakened, two of the priests, Aaron and Hur, brought a stone for Moses to sit on and they stood on either side of him and supported his arms as he held the staff high-until the Israelites won the victory over their enemy. This is the perfect picture of “carrying each other’s burdens.” Joshua could not fight the battle alone, he needed Moses’ encouragement. Moses could not carry the weight of encouraging Joshua alone, he needed the support of Aaron and Hur. The battle was won because no one fought it alone. In both times of suffering and times of temptation, the power of a burden-carrying friend is sometimes the difference between survival and defeat.

Paul’s mandate has a greater purpose than just mutual support and encouragement. It is a also a call to obedience. The second part of this verse says that by carrying each other’s burdens, “you will fulfill the law of Christ.” What is “the law of Christ”? Simply this: “Love one another. (John 13:34; 15:12) It is the only time that Jesus prefaced His words by saying “My command is this…” (John 15:12) It wasn’t just a nice thought or a wise teaching-it was His command, an order that carried all the authority of the Son of God. Jesus also said “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) You and I will probably never be called upon to die to save the life of our friends, but are we willing to “lay down” our time and our comfort to help carry the burdens of another? Will you give up a few hours to care for your friend’s newborn baby so she can get some much needed rest? Will I give up my favorite team’s football game to sit in the ER with my friend after an accident? My husband showed great love when he missed an Alabama-Auburn football game to be an usher in our nieces’ wedding. If you know any rabid Alabama fans, you will understand that this was a true sacrifice on his part. Sometimes showing our love can be somewhat costly-providing a place to stay, giving financial support, standing by them through the repercussions of sin; but often the simplest things can help ease another’s burdens, a plate of cookies, a note, or an hour over coffee. I will always appreciate my Bible Study group who prepared and delivered a meal for us on the day we moved, the friend who tutored my son through Social Studies, and the kindness of a sweet sister in Christ who stayed close by and held me up through a season of deep depression.

Paul expressed the same call to many of the churches he ministered to. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, he said “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” The beauty of this passage is in the combination of the words, “encourage” and “build up.” To encourage someone means “to be beside” and to build up means “to develop another’s life through acts and words of love and encouragement.” This world is filled with hurting people. Your community is filled with struggling people. Within your church, school, workplace, family, maybe even in your own home, there are people who need to you to come alongside them and pour loving words and actions into their life. I can’t think of a better way to obey the command of Jesus Christ to “Love one another.” The love and encouragement you show someone today may be the pivot point that turns their life in a new direction.

Loving Father, I am truly a rich person because of the wonderful friends you have given to me. Please give me eyes to see the one who needs me to help carry their burden and build them up. Amen