Friends are Friends

I’m sitting here wondering… who are the people in your life you trust, and why do you trust them? I know that’s a deeper question than it sounds. Each of us has people in our lives we’ll trust for one thing but not another. Still, there are those we keep close in everything. They are second selves in a way—people we’ll lean on no matter the circumstance.

I’m guessing that for many of you, it’s your family that best fits within the boundaries of this description. Speaking for myself, I can certainly affirm that my wife, Jennifer, is the one person I trust unreservedly with everything. She’s also the person I can trust to not pester me when there are situations happening that, while I need to keep them confidential, are clearly weighing me down. She never pries, but instead, does what she can to cheer me up, all the while encouraging me to keep pressing forward, especially when she can clearly see that I don’t feel like I can. This, again, is an aspect of her trustworthiness.

I have a trustworthy Bishop, too. He’s more than an ecclesiastical supervisor. He’s a friend. Even better, he’s a pastor’s pastor to all in the district. What I mean is that for any of the church professionals out there within reach of his supervision, if they have no one else to trust aside from Christ, they can trust him. I’m glad for that.

Since I mentioned the idea of confidential things, in contrast to those you’d trust, there are those around each of us who display a tendency for handling secrets in the same way they handle cash. They circulate them, using them to buy and sell with others. By the way, those folks are often the first ones to pester for secret information, ultimately betraying their lack of intention or ability for ever keeping to themselves whatever it is you may share. There’s another term for those people: Gossipers. For the record, I keep gossipers at arm’s length. In fact, anyone who knows me will know I have a tendency to come down hard on gossipers. Gossip is poison to the Church and it should never be tolerated.

Of course, keeping confidence isn’t the only thing that makes a person trustworthy. Again, speaking only for myself, the people I keep closest are the ones I know will receive my words honestly—easy or hard—and in turn, they know I’ll do the same with theirs. I hope Jennifer doesn’t mind that I’m repeatedly using her as an example, but this reminds me of something she articulated so wisely a few years ago. In fact, I mentioned it in The Angels’ Portion, Volume III. I may have shared it with you before. Either way, here’s what I wrote:

“‘Friends are friends until they’re not,’ my brilliant wife has observed. And the substance of her meaning is a direct outflow of her life as a pastor’s wife. She knows all too well that her husband is always just one decision, action, conversation, or sermon away from ticking someone off and seeing that which once was become a thing of the past. She knows all too well that if she shows up on Sunday and gets the cold shoulder from someone who only last week was as fresh and friendly as a springtime sprig, it’s because of something I did.”

Friends are friends until they’re not, which is why I’m guessing that like me, the people you trust the most are the ones who continue to prove the long-lasting nature of real friendship that can withstand being over-taxed by mistakes, careless words, or whatever else might cause division between people. Most often the first action of a trusted friend, at least the kind I’ve described so far, won’t be to attack you, but rather will be to seek peaceful ways to fortify his or her friendship with you through faithfulness to Christ.

I appreciate the phrase, “True friendship is never serene.” Marie de Sévigné said that. She was right. And her point: True friendships are not without turbulence. Still, I’m guessing they have something that other relationships do not: Humility and forgiveness.

Humility will always be a sturdy bridge for carrying heavier issues over from one person to another. And if forgiveness is there waiting on the other side, the friendship will be proven capable of withstanding what breaks all other relationships.

Christians, in particular, know these things very well. And why wouldn’t we? We know that even as we were God’s enemies, completely dead in our trespasses and sins, Christ humbly submitted Himself to death on our behalf (Ephesians 2:1; Romans 5:6). The forgiveness He won for us by His death is the foundation of our very identity as human beings. From this, we know without question that He is the absolute epitome of “friend,” having made clear to us that there is no greater love to be found among friends than that one would be self-sacrificing, that one would lay down his life for the other (John 15:13). When Jesus speaks this way, of course He’s referring to Himself as the only One capable of being the truest friend. And yet, He certainly gives this faithful Word in order to establish the same selfless relationships between His people, knowing that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we would be found emitting to each other in much simpler ways what He first demonstrated to us in the greatest of ways.

You may have other criteria behind your determining of trusted friends. I certainly have others I’ve not shared. Nevertheless, what I can tell you with relative simplicity is that when humility and forgiveness are present in a person, the rest of what we might consider to be not-so-likeable qualities are most often barely noticeable—which makes complete sense. It’s a lot harder to see the bad stuff when Jesus is blocking your view.

It’s Good to Be Home

It’s good to be home. Still, vacations certainly are great. They’re the allotment of time and distance you set aside for setting things aside.

But let me just shoot straight with you. I get more than a little anxious before coming home. We haven’t been taking vacations as a family for that many years, so I can look back at each of them and say with conviction that I’ve never once thought while thrashing around in the pool with Jen and the kids, “You know, I’ve had enough of vacation. Let’s get back to reality.” For me, Voltaire’s comment amount rest being a brother to boredom falls flat on its face when I’m enjoying my early morning vacation ritual of sitting at my computer drinking coffee, unrestricted, free to type whatever I feel like, and as I do, every now and then, catching a glimpse of a favorite palm tree covered in scurrying anoles just outside the window.

For me, vacationing does not share the same parentage as boredom.

You may have a different locale with different rituals, but I’m sure it’s the same for you. Still, let me dig a little deeper into the anxiousness, because I’m guessing this might be familiar to you, too.

While on vacation, we usually drive cars that are better than our own. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we troop through the rental lot in search of the Porsche section—although, I’ve pestered Jen about it once or twice. We usually get a minivan. And if we’ve paid more than $250 to borrow it for the whole trip, we consider ourselves as having been ripped off. I’m not kidding. Jen is the one who plans all this stuff, and she is magnificent this way. This year she managed to get us situated for the whole two weeks in a really nice Dodge Caravan for only $238. But more to my point, it had 115,000 miles less than the car I drive now, and as far as I could tell, not one of its dashboard warning lights was beaming steadily.

While on vacation, even though we only go out to eat about four or five times over the course of the entire two weeks, that’s still far more than we do as a family in an entire year—maybe even two years. And rest assured, our time in the various restaurants while vacationing is never wearisome. The staff is kind and equipped to serve, smiling and ready to bring us whatever we ask. We are kings and queens for the moment.

While on vacation, we do whatever we feel like doing. Of course, with the fear of COVID-19 looming everywhere this year, it was more of a challenge when it came to getting out and finding things to do. And yet, we never grew tired of the swimming pool. We were never met with exhaustion playing board games. We were never fatigued by huddling together on the couch, a bowl of popcorn in hand and watching “Shark Week” episodes featuring our favorite underwater cameraman personality, Andy Casagrande.

My point here is that while vacations are a temporary respite from reality, we can become anxious when we find ourselves actually heading back into reality. We want the vacation to be our permanent reality. We don’t want to come back to the car that has trouble starting. We don’t want to come back to the places where we are rarely, if ever, the one being served. We don’t want to come back to the relationships peppered with conflict. We don’t want to resubmit ourselves to stress-filled schedules filled with ungrateful patrons eager to tell you how undelighted they are with you. We don’t want the seemingly impossible workloads or the pressurized deadlines.

In the final analysis, across the expanse of a year’s fifty-two weeks, we want a reversal. We want fifty weeks of ease, and only two weeks of trouble.

But consider that word “reversal” for a moment.

I did a little bit of devotional reading each day while I was away. Every now and then, Luther spoke of God as staging a great reversal in Christ. We most often hear it referred to as “the great exchange.” If you ever get a chance to read from some of Luther’s writing on this subject, do so. His excitement is palpable. In fact, I sometimes think his words are at their poetic best whenever he’s dealing with this topic in particular. And why would they be this way? Because of all people who needed a reversal, it was Martin Luther, a man who monopolized the time of his father confessor because he couldn’t find the end to his own faults in a single day. He was a man terrified that he could never do enough to find God’s favor and win eternal life. But here in the great reversal, terrified sinners discover a God who, even in our ghastliness, loves us beyond measure. We discover a God who has no desire whatsoever to give sinners what they truly deserve. Instead, we behold Jesus on the cross and we see God working hard to lose so that we might win. We see Him taking the lowliest position of a foot-washing servant, laboring to make sinful peasants into righteous princes. We behold Him striving to endow the simplest of human words and means with an extraordinary power for delivering immeasurable forgiveness from the storehouses of heaven itself. For a guy like Luther—and for all of us for that matter—the Gospel turns what was once an awful truth of our inescapability from God’s divine reach into the most comforting of truths.

There’s an interesting aspect to all of this that relates to the anxiety of wishing a two-week vacation and the fifty weeks of reality that follow could switch places. By the Gospel, in a sense, God helps us to see that in Christ, this has actually happened. He gives us the eyes of faith for seeing that in the scheme of things, life in this world is really more like the “two weeks” of trouble in comparison to the inevitable “fifty weeks” of eternal rest we’ll experience with Christ.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m in the midst of a stressful situation while at the same time knowing that very soon I’ll be leaving it all behind, the worry I experience in those harder moments feels a little more like borrowed trouble. With that, I can endure it because I don’t really own it. It’s the same with life in this world. I don’t own it. Christ does. He took all its troubles into Himself on the cross. He carried them with Him into the grave. He rose again to justify my freedom from their permanence, which means I can make my way through all of this world’s nonsense knowing it’s already passing away, and in less than a blink in eternity’s eye, I’ll soon be resting with Him.

I want to add one last thing.

When I returned home and found myself among so many of you, I again experienced the joy of one of God’s most generous provisions to humans for enduring the relative “two weeks” we spend on this earth. I came home to friends.

Cicero referred to a friend as a “second self.” Aristotle referred to friendship itself as “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” For as insightful as these two philosophers were, they certainly spoke most handily in this regard. Coming home to friends, dwelling with you in the midst of this world’s struggles as a community of people immersed in the mercies of God and prepared to labor together, well, that helps to steer the anxiety away, too.

For that I am grateful to our gracious God who put you into my life, and I can repeat what I said at the beginning of this note: It’s good to be home.

By the way, I also began yesterday’s sermon with that sentence, and then doing something that probably seemed a little out of character to all of you, I asked Alexis Shirk (who was sitting in the first row near her parents) to snap a quick picture of the congregation for me. I had her do this because only moments before I stepped into the pulpit to preach, having just surveyed a Godly sea of 240 familiar faces, I remembered once again what a privilege it is to be the one preaching God’s Law and Gospel to people I love. It was an instance confirming for me the Christian proverb that “a faithful friend is the medicine of life; and those who fear the Lord shall find him.”