I Have a Friend

I have a friend

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Anne.  We can go weeks, months, without talking and pick back up where we left off.  I can tell Anne things that would make anybody else think I’m crazy, but she understands.  She is also my prayer warrior.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Gwen.  She is great at making connections and gathering resources.  She responds to crisis with empathy. We have stuck with each other even when others have tried to tear us apart.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Laura.  She is easily the most intelligent person I know and somehow manages to affirm me in ways that make me feel brilliant.  She knows how to speak to me in ways that appeal to both my head and my heart.  She has sat beside me (literally) through some of my most nerve-wracking days.  She has stood for me when I’ve been treated unjustly.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Jim.  He lives in heaven now.  He was by far the best listener I have ever known.  He may have been my biggest encourager too.  He saw me as Jesus does and would remind me that He was rejoicing over me (Zephaniah 3:17).  He also knew exactly when I needed a package of lemon Archway cookies sitting on my desk as a surprise to get me through the day.  I haven’t had one since he passed away.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Judy.  Judy and I share a disdain for unripe bananas.  Some brown is best, it’s what makes them sweet.  We can not see each other or speak for ages and then spend hours together on a road trip with no discomfort.  I think the most special thing about her is that she has cried with me.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Elisa.  She believes and affirms me. She doesn’t mind hearing my drama.  She makes sure I do fun things. She is generous.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Bob.  He is the closest I will ever to have to a big brother.  He ribs me pretty good, but we can also join to rib somebody else even better.  We can share a glance and understand each other with no words.  He protects me.  He goes to lengths (maybe it doesn’t seem so to him, but I know for a fact he has sacrificed his own comfort) to make me feel safe.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Beth.  Beth is a hard worker, always available, and shows up even when I haven’t reached out to her in ages.  She is a servant.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Rebecca.  She is also my cousin.  She found me when I needed her.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Shari.  She is thoughtful with her giving.  I have received boxes from her full of all sorts of things—food, items for sensory processing disorder, books, things she’s picked up at a thrift store so I can make my kids exactly what they want for Halloween.  She even called all around from her home in Pennsylvania to have mashed potatoes delivered to me in Michigan when I was sick once.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Beth, another Beth.  We have a shared experience and she has been available to listen, to understand, to share wisdom, and to advocate.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Bonnie.  She never fails to make me laugh.  She uses her life experience to help me on my journey.  She will talk to me for hours when I am lonely.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Sheryl.  In the three years we have know each other, we have been through some pretty intense stuff.  If love can be fierce, then that’s how she loves me.  She can be frustrated with me to no end (I can be with her too) but treat me unjustly and you will see fire appear in her eyes.  She can also be tender.  She is the only one I will let touch my head (hair).  She has held me and stroked my head as tears run down my face.  She trusts me, which I think is an honor.

I have a friend.  I have a friend named Jesus…

Lots of people call Jesus their friend, and rightfully so.  In the Bible, God, and later Jesus as the incarnation of God, is referred to as a friend or refers to us or others as His friends.

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. (Exodus 33:11)

“But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
you descendants of Abraham my friend,
 I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
 So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:8-10)

And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:23)

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15)

The problem is, friend is not a title we lift up in the United States.  Sure, many of us have good friends that we value very much, but at the same time, we use the word for people who are mainly acquaintances.  I think we treat friendship as disposable too.  We keep friends for a season to meet our needs and then discard.  I don’t think it’s always as intentional or as selfish as it sounds, but something that seems natural as we drift apart because of changes in life.  With this definition of friendship, calling Jesus friend seems like a sweet sentiment, but without a whole lot of meaning.  It gives a picture of somebody we casually shoot the breeze with.  Sure, we can do this with Jesus, but there is so much more.

Notice those verses above.  Do you remember the kind of relationship God had with Abraham and Moses who were called His friends?  Covenant relationship.  Yes, God made covenant with his FRIENDS.  We generally reserve that kind of relationship for marriage, but God made it with FRIENDS.  And what about Jesus?  He DIED for His FRIENDS!  To God/Jesus, friendship is serious business.  Friends are those you have binding relationships with, friends are worth giving your life for.

I started this blog with a list of SOME of my friends and just a few of their qualities.   Put all these qualities together, and there is just a glimpse of what I mean when I call Jesus my friend.  He isn’t just my buddy, He is someone I revere, because that is what I do to a friend.

I have a friend.  His name is Jesus.  He understands.  He prays for me. He is empathetic. He has all the resources. He is loyal, faithful. He thinks I am smart.  He appeals to my head and my heart. He sits beside me. He stands for me. He encourages. He knows my needs. He weeps with me. He affirms me.  He listens to all the crazy. He provides. He protects me. He makes me feel safe. He is available. He is a servant. He found me.  He is thoughtful (intentional) in His gifts to me. He has lived this life. He is wise. He is my advocate. He makes me smile. He walks with me. He talks with me. His love is fierce and tender.  He entrusts things to me.

Of course, Jesus is even more.  He is Creator. He is Sovereign. He is the Son of God. He is God.  He is Almighty. He is Messiah. He is Redeemer. He is Savior. He is Healer. He is…He is!

I don’t know where you’re at with Jesus, who you think He is, who you call Him, but this is a great time to think about it.  We are in a season called Lent, a time to reflect on who Jesus is and what He has done in preparation of soon celebrating His resurrection. I pray that you find Him a wonderful friend as I do.

To my friends, those who I have mentioned and all others, thank you for reflecting the greatest friend.  And because I just can’t help it, I’ll leave you with a hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
There will be no need for prayer—
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there. (Joseph Scriven, 1855)

Paczki and Grace

Paczki

Confession: I don’t care for paczki (you can google how to pronounce that one 😉 ). I fear my status as a Michigander may be revoked for this revelation.  I do like pasties and Vernors, so perhaps those will save me.  For those outside of Michigan, Paczki, are a polish treat indulged in on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. Simply, they’re a filled pastry. People make their orders weeks in advance, the best bakeries have long lines on Fat Tuesday, and they can now be found at most grocery stores. To me, they’re a doughnut, and I would take a bagel over a doughnut any day (I try to stay away from both)!

I do appreciate the tradition though, understanding the significance, the indulgence before the fast. These treats, that have 400-500 calories each (that’s why they’re not JUST a doughnut), were traditionally made to use up things like sugar, lard, and eggs that were given up for Lent. As we go through this Holy season, we often mark the days, thinking of what would have happened each day in the life of Jesus. As we come even nearer to Easter, we will remember when He made His entrance into Jerusalem, turned tables in the temple, celebrated Passover, and died on the cross. Where would Jesus have been today? The transfiguration!

Here is the account from the gospel of Matthew:

 Six days later, three of them saw that glory. Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.

Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?”

While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.”

When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.” When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus. (17:1-8, The Message)

Can you imagine?!  Peter, James, and John got to see Jesus in His glory, transformed right before them, His earthly body morphed into His heavenly one (sounds like a good movie with some wild special effects), and joined by those they had only heard about, great men of their faith, their stories passed down through the generations, studied carefully by the religious leaders.  If that wasn’t enough, they heard the voice of God!  Is it any wonder Peter didn’t want to leave?  Other versions of the account say he asked to put up three tents.  He wanted to camp out in this moment!

What’s the significance of the transfiguration?  Most notable is that Jesus is declared beyond any doubt to be the Son of God.  The presence of Moses and Elijah showed that Jesus was the Messiah, the One whom the prophets spoke.  Their presence also spoke to the validity of Jesus as God’s Son and Messiah as Old Testament law required two or three witnesses.  Could there also be some significance in the timing?  Why now?  Jesus had been doing public ministry for three years.  His disciples had been traveling with Him for as long.  Couldn’t He have given them this experience sooner?  Surly there is the fact that they might not have been ready.  After all, this follows much teaching by Jesus through word and example.  And Jesus did instruct them not to tell anybody.  Perhaps any sooner and they would have let the cat out of the bag. Peter wasn’t one to always think before he spoke. It could have caused problems for Jesus before the appointed time.  Maybe the transfiguration was foreshadowing the coming Kingdom of God and so it needed to happen closer to the resurrection.  Maybe it was the thing that would make them believe in the resurrection at all.  When they heard he was alive, maybe they could think back to this moment and believe.

All that understanding is great (a quick google search and I bet you could even find more), but I think perhaps part of the timing, part of taking those three to see, was the same reason we consume paczki.  Could it be that the transfiguration was preparation for the days ahead?  Was it the mountain top experience that sustained them for a season in the valley?  The days ahead would be tumultuous.  Jesus would tell of His death in no uncertain terms.  They would be with Him he was accused by pharisees.  They would watch Him (well, they fell asleep I guess) sweat blood as He gave up His will.  They would witness one of their own betray Him.  They would see trials, watch Jesus endure conviction, and see the agony of the punishment as He was beaten.  One would deny Him.  They would watch Him hang on a cross, a public shaming we can only imagine, and in amounts of pain that make our stomachs turn.  But before all that…THIS!  What grace Jesus had, to let them experience this before the days ahead.

And that is just what the paczki reminds me of, GRACE.  It is the indulgence, undeserved and probably even unnecessary prior to 40 days of fasting.  We delight in food, and so long as that doesn’t turn into gluttony, I see nothing wrong in enjoying this gift from God.  He gave us so many things to not only provide nourishment but to satisfy our taste buds.  How much more delight was there in seeing Jesus in all His glory!

I won’t begrudge you your paczki today, or fault you for eating up the remaining chocolate in your house, or enjoying whatever it is you plan to give up (should you choose to do so, not all do that is fine as well), but I pray that as you do you will be reminded of grace.  Perhaps you can take some time to reflect as you indulge, on the times God has given you a mountain top experience before you’ve spent some time in a valley.  Thank Him, thank Him for the grace to take you there.