Do I Look Dead To You?

After we’ve packed the cooler, dressed everyone in bathing suits and sandals, double-checked the bag for diapers, towels, tissues, Band-Aids (for blisters), sunscreen, and more, and then loaded every last item and person into the mini-van, we have the same-old chat with our girls as we drive to Busch Gardens, the amusement park near our home.

First we begin with the safety reminders, about strangers, about wandering away from us, and what to do if you get lost.

Then we remind them that we aren’t buying every snack, toy, or novelty item strategically scattered along our path through the park.  And no whining when it’s time to go home.

We finish up with the “friends speech.”   It goes something like this:  You are sisters.  God designed you to be best friends.  Don’t ditch your sister so that you can ride in a boat or car or dragon or whatever with some random stranger who you’ll never see again.  Sisters ride together.

This last speech generally elicits the most protests.  My girls are friendly people.  They like to meet new kids and form what they are certain are life-long bonds of friendship while standing in line at Busch Gardens.

So, it was no surprise that during our spring break trek out to the amusement park, my middle daughter stood in line for a ride and then announced, “Mom, I made two new best friends!”

Not just friends.  Best friends.

And how did she know these two new girls were now her bosom buddies for life?

“They told me their names, Savannah and Julia.”

That was it.  The loyal bond formed simply by exchanging names.

Friends, best friends, nice people you’ve only just met, a stranger whose name you’ve learned, sisters, the person you thought was your close friend but who gossips about you behind your back  . . . it’s a mesh of relationships they haven’t quite figured out yet.

Identifying true friends is a skill only learned over time after experiencing both hurt feelings and faithfulness, betrayal and loyal love.

A mentor once told me that women were designed for deep friendship. Every one of us needs a Ruth and Naomi relationship, not just casual acquaintances whose names we know after a few minutes of standing in lines of life together.

Unfortunately, life is busy, complicated, hectic, and hard, and investing time in those loyal friendships seems an impossible task.

Yet, Scripture tells us this is one investment that’s worth making.

We need a friend who loves sacrificially, and for whom we likewise will sacrifice.  Jesus commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”  (John 15:12).

We need a friend who remains faithful even when we’re at our ugliest, worn-outest, saddest, and yuckiest, just as it says in Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

And we need something else.

We need a friend who is not afraid to get dirty with us as we live this resurrection life.

Jesus stood at the entry to the tomb of his close friend, Lazarus.  He heard the weeping of others around him.  His own tears trailed down his cheek.  The crowd scolded him for not coming earlier and healing his friend while there was still time.  The pragmatic folks complained about the stink of death and decay wafting out of a reopened tomb.  Mary and Martha shot hopeless, hurt-filled glances in Jesus’ direction.

Undeterred, Jesus demanded, “Lazarus, come out!”  (John 11:44).  The shocked crowd watched as the dead man emerged from the grave, living, breathing, and walking—alive.

But he moved slowly, maybe a little like a mummy in a sci-fi horror flick that plays on Saturday afternoon television.  He didn’t leap out from the tomb and dance before the Lord with all the joy of a resurrected fellow.

Instead, “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (John 11:44 NIV).

Chris Tiegreen reminds us in One Year At His Feet “When Jesus raises us out of our sinful state of death, there is something left to do before we run free.  The grave clothes must go”  (p. 21).

That’s something Lazarus couldn’t do on his own.  Jesus instructed others to come alongside him and unwrap the linen bindings, the remnants of death and the grave that still had him hindered, trapped, and blinded.

That’s the church’s job.  That’s the job of a loyal friend, who patiently strips away all the habitual sins, guilt, shame, false beliefs, hang-ups, terrors from the past, and hurts that trip us up and slow us down.

Sometimes we simply require a love that doesn’t give up on us.

Sometimes it takes someone holding us accountable with truth and lovingly showering us with grace when we struggle with the ugliness of sin.  Proverbs 27:6 tells us: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (ESV).  Only a true friend skips the flattery and digs past the superficial chicanery of niceness in order to challenge us with a truth and encourage us to change.

Only a friend tells us when they see some of the grave clothes stubbornly stuck to our skin and then lovingly and patiently unbinds us so we can live in the freedom of new life.

We need a friend like that.  We need to be a friend like that, who brings grace and freedom to another.

You can read more devotionals on this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Weekend Walk, 09/23/2011

Hiding the Word:

Are you in a season right now—or are you even just having one of those days—-where you need the encouragement to keep going, to not give up and to persevere even in waiting on God?  I have a verse for you this week!

“Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord”

Psalm 31:24

Maybe you could use some heart-strengthening at the moment.  This verse is my prayer for you this week.  And, to be honest, I’m praying for a little of that for myself, too!

I hope you enjoy meditating on this verse through the upcoming week or find a verse of your own!

Weekend Rerun:

Traveling Companions, Originally Published 04/03/2011

On Tuesday nights, I sit at a table with other women, Bibles open.  We ask—What’s going on in your life?  What does the Bible say?  Where are you headed?  Where have you been?  What do you need?  How can I pray for you?

It’s a safe place, an encouraging place, a challenging place, a growing place, a grace place, a truth place.

I love these women, each so uniquely designed by God with pasts so different, but hope in Christ the same.  They are my traveling companions.

And this is what we need, really.  Community.  Strength from relationships.  Just how far would Naomi have made it in her travels if Ruth hadn’t insisted on packing a bag for the journey, too?  Naomi —A hurt woman, weighed by age and life, far from her homeland, changing her name to Mara—“Bitterness”— and trekking back to her people, her nation, her God.  Widow Naomi.   Now childless Naomi.  Without Ruth, Naomi would probably have been buried along the pathway, lost and alone.  With Ruth, came strength, companionship, blessing.  A new home.  Food from Ruth’s work gleaning in the fields.  Redemption by Kinsman-Redeemer Boaz through Ruth’s marriage.  And a place in the lineage of King David, of Jesus, through Ruth and Boaz’s son.

All because of tenacious friendship, of shared pain and faith, of the self-sacrifice of one friend to another.

Then there’s Elijah.  The bold and courageous prophet who, in the showdown of all showdowns against 450 prophets of Baal, had demonstrated God’s glory before all the people of Israel.  Fire from heaven consumed a sacrifice soaked and an altar pouring over with water.   The people “fell prostrate and cried, ‘The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!'” (1 Kings 18:39, NIV).

Immediately after this victory, Queen Jezebel threatens to kill him and “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.  When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness” (1 Kings 19:3-4, NIV).

Elijah’s mistake was in the traveling alone.  He ran to Beersheba—the southernmost portion of the land—and then he left his servant and ran for another whole day by himself.  Alone.  No companion to speak truth into his heart.  No friend to share his burden and pray with him and point him back to God.  No accountability.  No encouragement.  No truth-speaking.  No love.

It’s what happens when we journey without a traveling companion.

And so Elijah sat on a mountain, dejected, depressed, overcome with fear and grief and bitterness.  God met him in that place, talked him out of the cave and down off the precipice.  The very next thing God did was give him a friend.

So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat . . . Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him…Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant (1 Kings 19:19-21, NIV).

Elijah needed Elisha.  Partner, friend, servant, apprentice.

Not just any traveling companion will do, though.  Who we walk with determines where we go.  Some make the journey harder or full of obstacles or lead us astray to shortcuts and paths unknown.

Just ask Abraham.

Abram and Sarah didn’t set out for Canaan alone.

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.   Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran (Genesis 11:31-32, NIV).

God called Abram out of Ur, told him to pack his bags and get going on a journey at God’s direction.  And Abram obeyed, taking his father, Terah, and his nephew, Lot.  But, something happened along the way.  It’s a mysterious blank.  We can’t peek into the windows of the family tent and overhear the discussion.  Something happened and they stopped before reaching their destination. 

They didn’t just check in for an overnight rest in the Motel 8.  They settled there.  And when Abram’s dad passed away, that’s when the journey began again.  That’s when God called Abram once more and told him to keep moving forward on the path that had so mysteriously been interrupted.

Sometimes our traveling companions convince us to settle with less than God’s promises.  They look around at what the world has to offer and find fertile land and a good place to dwell. Pitching their tents, they urge us to make this our home.  Not God’s best, perhaps, not all that God has planned for us, but surely good enough.

The Apostle Paul, though, knew how to choose a traveling buddy.  Paul with Silas, singing praises in the prison in the night.  Paul with Barnabus–the Encourager—set aside for ministry to the Gentiles.  Paul and Timothy–building a church, building church leadership.

And Paul and Titus.  In 2 Corinthians 7:5-6, Paul wrote to the church, “For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn–conflicts on the outside, fears within.   But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” (NIV).

Paul was the apostle who told us all things work for the good, to rejoice always and again rejoice, to be content in all circumstances, that God can supply all our needs, and do abundantly and immeasurably more than our wildest dreams.

Still, Paul was frightened at times, too.   Just like you and me, he had his moments.  God didn’t punish Paul for lack of faith or chastise his weakness.  Instead, God provided for a need.  Paul needed a traveling companion to bring comfort and encouragement in dark days.  Titus was God’s answer to Paul’s fear.

Paul knew this truly.  He usually traveled in partnership.  He had written: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ… for each one should carry their own load” (Galatians 6:2, 5, NIV).

It seems contradictory at first.  Carry each other’s burdens.  Each one carry their own load.  But there’s a difference here.  Paul says each one of us should do our own daily load of life, the everyday, the things we can handle.  Do it yourself.  Don’t lay your everyday over the back of someone else and kick back and relax while they struggle.

Burdens, though, are meant to be borne in partnership.  In community with each other, we lift up onto four shoulders what is far too heavy for just two.

That’s the way God designed us—to travel together.  Ruth with Naomi.  Elijah with Elisha.  Paul with Titus, with Silas, with Barnabas, with Timothy.  You and me, heading to Canaan, to Christ-likeness, to abundant life, shifting burdens onto backs along the way and laying them down at the cross together.  Alone we will not make it.   Together, though, we journey past obstacles, depression, fear, and discouragement, to our hoped-for destination, our Promised Land.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King