Friendship

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May 30

Thursday, May 30th, 2024

I cheated. I wrote this post ahead of time just in case I did not make it back home Wednesday and we decided to stay the night somewhere. Here were the thoughts I postponed from yesterday’s post to give an update on Janna.

WHAT DO YOU THINK CONSTITUTES A GOOD FAMILY?

Of course, the answers are many. Here are a few: Empathy. Sympathy. Teamwork with teammates. Honesty. Taking responsibility. Accepting responsibility.  Forgiveness. Space to allow for mistakes. The freedom to make mistakes and admit them. Love (obviously). Faith. Prayers. Shared shoulders. And the list goes on.

Now…consider the church as a family. The very same characteristics of a blood family are also to be there for a different kind of blood family.

In Isaiah 1 the people of Judah were acting very “unfamily-like.” Their outward actions were blatant displays of disrespect.  Yeah…that happens in real families. To put it very bluntly, their outward actions did not show the state of their heart.  Or maybe they did?

How easy it is to put on a show at home and with our church family. Jesus said the religious leaders’ lips said one thing but their hearts were far from Him.  It is called “going through the motions.” Family members do that.  Church family members to that also. They act like they like you, but what they do and say behind your back hurts like fire.

Frankly, self-concern replaces other-concern. It destroys families. It devastates church families. Arguing and fighting, even over petty things, plays havoc on a family’s unity. It does the same for a church family.

Don’t be a “ruiner;” be a builder.

May 22

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024

Do any of these sound familiar?

You walk into a room to ask a question and whoever is in the room (spouse, son, daughter) is locked onto a TV screen and their fingers are moving at warp speed.

You speak to someone and they see but don’t really see you. You feel as though their eyes are looking at you but their mind is elsewhere.

You speak to someone who acts as though they didn’t hear you (because they probably didn’t). When you shake them or wave your hand in front of them or call their name they act like they awakening from a stupor.

The scenarios are multiple but the problem is the same in all…preoccupation. I’m going to go out on a limb here and saw we live in a preoccupied world. I know myself if someone comes to speak to me I have to put down what I’m reading; turn away from the computer screen; stop looking/texting on my phone; even turn and face that person in order not to be distracted and give my full attention. I was visiting someone just the other day when I asked where she wanted to talk and shey said, “Anywhere.” I told her I needed to be away from the distraction (TV) and its entertainment (a certain country female singer-who shall remain nameless-whom I have NEVER liked, even when I listened CM over 20+ years ago). Anyway…

I read of a woman who went to see her doctor with two burnt ears.

Doctor: In all my years of practice I have never seen this. How?

Woman: I was ironing (remember what that is? 🙂 ) and watching TV when someone called. I picked up the iron instead of the phone.

D: That’s horrible! But how did you burn the other ear?

W: Can you believe it? The idiot called back!

We can laugh, chuckle, and even roll our eyes, but that is the way of many of us. Preoccupied. Distracted.

Try this: next time someone comes to you wanting your attention, give it to them. Put the book down. Forget that text that just came in. Turn away from the computer. Give people what they want: your undivided attention.

April 24

Thursday, April 25th, 2024

Standing back-to-back.

One of my favorite movies is Gladiator with Russell Crowe playing Maximus Decimus Meridius. At the very beginning of the movie the Roman army, led by Maximus, is fighting the barbarians. The focus goes to Maximus and at one point in the hand-to-hand combat he turns to put his sword through an enemy only to find he is batting back-to-back with one of his own men.

That scene came to my mind as I read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 this morning (I’ve included reading through Ecclesiastes in my daily Bible reading).  “Two people are better off that one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated. But two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”  (NLT) I’ve highlighted the phrase that drew me to that movie scene. That is indicative, in fact, of that whole passage. We cannot and were not meant to do life alone. The one who thinks he/she needs no one is in for a rude awakening.

I know there are those who proudly say, “I can do this without your help.” Little kids are prone  to say that and even push their parents’ hands away with words like, “I can do it.” Maybe. Maybe not. But that is a dangerous philosophy when facing life’s daily grind. No one is an island. And NO ONE can do life alone. One of the most miserable men on the planet was multi-millionaire Howard Hughes who lived as a virtual recluse because he was foolish enough to think he didn’t need or could trust anyone else.

Listen to Ecclesiastes 4: “Two people are better than one…but someone who falls alone is in real trouble…but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.” Find someone you can trust and do life together. Don’t try it alone.

April 23

Wednesday, April 24th, 2024

A fragile (and temporary) peace.

I read recently that on December 30, 1862 the Civil War raged. Union and Confederate troops camped 700 yards apart on opposing sides of Tennessee’s Stones River. As they warmed themselves around campfires, Union soldiers picked up their fiddles and harmonicas and began playing “Yankee Doodle.” In reply, the Confederate soldiers offered “Dixie.” Remarkably, both sides joined for a finale, playing “Home Sweet Home” in unison. Sworn enemies shared music in the dark night, glimmers of an unimaginable peace (Sort of like me playing my rock music and someone else playing country and both of us tolerating the other’s choice). 🙂 The melodic truce was short lived, however. The next morning, they set down their fiddles and picked up their rifles and when it was all said and done 24,645 soldiers died.

Reminds me of the WWII story of the German and British soldiers celebrating Christmas by laying down their weapons, sharing what they had, playing soccer together, exchanging laughs, and acting (and maybe wishing?) like the war was over. You can hear the story in this video.

Peace is fragile, as well as temporary. Try as we may, man will never be able to bring about true or permanent peace. All our treaties. All our papers. All our promises are, in reality, fragile and temporary. Treaties are made to be cast aside. Papers are torn up or burned in rebellion.  Promises are broken. We see it in school/childhood friends. We see it in marriages. We see it in communities. We see it in countries. And yes, we see it in churches.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but true, lasting peace is never found in man’s or men’s promises. And while it may last for a short period, it will never last for long. And certainly not forever. The only personal lasting peace is found in Christ, and the only true peace will be found in God’s new kingdom when Jesus returns and establishes it.

Until then…all efforts of peace are fragile and temporary. But we can still try. It begins with us! As the song says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

April 22

Monday, April 22nd, 2024

“Thanks for the memories.”

A lot can be said when you see the eyes close or the last breath taken as I did when my mother passed. Or a friend. While I did not actually see this happen, I was there within 5 minutes of it. Last Thursday, my friend of 30+ years-my cycling buddy, my laughing buddy, my friend-finally lost his 14 year battle with cancer. But those 14 years were full!

Jim was diagnosed with cancer and was put through the ringer. Surgery. Chemicals. Chemo (which is chemicals). Holistic approach. More chemo. But those 14 years-as were the year before-were filled with skiing, boating, scuba diving, cycling, hunting, fishing-the list seems endless. He once took a whole winter and worked two jobs. One as a paper salesman which he could do remotely, and the other as a hot tub “fixer” in Utah. That allowed him to ski almost daily. 🙂 Jim truly lived life to the max. It was 2-3 short months ago the cancer specialist told him there was nothing more they could do because while on chemo he still developed spots on his liver. It was literally all through him. Even then he lived bravely.  I was able to drive the 150 miles to visit him every other week for 8 weeks. Last Thursday, which I figured would probably be my last visit, Jo and I were 5 minutes away from his home when Tina, his wife, called to say Jim had just passed away. 5 minutes! But now my reason to visit changed. It changed from reminiscing and encouraging my friend to consoling a hurting wife.

Jim would have wanted it that way. His cremains will be spread outdoors because, again, it was a picture of his life. The late Tim Hansel wrote a book called You Gotta Keep Dancin’ (@1985). Tim also live life to the fullest even after a mountain climbing accident led to a lifetime of excruciating pain. He closed out his book with this little ditty:

There is no box made by God nor us but that sides can be flattened out and the top blown off to make a dance floor on which to celebrate life.  (Kenneth Caraway)

Jim danced. Jim is dancing. He knew Jesus. “Thanks for the memories my friend.”

And now to you. What kind of memories will you leave behind?

March 19

Tuesday, March 19th, 2024

I think we have all used or heard a variation of “Who you hang around with is who you become.” There are, of course, all kinds of people.

Some build us up; some tear us down.

Some lift us to keep going; some drag and hinder us.

Some push us to excel and not quit; some pull us back withholding progress.

Some are genuine shoulders to cry on; some are hard as stone and move away from us.

Proverbs 18:24 says, “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.”  (NLT)

Jo and I experienced that last night. After a tough past couple of weeks (which I wrote about here), we spent the evening with friends. By the time we made it to their house, my tough couple of weeks had another brick piled on top. They were a welcome shade tree. After the initial bl-a-a-a-ch of what was going on, we moved on. Went out to eat. Laughed (even raised an eyebrow when Jo ordered something totally different than her normal fare). Went back to their house. Laughed some more. Chuckled at the antics of their dog. Laughed some more. A welcome balm for a scratchy soul. Hugs and “I love you’s” were given and Jo and I were on our way. Richer. Better. Refreshed. And, in some small way, healed. Every time I leave them I tell Jo, “I say it every time but I sure do miss them.” (They used to attend the church I pastor but moved to another city where they attend another fortunate church). I said it again last night…less than a block away.

They know what it’s like to be a friend. A sheltering tree. A shade tree (not the negative use of shade 🙂 ). We love you guys…more than you know. And thanks for the meal at Chili’s. Maybe Jo won’t surprise us all the next time.  🙂 🙂

February 29

Thursday, February 29th, 2024

LEAP YEAR!

The ways of God never cease to amaze me. Who would have known-other than Him-that one of the more horrific times in my life would lead to a friendship that is like “brothers from another mother.”

In November of 2016 I was hit by a hit-n-run driver while riding my bike. It was in the afternoon; I was wearing bright clothing; and I was hit by an SUV’s rearview mirror on my left hip. While I laid in the middle of the highway, I watched as the driver took off, never once putting on a brake or to see if I was okay. (Yeah, I believe it was intentional. There are some idiots on the road. Ask the guy who got so close to me I felt his breeze on my leg then gave me the finger). Anyway…

I had had a little interest in an organization called 3 Feet Please but after this incident my interest ramped up. Its goal is to advocate for 3 feet of distance between car and rider and make it a law. Little did I know the leadership of 3FP had changed from a man in Florida to a man in Arizona. Dave and I struck up an email conversation which graduated to more regular contact. Then one weekend he came to visit. He spent 2 winters in Maine to get out of the heat in AZ (yeah he needs his head examined 🙂 ) and stopped to visit on his way through. There have been multiple other visits, emails, texts, and phone calls until our trip to AZ last week was the icing on the cake.

Both our wives agree we are too much alike in many respects. While I am an extreme extrovert and he’s an introvert whose brain never stops, he knows so much more about certain areas of “life” than me. Our wives would say we are “brothers from another mother.”

As we visited I had decided on the flight there to take an aggressive approach to reading Proverbs. Normally, I take one chapter a day every other month. This time I decided to read the whole book while on vacation, which meant 4 chapters a day. As a result, I read two Scriptures that particularly meant more to me. “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” (Pr. 18:24). The other says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” (Pr. 27:17).

True friendship is hard to find, let alone experience, especially for men. At 71 I can look back and see men I’ve been friends with. That tends to be characteristic of my personality. Except for one, they have all come and gone…more like acquaintances. This friendship with Dave is special. Sort of like David and Jonathan’s. We are good for each other.  Our wives agree-even though we can be a bit wacky and off the wall.

I thank God for a much-needed and much-appreciated friendship. Do you have one you can lean on?

February 28

Wednesday, February 28th, 2024

We are back! After a 7-day excursion to Gilbert, Phoenix, Sedona, Scottsdale, and the Grand Canyon, we arrived safely home last night…a 1/2 hour early and ahead of the storm (that didn’t come until around 2:00 a.m.). I suspect you may  be expecting a “book” from me about all the stops and shopping and sights…but words fail me. Surprise! Surprise!

Thanks to the graciousness of a friend and his very longsuffering wife, 🙂  Jo and I had the vacation many people dream of. Having the freedom of a car at our disposal allowed us the ability to just come and go. I had a chance on Thursday to meet a long time blogging friend, Floyd, in Scottsdale where Jo and I were treated to lunch (against my protests). We had some of the best pulled pork I have ever tasted, as well as some of the best BBQ sauce, along with the added enjoyment of meeting Dave and Susan’s family and extended family. We spent two nights in Sedona where the stories of the vortex and the center of the hippie/New Age Movement was/is focused. I stayed away from the psychics, etc. 🙂 We took a 5 hour round trip to the Grand Canyon where I felt like I was going to be blown away by a very chilly 20 mph wind and with the grandeur of God’s creation on display. The only words I could think of were “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display His craftsmanship.” (Ps.19:1)  “When I look at the night and see the work of Your fingers-the moon and stars you set in place-what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” (Ps. 8:3-4)  But it wasn’t just the Grand Canyon! Camelback Mountain. “Snoopy Rock.” Tea Pot Rock. Red Rock City. So much more.

You know what I’m praying? That the wonder doesn’t go away. May I be ever mindful of the wonder of God’s creation, the joy of new things, and the value of friendships that will last well into eternity, even when separated by thousands of miles in distance. 

Thank you Dave and Susan for the gift of your friendship and the once in a lifetime trip. And “Thank You, Father, for the incredible display of your creative genius.”

{Note: All Scripture from the New Living Translation}

February 14

Wednesday, February 14th, 2024

Have you ever noticed that there are typically two kinds of people dealing with Valentine’s Day? There are those to love it. They go all out-flowers, cards, eating out (or cooking a candlelight dinner…since when?). On the other hand are those who loathe the day. Love has left them high and dry. Disappointed. Broken.

Disregarding the love/loathe feelings, the idea behind the day-expressing love-is a good one (although it has become a tad bit too cheesy and commercial).

The very first date Jo and I went on was back in 1971, near the end of our freshman year in college. I borrowed a car and we were off to another town to see the movie everyone was raving about-Love Story-starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. Without researching it I couldn’t tell you much about the movie except 3 things: 1) Ali was a beautiful woman; 2) I think she was dying; and 3) one of the stupidest statements about love came from that movie. That saying was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Say what? If that’s the case I’ve just wasted 50+ years of being married to the same woman! If I had a dollar for every time I have had to say, “I’m sorry” I could retire and live off the interest! I realize there are bullies and arrogant people who either blame others consistently or cannot look in the mirror and admit they make mistakes. But seriously? Never?

Love is an elusive definition. The Apostle Paul described love in perhaps the most recognized Scripture and description. He described love as being kind, patient, not jealous, not proud, not demanding, not a record-keeper, not a “rejoicer” in wrong but a “rejoicer” in truth. But even that falls short when you consider a cross on a hill when the perfect Lover gave His life for all people so sin can be defeated and death vanquished.

He never had to say, “I’m sorry.” But we who look at that cross should fall to our knees in tears and repentance with those two words flowing from our lips: “I’m sorry my sin put you there.”

After all, “No greater love has a man than this than a man lay down his life for his friends.” Happy real Valentine’s Day.

February 12

Monday, February 12th, 2024

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It is now part of what is being called President’s Day which is a celebration on February 19th, a conglomerate of Lincoln’s birthday and Washington’s birthday (22nd). I can remember when we used to celebrate them separately. Now I can’t even remember when that changed. Perhaps that happened when we got all “revisionist history?” I don’t know. My post today is not going to go down that rabbit trail.

Instead, Abraham Lincoln was known for making wise statements. I’d like to take a brief look at two of them.

One actually finds it roots in the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Lincoln once said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” Those words are very similar to those found in Proverbs 17:28.

The other is a bit more confrontive. With the Civil War spawning bitter feelings all across our country, Abe saw fit to speak a kind word about the south. A shocked bystander asked him how he could do that. His answer was poignant: “Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friend?”

Jesus once said, “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt. 5:43). “If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If you are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will reap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the Lord will reward you.” (Pr. 25:21-22).

Instead of responding tit for tat, let’s respond as Jesus has told us, and as Proverbs has encouraged us to. There is power in our actions…or inaction.

{Note: All Scripture is from the New Living Translation}