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.

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Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Overcoming trouble

Life can really suck sometimes. And there is this troublesome expectation in the Christian community that even if life sucks, we need to be happy about it. So no one feels free to be “not okay” around other believers. We all put on masks. We all say that we’re fine. We all fake happiness and peace and general okayness because if we’re aren’t happy or at peace or generally okay, we must be bad Christians.
 
But that’s not the case. Sometimes life really does suck. Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes dreams fall apart. And when bad things happen, it’s not bad to grieve for a while. It’s not wrong to be sad.
 
I’m not really sure why the church got the concept that we have to be okay all the time. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s selfishness. Maybe it’s a misunderstanding of Scripture. I don’t know. But there is evidence in Scripture that Jesus grieved. Jesus felt. He experienced sadness, and He never hesitated to cry when He was mourning.
 
So if Jesus can do it, why can’t we?
 
I’m thinking of the time He raised Lazarus from the dead. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. “Jesus wept.” I can’t give you the reference, but it’s there. Jesus arrived, found Lazarus dead, and cried because He was sad. Now . . . why He was sad is a different story altogether. But that’s not what I was going to talk about this morning. Although, I do want to focus in on what Jesus did. He wept. And then He got busy. He didn’t stand still. He didn’t stay put. He took time to grieve, but He didn’t stay in a dark well of grief. He got up, and He moved on.
 
That’s hard to do. When you’re grieving, it’s so much easier to stay where you are. It’s miserable, but it feels like it would take too much effort to keep moving. It feels like you have shoes made out of cement. But the longer you mourn, the darker your life will get.  And it’s hard to see the truth when you’re existing in the darkness of your grief.
 
And the truth is that the world is full of troubles. The world is full of problems. The world is full of reasons for grief and mourning. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do or where you came from or why you’re sad. Everyone has something in their life that can leave them stranded in dark well of depression.
 
But Jesus said something in John 16:33 that I think is imperative to remember, especially if you’re grieving today.
Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

 

33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
 
The world sucks. It’s full of darkness and sadness and trouble, and it’s been that way since our first parents sold us out. And as long as we live here, we’re going to have hard times. Economically. Financially. Troubles in family. Troubles at work. Troubles at church. Troubles in general.
 
But take heart.
 
What does that even mean? That’s one of those figures of speech that always appears in Medieval movies when the brave knights are trying to cheer frightened villagers up. But what does it mean? Well, I checked the Amplified Version, and fortunately it had a little bit more explanation:
 
“but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]!”
 
That’s what it means. Be confident, certain and undaunted.
 
You’re going to have trouble in this world but be confident, certain and undaunted. . . . about what?
 
Jesus said He has overcome the world. And the Amplified Version continues, “I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.”
 
Jesus has conquered the world. We live in a world full of darkness and shadow, but Jesus is stronger than darkness and shadow. He’s stronger than our troubles. He stronger than the things that make us sad. And He has taken the power of those things away.
 
The only way the grief and darkness and trouble of this world have power over us is if we give them power back to control our lives.
 
We have a choice. We don’t have to be controlled by our grief or by the hard times that this world seems to thrive on.
 
It’s not wrong to grieve. It’s not wrong to mourn. But in the midst of those necessary emotional releases, don’t build your house there. Don’t root yourself there. Because if you give those things power in your life, you will live in darkness. And nothing grows well in darkness.
 
So if you’re sad today, mourn. Grieve. Take a moment to understand that you’re not a bad Christian because you feel sad.
 
But don’t stay there.
 
Get up. Take heart. Because grief and mourning have no power over you.