Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Everybody Needs a Friend

I think it was Jay Leno who said, “A good friend will help you move; a really good friend will help you move a body.”  Everybody needs a friend—something I was reminded of these last couple of weeks.  The first weekend of July Dayna and I made a Texas trip to see some family with a couple of our best friends (who really are more like family).   Then, I spent the last part of this past week meeting up in Arlington, Virginia, with two of my best and oldest friends.

Honestly, I feel a little awkward writing about friendship.  I have never fashioned myself a very good friend.  If I’m needed I’ll be there and am glad to be there and usually even want to be there.  But it seems that most of my friends have to take the initiative in our relationship—they usually make the first call, set up some kind of get-together, make things happen.  I’m a rather passive friend, I guess.  I wish I was better at it.

And I could learn from my friends who are so very good to me.  That’s George Flanagan and Drew Hill in the picture above.  After spending his whole adult life pastoring churches in Missouri, Drew just followed the Lord to a church in Arlington, Virginia.  Drew, George, and I try to get together once a year if possible since we all live in different places.  And we determined that we weren’t going to let Virginia’s distance from Missouri and Arkansas get in our way (especially when I have frequent flyer miles to redeem).  So we met at Drew’s new digs in Arlington.  You know how it is with a friend—when you picture them in your mind, when you pray for them, you want to be able to picture them in their environment.  We can do that with Drew now.

And as always, we picked up right where we left off last year.  I’ve known George since 1981.  We worked together two different times on the same church staff.  I’ve always considered him my pastoral therapist.  He’s counseled with me concerning life and marriage on more occasions than he probably wanted to.  But he’s a friend, so he always listens.  I’ve known Drew since the mid-80s.  He’s a brother pastor.  I know much of his family as well.  We hit it off from the first.  Like me, Drew shares the spiritual gift of sarcasm.  He has a rich sense of humor.  And yet he knows when to be serious too.  We share other gifts and passions.  We can talk shop or sports or family or our own junk or anything else.  The same goes for George.  We laugh a lot (a whole lot) when we’re together.  We laugh with each other and at each other.  We can pick at each other and tease each other and encourage and bless each other too.  We’ve all three been friends together since 1992 when we entered the doctoral program.  We were in the same doctoral peer group.  We did several seminars together.  We sweated our doctoral projects together.  And we graduated together.  We’ve been tight ever since.

Now, I suppose you could say that we all sort of choose our friends in life.  There’s much truth to that.  But don’t you think there’s some divine mystery behind it too.  C. S. Lewis once wrote this about friendship:

In friendship, we think we have chosen our peers.  In reality, a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more hundred miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another … any of these chances might have kept us apart. But for the Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of Ceremonies has been at work.

I’m thankful the secret Master of Ceremonies saw fit to bring George and Drew into my life.  I treasure their friendship.  I learn from them.  I’m a better Christian because of them.  And I can’t wait to get together with them again.  Do you have some friends like this?  I hope so … because everybody needs a friend.

In 1961, near the end of his life, baseball legend Ty Cobb confessed, “If I had a chance to live my life over, I’d do things a little different … I’d have more friends.”  I think I would too—especially if they are friends like George and Drew.   

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Prayer for America

As we approach our nation's 236th birthday, we talked about Christian citizenship in worship on Sunday.  But for some reason, the element of the service that spoke to hearts was my pastoral prayer.  It was a prayer for America.  No matter what one's politics maybe, all followers of Jesus recognize our nation's and our leaders' need for prayer.  Maybe that's why this prayer meant something to some folks on Sunday, I don't know.  Anyway,  I've been asked to post it, so here it is.


We praise you, our Father, that you are Lord of the universe and Lord of these United States.  You are the God who puts rulers in their places, who ordains the powers that be.  That’s not easy for us to understand sometimes.  We forget that you see the big picture.  We forget that you work in these ways both to bless and to judge.  You sit high above the heavens.  Nothing happens on this earth that you don’t know or that doesn’t pass your counsel.  Teach us to trust you even when we just don’t get it.  Remind us that you are the God who works and wills according to your good pleasure and that you are the God who will one day destroy evil and establish your kingdom forever.

In the meantime, we pray for our own nation as we prepare to celebrate yet another birthday.  We thank you for the good this nation has done in the world.  We thank you for the sacrifice of many who have sought to make it so.  We thank you for the myriad of ways you have blessed this nation throughout our history.  We thank you for our Founders and for every generation since.  And yet it seems that in this relay through time, we have dropped the baton.  We have forgotten our roots and lost our way as a nation.

Rather than acknowledging that you are God and that in God we trust, we have become ashamed to own your name and follow your ways.  In a time when we need you most, we have distanced ourselves from you and become ashamed of the gospel.  Forgive us for our sins.

Rather than continuing to guarantee the pursuit of life, we have made a mother’s womb a dangerous place to be, snuffing out life before a baby gets to see the light of day.  We don’t call the baby “life” anymore; we call the baby “choice.”  Many women who have made that choice are broken today.  Please help these women, and forgive us for our sins.

Rather than honoring marriage as the institution you created as a means to demonstrate your faithfulness to the world, as a way to give children the best environment in which to grow, as a means of building a society on a solid foundation, we have raced to divorce court, we have been adulterers, we have blessed homosexual behavior and called it normal.  Forgive us for our sins.

Rather than disciplining our children we have allowed disrespect and misbehavior and anything goes, and we are reaping what we’ve sown.  Forgive us for our sins.

Rather than seek the greater good and unity of our nation, we have become a nation of hyphenated-Americans, of special interests and self-interests with little regard for the common good or what’s best for us all.  Forgive us for our sins.

Rather than being stewards of our resources to help others, personally and corporately we’ve become greedy and miserly and stingy, thinking only of self to the neglect of others.  Forgive us for our sins.

Rather than discovering the truly needy and providing for them, we have encouraged a sense of entitlement and a lack of personal responsibility on the part of so many of our citizens so that a good system of care for those in genuine need has been corrupted and nearly bankrupted, making harder the help those who need it most.  Forgive us for our sins.

Rather than speaking truth and letting the chips fall where they may, we have become a nation of lies and spin and slander.  Forgive us for our sins.

And rather than being salt and light in this country, your church has become so compromised by the culture that nobody takes us seriously anymore.  Forgive us for our sins.

We pray for our President and leaders on every level of government.  Please make them wise, help them to seek your will, purge them of self-interest, and teach them to look out for the good of the whole rather than the few.  We pray for our soldiers on faraway battlefields, please bring peace quickly and bring them home.  And would you help these poor war-torn countries rebuild and get on with their lives without war?  We pray for relief from the fires and the storms and the natural disasters that have rocked our nation in unprecedented ways for several years now.  Have mercy on us, O God.

In spite of record deficits and downgraded credit ratings, we are still considered the most prosperous nation on the earth.  You have blessed us in so many ways.  And yet we are a most needy nation in other ways.  We are in need of rain, in need of revival, in need of humility, in need of repentance, in need of forgiveness, in need of unity, in need of peace in our wars and peace in our homes, in need of your great mercy.  Father, without you, we’re sunk, we’re hopeless.  Without you, our economic and military power isn’t worth a hill of beans.  Please humble us, forgive our sins, and heal our land.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.