Rich and I have designated the first Sunday of each month as "Friend Day." We have done this in an attempt to help us all fulfill our mission statement. Hopefully, you know our mission statement. Our mission is: To Influence Friends Who Are Living in Spiritual Darkness That They Also May Know the Joy of Loving the Lord Jesus Christ.
What more noble goal can we have than to influence our friends with the gospel of Jesus Christ? We all are to be like Philip who shared the Good News of Jesus with Nathanael in John:
John 1:45 (NKJV) Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote; Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
Just like Philip, we also should want to share the Good News of Jesus with those who we call our friends.
There are a lot of things friends share today - secrets, tools, notes for a test, cars, time, a shoulder to cry on, a warm handshake of welcome, and much more; but the greatest thing a friend could ever share with someone he or she truly cares about is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. All of the ideal attributes which we would hope to find in a friend - compassion, care, concern, encouragement - all of these find their ultimate expression in Jesus Christ.
When we experience a friendship that we truly treasure, one that touches our lives in a deep and lasting way, it is because that friend models some of the characteristics of Jesus to us; such was the case with one little girl named Helen Keller and her friend Anne Sullivan.
Helen Keller was one of the world's most renowned women. As a little girl, Helen didn't have the benefit of sight or sound, but she grew up to be one of the world's most famous women. Most everyone has heard of the great accomplishments of Helen Keller, but not as many people have heard about the person who took an angry little girl and offered her friendship, understanding, compassion, and nurture. Helen Keller had a friend!
Anne Sullivan was born at Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, in poverty, in affliction. She was half blind. Her mother died when she was young, and as a result, Anne had to move to the orphanage where all of the unwanted children stayed. Then, later in life, at the Perkins Institute for the Blind, a brilliant operation restored Anne's sight. Thereafter she devoted her life to the care of the blind.
Meanwhile, down south, a little girl was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama. When she was only 19 months old, Helen Keller was stricken with an acute illness that left her deaf and blind. No method could be found to educate her until the age of seven, when she began her special education in reading and writing with Anne Sullivan of the Perkins Institute for the Blind.
Meeting Anne Sullivan proved to be a real turn around for Helen. Anne Sullivan, the woman who had faced the trials of blindness and losing her mother early on in life, would prove to be the friend that Helen needed. At first, Helen was angry, obstinate, and most difficult to work with. It would have been so easy for Anne Sullivan to give up on the little girl, but she saw in Helen what Helen could not see in herself, so she persisted in loving, caring, and sharing her life with the little girl.
In just two weeks, Anne taught Helen thirty words, spelling them out by touching Helen's hand. Under this system, Helen Keller rose to greatness. She quickly learned to read by the Braille system and to write by means of a specially constructed typewriter. In 1890, Helen learned to speak after only one month of study. Ten years later, she was able to enter Radcliffe College, from which she graduated with honors in 1904.
Following graduation, Helen served on the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. Throughout her life she worked and raised funds for the American Foundation for the Blind, and she traveled and lectured in many countries, including England, France, Italy, Egypt, South Africa, Australia, and Japan; all because of the influence of her friend Anne Sullivan.
After World War II (1939-1945), she visited wounded veterans in American hospitals and lectured in Europe on behalf of the physically handicapped. She wrote several books, which include: The Story of My Life (1902), The World I Live In (1908), Out of the Dark (1913), Midstream-My Later Life (1930), Let Us Have Faith (1940), Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy (1955), and The Open Door (1957). Her life is the subject of a motion picture: The Unconquered (1954), and a play, The Miracle Worker (1959; motion picture, 1962.)
Helen never forgot her dear friend, whom she cherished for more than forty-nine
years. The time came when misfortune befell Anne Sullivan, who meanwhile had become Mrs. Macy. Anne became blind. Suddenly, the teacher became the pupil, and the pupil became the teacher. Helen schooled her former teacher as devotedly as she herself had been schooled.
Finally, Helen Keller stood at the deathbed of her dear friend. When it was all over, she said, "I pray for strength to endure the silent dark until she smiles upon me again." Oh what a friend!
Friendships like the one shared by Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan are difficult to cultivate. Most people experience friendship as a constant string of letdowns, heartaches, and frustration. It is as if we know what a real friend is, but so few of us experience what we know in our heart we desire. As a result of our broken friendships most of us end up crying out for something different than what we experience; such was the case for Norma Jean.
Years ago, Father John Powell told the story of Norma Jean Mortenson: "Norma Jean Mortenson." Remember that name? Norma Jean's mother, Mrs. Gladys Baker, was periodically committed to a mental institution and Norma Jean spent much of her childhood in foster homes. In one of those foster homes, when she was eight years old, one of the boarders raped her and gave her a nickel. He said, "Here, Honey. Take this and don't ever tell anyone what I did to you." When little Norma Jean went to her foster mother to tell her what had happened, she was beaten badly. She was told, "Our boarder pays good rent. Don't you ever say anything bad about him!" Norma Jean, at the age of eight, had learned what it was to be used and given a nickel and beaten for trying to express the hurt that was in her.
Norma Jean turned into a very pretty young girl, and people began to notice. Boys whistled at her, and she began to enjoy that, but she always wished they would notice she was a person, too - not just a body - or a pretty face - but a person.
Then Norma Jean went to Hollywood and took a new name - "Marilyn Monroe", and the publicity people told her, "We are going to create a modern sex symbol out of you." And this was her reaction, "A symbol? Aren't symbols things people hit together?" They said, "Honey, it doesn't matter, because we are going to make you the most smoldering sex symbol that ever hit the celluloid."
She was an overnight smash success, but she kept asking, "Did you also notice I am a person? Would you please notice?" Then she was cast in the dumb blonde roles. Everyone hated Marilyn Monroe. She would keep her crews waiting two hours on the set. She was regarded as a selfish prima donna. What they didn't know was that she was in her dressing room vomiting because she was so terrified. She kept saying, "Will someone please notice I am a person. Please?" They didn't notice. They wouldn't take her seriously. She went through three marriages - always pleading, "Take me seriously as a person." Everyone kept saying, "But you are a sex symbol. You can't be other than that." Marilyn kept saying "I want to be a person. I want to be a serious actress."
And so on that Saturday night, at the age of 35, Marilyn Monroe took her own life. When her maid found her body the next morning, she noticed the telephone was off the hook. It was dangling there beside her. Later investigation revealed that in the last moments of her life she had called a Hollywood actor and told him she had taken enough sleeping pills to kill herself. He answered with the famous line of Rhett Butler in the movie, Gone With The Wind, (I'll paraphrase for you) - "'Frankly, my dear, I don't care!" That was the last word she heard. She dropped the phone and died.
Claire Booth Luce, in a very sensitive article, asked, "What really killed Marilyn Monroe, love goddess who never found any love?" Claire said she thought the dangling telephone was the symbol of Marilyn Monroe's whole life. She died because she never got through to anyone who understood.
So few today find a friendship like Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller. Far more experience the apathy and indifference which frustrated Norma Jean to the bitter end. For those of us whom God has graced with a friend who loves us, even when we are unlovable; stands by us when everyone else walks away; and challenges us when everyone else has given up on us - we need to be thankful.
For those of us who are fortunate, we have a friend we can count on - one as the
Bible describes in Proverbs by saying:
Proverbs 17:17 (NKJV) A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.
You and I need to stop and thank God for His provision of a friend. What would we do if we didn't have a friend with whom we could share our deepest secrets, our highest aspirations, and our most haunting fears?
When I think of such a friend, my mind immediately turns to my wife, Cathy, who has loved me and stood by me for the past twenty Eight years. I have learned so much about friendship over the years that we have known one another. As I have watched her be a friend to me, I have learned what real friendship is all about.
The longer Cathy and I are together, the more I have come to enjoy the friendship I share with her. I enjoy many aspects of my relationship with Cathy - I enjoy the relationship we have as husband and wife; I enjoy watching her interact with our children and grandchild; I enjoy the way she cares deeply for our parents; I enjoy the way she cares for those in our extended family of faith; I enjoy watching the way she works with other people's children; but more than anything else, I receive great joy from my friend for the way she loves me. The way she puts up with me, no matter how ornery I get. She always seeks to comfort me as her friend when I am discouraged and depressed; the way she sees a prince, even though I am all too often a frog, the way she encourages me all along the way, and the security I enjoy in knowing she will always be there. It is very comforting for me.
I hope you are getting a clear picture of my deep love for my friend. Words can hardly express the joy I receive from my friend, but you need to know that Cathy isn't the perfect friend. Because she is a mere mortal just like me, there are things which she is incapable of doing or being. As I have thought about those limitations, I came up with three:
1. Cathy doesn't always know my needs. Cathy can only hear what I am saying. She doesn't subscribe to the crystal ball method of discerning needs, she doesn't watch the Psychic Friends Network, nor does she read minds. She can't know my heart unless I share it with her. There is no way for Cathy, who loves me deeply, to know the innermost joys and sorrows of my life unless I share them with her.
2. Cathy has her bad days just like I do. On those days it is extremely difficult for us to love with the love of our Lord Jesus. Have you ever woken up in the morning, had your time with the Lord, but for some reason you just never got going? I sure have. There have been days, too many for me to count, when I just wanted to disappear from the face of the earth. For most of us on those bad days, we just want to be left alone. The last thing on our mind is to care for someone else during those bad days.
3. Cathy's commitment to me has its limits. I know that there is a point of grace out there in our relationship with a bright red "Stop" sign marking its limits. If I were to so disrespect and disregard our friendship that I walked by that "Stop" sign never taking into account how I might hurt my friend - our friendship could end. We have entered into a holy covenant called "marriage", and if I were to break that covenant, all of the blessings that I derive from my friendship with Cathy could end.
If you or my wife were to examine my limitations as a friend, you would find a list longer than your arm. Cathy is the greatest friend I have ever known, and yet she still has limitations. Where does that leave me? What am I to do? Where should I go on those days when Cathy is having a bad day? Who am I to talk to when I am so embarrassed by my actions that I can't even mutter them to my best friend? Where am I to go when my sin is so repugnant that even the most prized of friends turns away? I have discovered a friend in Jesus - a love that will not let me go, no matter how scarred or marred I become.
Romans 8:35 (NKJV) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Romans 8:38-39 (NKJV) For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is a love which will not let you go. The love of Jesus is a love which knows your needs before you are even made aware of your lack. The love of Jesus is a love which never has a bad day. The love of Jesus is a love that has NO limits.
These are three very important aspects of Jesus' love which you and I desperately need to allow to sink in if we are ever going to grasp the heights of His great love for us.
Jesus desires His very best for you. There is this pervasive attitude rampant in the church today which is very disturbing. I don't know how or when it got started. I guess it has been going on all along, but it is totally contradictory to the ways of our Lord. Whenever a brother or sister stumbles and falls, it seems that a certain element within the Body of Christ glories in the errant ways of the brother or sister. "Oh, I knew he was too good to be true. She never fooled me. You reap what you sow." Rather than reach out and seek to restore our brothers and sisters, we rear back and kick them in the ribs. Many of you here this morning have had to deal with this type of attitude in the past.
When Nathanael heard of Jesus, he said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" When Jesus saw Nathanael, He said, "Look, here is truly an Israelite. There is nothing false in him!" The same Jesus who spoke of Nathanael in such glowing terms, even though Nathanael wondered if anything good could come from Nazareth, is the same Jesus who looks beyond our worst faults and loves us anyway.
Brennan Manning, in his book, The Ragmuffin Gospel, gives us a wonderful example of what I'm talking about. Manning says:
On a sweltering summer night in New Orleans, sixteen recovering alcoholics and drug addicts gather for their weekly AA meeting. They have been meeting for several years and know each other well. Some talk to each other daily on the phone, others socialize outside the meetings. The personal investment in one another's sobriety is sizable. Nobody fools anybody else. Everyone is there because he had made a slobbering mess of his life and is trying to put the pieces back together. Some members are wealthy, others middle class or poor. Some smoke, others don't. Most drink coffee. Some have graduate degrees, others have not finished high school. For one small hour the high and the mighty descend and the lowly rise. The result is fellowship. The meeting opened with the Serenity Prayer followed by a moment of silence. The prologue to Alcoholics Anonymous was read from the Big Book by Harry followed by the Twelve Steps of the program by Michelle. That night, Jack was the appointed leader. 'The theme I would like to talk about tonight is gratitude,' he began, 'but if anyone wants to talk about something else, let's hear it.' Immediately Phil's hand shot up. 'As you all know, last week I went up to Pennsylvania to visit family and missed the meeting. You also know I have been sober for seven years. Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days.' The only sound in the room was the drip of Mr. Coffee in the corner. Phil continued, 'You all know the buzz word, H.A.L.T. in this program,' he continued. 'Don't let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired or you will be very vulnerable for the first drink. The last three got to me. I unplugged the jug and...' Phil's voice choked and he lowered his head. I glanced around the table - moist eyes, tears of compassion, soft sobbing the only sound in the room. 'The same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed drunk for a year.' 'Thank God you're back.' 'Boy that took guts for you to say that.' 'Relapse spells relief, Phil,' said a substance abuse counselor. 'Let's get together tomorrow and figure out what you needed relief from and why.' 'I'm proud that you are here.' 'I never even made it close to seven years.' As the meeting ended Phil stood up. He felt a hand on his shoulder, another on his face. Then kisses on his eyes, forehead, neck, and cheek. 'You old ragamuffin,' said Denise, 'Let's go. I'm treating you to a banana split at Tastee-Freeze.' (p. 65-66)
Praise God for a sixteen member "church" which has captured the heart of our Lord, our friend Jesus. My friend, you may be one of the ragamuffins which has stumbled and fallen, been kicked in the ribs by those who should have extended a hand of help to lift you back to your feet again. You need to know that Jesus loves you with all your faults. He always has, and He always will. Nothing can distract Him from continually seeking His best for you.
Jesus puts Himself on our level. Do you remember the commercial that ran during the NBA season several years ago with various human behemoths looking down upon a camera and counseling us on how intimidating we can be to our children because of our size? Each of us has probably been in a situation where we were overshadowed by another person and made to feel insignificant. It may have been the physical size of another person or their position in the company or their name etched upon the plate that read "Principal" hanging over the office door, but we've all been intimated at one time or another.
Jesus came not to intimidate, but to enter into an intimate relationship with you and me. He got down on our level to look us in the eyes and love us from His heart. That's really the message Paul was trying to convey when he said:
Philippians 2:6-8 (NKJV) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Doesn't it drive you crazy when you go to a friend with a problem or a predicament which needs the compassionate and caring response of someone who loves you deeply, only to be lectured or looked at like you had the plague? I think each of us can identify with that type of situation, but even worse, I have been the one who has inconsiderately doled out misery rather mercy. How many friends have I had an opportunity to minister to with love, grace, and care, but instead they walked away feeling like they had been to see their parole officer?
When you want a model of friendship look to the One who gets down on His knees to look straight into your eyes, beyond our words to your heart.
Do you realize just how awesome this is? Do you realize that it is not our buddy who has taken on our flesh and blood, but it is YHWH God Himself - the One who thundered from Mt. Sinai, the One who split the sea so that His friends wouldn't get bogged down in the mire of life, the One who announced the salvation of humanity through the birth of a little virgin named "Mary".
He is God; the One who knit us together in our mother's womb; the One who opened our eyes for the first time and every time since; the One who gives us the breath of life even at this very moment; the One who hung the stars in the heavens, created the atom, taught the spider how to spin a web, provides food for the fish of the sea, shelter for the birds of the air, and hope for the hopeless. He is God, and there is no other! He is God. He has never sinned against His creation. We have sinned against the One who loves us most; the One who allowed His Son to die for us so that we might know His love. He has forgiven us even though it cost Him His Son.
At a Prison Fellowship dinner one night, a lady stood at the platform and said, "The man I ate dinner with tonight killed my brother." The words, spoken by the woman in Seattle, amazed the audience. She told how John H. had murdered her brother during a robbery, served 18 years at Walla Walla, then settled into life on a dairy farm, where she had met him in 1983, 20 years after his crime. Compelled by Christ's command to forgive, Ruth Youngsman had gone to her enemy and pronounced forgiveness. Then she had taken him to her father's deathbed, prompting reconciliation. Even though Ruth had forgiven John, he had never accepted Christ.
At the Prison Fellowship dinner, John stood to address the crowd. He was nervous. Everyone knew he was a murderer. He wondered how he would be received. His voice cracked as he said, "Christians are the only people I know that you can kill their brother, and they'll make you a part of their family. I don't know the Man Upstairs, but He sure is hounding me."
What Ruth did, in forgiving John, is truly amazing. Ruth would never have been able to forgive the killer of her brother if she had not first been forgiven herself. Just as Christ died for us regardless of our actions, so Ruth forgave him without qualification. Even more so, she became his friend. (Albert H. Quie, President of Prison Fellowship Ministries, Jubilee, Page 5)
Jesus entered our existence, He cried our tears, He suffered our pain so that He could not only identify with our experiences, but so that He could remedy them with His abundant love. Jesus knows where you are, my friend. If you are on the highest mountain peak experiencing the greatest exaltations life has to offer - He is certainly big enough to stand by your side and join the celebration. If you are in life's deepest gutter with the darkest clouds known to man hanging heavily over your head - He has been there and He kneels gently, softly, to hold you in His loving arms and whisper your name.
The writer of Hebrews tells us:
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NKJV) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Have you ever asked someone for help with a difficult task and had them respond with exasperation and disgust? Sometimes children get this kind of response from their parents or their teachers. For example, if a parent is teaching their child to ride a bike, and they say things like, "Why did you do that? Why can't you do it the way I showed you? Didn't you listen to me?" How would that kind of help affect you? It makes me want to shrink away from asking for help - I'll either figure it out myself or I'll just quietly fail, but I'm not going to risk getting embarrassed or turned down by someone who doesn't understand how difficult it is for me.
Unfortunately, this is the easiest thing to believe about how God will respond to you when you need help in following him. The truth is that it can be very difficult to follow God. We often experience powerful temptations to compromise our faithfulness. Sometimes we realize we're swimming upstream against some deeply ingrained bad habits. When this is the case, what is the easiest thing to believe? That God is exasperated and disgusted with me. And what happens when I believe this? I avoid relating to him, the very One whose help I so desperately need, and therefore, things just keep getting worse. Can you relate?
What we need in a situation like this is someone who both understands our difficulty and knows how to help us overcome it. Being understanding makes it easier to ask for help, and being competent makes it worth our while.
This is exactly what is available to us. Read vs 15,16. Because Jesus has been tempted in all the ways we get tempted, he understands how hard it is and how overwhelming it feels and he feels it with us. Therefore, we can count on him to be merciful to us. And because he learned how to conquer every temptation, I can be confident that he has the competence to help me get through the temptations that I face.
But you must be diligent to draw near to God in spite of your feelings which often tell you it won't do any good, you won't be welcome, etc. You have to make the decision to openly share your moral struggles with Jesus, because he understands; and boldly ask for help, because he is willing and able. The more you do this, the more you will experience his empathy and his help, and the easier it gets to do this next time.
I love the song "What a friend We Have In Jesus" It was written by Joseph Medlicott Scriven in 1855. Scriven wrote this hymn to comfort his mother, who was across the sea from him in Ireland. The music called, "Erie," was written by Charles Crozat Converse in 1868 (it was named after the town of Erie, Pennsylvania). Listen to the words of this song:
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O 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 your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He'll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.
Believer, we have a friend in Jesus! Who, unlike any earthy friend; always knows our needs, never has a bad day, and has NO limits to His love for us. Jesus doesn't give up on us, he is a friend who constantly, continually offers us His grace. He will never turn his back on us. He will never give up on us.
Modern-day friendship is flimsy, weak, wobbly, fragile, but we have a friend who sticks closer than a brother, a friend like no other, and His name is "Jesus"! I don't know your state this morning. I don't know all your needs. I don't know the true condition of your heart. I don't know if you are lonely, if your marriage is in trouble, if your children have gone astray, if your boss is on your back, if you have any hope or not. I don't know where you run when you run into trouble - a bottle, an affair, a drug, the t.v.? I don't know any of that, but I do know that I've found a friend in Jesus! His love has quenched my deepest longings! His compassionate love has been a healing ointment to my most painful scars! His encouraging love keeps me going from day to day! It will not let me go!
Believers, if you really care about your friends, do everything you can to introduce them to your friend Jesus.
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