Friendship

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December 15

Thursday, December 15th, 2022

This is a hard devotion to write. It’s hard because I know not everyone can celebrate Christmas. I’m not talking about the Jewish person whose disbelief in Messiah stops them. I’m not talking about the atheist whose disbelief in a God speaks volumes. I’m not talking about the progressive politician and activist whose desire for vengeance, violent rhetoric, and anarchy shoots the whole idea of a defenseless baby in a manger who makes a difference in the foot. I’m not talking about the greedy secularist whose only reason for the season is to line his/her pockets.

I’m speaking of someone else. I’m speaking of the one whose holiday is haunted by ugly memories of past Christmases. I’m also speaking about those who have already talked to me this holiday season (started with Thanksgiving) to whom the holiday season is a time of hurt, anguish and loneliness wrapped in grief because of the loss of a loved one. (This song speaks of the reminder a holiday can bring.  And yes, it speaks of lost love but the sentiment can be applied to most cases. The lyrics are under the song in Show More if you have trouble understanding…which I don’t think you will).

I’ve had several conversations with people who are facing the Christmas season with an emptiness in their heart. They are facing the holiday without someone they love. The first of every one is the hardest. But even though time moves on and the wound begins to heal, the hurt is still there. The ache and loneliness never leaves.

One family told me yesterday they are helping out a family of 9 with Christmas because they believe their son/grandson/nephew, etc would like that. They are doing it in his honor. That is a phenomenal idea! There may be no better way to deal with hurt than to do something for someone else in honor of one you love.

My heart goes out to those who face this holiday with hurt. Do you know someone who needs a little love this Christmas? Take some of your time to give yourself away. Not only will it be meaningful to them, you will find a satisfaction in your heart you may have never felt before.

And remember the ONE who know your hurt or the ONE whom you can share.

October 31

Monday, October 31st, 2022

Have you ever noticed how some people hide well? Some do it on purpose. They don’t want to be seen. Anonymous is the best way.  There is both good and bad in that.

There are also those who like to labor behind the scenes. Unseen by many, each week they do “their thing.” Teach children. Work in a nursery. Safety and security. Work the sound board. Do Power Point. Clean up afterwards. Collect garbage. The list could go on.

They like it that way. They want it that way. Praise and accolades is not why they do what they do.

Just before kickoff at Super Bowl XLIII, Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals received the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award-a tribute to the player who had best combined on-field excellence with off-field community service. It represents a commitment to giving and sacrificing to others.

Paying homage to those who serve is not a new concept. It isn’t that they clamor for it. A servant doesn’t do that. One who serves does just that: serves. Jesus once said, “I came not be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” He becomes the example the servant follows.

But every once in a while it is nice to be “seen” and recognized. Have you taken the time to let a volunteer know how much you appreciate what they have done?  If not, take the time today to drop them a note, text them, call them, or take them out to eat as a treat and a thank you.

You will be glad you did.

October 25

Tuesday, October 25th, 2022

Have you ever heard of Thomas Barnado? No? Well, I think it is time you did.

Thomas Barnado entered the London Hospital medical School in 1865, dreaming of life as a medical missionary in China. Barnado soon discovered a desperate need in his own front yard-the many homeless children living and dying in the streets of London. Barnado determined to do something about this horrendous situation. Developing homes for destitute children in London’s east end, Barnado rescued some 60,000 boys and girls from poverty and possible death. Theologian and pastor John Stott said, “Today we might call him the patron saint of street kids.”

Barnado is obviously an example of someone who put feet to his faith.

But what gets to me even more is who the recipients of his faith in action were. Children.  He became a person of refuge, one who sets up place of refuge for children.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote, “Friendship is a sheltering tree.” I spent time yesterday with a friend. We rode 17 miles on our bikes, mostly talking. (As Jo would say, “Imagine that.”)  He was gracious to slow down his pace for this old man (he is 47…I am not). 🙂 And then when a hill loomed in front of us we went for a short bit then he graciously turned around when I told him I’d had enough.  There is still a definite lack of strength after the back surgery. Maybe another day, another time, but yesterday was not that day or that time. 🙂  I told him it was the fist time, except when I rode with him a little over a month ago, that I have ridden with another person is easily two years.

I miss the friendship. It has continued but distance prevents a more constant contact. I miss the conversation. I miss the camaraderie.  He’s doing well in many areas of his life. Other than excelling in his walk with Jesus, he is really doing super at being a sheltering tree.

How about you? Are you someone’s sheltering tree?

September 20

Tuesday, September 20th, 2022

Have you ever noticed how there are some people who seem to want to be left alone? They don’t need or want any help. They can do it on their own.

Even children.

Who of us has not seen a child rebuff a parent’s help? Moms try to dress their child only for them to say, “I can do it myself.” Not really, but how can one argue with a determined child?

That carries on as the person gets older. They don’t want any help with homework. With solving a problem. With a relationship.

There are also those who just want no human intervention or interaction. Granted, there are time we all need space. But I’m talking about those who prefer to be alone…most of the time, if not permanently. I visited an old friend the other day. I hadn’t seen or heard from him since he dropped off the planet in, I’m guessing, 8 years. I went to his house to say hi and his reaction was sort of rude, to say the least. When I said hi, his words were, “Bill, what are doing here?”  I said, “I was going through a file looking for some papers for a bike rack I was giving (_______) and I came across some papers for the bike hitch you bought for me back in 2012. Your address was there as well as your phone number and email address. I tried the phone and email and they both came back so I thought I would drop by and say hi. I have no agenda. Just to say hi.” His words? “I find that hard to believe (referring to me not having an agenda).”  I even sent him a note this past week reiterating that.

He prefers to live as a hermit with his brother. Sad.  Someday maybe he will realize his need for a friend. But truthfully, some want to be loners.

Tragically, there are Christ-followers who want to be left alone. They want to hide who they really are. Masks weren’t just for COVID. Loners cut themselves off from others, especially from fellow Christ-followers. Whether it is pride or fear or distrust, who knows?

But no follower of Jesus can survive on his/her own.

Principle #7: Loners lose their way; trust the guidance of those who love you enough to tell you the truth.

Are you willing to trust others?

July 14

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

The last couple of evenings I have been reading a book called A Rebel’s Manifesto by Sean McDowell. Sean’s dad is Josh McDowell, one of the very first apologists I ever heard of. He wrote the early classic Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Sean’s book is mainly geared to young people who must make decisions concerning life, worldview, etc, but I am learning it is a very valuable book for adults as well.

In chapter 4, which he entitles Think Christianly, Sean talks about his dad being his hero. He remembers his dad making a statement which still has a profound affect on him:

When you read an article or book always discern the assumptions of the person who wrote it. Their assumptions will shape everything they write.

That is so true! It is called a worldview. As I read Neil Shenvi’s book, Why Believe, (very slowly I might add), every quote, every idea, is coming from a specific worldview. Naturalism. Secular humanism. Existentialism. Atheist. Theist. How we look at the things of God all flow from our own worldview.

I have a Christian worldview (and won’t apologize for it), so everything I look at will be seen through that filter. I will navigate my world through that map. I will look at current events, everyday happenings, sickness, trials, etc. through that map. That is why it is so important for me-for you- to have the mind of Christ (Col. 3: 1-2). See things through the lens of Christ. Not only does it affect how I see things BUT it also affects how I interact with people who may or may not agree with me or my worldview. Moral differences come from different worldviews.

But here is another truth: each person has dignity and despite their worldview-different or the same-they are to be treated with respect and a listening ear. I can listen without compromise or without “dissing” them.

Hold fast. Listen well. Treat with respect. No compromise.

April 4

Monday, April 4th, 2022

As part of my ongoing posts about lessons from Wisdom Hunter I want to leave you with this one this morning:

The local church should be more than just a preaching station where people come and sit front-to-back as spectators, and listen to a one hour lecture before returning home.  It should be a spiritual support group where Christians get into one another’s lives. (p.249)

I realize as a pastor that flies in the face of what I do on a Sunday morning, but I do agree with it. Due to the church culture I work in, it would, or probably could, be detrimental to change things on Sunday morning. To divide into groups of 5-10 and scatter around the auditorium to pray or to talk about what you have heard may sound like a good idea, but there is a time and place for something like that. In our case, Sunday morning is not it. Now…if it is a retreat or a small group then by all means.  Another possibility is if it has been part of the church culture from the very beginning of the church’s birth, that may work.

But I also agree that there does need to be some interaction. Frankly, except for small groups meeting on other nights and using the sermon as a jumping off point, I’m not sure I have an answer. In fact, I know I don’t. Look in my eyes and see a big “L” for Lost on that topic.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any idea how we can change our church culture to be more participation-oriented than spectator-oriented? I would like to hear your ideas.

{NOTE: This will be my last post until Thursday morning this week. Jo and I left for Ohio right after the second worship service was over to spend the evening with our family there. We also plan to visit her sister in a nursing home in Sandusky on Monday, then stay to watch Braden play a game both Monday and Tuesday night (weather permitting). Lord willing, I plan to be back home on Wednesday in plenty of time for my Wednesday night “66” class.  I will post another devotion on Thursday morning. My plan to post ahead of time didn’t work out.  🙂 }

March 1

Tuesday, March 1st, 2022

Have you ever noticed that sometimes simple is best? You go into a restaurant and you are hungry for a cheeseburger. But many restaurants don’t have just a cheeseburger. They have a double cheese with bacon, avocado, onion, BBQ sauce…okay the whole kitchen sink. Its so sloppy you spend more time wiping your hands and mouth and beard (if applicable), or your shirt that you can’t even taste the cheeseburger.

I like wings-boneless- thank you very much. I don’t like them hot. I know one restaurant with so many sauces one can’t make up their mind. And to top it off they have a 3 or 5 alarm sauce. No thank you. I want to enjoy my wings. Carolina Gold with some Ranch on the side sounds really good about now.  Oops its only 5:15 a.m. 🙂

The book of Philemon-which I read this morning- is like that. Simple. To the point. People love Romans and the prison epistles that Paul wrote. I do too. But sometimes a simple message is enough. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who ran away.  Somewhere along the line he was converted under Paul’s ministry and Paul wanted to honor Philemon by doing what was right-he offered Onesimus back to him. He could have ordered Philemon to take him (v.8), but instead he appealed to him as a friend and a lover of Jesus (v.9). If Philemon didn’t want Onesimus, Paul did!  But he wanted Philemon’s consent (v.14).

Simple. Direct. Loving. Respectful. Paul shows us how it is done. Friendship is worth preserving no matter your lot in life. No matter your likes or dislikes.

“Father, friendship is so important. Thank you for this postcard by Paul to show us how it is done. May I be a friend who is loving and respectful in all things.”

February 15

Tuesday, February 15th, 2022

I was just told last night-the eve of Valentine’s Day-that today is Singles Awareness Day. The moniker-SAD-is not a good one. I know that VD is not the favorite of many, especially those who are single. Whether by a conscious choice of their own volition or a choice they had no control over, it is a day which makes them think they are not valuable. God says differently.  But that is another subject for another time.

After reading the Feb. 15 devotion of New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp, I was left with some thoughts. They give rise to the idea that being single is not a good idea. Hear me out, please, before you want to hunt me down and “shoot me like a duck.” Movie reference there. 🙂

His thoughts first: There are two lies Adam and Eve believed.

  1. The lie of autonomy. This lie says we are independent beings with the right to live as we wish.
  2. The lie of self-sufficiency. I have everything I need within myself to be what I was created to be and to do what I was designed to do.

My thoughts: the idea of individualism still permeates our thinking today. We still believe the ancient lie that we are enough. Take those lies apart and look at them individually.

  1. The lie of autonomy. I need no one else and you can’t tell me what to do. I make up my own rules and I can believe and do as I want. Can you say our culture as a whole? Can you say progressive Christianity? No rules. I’ll do as I please.
  2. The lie of self-sufficiency. “You have it within yourself.” Sounds like the gobbledygook of Oprah, et al. Sounds like the self-help movement. Sounds like the prosperity gospel.

Both are lies from the pit of hell. It is okay to be single-single in life and single-minded. It is not okay to be autonomous and self-sufficient and think as a Christ-follower you need no one else.

What do you think?

“Father, help me to see and remember I need others. I am not an island devoid of human interaction and relationships. And help me to never think I don’t need You.”

January 13

Thursday, January 13th, 2022

I once had a pastor (a mentor early in my ministry) tell me to never get close to anyone in the church I serve. In other words, don’t have or make friends. Say what?

I can tell you that did not work with me. I am a naturally gregarious person. I laugh a lot. I can be too loud at times. But one thing I need and want is friends. I broke his rule. In just about every church I have served I have gotten close to someone. Sure, there have been occasions where it came back to bite me in the butt, but the friendships I do have and are still ongoing are special to me.

There’s Doug. A college friend who still meets with me 2-3 times/year at a place in between where we live for pizza. For now it requires over a 2 hour drive for me. But it is worth it. A thousand times over.  Granted, he is the exception to the church “rule”.

There’s Jim. I met Jim over a common “like”-he liked to ride bikes. We have pedaled many miles together. His cancer and relocation and his retirement has made it tough but we still try to get together. I’ve known Jim since the 90s.

There’s Ryan. I met him in 2007 after he corresponded with one of our men about the church after seeing us online. They were moving to this area and so we corresponded by email first and I was able to welcome he and his family to OVCF and to the area.  Our first time as families was lunch at Chicago’s pizza buffet in the town they lived in at the time. It became one of many Sunday lunches after church as our friendship was cemented. He had to move about 45 minutes away several years ago but Jo and I still get together with them.

Friendship is amazing! Have you ever looked at Jesus’ friendship with people? He spent time with the strangest people- a tax collector, a prostitute, a leper, an immoral woman (Jn.4).  It didn’t matter because a friendship with Jesus meant a changed life.  There is verse after verse in Proverbs which talks about the value of friendship.  Even Jesus mentioned its importance.  “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

I know my life has been richer and fuller because of my friends. I pray it has been reciprocal. 

“Father, we sing a song about Jesus being the friend of sinners. Help to follow His example, all for the purpose of enriching someone’s life.”

LOVE GOD DEEPER…WORSHIP HIM MORE

December 9

Thursday, December 9th, 2021

Am I alone? I think not. Here is why I ask that. In fact, I’ll answer that with a question:

Why is it that for many of us, Christmas is a mixed blessing?

I suspect some of you are saying, “What? What in the world is Bill asking that for?” Hang in there with me.

While I will smile and laugh and be jovial, there will be those who are sad, will cry, and feel as thought their heart will break.

While I will receive some gifts (I have, after all, been very good) 🙂  there will be those who will receive nothing.

While I will hopefully spend time with family and friends, there will be those who have no family or friends and will be alone.

While I will be warm and “snug and a bug in a rug” at night, there will be those who will shiver and long for a warm bed or fire.

You get my drift now? Happy. Sad. Laughter. Tears. A mixed bag. I realize life is like that. I’m not telling you anything your don’t already know. But while I am experiencing all the good of the season, there are those who have been forgotten, are forgotten, or long for what maybe once was.

The tragedy is that I’m not really sure what to do about it. I don’t live in a big town that has a homeless population or even a home for those on the street. So let me turn it to you: what do you suggest? Do you have this same dilemma? What is your solution? I’m open for suggestions.

“Father, help me not to close my eyes to the plight of others. Give me wisdom to see with Your eyes what others need.”