Lean On Me

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Proverbs 18:24

In 1972 Bill Withers released a song that remains famous today. “Lean On Me” is ranked number 205 on Rolling Stone’s500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. Since the original release, numerous re-makes of the song have been done. Withers said the inspiration for the song was his childhood home in a tight-knit coal-mining town in West Virginia. He wrote it after he moved to Los Angeles and found himself missing the strong community of his hometown. The chorus of his song is:

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong. 

And I’ll be your friend.  I’ll help you carry on.

For, it won’t be long ‘til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.”

We truly do all need someone to lean on. And Proverbs 18:24 warns against having a life filled with “many companions” instead of true friends, “who will stick closer than a brother.” What is the difference between the two? Companion in this verse refers to a fellow citizen, while friendrefers to deep love. In fact, the same word is used in Genesis 22:2 to describe Abraham’s love for Isaac; and in Genesis 29:18 of Jacob’s love for Rachel.

It takes effort to develop this kind of friendship…one that is deeply rooted in love for one another. Life is busy; and if we do not prioritize such friendships they will not automatically happen. We must intentionally seek out these relationships and invest our lives in them. It is important to understand that every friendship will not fit into this category of “sticking closer than a brother.” However, it is wise to have at least one or two friendships that go deeper than the rest.

Do you have a friend that you know will stick closer than a brother when life gets hard?  Are you that kind of friend to anyone else? God created us with the need for deep, meaningful relationships…first and foremost with Him, and then with one another.

Dear Jesus, Thank You for the gift of friendship. Please help me to be wise in my relationships. I want to be the kind of friend who sticks closer than a brother; and I want to have friends like that. Help me to follow Your direction as You lead me each day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Best Friend

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are My friends if you do what I command.”  John 15:13-14

Friendship is a word that is thrown around casually in our culture. You can “friend” someone on Facebook that you do not even know. But there is a difference in being “friendly” with someone and being a friend. Most people have certain standards for friendship like loyalty, trustworthiness, honesty, and kindness. We expect certain things from friends that we wouldn’t from other people; and we give to our friends in a way that we would not give to others as well. Therefore, friendship carries both privileges and responsibilities.

In John 15, Jesus is preparing His disciples for His coming crucifixion. He will be leaving them to continue His ministry on the earth; and He wants them to understand the relationship they will have with Christ, and with one another. For three years they have followed Him. They have spent all their time with Him, watching and learning from His life. He has modeled for them how to have an intimate relationship with God, and how to love others.

Up to this point they have called Him Rabbi, or Teacher. But now Jesus initiates a shift in the student/teacher relationship they have shared. He tells them that the greatest of love is to lay down your life for your friends. From this one statement we know that Jesus is the greatest friend we will ever have. He carried our cross of sin and shame up to Calvary and offered His life to bring us to God.

Just as friendship with Christ has privileges, it also carries responsibilities. Jesus told the twelve that they were His friends if they obeyed His commands. Is Jesus placing conditions on salvation? Must we work to be saved? No. Jesus is saying that the fruit of friendship with Him will be obedience. We will obey, not to becomeHis friends, but because we areHis friends.  This is an important distinction. A desire to obey, and a lifestyle that reflects that desire, is the evidence of friendship with Jesus.

Jesus commands His disciples in verse 13 to love each other in the same way that He has loved each of them. He has given them all they need to know about love and friendship.  They have seen Him minister, serve, fellowship, teach, forgive, and even weep with His friends. And soon, they will see Him give up His life for His friends. And this is how He desires for believers to love one another. As Christians, our friendships should reflect the character of Christ, and draw others to Him.

Dear Jesus, Thank You for being my best friend. Your love compels me to love others. May my friendships reveal Your character and honor Your name. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

I Give Up

“You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of Me.”  Luke 21:16-17

It is human nature to want to be liked by other people. No matter the stage of life, all of us, to some degree, care what others think. While this tends to be at its peak during the teenage years, even as adults we compare ourselves to and try to impress our peers. And if we aren’t careful, we can begin to live our lives to please people rather than to please God.

In Luke 21, Jesus is warning His disciples of what is to come. If they choose to live the life of Christ, they are forfeiting an easy, comfortable life. They will give up the approval of man. In fact, they will ensure the betrayal, persecution, and hatred of man. Perhaps the most shocking news to them was that this betrayal would not only come from Christian-haters, but from those closest to them.

Parents, brothers, relatives and friends would not only betray them…but would kill some of them because of Christ. That is indeed what happened. Most people believe that all of the 12 disciples, with the exception of Judas (who killed himself) and John (who died of natural causes) were martyred for their faith in Christ. And yet, Jesus promises them in Luke 21:18-19 that, “Not a hair on your head will perish,” because, “by standing firm, you will gain life.” How is that possible? Christ’s promise wasn’t that a hair on their heads wouldn’t be harmed, but that it wouldn’t perish. By standing firm in the faith, even at the risk of death, Christ’s disciples gained what men can never take away – eternal life. That is why the Apostle Paul said, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Are you willing to give up relationships for the sake of Christ? Is His approval the most important to you, or are you living to please other people? Following Jesus has a cost.  This cost is different for every person. What have you given up to follow Christ?

Dear Father, You are worth whatever I may lose on this earth for Your sake. Thank You that what I gain is eternal. Please help me to be faithful to You, even when it is hard. Make me willing to follow You even when doing so brings mockery or hatred from people in my life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

A Real Friend

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”  Proverbs 27:6

Most of us are quite familiar with Proverbs 17:17, which says, “A friend loves at all times…” But maybe we aren’t so quick to quote today’s verse, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted…” Both are in God’s Word; therefore both are 100% true. So how do love and wounding co-exist in friendship?

Spiritual accountability is essential to a healthy Christian life. Accountability cannot happen without honesty; and honesty sometimes wounds. A true friend, the kind described in Proverbs, is willing to wound feelings temporarily to accomplish eternal purposes. A real friend will not allow you to continue in sin, and will hold you accountable to living a life that glorifies and pleases the Father.

This type of biblical friendship is rare. It is a relationship that requires transparency and trust. It does not feel natural to make ourselves vulnerable. It is not easy to be honest about our deepest struggles, fears, and hidden sins. It takes tremendous faith to put ourselves out there like this, doesn’t it? It is much easier to keep the most fragile parts of ourselves hidden behind a wall of silence.

And while this may feel safe, a lack of accountability actually leaves us the most vulnerable and open to attack. A Christian’s truest enemy is not man, but Satan and the dark forces of the world (Ephesians 6:12). I am convinced that one of his greatest tactics against Christians is secrecy and isolation. When our fear of what other people will think of us becomes more important than personal holiness, we are in a dangerous place.

Do you have at least one person whose wounds you can trust? Is there someone in your life who loves you enough to point out your sin when you don’t recognize it? If not, I encourage you to begin praying for such a person. May you both have and be this kind of godly friend.

Dear Father, I know it is Your will that I live a holy life; and that is impossible to do on my own. I need Your power and grace, and the fellowship and accountability of my brothers and sisters in faith. Please bring others into my life that desire deep and biblical friendship.  Help me to be this kind of friend to others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

True Friends Are Hard To Find

“And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.  Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.”  1 Samuel 18:3-4

Friendship. It’s one of life’s most wonderful gifts. True friends, however, are hard to come by, aren’t they? Most of us have many acquaintances; but how many of these people would we truly call friends? And what is the difference…what makes someone a friend?

Jonathan and David had a unique friendship. In this passage we have a picture of the covenant they made with one another. The exchanging of robes and weapons was significant in those days. It symbolized an exchange of identity, because people were often known by the color of their robes. The giving of weapons represented their fierce loyalty to one another. In essence they were saying, “Your enemies are my enemies. I will fight with and for you.” The covenant of friendship also extended to their families, including future generations.

What was the basis of such a friendship? Verse three says that Jonathan made the covenant because of his love for David. We can assume the feeling was mutual. It is hard for us to understand the deep meaning of this exchange, because promises are so easily made and broken in our culture. This was not so in biblical times. A covenant was a lifelong commitment never entered into lightly. The breaking of a covenant could result in death. These men were friends in the truest sense of the word.

We can learn much about true friendship from this relationship, can’t we? How many people do you, “love as you love yourself?” Sacrificial love is the basis of lasting friendship. It is the glue that holds the relationship together, and deep unity and loyalty spring from this love. The tendency today is to attempt to base friendship on common interests and backgrounds. But Jonathan and David were from two different worlds.  Jonathan was the son of the King of Israel, and David was a shepherd. Common interests will of course play a role in friendship; but they are a shaky foundation.

Are you investing your life in true friendships? It does take sacrifice to develop such a relationship. But if you have even one true friend, consider yourself wealthy and blessed…because true friends are hard to find.

Dear Father, Thank You for my friends. Please help me to prioritize these relationships so that they continue to deepen and grow. Help me to be a friend that points others to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Our Sufficient God

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights.”  Habakkuk 3:17-19

Have you ever had the privilege of visiting with Christians in a third-world country? I have had the opportunity to do so several times and I am always so blessed…and convicted. What amazes me the most is their gratitude and joy. I have met many families living in “houses” made from whatever trash could be gathered. Sometimes seven or more people living in one room, sleeping on the floor and eating one meal a day. Water is a luxury, and is fetched by walking to the nearest source. No air conditioning, shoes, medical care or indoor plumbing…and yet there is an abundance of joy.

My first thought is, why? From where does this gratitude come? I sometimes have trouble being thankful with more than I need. What is their secret? The answer is almost always the same. If you ask these brothers and sisters why they are so joyful they will smile and say, “God is good! He is faithful!”

They have learned that joy has nothing to do with external circumstances. Joy is the result of something much deeper…and lasting. God has enabled countless Christians worldwide to “go on the heights” of poverty, persecution, and suffering. They have learned that God is enough. He is all they need. He is more than they need. With this elusive truth comes great strength and joy.

So why do so few of us ever find this type of joy? I believe it could be that we do not really believe that God is enough. We may say we believe that, but in reality we think we need God and the approval of others, or God and a great marriage, or God and financial security. And the more independent we become, the less we feel the need to depend on God. And if we stop relying on Him to meet our needs, how will we ever learn and believe that He is sufficient?

True joy is found only in God. In plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, in the valleys and on the mountaintops, God is sufficient. He is good; and His love endures forever.

Dear Father, I have so much to be thankful for. I long to have the kind of joy that isn’t dependent on my circumstances. Please help me to rejoice in You and only You. Show me the areas of my life where I am not depending on Your strength. I know, God, that you are sufficient for all my needs and desires. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Our Everywhere God

Jeremiah 23:23-29 

“’Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the LORD, ‘and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 23:23-24

It is impossible to hide from God. Many have tried to do so throughout the centuries.  People like Adam and Eve, Jonah, and even Moses have tried to hide from God’s presence. Others, like Joseph’s brothers, have tried to hide their sin from the LORD. Impossible. It just cannot be done.

In Jeremiah God reminds His people of this truth. He is both nearby and far away. He fills the heavens and He fills the earth. Where else could man hide? Nowhere! As you are reading this, God is with you. And He is also in rural China, war-torn Iraq, hostile Pakistan, and “closed” North Korea.With God, there are no restricted borders.

In a world filled with injustice, where greed and idolatry seem to reign, it is increasingly important that we believe and cling to the truth of God’s omnipresence. No act of hate, selfishness, greed or injustice escapes God’s sight. He sees every need, hears every cry and counts every tear. Nothing surprises Him. And while He does not cause sin, everything that He allows can be used for our good and His glory if our lives are surrendered to Him.

You will come in contact with a variety of people this week – all with different backgrounds, problems and situations. Many are possibly suffering silently, even though they may not ever say so. Maybe it’s a troubled marriage, a house close to foreclosure, a disobedient or wayward child, a hidden addiction…the list goes on and on. We never know what someone else is struggling with in life. That makes it all the more important that we magnify and exalt Christ in every situation and conversation.  God has a way of using us when we don’t even know it.

The key is to abide in Christ…remain connected to Him through fellowship in His Word, prayer, service, and community with other believers. Only then can we discern the voice of God through His Spirit. He knows and sees what we cannot. And He can speak to, draw, and love others through our lives. God might just use you to show someone who desperately needs Him how close He really is.

Dear Father, I am so thankful that Your presence fills every corner of my life. It is such a privilege to know You. Please use me to draw people to You. May Your presence be evident through my life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Our Mighty God

Ah Sovereign LORD, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for You.”  Jeremiah 32:17

Nothing is too hard for God. Let that truth settle in your mind and heart for a few moments. It is an amazing thought. The evidence of this truth is everywhere at all times, visible and invisible. The air we breathe, the sun that warms the earth, and the unseen galaxies in outer space were all made by God’s great power. The first recorded words He spoke, “Let there be light,” began an incredible relationship between God and the people He created for His glory.

Why is it so hard for us to believe that God is all-powerful? On one hand, we take His power for granted in many ways. The air we breathe, gravity, the earth’s rotation, and waking up in the morning are all gifts from His hands. How often do we thank God for these gifts or even give them a second thought? And yet on the other hand, we worry and fret over the details of life. Money, relationships, and jobs can send us into a tailspin of anxiety and despair.

Jeremiah 32:17 is like a deep, calming breath. When overwhelming thoughts and feelings begin to inch their way into our minds, we can remember that our Sovereign LORD made the heavens and the earth by His great power; and nothing is too hard for Him.  Whether big or small, important or mundane, seen or unseen – nothing is too difficult for God Almighty.

We must intentionally practice remembering and focusing on the character of God and His mighty works. For all eternity, we will ever run out of reasons to praise and trust in Him. This is not an automatic reaction to stress, however – at least not at first. But it is a spiritual discipline that can be cultivated in the heart and mind. When doubts and fears come, when outside pressures seem stronger than faith, we must choose to take in the deep, calming breath of God’s Word and rest there. Remember, He said Himself; nothing is too hard for your God.

Dear Father, You have made the heavens and the earth. Your power is limitless and Your grace is extravagant. Why do I doubt? Why do I fear? Why do I worry when You are my God? Increase my faith, Lord. Bring to my mind the truths in Your Word in times of stress so I can cling to You, and not to my feelings. Thank You for always being faithful to me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Only God

 “When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The LORD – He is God! The LORD – He is God!’” 1 Kings 18:39

In 1 Kings 18, Elijah asks the so-called people of God a crucial question. In verse 21 he challenges them, saying, “How long will you waver between two opinions?” His reasoning is quite simple…”If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal is god, follow him.” In other words, “Quit straddling the fence and pick a side!”

God has made it clear in His Word that we cannot love both Christ and the world. We cannot claim to follow Jesus and hold onto our former way of thinking and living. This is what the Israelites were trying to do. They wanted to worship both God and Baal. What this really boiled down to was a lack of faith. God’s people were “covering their bases,” so to speak. Just in case God was not who He said He was, they also offered sacrifices to the gods of the world.

Elijah decides to get to the bottom of their unbelief with an amazing encounter with the prophets of the false gods. In doing so, he is forcing God’s people to choose a side. Their back-and-forth lifestyle is unacceptable to a holy God. What happened next was somewhat of a showdown between Elijah and Baal’s prophets…and more importantly between Baal and Jehovah. And God won with resounding victory.

When Elijah prays to God to burn up the sacrifice (which was drenched in water, along with the altar), he asks God to answer, “So these people will know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again.” Think of all God had done for the people of Israel…all of the evidence they had of His existence and His character.

He had chosen them out of all the peoples of the world, by His will and not because of anything they had done (Abram and Sarai). He had made a covenant with them and had never failed to honor His word, even when they were unfaithful. And yet, they still didn’t believe fully in their God.

What about us today? Are we much different? Do we wholeheartedly worship God and God alone, trusting in His character; or are we, like the Israelites, double-minded in our faith? We have the cross and the empty tomb. And that is all the evidence we should ever need.

 Dear Father, I confess that I can be double-minded, trying to follow You with a divided heart. Please forgive me for my lack of faith. Help me to trust You more and to serve You with all of my heart. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Our Great God

“I know that the LORD is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The LORD does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”  Psalm 135:5-6

Did you know that if you put Saturn in water it would float? Its density is less than that of water. Did you know the light hitting the earth now is 30,000 years old? Winds ten times stronger than hurricane-force swirl at the equator of Saturn – and they never stop blowing even for a moment. An average galaxy’s speed is 140 miles/second.

Did you know that humans have explored less than 10% of the earth’s oceans? And the top 10 feet of the ocean contains as much heat as the atmosphere. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on earth and can be seen from space. It is made up of over 400 species of coral, supporting over 2,000 different species of fish and 4,000 of mollusk as well as countless other invertebrates. The architecture and chemistry of coral is so similar to human bone, coral has been used to replace bone grafts in helping human bone to heal quickly and cleanly.

The Lord, indeed, does whatever pleases Him in the heavens and on earth, doesn’t He? It doesn’t take much more than a nature walk or a clear night sky to remind us that God has revealed His glory in what He has made. And to think there is so much of His creation that man knows nothing about. Have you ever wondered why? Why create what man will never discover?

God created a world that was pleasing to Him. And man is part of that creation. All that God has created, and everything that He does, is for His glory, honor, and pleasure. And He put this magnificent earth under the care of His crowning creation, mankind. It did not take long for man to begin worshiping the created, rather than the Creator. How this must grieve the heart of God!

It is so easy to take the beauty around us for granted. The flowers, trees, streams, stars, moon, and sunsets declare the glory of our God. All of creation is evidence of the goodness and power of God. How would it change our lives if we paused to see the small fraction of God’s creation that is visible to us? May all He has made bring us to our knees in humble adoration of the great God who has made it all.

Dear Father, You truly are great. Creation declares Your majesty. Please forgive me for forgetting this truth. Please remind me through Your Spirit to slow down and enjoy Your presence today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

Thirsty

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”  Psalm 42:1-2

You’ve likely seen it many times…and perhaps remember doing it yourself as a child.  You stand in a long line in a crowded shopping mall. Kids are screaming and moms and dads are losing patience. Cheerful music plays in the background as the chaotic scene plays out. Finally, it’s your turn. After hopping up in his lap, Santa asks the question you’ve been waiting to answer…dreaming of for months…”What do you want for Christmas?”

Your answer spills forth with gusto. You’ve been preparing to meet with this jolly fellow.  You’ve researched and put a lot of thought into what you want this year. And yes, you’ve been good all year long. After you’ve spilled out all the toys and trinkets you want, he hands you a candy cane, snaps a photo, and wishes you a Merry Christmas as he sends you on your way.

How often do we treat God like Santa Claus? We come to Him with our list prepared.  “I’ve been good, God.  Here is what I want from You.” The items on the list may be different as an adult…good health, safety, financial security, peace, etc. But are our hearts any different than the child’s sitting on Santa’s lap? How often do we commune with God for who He is and not for what He gives?

The words of the psalmist in Psalm 42:1-2 are so foreign to most of us, aren’t they? How many Christians can honestly say, “My soul pants for God like a deer needing water?” In verse 2 he asks, “When can I go and meet with God?” The beauty is that because of Jesus, we don’t have to go and meet with God.  He lives in us! There is no line, no waiting, no once-a-year event. You can speak with Him now. Day or night, quiet or loud, church or home…we can choose to crawl in His lap and have a conversation.

This is a privilege that should not be taken for granted. God should not be used for what we want. He should be worshiped for being all that we need. The deep thirst in every human soul can only be satisfied by a relationship with God through Jesus. None of the trinkets of the world can quench a thirsty soul. So let’s throw our lists away and meet with God with empty hands and a willing heart. Only then will we enjoy the true Living Water.

Dear Father, You are all that I need. I don’t always live like I believe that, but I know it is true. Please change my heart so that it is fixed on You alone. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

Peace

“You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.”  Acts 10:36

In the days of the prophet Jeremiah, God promised His people something new. At that time God’s commandments were written on tablets of stone; but one day they would be written on the hearts and minds of His children. At that time God’s Spirit was with His people; but one day He would be in His people. At that time sacrifices were offered over and over for sins; but one day there would be one sacrifice for all time. At that time God’s people placed their faith in a coming Messiah; but now our faith is in a risen and reigning Messiah.

Jesus, and the message He brought, was the fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecy. It was a promise kept to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants. As Acts 10:36 says, God’s message in Christ is the good news of peace. Not peace between men, but peace with God.

Peace with God can only come through Christ. There is no other way. God sent John the Baptist to prepare His people for the coming Messiah. And when Christ appeared, John recognized Him as the Lamb of God – the Messiah – who had come to take away our sins.  Without Jesus, God’s Spirit would not live in us. We would still be separated from God by our sins.

What a wonderful Savior! He not only died for our sins, He became our sin so that we might have peace with God through faith in Him. This is the greatest of all mysteries…Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Let us never take for granted that we have peace with God through Christ. For it is one of the greatest miracles of God’s grace.

Loving Father, How do I even begin to thank You for Jesus? I know there is nothing I can say or do to earn this gift of peace with You. All I have to offer is my heart and my life. May You be glorified in and through me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.