Simple thoughts about a complicated subject

It’s nearly 10:00 Wednesday night in the city of Carlisle in northern England, where I’m writing tomorrow’s devotional. It’s weird because it’s only 4:00 in the afternoon back home in Kansas, but I’m going to try to sleep after being up since 4:00 a.m. Tuesday (I didn’t sleep much on the plane).

But I just felt led to post something that’s pretty awesome that God reminded me of as I was walking down the ramp of the Carlisle train station this afternoon: I’ve been gifted with tremendous friends.

Me and Katie

Me and Katie

Today’s verse is Proverbs 18:24.

There are “friends” who destroy each other,
    but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Friends are priceless. And if you have good friends–real friends–hold on to them. Because the real ones will last forever. And no matter how many miles might separate you, you’ll be able to pick up again like you never left off.

I have friends around the world, and I’m so blessed to be able to say that they are as close to me as a family.

I haven’t been in the same room with my best friend since last October. She lives here in England. We Skype, of course. We text. But after so long an absence, you’d expect that there would be hesitation in getting used to each other’s company again. There wasn’t. It was like we hadn’t even been separated.

If you’ve got a friendship like that in your life, don’t sell it short. Don’t discount it. And, whatever you do, don’t let it go. Friendships like that are worth fighting for.

Just a simple thought for this morning … or evening … or whenever it is.

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Would you ever throw away a priceless gift?

Think of a friend in your life, someone you know well. How long have you been friends? How long did it take for you to get close? How long did it take for you to develop inside jokes and code words and funny stories? How long did it take for you to get to the place where you felt like you could share everything, where you were closer than family, where you could finish each other’s sentences?

Not many friends get to that place. If you have, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And you’ll know just how much work and sacrifice it took to get there. Friendships like that don’t just happen. They take a long time. But they’re worth it.

Oh, they are so worth it.

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 27:10.

Never abandon a friend—
    either yours or your father’s.
When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance.
    It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away.

I spent four hours at a birthday party last night. I was there with my brother, and also in attendance were two friends that my brother and I have known for 20 years.

20 years.

That shocks me to realize. It doesn’t seem possible that 20 years ago the four of us were running around getting into all sorts of trouble, making each other laugh, sharing life and telling crazy stories. It’s funny because that’s exactly what we did last night. Some things–and some friendships–never change.

And as I stood and listened and laughed with my friends last night, all I could think about was how thankful I was. Thankful because we didn’t have to still be friends. So much has happened in those 20 years that could have broken us up. And I’m not going to tell you it was easy.

You try being friends with someone for 20 years and see how easy it is. Try being friends with someone for five years first.

With so many friendships that I hear about today, I’m just not sure if they understand what friendship is about. I get the feeling that today’s friendships are about self. They’re about getting in with the right crowd to accomplish something. They’re about social status or opportunity.

And that’s a generalization. Many friendships don’t start like that. But many of them end because of selfish reasons. One friend hurts another friend, and neither (or both) will let it go.

And that’s okay. Some friendships aren’t meant to last 20 years. It’s probably better if some don’t.

But I can tell you I’m glad these friendships did. I’m so thankful–so very thankful–that I still have these two people in my life. They’re two people I know I could turn to at any moment–any day of the week, any time, with any request–and know that they would help me however they could. Because they’re more than family. They’re my friends.

Have you got a friendship in your life that has lasted for a long time? Don’t take it for granted. Don’t take advantage of it. If you don’t take care of it, it might not always be around. Friendship takes work–hard work.

What about the opposite side of the coin? Have you got a friendship you’re getting ready to walk away from? If you really feel like that’s the best choice, then do it. There are some friendships that aren’t healthy. But take the time to find out what a healthy friendship is supposed to look like before you give up. If you’re walking away from a long-time friendship because you got your feelings hurt or because you didn’t get your way about something, reconsider.

Friendship is a priceless gift. That’s exactly what it is. You can’t force someone to be your friend. And if they love you and trust you enough to call you a friend in return, please don’t ever take that lightly. And please think twice (or more) before you throw it away.

And if you’re one of the fortunate ones who gets the opportunity to celebrate a birthday party with a friend of 20 years, you won’t even remember the bad times. And if you do, you’ll just see them as stepping stones to a closer relationship.

Nothing worth having was easy to get. That goes for friendship too. And friendship is worth having.

Dove sitting on a power line at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Need to see God today?

Sometimes don’t you wish you could see God so you’d know what He’s up to? Not metaphorically. Actually. There are days when I really wish I could see Him leaving those footprints in the sand instead of merely coming on them after they’re made.

Some days God moves so slowly it’s all you can do to keep following. Other days, He moves so fast it’s all you can do to keep up. But even though you can see indications of what He’s been doing, we never actually get to see Him. And at this point in our lives, that’s probably a good thing because seeing Him in reality would kill us. Very few people in the Bible ever actually saw God.

But there’s something in us that yearns to see truth with our own eyes. I think it’s because our brains are so small and limited. Our world as we know it is limited to what we can experience, what our five senses can comprehend. If it can’t be experienced through taste, touch, smell, scent, or hearing, we tend to think it doesn’t exist. We think it’s not real.

And that’s the irony because the things that our senses can’t understand are more real than the ones that are. But that’s not much comfort for people who need to see God, who need to remember who He is.

Well, if that’s you today, look no farther than your inner circle.

Doves sitting on a power line at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Doves sitting on a power line at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 John 4:11-12.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

Have you ever had someone encourage you when you were down? Have you ever had someone listen to you and let you blow off steam without getting anything in return? Have you ever had someone tell you they love you for no other reason than just to tell you?

You realize behavior like that isn’t always compulsory. Just because you are friends or family or Christians doesn’t mean that people will go the extra mile to show others how much you love them. But people filled with God’s love can’t help but share it with others.

Do you have friends like that in your life? I do.

Here’s the deal, friends. If you need to see God, look at the people in your life. Pay attention to what they’re doing for you. If the people in your life love you and sacrifice for you, what do you think could make another stubborn, selfish human being actually want to do that for another person?

That’s right. God’s love. God’s love for us overflows so that we have too much to handle and have to give it away. And if that’s not evidence of God in my life, I don’t know what else is.

On those days when I’m feeling down and all I want is to see God so I know that I’m going the right direction, inevitably someone comes across my path to encouragement–and they have no reason to.

So if that’s where you are today, hang around someone who loves God and see what happens. If you need to see God, watch people who love Him, and you’ll see undeniable proof of God through the love His people have for each other and for those around them.

True, Christians can be the meanest people on the planet, but I’m not talking about those kinds of Christians. If you’re friends with those kinds of Christians, sorry to be blunt, but you need to change your crowd. Fortunately, those kinds of Christians are usually pretty obvious. They won’t hang out with mere mortals anyway!

But if you’ve got a crowd of normal, average, broken people who need Jesus every moment of every day, I promise you’ll get to see God before your time with them is over. Just keep your eyes open.

 

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Get a second opinion

Have you ever tried to start a new project without really know what you’re doing? It’s probably not the smartest idea, honestly, but I know folks who have done it anyway. Leaped into a commitment that was much larger than they expected. But if they would have dug a little deeper, they would have discovered what they needed to know.

That’s the funny thing about taking risks in life. They don’t have to be blind risks all the time because there’s bound to be someone else who’s had the same thoughts and experienced the same problems you have, and if you can find that person, you’ve got access to a treasure trove of information. But what if you don’t like what they tell you? You can’t exactly jeopardize your dreams just because one person thinks you’re nuts for trying it, do you?

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 15:22.

Plans go wrong for lack of advice;
    many advisers bring success.

I like to go things alone. I’m independent and stubborn, and I like to figure things out for myself without anyone’s help. I have this internal drive to prove myself capable, and for some reason it seems to me like accepting advice or help from anyone else negates any progress I’ve made along those lines.

No, I’ve never claimed to be bright.

That’s why sometimes I struggle with this verse in Proverbs, because more often than not, whenever I go looking for advice about a decision I need to make, the people I talk to discourage me from taking it. Or they don’t understand what I’m trying to accomplish. So rather than being disappointed about what I want to do, it’s easier to just not ask and struggle through the process alone. Maybe that makes me independent, but I think it probably makes me more idiotic than that.

Asking for advice is essential, whether you’re taking a risk or not. Nobody can get through life without wise counsel from someone who’s already walked that road. I mean, you can try to get through life without wise counsel, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll end up in heaps of trouble, and your life will be a lot more complicated than it needs to be. But you need to be careful where you get your advice.

Advice needs to be based on the Bible. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking relationship advice or work advice or child-rearing advice or business advice. Whatever advice you need, needs to be based on Scripture because that is the source of wisdom, so if you are getting advice from somebody that contradicts what the Bible says, you can feel free to ignore it.

But you also need to get a second opinion. Maybe that sounds harsh, but don’t put all your trust and focus in one person. Get the advice of more than one godly man or woman in your life when you need to make a decision. If they all tell you the same thing, then it’s a good chance that’s the way to go. If they all tell you something different, then you probably need to do some more praying about the decision you’re going to make.

God created us all with different perspectives, and He put us where we are in life to give us different experiences. Having a group of advisors with varied history, varied life experience, varied ages, varied everything is valuable, as long as the one thing they share is love of Christ and love of Scripture. If you have a group of people to get advice from, you’re more fortunate than you realize; you’re blessed. If you don’t have one, find one. Cultivate relationships with wise people. Learn to recognize wisdom and strive to integrate it into your life, and when you find a wise person, don’t scorn their advice. Listen to it. Consider it. Compare it to Scripture, and make your decision.

Some advice is discouraging because it contradicts what we want, but wisdom recognizes that getting what we want isn’t always what we need.

So if you’re the type who doesn’t like advice, consider learning to like it. It will probably save you heartache and frustration in the future. And if you’re the type who asks for advice, just make sure the person you’re listening is wise according to the Bible and the Spirit, especially if you’re hovering on the edge of a life-changing decision. But don’t just ask one wise person. There is more than one wise person in the world, and even though perspectives may vary, wisdom doesn’t.

Is there such a thing as too much advice? Maybe. But it’s probably better to risk too much advice than to press forward with too little.

Beautiful jar of canned pickles at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Show me the pickles!

I hate not having the answers, but even more than that, I hate revealing to other people that I don’t know the answers. I won’t even ask for directions in the grocery store. Even if I spend an extra five minutes looking for that jar of pickles, I’d rather find it myself than demonstrate to someone that I don’t know where to find it. Isn’t that silly?

It’s probably my pride, which is something I struggle with constantly. I’m the clever one, the smart one, the one who always has everything under control, and I can’t find the pickles at the grocery store? Really? How embarrassing is that?

Now other clever, brilliant people I know can’t find the pickles either, but they don’t have a problem asking anyway. And if you think about it, which is a sign of actual intelligence? Asking where the pickles are? Or making a show wandering up and down the grocery store looking for it, where everyone can see you?

Beautiful jar of canned pickles at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Beautiful jar of canned pickles at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 9:9.

Instruct the wise,
    and they will be even wiser.
Teach the righteous,
    and they will learn even more.

Last night, I got to have coffee with a wonderful new friend. It was a great time of encouragement, and I got the opportunity to ask questions about a very large, as-of-yet-unrevealed adventure I’m going to be embarking on this year. The thing about this adventure/project? I’ve never done anything like it before. I’ve never even come close to doing anything like this before, and for the first time ever I am completely at a loss of how to proceed. Oh yeah, I know the basics. I know the simple outline of how to do it, but the details? The possible pitfalls? The way to manage success or failure? It’s all new.

Not knowing what to do and being honest about it is new for me. Not to say that I always know what I’m doing. That’s rarely the case. But I never ever openly admit that I don’t know what the next step is.

But this is important. This is something I feel like God is calling me to do, and I want to do it right. I want to make wise choices, so I want to talk to people who have previous experience, even if that means I have to reveal that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.

Throughout our conversation last night, I kept thinking about this verse. This is the kind of person I want to be, which is ironic because this is very much the message series that my pastor is speaking on right now. Wisdom. Getting more wisdom. Being wise. Being teachable. I want to be teachable. I want to be the kind of person who can learn new things, but to be that kind of person I have to admit (to myself and others) that I need instruction.

There’s a funny scene in The Forbidden Kingdom, a funny Kung-Fu movie with Jackie Chan and Jet Li, where the little teenage tag along is asking questions about Kung-Fu. Jackie Chan’s character has agreed to train him, but this crazy kid is so full of things he thinks he knows that he’s not learning anything. I think it’s relevant to this topic today.

If you want to be wise, truly wise, you have to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Trying to come off like you know everything just demonstrates how little you actually know. Wise people want to be wiser. Wise people never stop learning, so that means they have to be willing to admit they need help.

That’s what I’m working on. Being open about how little I actually know, asking for help when I need it, and not being afraid to admit that I don’t know the answers.

But I probably still won’t ask for directions at the grocery store, because–well–spending a little extra time walking around is probably good for me anyway.