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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

How many times have people casually said they can’t be with you, but “I’ll be with you in spirit.” Isn’t that just a nice way to say they’ll be thinking about you? But what if there is more? What if there is potential for power there?

I Corinthians 5:3a
As for my attitude, though I am absent [from you] in body, I am present in spirit, . . .

This section of I Corinthians is not easy for me. It’s a whole mess about sexual sin and “casting the sinner out” of the fellowship for sexual immorality and “handing him over to Satan.” Whoa! I just can’t begin to write about this in any reasonable way.

Instead, I want to consider the possibilities of power that come with being somewhere “in spirit.” Jesus is actually with us “in spirit.” This is not some off hand or incidental description. The presence of the Holy Spirit on earth is transformational. It is the strength of the Spirit that teaches, counsels, and guides us.

Paul implies that his relationship to the believers in Corinth bring his spirit in their midst as well. It is sharing the essence of a person and invoking him/her through ideas, words, and thought.

I imagine my own spirit a little like a pomegranate, with its many, many seeds. Can I give one seed of my spirit to another, to a group, to a place, where I would like to be present? Will my spirit seed make a difference?

I think of all the places I have lived and all the people I have known, paths that have intersected over the years. When it was time to say goodbye, could I consciously leave some small part of myself with them, in love?

In the same way that a parent can divide her heart to love all of her children, no matter how many, so can the spirit divide and divide again. When we give of ourselves in that way, there is actually a multiplication that happens (a paradox). Like a tree that is pruned and more branches grow, so is the deposit of our spirit seeds with others.

Today, I want to think about “being with you in spirit,” being with my kids, in spirit, my husband, my friends, my brother in Denver, my aunt in Germany, my half-sister in Tallinn.

I send them out my spirit like a milkweed seed, lightly and lovingly.

[Special thanks to Amy Lamb for use of her photograph, Milkweed Seed Pod.)]

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Unity, like love, requires consciousness and choice. We will never always agree. Like the old cliche of “pick your battles” with one’s kids, the same is true for the body of Christ. Not every disagreement requires the drawing up of sides and the raising of battle flags. I suppose a better word for unity is compromise or even love.

I Corinthians 1:10b
. . . that there be no dissensions or factions or divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in your common understanding and in your opinions and judgments.

I would say my closest friend is Kathy. We have known each other almost 40 years (age hint). Historically, I have been the conservative one and she the more liberal one. We don’t agree on everything by a long shot, but we know each other and we trust each other and as a result, we respect each other. And so, yes, we are in unity. We don’t live close by and we don’t talk every day, but when we do connect, it’s meaningful. We share deeply and we share honestly. When we disagree, we speak it, but we know that no disagreement is powerful enough to divide our hearts. We anticipate growing old together, 21st century Golden Girls.

But every relationship is not so easy. There are people who have put me under the microscope and nothing I say or do seems right to them. I am suspect and therefore, I am a challenge. There are people, I’m sorry to say, to whom I have done the same thing. My expectation is that they will behave badly and when they do, I am not surprised. Who knows if they behave well, I’m not looking for that. In neither of these cases is unity possible. Even though there is no outright hostility and on the surface everything seems fine, the inner turmoil is fraught with misery.

We will never be all the same. It’s not the way our creative God works. Everything in nature is about uniqueness. It is putting uniqueness together that makes a new “whole.” We each bring our special something to the table.

I can remember when Mike and I used to attend pitch-in suppers at our old church in Atlanta. Most of the cooks brought fried chicken, southern-style green beans, cole slaw, and mashed potatoes. I brought hummus and tabouli. I don’t need to tell you what was barely touched. It’s not that it wasn’t good, but it was outside the box for a church supper, at least back then. Most people wouldn’t even try it.

Each person’s personality has a little tabouli or baba ghanoush in it. Unity comes from tasting … trying … accepting … loving.

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Acts 19:9a
But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way…

“The Way” is an old term that appears several times in the New Testament referring to following Jesus (way of Truth, way of righteousness, etc.). It’s a simple phrase that speaks powerfully of direction. If someone says to me, “here’s the way,” I understand it’s a type of revelation or discovery of the path that will lead me to the right end point. Either this “way” has to be clearly marked (like a trail in the woods) or a leader needs to show the way. And if I come to a fork in the road, I must determine or decide, “which way” is best or shorter or more scenic or safer.

Some of the post-moderns and emergents have adopted this term, describing their faith as “the way of Jesus.” This, they use, as an alternative to “Christian,” which now seems to carry a lot of extra baggage that is not necessarily related to following Jesus alone, e.g. political, economic, and social assumptions.

I also like the phrase because it reminds me that I am on a journey. Following the Christ is a process, a way of living, a string of encounters and learning. I think some Christians do a disservice to new believers by putting so much emphasis on the destination (heaven) and not enough emphasis on the path itself.

Being on the Way with Jesus is an adventure. I have never appreciated that truth as much as I have in the last few years. It makes so much more sense to invite people to join me on this exploration, to walk with me and run with me and discover with me what it means and what it takes to stay on the path together. And if there are “lions and tigers and bears” along the way, we can do battle side by side. And if one grows weary and falls, the other can lift her up. And if one becomes ill, the other can stay alongside until help comes. And if one is blind, the other can see. And if one becomes discouraged and tries to turn back or take another path, the other can say, “Come, this Way.”

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John 18:39-40
“…But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” [Pilate asked] They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.

Barabbas was the first one to experience Jesus as his “savior.” Barabbas was already slated to die by crucifixion (perhaps even that day). Instead, Jesus died for him. Barabbas went free and an innocent man died in his place.

I remember seeing the old movie (1961) called Barabbas with Anthony Quinn playing the lead. Jesus is never seen directly. But that movie marked me as a child. I remember Barabbas looking out of his cell window and recognizing that Jesus was going to death in his stead. Is it true? Who knows? But it graphically sets before us that opportunity to recognize Jesus as a savior…. a trans-formative power… an advocate… a friend. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

This little story of Barabbas is a word picture of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are the rebels. He is the lamb.

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John 15:15
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

So which is it? Friend or servant?

Jesus is talking to his disciples, summarily on the same night that he just washed their feet. This section of the book of John is part of a very long record of Jesus’s final teachings to the disciples.

He pronounces them friends because he has shared everything he received from the Father. There is only one proviso: obey his commands. And two verses later, he brings it down to the same singular command: Love each other.

Friends love each other. Servants do not… necessarily. A friend of Jesus follows in the way. A friend of Jesus bears the fruit. A friend of Jesus can ask for whatever … because he/she is in the way of Jesus. The foundation is there before the asking. The love is there before the asking. So many folks wonder why they don’t get their prayers answered… well, answered the way they want them answered. My guess, the problem is that the relationship is not a friend relationship, it’s a servant one.

I want to be a friend to Jesus and others. Make it so Lord Jesus.

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Philippians 4:5a
“Let your gentleness be evident to all….” [Paul]

Exposing gentleness has always sounded dangerous to me. That’s why most people perceive me as having a “strong,” maybe even tough exterior. It’s a type of shield for my heart. I’m sure, even my dearest friends, wouldn’t choose “gentle” to describe me. But it is there.

I only expose my gentle self when I judge the circumstances are safe. For instance, I’m sure my pets would call me gentle most of the time, particularly one on one. Or is it that they gentle me? In any event, I respond to their unconditional love. But the heart cannot count on unconditional love from others. The gentle heart must give it.

One key to exposing the gentle heart is not responding like for like. I get sucked in emotionally to the flames of others when I want to be cool water.

Another key is trusting God to protect my heart. I think the revelation for me today is that a heart protected by God is like a “tempurpedic mattress” – it returns to its shape naturally. It’s not that the heart won’t be pushed or compressed, but it will bounce back.

In truth, the gentle heart is resilient and very strong. The gentle heart accepts people right were they are. The gentle heart places no expectations on others. The gentle heart is patient. The gentle heart is brave.

Oh, gentle heart, be brave today.

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So let’s talk about families and relationships. What is the expectation? While we are still children , we certainly expect our parents to be safe. We expect our parents to know what is best. We expect them to love us and take care of us. If this expectation is broken, for whatever reason, we are already at a disadvantage as we move into adulthood. If we have lost our ability to trust, we have lost one of the key elements to love.

Love requires an exposure of the heart and the ability to tolerate a bit of heart stomping. But there are limits to what a heart can bear.

Children are extremely resilient. They can forgive “absent,” “bad,” “neglectful,” and even “brutal” parents for a long time, but eventually there is a toll that is extracted from the heart. So often, these broken experiences with a parent are stumbling blocks on the path toward hearlthy adult relationships not to mention a relationship with Christ.

But perhaps the parents are not cruel, but simply broken themselves. The cycle often goes from one generation to another. They may have never experienced unconditional love, trust, encouragement, praise, boundaries, instruction, or anything else that is part of the growing up process. They cannot “miraculously” pass these elements down to their own children. They must learn them themselves first.

There are ways to repair the damage to the heart and to learn new behaviors and attitudes. In the secular world, it is usually through counseling or, if the person is lucky, through an extremely well-grounded, patient, and healthy mate who can model love (but this opportunity is rare since most broken adults are rarely attracted to healthy adults… but gravitate to the familiar).

In the Church, this healing should come through our interactions with Christ and the family of Christ. First of all, we have Christ’s sacrifice [symbolized by the cross] whose blood insures we have access to God Himself … we have access to the holy of holies where there is healing for all. And so, we should be able to appropriate this power, to place the cross between ourselves and others, and to connect heart to heart, soul to soul, spirit to spirit. The past should no longer have such a great influence over us.

Instead, we forget what is available to us. We shield the heart from further hurts. We create our own version of the “holy of holies” and only allow others into the “outer court.”

I’m thinking it’s time to take down the veil between my personal “holy of holies” and the outer court. It’s time to stop requiring all kinds of sacrificial proofs from people I encounter… prove to me that you won’t hurt me, take these litmus tests to prove your worthiness or compatibility quotient to be my friend, be sure you are “like” me before you enter or you’ll be cast aside.

Earlier I said that the heart must be able to tolerate a little stomping. I know this to be true because Jesus himself alluded to it… the forgiving of others seventy times seven for starters.

When I came to the Lord, it was through a young man who initially hid his Christianity from others because he was afraid that people wouldn’t like him. Instead, they didn’t like him anyway because they believed he was “faking” and hiding something. They even thought he was “gay” and encouraged to “come out.” In the end, he did come out… he came out as a Christian. Did it turn things around? Did he suddenly have great numbers of friends? No, not really. But he felt better about himself. And, in the end, because he came out for Jesus, his testimony brought me to the Lord. That was almost 30 years ago.

Friendship, marriages, families, churches … all relationships must be based on truth. There are no guarantees in relationships. When the heart is injured by another, it is only Christ within who can heal, protect and renew. But we should not ask Him to insulate us from pain. The butterfuly that does not struggle to emerge from the cocoon is not strong enough to survive. Life has pain. Relationships have pain. Love has pain. We grow stronger through experience if we choose it.

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