Hebrews: I Need You

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One major blow the pandemic has dealt the church is disconnection. When churches closed their doors trying to keep their members safe, it also isolated them physically from one another. Now that churches are opened again, many have decided not to return. Without the opportunity to come together, many people have grown cold. They just don’t think they need the church anymore.

The writer of Hebrews pointed to one important aspect of the Christian community: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:12-13). This is not a message to individual Christians; it’s a word for the full Body of Christ. “You are responsible for one another.” No, that doesn’t mean you will be held accountable for my sins (aren’t you glad!), but that you and I are called to encourage each other away from sin and into a deeper faith in God. That means being together enough that I notice when your faith is faltering.  That’s one thing I really miss being 100 miles away from my best friend. When we lived in the same town, we spent a lot of time together. She knew when I was struggling just by the inflection of my voice and my posture. She would come beside me and redirect me back to truth and faith. We are called to encourage one another in our daily walk so that sin and unbelief do not harden our hearts and turn us away from God.

In his message on the armor of God, Paul wrote about “the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16). The Roman soldier’s shield had a particularly important feature for the protection of the whole troop – a loop-and-locking system on the sides that allowed a group of soldiers to form what is known as “The Testudo (Tortoise) Formation.” By locking their shields together they formed a “safe house” around and above the whole company that covered them from all sides. This is the picture Paul painted of the Body of Christ working together against the “flaming arrows” of sin and unbelief launched by the evil one.

We dare not face off against the enemy in isolation. Beloved, your brothers and sisters need you. I need you. And you need me. Lock your shield with mine and theirs and let’s help one another stand firm in our shared faith.

The Gift of Praying Friends

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

I just couldn’t pray. The pain ran deep and wild like muddy water rushing through a broken dam. I was an intercessor but I couldn’t find the words to say on my own behalf. My mind was numb, my heart was shattered. I was broken. 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.

But two friends looked past my disguise and saw the raw, open wounds of my heart. 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 after Bible study (which I was still teaching), 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 brought a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing. Bearing his weight, 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 healed him. Their faith. Not the paralytic’s faith. The faith of his friends. I wonder if, like me in my time of distress, the man had any faith of his own left.

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 go to Him 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?

Christmas Presents – or Christmas Presence

O Immanuel . . . God is with us.  Isaiah 8:8, 10

My best friend and I are separated by almost a hundred miles.  We chat often on social media and text and talk with one another on the phone, but when I have the chance to see her face-to-face my heart rejoices.  There is something about presence—about being together physically that touches the heart more than a phone conversation ever could.

In the beginning, in the Garden, God and His first children, Adam and Eve enjoyed one another’s presence regularly.  The Bible tells us that they delighted in spending time together “in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8).  But sin forever altered that.  The fellowship was broken by disobedience and man was physically separated from God. A few select people encountered God for specific purposes, like Noah, but God no longer walked with His creation like before. After Noah, the Bible shows no interaction between God and man throughout many generations, until Abraham. God promised His presence with Abraham and his descendants and He was faithful through their escape from bondage and their desert wandering and settling in The Promised Land. He was with them, but still not in the same way as He had been with Adam and Eve. The Israelites built a temple where He could dwell among them, though still separated from them by walls and heavy curtains.  When Israel’s apostasy reached a certain point, the Lord withdrew His presence from the Temple—and the people.  But He promised His presence would one day return to them, in the person of the Messiah.  And as He always does, The Lord kept His promise.

The hope of Christmas is the hope of God with us – in the flesh. It is the fulfillment of the promise of His presence. God – in the person of Jesus was born as a flesh-and-blood baby in a stable in Bethlehem. He had tiny toes and tiny fingers, and He cried for the comfort of His mother.  He walked with His creation. He talked to them. He touched them – healing, comforting, and cleansing them. Imagine being able to reach out and touch God’s own hand. The most wonderful Christmas present is the presence of God. That is the promise of Immanuel—God with us.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

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

I love the Lord of the Rings movies. I read the books by J.R.R. Tolkien when I was much younger, but the Peter Jackson directed movies left a deep impression on me. One of my favorite scenes is in the third installment, The Return of the King. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee have made their way to Mordor and are climbing up the side of Mount Doom to destroy the ring and free Middle Earth from Sauron’s control. Frodo is worn and weary, battered and beaten and falls nearly dead from the oppressive weight of this small ring with such evil power. His faithful friend comes to his side and tries to encourage Frodo by reminding him of how good and right life in the Shire will be when the ring is gone. But Frodo is completely spent and can no longer go on. Knowing that only his friend can destroy the ring, Samwise, with tears streaking his grimy face says, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” With that he lifts Frodo across his shoulders and continues to climb the side of the mountain, carrying his friend while his friend carries his burden.

I’ve always thought that was the perfect picture of Christian friendship and beautifully fits our key verse. One of the sweetest blessings of being part of the Body of Christ is the relationships we share in the church. The best friendships I’ve ever had – and still have – were born in the church. There is a bond between brothers and sisters in Christ that is unique and special. It is the Spirit of Christ that dwells in us as believers and, like David and Jonathan “knits our souls together” (1 Samuel 18:1). I have laughed with my Christian friends and cried with them. I have studied the Word of God with fellow believers and mingled my voice with theirs in songs of praise and worship. I have shared the bread and wine of communion, then shared bread and a bowl of soup together after the service.

But the blessing of having someone help you carry your burden is the most precious of all. Like most people, my life has been a series of “ups and downs” – and some of those downs can swing pretty low. My Christian friends have come through for me time after time. There has been food when we faced illness or surgery, funds when the transmission went out on my car, notes and calls and cards of encouragement, even a roof over our heads for a season. There have been gallons of coffee and hundreds of prayers that have kept me going when, like Frodo I thought I could not take another step. I only pray I am as faithful to my precious friends as they have been to me.

Notice Paul said that helping carry one another’s burdens, “fulfills the law of Christ.” What does that mean? It is the command Jesus gave His disciples before His death on the cross when he said “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). In fact, He said that our love for one another would be the distinguishing mark of a believer, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). And He showed His love for you and me and all of humanity by carrying our burden – our sin – all the way to Calvary. That love and devotion and caring for one another was the one of the hallmarks of the church in the first century.

There is an Old Testament story that I think also displays this idea of carrying one another’s burdens. It is found in Exodus 17:8-16. The Israelites have just escaped from Egypt and are making their way toward the Promised Land with two million plus people when they are attacked by the Amalekites. Moses tells Joshua to pull an army together and engage the battle, meanwhile he will stand atop the mountain and hold “the staff of God” high above his head as a sign to the Israelite army that God is on their side. Now if you’ve ever tried to hold anything over your head for very long you understand how tiring that can be, and Moses was no exception. When he dropped his weary arms, the tide of the battle turned and the Amalekites got the upper hand.   No one else could hold that staff up – it was Moses’ God-given responsibility. But others could help him bear his burden, and a rock was placed behind him so he could sit down and “Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his arms remained steady till sunset” (v. 12). The result? “So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (v. 13). Joshua fought the battle, Moses held the staff and Aaron and Hur held Moses’ arms till the enemy was defeated. That is how the church works when it is at its best. Holding one another up till the battle is over and Christ has claimed the victory.

Do you know someone who is carrying a heavy burden? You can come to their side and – while they bear the weight of their burden – you can bear the weight of love.

Holy Father, love means bearing one another’s burdens, even if it means carrying one another. Thank you for the many times my Christian friends have carried me through difficult times. Help me be a friend that loves like Christ loved me. 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