friendship

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Nevertheless

Published July 26, 2017 by Dawn

“Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love” (1 Kings 11:2).

Solomon had a problem: he loved women. He loved all women from all kinds of nationalities and many times, he took them home with him. He made alliances with other nations through marriage, and get this … he had seven hundred wives! You can add them to his 300 concubines, and Solomon had a colossal problem. One thousand women in his life!

Did you notice the “nevertheless”? It’s referring to the previous verse, in which the writer explains that God had warned the Israelites against intermarrying with other nations because their idol worship would lead them away from God. Nevertheless Solomon married nearly every woman who caught his eye, or conscripted her to his harem for his own pleasure without putting a ring on it, because he could and because he wanted to.

I woke up super early this morning, so I picked up my Bible for companionship. I began reading where I left off, but I didn’t get very far. I kept coming back to this verse.  “Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.” It kept beckoning me back, so I began to meditate on it. Why is this particular verse nagging at me? What is it trying to get at in me, and why can’t I just get past it and move on? Finally, I prayed. Lord, what is it? Why is this verse taking up so much space in my heart and mind right now?

It was the nevertheless.

God had spoken to His people. His children. He had given them direction – a warning, really – because He loved them and didn’t want them to have to endure a lot of unwarranted heartache. He wanted them to be wholly devoted to Him and He wanted them to have His favor and blessing. Solomon, their king, specifically asked God for wisdom and gained that and so much more. He was recognized as the wisest of all men, and his kingdom was the richest and most prosperous kingdom on earth at that time. But then it happened: the nevertheless.

Solomon, despite his wisdom and the favor he enjoyed from God, let his own desires (or weakness, if you will) come before the will of God for his life. Not only his own, but also the lives of all the Israelites. He married unscrupulously and his wives led his heart astray into idol worship. He built shrines for other gods in the land and then, the whole country began to believe that such idol worship was acceptable. Solomon’s sin in defying God had very far-reaching consequences and affected so many people. He probably did not intend to create such a catastrophe in Israel, but when the smoke cleared, his waywardness had led astray an entire nation and would eventually lead to the downfall of his kingdom. There was a lot on the line and Solomon shrugged it all off. Nevertheless.

It’s a word that signifies a stubborn self-will. A will that has decided, in spite of the wisdom of God inside, or even the word of God on a matter, to have its own way instead of His. Nevertheless represents the will of a person bent on his or her own satisfaction and gratification, despite God having already had a say in the matter. Nevertheless was Eve taking the fruit, eating and giving to Adam to sample. It was millions of people ignoring the prophets, giving way to the flood in Noah’s time, and the fire in Lot’s. It led to the captivity of an entire nation over and over again because they had no regard for the Lord or His expressed desire for them. Nevertheless led Jesus to the cross, and is still leading people away from God over 2000 years later. It has taken over churches, families, and cultures entirely.

Have you recognized it yet, in your own life? It’s there, friend. We all have a nevertheless. We all have a will of our own, bent on destruction unless completely surrendered to God. It might not seem that way at first. Surely Solomon never thought his lack of fidelity to one woman or one nationality would lead to such chaos. But his infidelity in marriage mirrored his infidelity to God. Just as he was not satisfied with one woman, he was not satiated in his relationship with God either. But it wasn’t God’s fault, it was his own. God promised to be with him just as He was with David. Solomon didn’t have the same heart as his father. David’s heart desired God above all else; Solomon’s loved women.

What is it that you love above God? What desire have you placed before His will? What self-knowledge have you exalted above the wisdom of the Word of God? Know this: your story will have a nevertheless. I do not write this in judgment, but rather in fear and humility. I have experienced my own already. I tremble to think what my own self might decide at any point, and steer me away from God’s will for my life. I watch my life closely because I know the power of my own heart and my naïve willingness to blindly follow feelings instead of God. I have caught myself in the middle of rebellion before. I know this, though: it doesn’t have to be that way. God would prefer it not be that way, and eventually so do we.

There’s only one way to avoid the error, and that is on our knees. Prayer enlightens us to the depths of our own sinful natures, and our wayward desires. Prayer awakens us to our need of God. Prayer enables us to admit our faults, and lay down our pride. Prayer makes crooked ways straight and hardened hearts flesh again. Prayer is the only way to destroy the commitment we’ve made to our own flesh. Prayer is the only way to avoid nevertheless.

Dear Holy Father,

You know us. Thank you. You know us better than we know ourselves, for you have made us and we are yours. Your ways are higher than ours and often, because we cannot see what you see and understand what you know, we follow our own weak vision and near-sighted understanding of things. We follow our deceitful hearts and end up making a mess of things where your Will would have done something redemptive and holy. We’re a mess, Lord. Please forgive our waywardness and the way we jump so quickly into our own actions. Help us to pray. To linger in prayer until we know your Will. Help us to obey your Word and your Will as you give us understanding of it. Give us an increased measure of faith to drown out our fear. We long to walk in your ways.

Have your way, Lord. We love you.

Amen.

Judas is Alive and Well

Published June 23, 2017 by Dawn

“Then Jesus said also unto the twelve, ‘Will you also go away?” (John 6:66-71)

Am I the only one who reads this and immediately asks, “Why didn’t Judas go then?” He had an out, and obviously no fidelity to Christ, so why didn’t he take this opportunity to turn away? I’ve spent hours studying this and I think it’s because Judas had access through his relationship to Jesus, to something that greatly benefitted him. His image, and thereby his ego: He was the keeper of the purse … and he was a thief (John 12:6).

I can’t imagine he was comfortable in his position. After all, Jesus alluded to him early on by saying that one of them was a devil (John 6:70). Did this memory ever prick Judas? Did it come to mind as he reached into the purse while no one was looking? Did he remember Jesus calling him out while he stood in the shadow of the synagogue waiting for his thirty pieces of silver?

Obviously, Judas was a snake in the grass all along. I mean, I imagine when Jesus sat down to eat with Pharisees, Judas sneered and jeered right along with them. We get a glimpse of his true colors when Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with precious perfume … Judas couldn’t imagine a bigger waste. “Why wasn’t this sold and the money given to the poor?” He couldn’t stand her devotion to Christ, but he covered his hatred with a piety that likely caused division in the room. His comment likely sowed seeds of distaste among everyone there. After all, the poor were a Godly consideration, were they not? Her humble way of honoring Christ was disputed and I can’t help but wonder if Judas leaned back at every table they supped to with his arms across his chest waiting for an opportunity to condemn the graciousness of God for the sake of the law.

Unable to shake his disapproval, Judas eventually stood in the outer court and pilfered Jesus out to the highest bidder. He was willing to deliver this man who called him friend. Why? Satan had entered him. How can Satan enter someone who is walking next to Jesus every day? All he needs is an opportunity, it seems. Judas provided that opportunity by esteeming his position and his access more than he esteemed his Lord. His rebellious nature was evident in the way he questioned Jesus instead of rejoicing with him. He welcomed Satan by refusing to submit to Christ as his sovereign Lord. To him, Jesus was a man. A man he hardly valued. Thirty pieces is a small price to exchange for eternal life and everlasting love, but Judas took it and betrayed Jesus with a kiss.

Let’s pause here and notice the kiss: Judas betrayed Jesus, but still acted like his friend up until the very end. I have thought about this part all day long. How did Jesus respond to this betrayal? I reflected on it first by asking, “How would I?” My immediate response would have been to steel myself against the blow; act as if the crushing weight of it hadn’t affected me at all. As I thought about this, I realized that this approach is the place bitterness firsts digs in. When I have been betrayed, my response is to ignore the feeling of it. But the result is not what I imagine it should be: with every memory, the pain hits me fresh and I have to bury those feelings again. No, Jesus did not respond like that because such a response inhibits immediate forgiveness. To feel such betrayal is sometimes unbearable, but I have intentionally felt betrayal, to see what can be done and there’s only one thing: to cast that upon the Lord (1 Peter 5:7), or be crushed by it. I know this is what Jesus did. It’s very scriptural. He felt the betrayal wholly and then cast it immediately upon his Father so he could stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13). After casting betrayal on the Lord, His help enabled me to forgive, and I know Jesus immediately forgave Judas for hurting him because holding on to hatred is sin and Christ was without sin (1 John 3:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

As Christians, we will be exposed to the person of Judas in one of two ways – I won’t exclude the possibility that we can be exposed to both.

Firstly, we can be a Judas, loving the office in God’s house more than we love God. Loving the attention and the access more than we love and honor our Heavenly Father. We can be Judas by hating in our hearts those in the church who display any kind act toward Jesus, and justifying our hatred by drawing attention to the folly that often accompanies their efforts because God knows how to humble people. We can be a Judas by betraying Christ, or his workmen, by something as seemingly innocuous as slander or undue suspicion. God’s children do well to cultivate self-control under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, to avoid doing harm to His Son!

Secondly, we can be exposed to Judas through others. Every church has a Judas, and every individual will know one. Here, we have to lean upon the example of Christ. Jesus allowed him the money bag. His thievery was evident to all but ultimately, between him and God. Jesus allowed him to self-implode. Judas no doubt experienced deep conviction while traveling with Christ. Jesus was holy and shared a message of righteousness. Judas had opportunity to repent, but embraced his sin instead. Jesus let him. Jesus didn’t turn away from Judas’ kiss, which I am sure made the impact of Judas’ betrayal all the heavier to bear. Jesus heaped the burning coals (Romans 12:20); he didn’t respond to betrayal with hatred in like manner. Jesus defended the innocent from Judas’ charge, but he didn’t berate Judas or publicly humiliate him.

Jesus was (and is) in all ways gracious to everyone, including Judas. This means two things to us: God’s grace will forgive the Judas in us, and we should be gracious when hurt by the Judas in our lives. This much I know is true: Judas is here to test and betray us. Jesus calls him the devil (John 6:70), and the devil “has come to steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). However, Beloved, Satan could not defeat Christ, and he cannot defeat those who are completely surrendered to Jesus and sheltered by the Almighty! Don’t be Judas, and don’t be defeated by him either.

Who Among Us

Published March 25, 2016 by Dawn

I had an attitude the moment I pulled onto the church parking lot and saw her car. After months of sporadic church attendance, she was back for praise and worship practice, and I was indignant. How could she stand so easily before God, and lead the church in worship, covered in the sin of her everyday life? A life and a sin she wouldn’t readily admit to the church, but I knew because she was my friend.

I immediately began to pray. I knew my heart and my attitude were wrong, but I couldn’t shake the shame and distaste I felt toward her. The righteous indignation welling up in me would certainly hinder my pursuit of Christ if I was not delivered of it before the service began. So I brought all my feelings to the foot of the cross, repented of them and sought healing in it. And the Lord said something so profound to me.

“Would you rather she be living in condemnation?”

I looked up to see her smiling and laughing with the others on the platform, and my heart broke. Because I think Jesus just asked me a rhetorical question, and the answer shamed me; she was. Not His, but my own.

I marveled at her faith, which seemed so much more mature than my own. I had groveled before the Lord for years, sure that I was not good enough to be forgiven, and thus, forever bound to my past shame. Identified by it. Remembered for it. Every unanswered prayer a painful reminder, a sure statement of the Lord’s disapproval of me. A disapproval I felt through the eyes of people in the church for years. Through their words, through their actions. Through their inactions, or their complete disregard.

Yet here I sat, guilty before the Lord of hating my best friend in my heart. Hating her as I sat in a judgment seat of my own making. A pedestal I created for myself, which I know was my own making because Christ knocked me off if it with His gentle reproach. My judgment was nothing more than an indication of my own pride and religious snobbery. She was good enough for Jesus, yet not good enough for me?

Whoa! I had somehow seated myself above Christ. And realized the danger of my position.

I prayed for forgiveness. First for the way I had treated her, and then for the way I had treated my Lord. By despising her, I had despised His sacrifice. I had created a standard for her to live up to, and thus nullified His death on the cross as her means of salvation and forgiveness. I had created something unholy and unrealistic, and had she known my heart at that moment, she may have slipped irretrievably into a pit of self-loathing and hatred and bitterness. Instead, she knew Christ, and fell into His arms.

Thank you, Lord, for your endless compassion. For your love that fails not. For forgiveness. For your grace. For understanding us and dealing with us in redemptive ways.

I share this because it is not just my sin, but the sin of the church. The way we treat each other. Who of us knows the depths and heights God has brought people from, that we should judge their proximity to Christ, or their own spiritual attainment of righteousness? Who holds the measuring line, that we may measure the sincerity of one Christian over another? Who sits above Christ, who himself stooped down to lift us to our feet? Who among us has not sinned?

Pursuing Him with a Smile

Published February 6, 2016 by Dawn

 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)”

I have decided to not be passive about my relationship with the Lord, and committed myself to actively pursuing Him. But my decision was hasty and I realized right away that I didn’t know really what that even meant. What does it mean to pursue Jesus? I mean, I read my Bible and I pray, but what does it look like to really make an effort to catch His eye. This verse was a rather immediate reply to my inquiry. I asked the Holy Spirit how I can pursue Jesus in the most practical sense, and this is what He said to me. But His wisdom came with a visual that surprised me: it was a simple smile.

A smile is one of the most basic forms of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication accounts for 70% of a conversation … Seventy percent! That’s a whole lot of saying something without saying it, isn’t it? But truth be known, people make me nervous, and I really struggle to interact with them. That may come as a surprise given how easy I make it look sometimes, but I pray about most of my interactions before they happen, and plead for the Holy Spirit’s help when I know it’s coming. Honestly, I’d rather not make eye contact, and have no idea how to have a real conversation without some divine intervention. It’s awkward. I’m awkward … see?

I read somewhere of a man who was on his way to jump off of a bridge. He was done with life and decided to test fate: if one person smiled at him on the way to the bridge, he’d turn around and not commit suicide. To maximize his opportunities for a change of heart, he walked toward the bridge, passing so many people on the way. No one smiled. No one even acknowledged him. So when he got there, he jumped. Heaven spared his life. He told this story to illustrate how important our interactions with others can be, even if it’s just a smile. We could save lives!

With this new revelation in mind, I took to smiling this week, and it’s amazing what kind of doors open up, and how easily friendships develop. And how much I actually like my coworkers! I have really enjoyed seeing other people smile in response. Seeing their faces light up. And knowing that with each smile I give, I am really giving them unto Jesus, the Lover of my Soul. That’s something worth smiling about.

Unrequited Love

Published September 21, 2014 by Dawn

I’m in love with him. I’m not admitting anything he doesn’t already know. He knows. I don’t know what it means to him, but for now, it’s not been reciprocated. My Father is holding my heart well in this. But yesterday, something shattered my peace and fortitude: he told me he’d been diagnosed with cancer. Oh dear God, help me.

I’m not afraid for his life. I believe God has plans for him. Cancer can’t have him. I know he’ll make it through. But I am in anguish over the battle to come. Cancer is an unforgiving foe, relentless and cruel. I’ve watched the enemy beat him up for years in many different ways, but I feel like the battle just intensified quite drastically, and all the sudden, I wish I could do something besides pray!

Don’t get me wrong, I know prayer is the most powerful thing we can do for each other. But I’m thinking of things more practical. After all, who will be with him in the season ahead? Who will comfort him with good food and reasons to laugh when he needs it most? Who will encourage him when he feels weak? Who will hold his hand and cry with him? Who will kiss his tears and hold him when he’s feeling fragile? Who will be strong for him? Who will take care of him, take care of his house and his needs? I’m sure there are others who can and will, but something is awakening in me that so desperately desires to be that person in this season of his life.

I took all this to the foot of the cross yesterday. I poured out my anguish before the Lord, trying to be released from the burden of these questions and I said, “Lord, help me! I’m in love with someone who needs me, but doesn’t want me.” And Jesus came, wrapped His arms around me and said, “Me too.”

 

Do you love me?

Published March 21, 2014 by Dawn

“Do you love me?”

Jesus’ first recorded words to Peter after the resurrection must have cut Peter like a knife. After all, Peter had followed Christ from the first day of His ministry. Peter knew, before anyone else confidently accepted the truth, that Jesus was the Son of God. Peter was transformed from an impulsive, emotionally reactive fisherman to a Rock. But when Jesus’ worst hour came, Peter had wavered in his faith and convictions. He denied even knowing Christ.

After the crucifixion, Peter decided to go back to fishing. His zeal was gone, his hopes dashed. He was done. He stood and declared to the others, “I am going fishing.” And he took off with them trailing behind him. Obviously, he was a leader even then, but he was headed in the wrong direction. And in that direction, they all met with failure and fatigue. They fished all night and got nothing. They couldn’t even successfully do what they had done their entire lives before Christ. Their efforts were useless.

Then, a man called to them from the shore, “Cast your nets over the right side!” When they obeyed, they brought in so many fish, they could hardly manage the nets or the boat. While the others pulled in the net, Peter stood staring. He was taking a hard look at the man on the shore. Something about His voice, His mannerisms … something caught Peter’s attention and he just knew: it was Christ!

Peter abandoned it all. He jumped over the side of the boat, splashing his bewildered friends and started swimming, leaving their indignation behind to get to Christ. Peter needed to be with Him.

When he got to the shore, Jesus had already started a fire and was working up a meal. Jesus stood, motioned to Peter and they began to walk. Relief must have flooded Peter that Jesus did not accuse Him  or even bring up the betrayal. But when Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” Peter was hurt. “Of course, Lord. You know I do.” As if once were not enough, Jesus asked a second and third time, “Do you love me?” And Peter must have paused to wonder at Jesus’ persistent question.  Why is He asking me over and over?

It is one thing to say we love Jesus. It is quite another to love Him. Jesus was asking Peter to examine himself, to ask that painful question: do I really love Him? Do I love Him, or what He does? Do I love Him, or the crowd that surrounds me when I follow Him? Do I love Him or do I love the opportunity to speak on His behalf? Do I want to be His friend or His heir? His heir receives simply by terms of His Will, but His friend … there’s a close personal connection going on there, where receiving becomes a joy, but not a requirement of the relationship. Do I love Him, or do I just love myself so much I want as much as I can get from Him?

“Do you love me?”

Count the Cost

Published October 13, 2013 by Dawn

“…then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. (Ruth 1:14)”

Naomi was on her way back home. A widow with nothing left to look forward to and hoping that her extended family back in Bethlehem would take care of her in her old age. Before she left, she attempted to convey her love to her daughters-in-law by releasing them back to their families, not wanting to take them so far away from their loved ones. Naomi also knew the walk home would be rough and dangerous. It was not for women to walk the open roads alone without a man to protect them. They had none. So she gave them an out and expected both to take it. Surprisingly, Ruth did not. Her affections for her mother-in-law were such that she was not willing to leave her to return home. She was willing to give up everything she previously held dear in order to pursue this one relation. Ruth was so precious.

I have found  that in our walk with the Lord, there is a moment when the Lord stops us dead in our tracks, allows us to see the road ahead, to know the full impact of our decision to follow Him, and to decide once and for all what we are going to do. He calls it counting the cost.

Behind you is a lot of comfort. A lot of people you love, a lot of life you enjoy and a lot of things you feel you need and want. Ahead is a Promised Land that will require you to walk a long, hard road. The unknown is terrifying and the enemies are fierce. There will be times you feel helpless and unprotected. You know you have a companion, but you may not have a strong faith in Him. And He has is saying to you, “Go back to your family, go back to your comfort and have the things you desire. Now’s the time to turn around.” He wants you to count the cost, and not to plunge headlong into something that may cause you to look back longingly at the place you left, like Lot’s wife. He wants you to be sure. “Go back now,” He says. That’s not very comforting.

Orpah’s reaction to Naomi was honest. She didn’t agree to go because she felt obligated or compelled. The desire wasn’t in her, and so she decided to settle. She wasn’t wasting anyone’s time or hurting anyone by wavering afterward. She released them with a kiss and settled in her homeland. Ruth, on the other hand, was compelled by love to spend the rest of her life with Naomi. Her’s was the first, “for better or for worse” commitment recorded in the Bible! She was in it for the long haul. This is the kind of commitment God desires from us. Not a half-hearted, “well, I guess I’ll go.” Not a refusal spurred by our desire for the comforts of this life. But a whole-hearted, “Where you go, I’ll go.” But He also wants us to understand that it isn’t a vacation sort of trip. It’s a journey over mountainous regions, deserts and thorny places. Where the enemy is real and the unknown is unbearable at times. Though we don’t go alone, there may be times when our companion seems like little comfort. Count the cost! Can we say to Him, “I’m going with you, come what may!” and truly mean it? Can we keep moving forward without looking back at the things we’ve forfeited in exchange for this relationship? Is His presence more important to us than safety and comfort, and all those we love? This is the cost. Is it worth it to you? Be honest with the Lord. He will not drag you unwilling. He is asking you to walk beside Him. He may carry you sometimes, but sometimes, He may just stick to your side through the rough times. Or He may be up ahead beckoning. However the journey goes, count the cost: can you give up everything for Him?