Chaos in America: Have We Prayed for Justice Like our Lives Depend on It?

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By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director

I was watching the news this morning as Melissa Falkowski, an English and journalism teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, was being interviewed about her experience protecting her students in the midst of the horrific school shooting yesterday morning. At one point in the interview, as I recall, she said something that reached down deep inside of me:

“I’ve seen this on TV, we all have, shooting after shooting, and there’s always the same thing that is said, you know: ‘It’s not the time to talk about gun control . . . it’s time to pray for the families.’ And I just think that that hasn’t gotten us anywhere. And now here we are. We’re the latest statistic on school violence. And as a society, as Americans, we’re failing our children. We’re not keeping them safe. Congress is failing us. The government is failing us. And something has to be done.”

Obviously, it’s been a depressing 24 hours, and we can (and probably will) debate the role that guns, or the media, or school policies, or whatever have played in these national tragedies. But what struck me, of course, is the comment that “We’ve prayed, and it obviously hasn’t gotten us anywhere.” And she’s right about the fact that school violence is getting worse and worse.

I ask myself, Is she right when she asserts that we’ve prayed? I’m not so sure.

And I’m speaking for myself here. Have I prayed when I’ve heard about school shootings? Did I pray for myself and my students when I was a tutor last year at Emerald Ridge High School and Glacier View Junior High? Do I pray each morning when I send my wife off to her job as a school nurse at elementary schools in downtown Puyallup? Do I pray for my precious granddaughter as she spends her days in her first-grade class in Pennsylvania?

The answer is yes, I’ve prayed. Some. But have I really gotten down on my knees, consistently, persistently, and begged the One I call Lord and King to do something to stop the downward slide of our country into moral oblivion and suicidal hopelessness that I think each of us truly believes (guns or no) is really at the root of all this chaos and violence?

Have I wrestled with Him on this issue, and listened for His voice? If He were to say, “What if I wanted YOU to be a part of the solution?” have I responded like the prophet of old: “Here I am, Lord. Send me!”

I confess that I haven’t done THAT. Have you?

In Luke 18, Jesus shares a profound parable about a widow who seeks justice with an all-powerful but “unjust” judge who could grant it, but isn’t inclined to. After much persistence, he finally relents. And Jesus concludes, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Some parables are a little difficult to figure out. But the meaning of this one is crystal clear, and it is a huge indictment on my heart and may be on yours as well. He assures us that His Father is wholly unlike that unjust judge. Instead, He is EAGER to grant justice, and quickly! But the question is, Are we serious about asking Him for it? Have we persisted “day and night”? Have we prayed like our lives depend on it?

I’m starting to believe that my life depends on it. How about you?

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Does God Give Second Chances?

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By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director

Several weeks ago Pastor Martin shared from Luke 1 the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who desired a child but were childless into old age. God ultimately met their deepest desires and went way beyond them when Zechariah learned, while serving in the Temple, that his elderly wife would become the mother of the Prophet John the Baptist.

This made me think of Abraham and Sarah. You know the story, from the pages of Genesis: God promises Abraham a son from whom the nation of Israel would derive. But Abraham and his wife grow old, with no son in sight and the possibility seeming dimmer with each passing day. They want to wait and trust God, but it seems impossible.

So, they take matters into their own hands. At Sarah’s urging, Abraham takes her handmaiden, Hagar, who conceives Ishmael.

But Abraham and Sarah’s folly, patience and disobedience do not defeat God’s plan. Ultimately, Isaac is born.

Even when we mess up, God is still in control. His will be done.

Is a Second Chance Simply a Free Pass to “Try Again?”

So, did God give Abraham a “second chance?” The answer to that question depends entirely on what you mean by “second chance.”

If you mean that God gave Abraham a mulligan, a free pass, a chance to “try again” to get it right, then the answer is “no.” God is not a God of second chances.

But if you mean that God worked His will in Abraham’s life despite his failures, that God’s mercy and grace was new every morning (including that wonderful morning when Sarah discovered she was pregnant with Isaac); if you mean that God always gives us a second chance to believe and obey and trust Him and see Him work His will in our lives, then the answer is: “Yes! God is a God of second chances!”

Also, it’s important to note that even though God didn’t give up on Abraham and Sarah, there were still serious consequences to be paid for their disbelief and disobedience. (Due to the enmity between Isaac and Ishmael, the world is still paying those consequences, even to this day.)

Second Chances and “New Year’s Resolutions”

It’s about that time of year when many of us make “New Year’s Resolutions.” We say to ourselves: “I want to be better. I will try harder to be the kind of person God wants me to be. To be healthier, to be happier, to be whatever it is I am hoping to be.” The problem with this kind of thinking about the New Year is that it is me-centered; it assumes that my transformation will occur if I simply “try hard enough,” if I make good goals and lift myself up by my bootstraps to achieve them.

Such thinking leaves no room for God’s grace, mercy, and power. Remember, it’s not our strength and willpower that are new every morning; it is His mercies that are new every morning! He who has begun a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it. That verse doesn’t say a lot about the contribution that your own effort might make. No, it’s not up to you, is it? He will complete it.

Do We Give “Second Chances?”

But what about us? When someone hurts us, or disappoints us, or fails to live up to our expectations, do we give grace? Are our mercies to that person “new every morning?”

After washing His disciples’ feet (to their shock and dismay), Jesus says to them (in John 13): “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” We often think of these verses strictly in terms of acts of (potentially unpleasant) service, but I think the implications go far deeper. Whatever service, love, grace, and mercy Jesus showed us, we would do well to also to show one another. (Unless we consider ourselves “above our Master!”)

Speaking of Second Chances …

… and of God’s grace and mercy! You all know that last Sunday (December 24) was Elim’s “Giving Sunday” event. We committed to “give away” all undesignated funding that came in through the offering that day (providing our income to spending actuals remained “in the black” as they currently appear to be) to three worthy causes, all above and beyond our approved 2017 church budget.

Some of us were a bit concerned when we looked around the sanctuary, the morning before Christmas, and attendance seemed a bit sparse. Would Giving Sunday be a bust?

So you can imagine our excitement when we were told that the total offering last Sunday was $28,161 … nearly five times Elim’s average weekly offering, and one of our largest ever! God is so good, and we are so thankful for faithful givers who responded to His leading.

Some have asked whether there would be another opportunity (a second chance!) to contribute to the Giving Sunday project (benefiting the Future Expansion Fund, the Benevolence Fund, and the Tabitha Center ministries in the Congo). The answer is yes! If you missed out on Giving Sunday due to vacation schedules and would still like to contribute, simply designate any gift made before the end of 2017 to “Giving Sunday” and it will be included in the total.

And, as you begin the new year and consider what goals you might set or resolutions you might make, be sure to seek God and thank Him — that “His mercies are new every morning,” that He will complete the good work He has begun in you, and that His grace is enough!

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One Dark Day in Texas

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By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director
You may not recognize this wonderful couple, but they are your brother and sister in Christ, Bryan and Karla Holcombe. They and seven other members of their immediate family lost their lives Sunday in the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

 

Joe and Claryce Holcombe are retired schoolteachers, now in their 80s, and are living in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Sunday they hosted a prayer meeting of nearby pastors and churchgoers at their home as they awaited details about the tragic shooting at the First Baptist Church nearby.

The news wasn’t good. The Holcombes’ only son, Bryan, was Associate Pastor there and was filling in for the church’s pastor that fateful day. As he walked up onto the stage to lead worship, a deranged gunman named Devin Kelley burst into the church sanctuary and began spraying automatic-weapon fire.

Bryan was killed, along with 26 other members of the small congregation. One of them was Bryan’s wife, the Holcombes’ daughter-in-law, Karla. The couple had been married nearly 40 years.

And the bad news didn’t end there. Bryan and Karla had two children (the Holcombes’ grandchildren), Marc Daniel and John. Marc Daniel was also killed. John, who was recording the service from the back, took shrapnel to the leg but survived.

But John’s wife, Crystal—who was pregnant with their sixth child—also died in the hail of bullets, along with her unborn child.

John and Crystal’s other five children were also in the service. Three of them—Emily, Megan, and Greg—were killed in the spree.

Marc Daniel and his wife had one child, Joe and Claryce’s sixth great-grandchild, one-year-old Noah. She, too, was killed in the gunfire, alongside her dad.

Joe and Claryce, a couple who love and trust the Lord, lost nine members of their immediate family in Sunday’s massacre: their only child and his wife; a grandson and the wife of another grandson; and five great-grandchildren, including one yet to be born.

The “family tree” below dramatically illustrates what I have just shared.

The enormity of Joe and Claryce’s loss is truly difficult, if not impossible, to grasp. I was therefore very interested to read what this couple—living a nightmare reminiscent of the heartbreaking tragedy that befell Job’s family thousands of years ago—had to share about their personal loss and tragedy.

“It’s of course going to be difficult,” Joe Holcombe said about the days ahead, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

But he said, “we are Christians, we have read the book. We know the ending, and it’s good.

“They’re in heaven,” he added. “And they’re a lot better off than we are.”

It Could Happen Here

As I reflected on this tragedy, I was confronted with the stark reality that something like this could easily happen in our own church. The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs was really no different than we are, and only slightly smaller. They are a church where people learned about Jesus together, worshipped the Lord together, and simply lived life together, much as we do. None of them could have ever foreseen or anticipated the seemingly random violence that would tear through their congregation on this particular Sunday in November.

So, what should our response to all this be? Should we stay home, cower in fear?

Absolutely not! Like the Holcombes, we are Christian. We have read the book. We know how the story ends!

And we also know the Author of the book. He is the one who has told us, “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another; and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” And, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

We are called to be the light of the world, a city on a hill, shining God’s glory for all the world to see. And the world is seeing that glory, today, shining through the lives of people such as Joe and Claryce Holcombe and their surviving family members, who have suffered such unspeakable loss but still choose to trust God regardless.

They are truly our brothers and sisters, and we must pray for them—and for one another—during these dark days. For, as the author of Hebrews says, another Day is drawing near!

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More Things in Heaven and Earth: When Materialistic Explanations Fail

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By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director

“It just makes no sense. It’s like an asteroid.”

Stephen Paddock’s brother, Eric, stood in front of the media and groped for words as they asked him to explain why his brother had just unloaded a hail of thousands of bullets into a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing at least 59 and injuring more than 500, in the United States’ worst mass shooting.

But asteroids are (more or less) random. People who kill dozens of people with guns and injure hundreds more are not. Reasons exist. Everyone knows this, so law enforcement and media are currently in something of a frenzy seeking to explain why a quiet, unassuming person such as Paddock would go off the deep end and do the unthinkably horrible thing that he did before taking his own life.

He was suicidal; that part’s clear. But it still doesn’t explain why a suicidal person would seek to take so many innocent people with him.

Like all of us, I think my first emotion upon hearing the news reports was a sickening sense of grief. How could such a thing happen? And my own emotions are compounded by knowing one of the victims, an LA County Sheriff deputy who worked with me at World Vision a number of years ago. (A bullet lodged very near his spine, and doctors are currently evaluating whether or not they can remove it safely. Please pray for Andrew and his family!)

The last time I remember feeling this way was in March 2015, when Germanwings Flight 9525 copilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed his jetliner full of 149 innocent people and himself into a remote mountainside in France.

A Time for Reflection

I’ve learned to try to put the emotions associated with such events in a certain compartment in order to examine the facts as best I am able, interpreted by the media, of course, and from my rather inconvenient spot in my comfy chair here in front of my computer. But the importance of careful reflection on such events cannot be underestimated. I’m not talking about figuring out how to prevent such tragedies, which is not necessarily up to people like me, but rather, deeper questions. Questions such as: Why do seemingly “normal” people commit such horrific, senseless atrocities? If you eliminate the obvious possible motivations (such as terrorism, greed, anger, revenge, etc.), what are you left with?

One popular materialistic explanation is mental illness. He must have been insane. But in this case, there doesn’t seem to be any apparent history of mental illness. His friends and relatives all thought of Paddock as a “normal, regular guy. Just a guy.” And the methodical way he planned and executed his attack also is causing experts to question the mental illness hypothesis.

What then? The materialistic explanations are running out.

More Things in Heaven and Earth

And this is what should bother thinking people about the materialistic society in which we live. As Shakespeare famously penned, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

We don’t like to consider the possibility that there are dark spiritual forces at work among us. For many people, watching movies such as The Exorcist falls into the category of “entertainment.” I was fascinated by this introduction on the site Ranker, on their page listing “the best demonic possession movies”:

There’s nothing more horrifying than watching a movie about a person who’s possessed by a demon. What is it about the thought of demons, supernatural visitations, darkness, and evil that fascinates human beings so much? We must love it, as there are tons of wildly successful films where characters are possessed by demons.

I would suggest another explanation behind our fascination: it rings true. At Biola, I knew a professor of missions who had spent many years in South American countries. He had a reputation there (which surprisingly followed him to Southern California) as a (somewhat reluctant) exorcist. He was even called to one of the girls’ dorms at our college late one night, where he cast a demon or demons out of a student who was very troubled, changing the course of her life dramatically for the better. Darlene was a witness to this event, and as the campus newspaper editor, I did an extensive interview with Dr. Murphy in which he shared the details of many of his fascinating experiences with demonic forces both in South America and in the United States.

The challenge in this country, he acknowledged, was that in our materialistic society we oftentimes don’t believe that Satan or his demonic forces are real. Even in our churches, we frequently shy away from things such as this, things that transgress the boundaries of the “ordinary” into areas we can’t materialistically explain.

However, the Bible observes no such boundaries. Christ’s interactions with demonic forces were numerous and dramatic, as were those of the apostles who followed Him. The Bible certainly agrees with Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth . . .”


But Light Overcomes Darkness

And while we might find this truth frightening, if we reflect further and more deeply it should also be of great encouragement to us. For, if there are Evil Forces at work, there must also be forces at work for Good! And what do we apprehend (in faith) about those Forces for Good?

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4)

There are a couple important things to note about the truths revealed in these verses. First, even though I have been speaking (as if I were Luke Skywalker) about “Evil Forces” and “Good Forces,” the truth is that there is a person (or persons) behind all such forces. Force is wielded by personality. And these persons (in this case, the “spirits” of whom John speaks) have goals.

The first goal John speaks of is to convince us to believe their narrative of truth. Our community group is currently studying C. S. Lewis’s brilliant work of fiction, The Screwtape Letters, which postulates what it would be like to be privy to a conversation between a senior tempter and his demonic trainee. Lewis offers this fascinating insight that highlights the demonic strategy:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

So, the demons themselves wish for us to either not believe in them at all (the materialistic viewpoint) or to believe in them wholeheartedly and fear them and structure our lives around that fear.

And, if you take the words of these verses (“for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world”) out of the equation, it makes sense that so many nonmaterialistic societies have feared and worshiped demonic forces, for the primary goal of those forces is stated by Christ Himself, and it is bad news indeed:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

In Christ’s parable, “the thief,” of course, is the prince of demons himself, Satan. Satan exults in taking what is not his, in robbing God of His glory and creation, in killing, in destruction. Fearful power.

But juxtaposed against this fearful power is an even more awesome power wielded by Christ, the “greater is He that is in you,” the One who came that we might have life, and abundantly. While we mustn’t make the mistake of not believing in the existence of demonic forces, we must simultaneously hold a realistic view of their relative impotence. They can only go “thus far, and no further,” as God permitted Satan to afflict Job. They can only act in accordance with God’s permissive purposes, which are greater than we can possibly understand.

The Cross: The Ultimate Test of Power

And the foremost example of this is the Cross of Christ, the greatest tragedy of human history, sinful human beings unjustly condemning the sinless Son of God to an untimely, gruesome death. But then the pinnacle achievement of Satan, killing the very Son of God, was turned on its head by the power of God (manifested in the resurrection of Christ) into the pinnacle achievement of He who is greater than! This is the power of God. And it is a power we can be confident will overcome the very worst attacks of the evil one and his minions, be they Islamic terrorism or mass murder of innocents or the opioid epidemic or even the brutal slaughter of millions of innocent unborn.

None of us know, ultimately, how the actions of a person such as Stephen Paddock will be explained. But what we CAN know is this: while Satan is real, and powerful, and we are not unaware of his schemes, we have a God who is also real, and far more powerful, and has purposes that we will someday comprehend and that will cause us to drop down and worship Him!

So, I know it sounds trite to say, “Keep the faith!” at times like this … but I believe it is exactly what God would want us to do. In the face of immense tragedy and suffering, we must reflect on His greater purposes and keep the faith. Amen?

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Investing in Community

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By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director

I’ve enjoyed reading what Pastors Martin and Brian had to say in the last two Last Words, regarding proximity. Brian shared the week before last that investing in getting to know people and spending time with them has the power to help us defeat loneliness and disconnectedness, and also puts us in a better position to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the lives of those around us.

Then last week, Pastor Martin offered some very practical ways that we can develop stronger relational proximity to the people we are investing in.

Over the past few months I’ve been confronted with this truth, over and over again. It falls under the Galatians 6:7 principle:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

The truth is, relational connectedness requires investment investment of time, energy, and even risk. You may have to take a risk, put yourself out there, to be vulnerable. You will have to invest time with people! This all requires thoughtful energy and even prayer. Investing in people doesn’t guarantee connectedness; but you can’t connect with people without investing in them.

And here are two other closely-related investment principles we find in Scripture: First, reward follows investment. It’s not necessarily immediate; it usually requires patience.

And second, astute investment typically results in greater yield than the value of what you invested.

We see this second principle working both for good and for evil, don’t we? If you invest your time and energy in gossip, you will probably find yourself alienated and in conflict. You will reap dysfunction and unrest. If you invest in swindling others, you will reap these things and more, including possibly being in trouble with the law. Et cetera! When you invest in evil things, you reap the whirlwind.

But if you invest in good things (what the Bible calls “treasure in heaven”), we see the potential (biblically speaking) for reaping a whirlwind of good! If you invest in the lives of people – serving them, caring for them, telling them the truth, and developing connectedness which requires the investment of time, energy and risk – then there is the potential to reap a great blessing in both their lives and yours. (And even better, Christ’s bride, the Church, will be strengthened, and God will be glorified!)

I feel that one of the most significant things we as leaders at Elim can do for the people God has entrusted to us is to create the opportunity for the investment of time and relational energy that leads to proximity and connectedness to occur. One of the ways we do this is by investing in community group leaders: recruiting them, coaching and training them, praying for and supporting them as they seek to create groups where proximity and discipleship can work its magic.

This weekend during and after the worship service we are celebrating the Fall Kickoff of an entire slate of community groups. Some of these are ongoing, and others are new. We have a half dozen community groups of various flavors (mostly intergenerational but some targeted to specific groups such as young people or married couples), and also four men’s groups and three women’s groups.

As far as I am aware, all but two of these groups currently have space for, and are eager to enfold, newcomers! (And even those two which are currently “full,” groups led by the Paveys and the Waples, are inviting people to join a waiting list that should enable them in the near future to launch new groups.)

With 13 or more such groups in place, we should have more than enough space for every adult at Elim who desires to be a part of a group to find one she or he can feel good about joining. There should be no excuse for not investing in being meaningfully connected to your brothers and sisters in Christ here at Elim! (If you can think of one … please call me, and let’s talk!)

Be sure to tune in this weekend when our group leaders share more from the pulpit about the groups they are leading. Also, there will be a “Community Groups Fair” in the fellowship area, directly after the worship service, where you can learn more about groups and visit with group leaders and members.

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The Congruence of Christian Friendship

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By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director

Pastor Martin recently posted an article from Relevant Magazine titled, “What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?” The article is a conversation with Eugene Peterson, the renowned author of The Message.

At the article’s core, Peterson addresses the issue of incongruence in the Christian life. “Incongruence” is the gap between what we say we believe and what we act like we believe. A pastor for a number of years before he became a theologian and author, Peterson was shaken by the incongruence he saw in himself (as a preacher) and those who sat under his sermons each Sunday, so much so that he considered himself a failure as a preacher.

I would encourage you to read the article for yourself, and I won’t lengthen this blog by summarizing it. But I did want to present a couple of ideas that really jumped out at me, that resonated with my heart.

One is that the solutions to most of our problems really are quite simple. They aren’t necessarily easy, but they are simple. Peterson talks a lot about the importance of faithfulness, about which he coined the phrase “a long obedience in the same direction” in a book by the same name he wrote over 20 years ago. We have problems that may seem intractable, but the solutions are usually quite simple: disciplined financial management, thinking and praying before we speak or act, seeking to focus on the needs of others before our own, etc. Simple . . . but not easy.

A second thing that he said that really jumped out at me was that authentic Christian friendships are our best weapon against incongruence. I know many of us struggle with a sense that we don’t have many, or possibly even any, authentic, honest Christian friendships. In our culture, in particular, this feeling of loneliness, a lack of true friends, seems epidemic. We don’t stay planted in one place for very long. (I’ve read that the average American moves every three years.) And when we do have a place to call home, we usually hunker down inside it and hardly spend any time out-of-doors, getting to know our neighbors. (Darlene and I walk around our neighborhood daily, and we always marvel how rarely we actually see any of our neighbors out-of-doors.)

When EFCA missions director Nubako Selenga was visiting the United States for the first time, I asked him (while driving him to our church) what struck him as the strangest thing about America. “It’s so empty,” he replied without hesitation. “There are all these beautiful homes, but I don’t see people around them. When you drive down a road in Africa, everyone is outside their home, visiting with their neighbors.”

That was convicting. How well do I know my neighbors? How many do I consider friends?

And it seems, to me, to be getting worse in the younger generations. I’m always astonished when I see at a restaurant a table full of young people, and everyone is engaged deeply . . . in their smartphones or personal devices. A whole table full of silent people who are doing God-alone-knows-what on social media, but are barely even talking to one other.

Does it surprise us to learn that friendship is an extremely high value to our Lord? “No longer do I call you servants,” Jesus said, “. . . but I have called you friends.” Exodus 33 tells us that the Lord would speak with Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Job said he was “in [his] prime, when the friendship of God was upon [his] tent.” Jonathan and David had “sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord,” and the power and poignancy of that particular relationship rings down to us through the ages.

Solomon told us that “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” but “profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Herein, perhaps, lies the secret to the power of Christian friendship to create spiritual congruence (people who live like who they really are, adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God): people willing to tell each other hard truth, even if it hurts, because their love and friendship makes such truth both necessary and beneficial.

Sounds great, right? But how? What if you are reading this and frustrated and tired of feeling alone? You wish you had intimate and authentic Christian friendships, but they just don’t seem to be happening?

I can’t think of how to say this without sounding trite, but this, once again, is something that I think is both simple and hard. It’s a “long obedience in the same direction.”

First of all, Scripture advises us to choose our friends carefully. “Be not unequally yoked,” we are admonished. I can’t tell you, however, how many times I see young people willing to enter into dating relationships and even become engaged and married to someone who does not share their faith. I understand that loneliness can drive us to make poor choices. But that’s one poor choice that has little chance of doing anything other than later enhancing and ensuring continuing loneliness.

One of God’s richest blessings on my life I am celebrating today, on the 38th anniversary of my marriage to my best friend. Actually, Darlene and I probably became the best of friends some six years before we were married, so that makes it 44 years and counting. She models to me what it truly means to be a Christian friend: she is unafraid to tell me hard truth, when I need to hear it, and I know that she is 100% committed to me and my best, no matter what lies ahead. A friend like that is worth more than all the money in the world.

Young people: please, please, please, hold out for God’s best for you! Don’t give in to the temptation to date people who do not share your faith. Could they become a believer? Sure, we pray so. But don’t take the chance that their interest in you lies in places that will eclipse their interest in Jesus.

Dating and marriage aside, my other “simple but hard” point is that any friendship requires risky investment: time, effort, love, whatever. Time is probably the big one we struggle with. But you can’t really expect to develop meaningful friendships if you aren’t willing to invest the time.

And I say “risky” because I know it doesn’t always work out. I’ve had people I invested in that I hoped I would be lifelong friends with, who for whatever reason didn’t reciprocate, and we drifted apart.

But true friendship is worth the risk! So get started today. Enroll in a community group at Elim and get to know others who love Jesus. If you make the investment but don’t find any solid friends there, move on to another group. Sooner or later, you’ll hit pay dirt!

And then, allow those friends to speak truth into your life! Each of us has a congruence problem—and part of the answer is finding good Christian friends.

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