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Friendship

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist;  Matthew 11:11

It’s been quite a few years but the period of time where I felt I had zero friends still brings a bit of sadness.  I was in the midst of mild depression, hormonal changes, medical issues and family changes.  As I evaluated the relationships I had outside my family I realized I lacked any true friends.  Many acquaintances, but no friends I could solidly rely upon.   There’s many of us that have gone through or are currently in that lonely place.   God, from the beginning, decided we shouldn’t be alone and when we are we feel that sense of incompleteness.

What I love about the quote from Jesus today is how He showed the world how much He loved and valued friendship.  Imagine a friend elevating you to such heights! When my youngest daughter went off to college she discovered this type of friendship.  I still remember the phone call when she told me she had finally realized what true, loving friendship means. 

“When she introduces me she starts out saying what an amazing writer I am and how talented I am.  She is so proud of me and excited to walk alongside me in life without jealousy or competition,” my daughter explained about her friend.  Isn’t that the type of friendship we all need?  Ones where we lift each other up and comfort each other when we are down?  People who jump at the chance to help us and just live life with us?  

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:10

I’ve come a long way from that sad time in my life.  I turned to God and the Holy Spirit for help.  I asked for good women to come into my life and they have.  I’ve had to do a lot of work on my end – as God has revealed the reasons I was in that place to begin with.  I needed to learn to be the friend I desired to have.

Let’s thank God for giving us the yearning for friendship.  Let’s thank God for helping fill that yearning.  And although we are never truly alone because of our fellowship with the Almighty, He wants us in Christian fellowship to guide us in our sanctification journey.  Our first step is to ask Him to fulfill this need.  And then we need to go to work.

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A Cotton Seed World

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 17:20-21

My BSGs are embarking on a new study called, “He Speaks to Me,” by Priscilla Shirer.  What stood out to me in the first video we watched was her discussion about the Kingdom of God.  She shared with the audience about how in the Old Testament the Israelites prayed for the “coming” Kingdom of God.  It was something they hoped and yearned for throughout their years as a new and developing nation.  And right at the beginning of the New Testament we find John the Baptist proclaiming:

“Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” Matthew 3:2

With Jesus’ arrival, the Kingdom of God (or Heaven) became flesh and was brought to the Israelites.  And so many of them refused to grasp that their prayers were answered.  And when Jesus was resurrected, the Holy Spirit remained to cover us with the Kingdom.  

Today I praise God for His continual presence in our world, in my life and yours.  The big word is “omnipresent.”  But I like to think of it more as though I move through and live in God’s presence.  He’s not “with me.”  I am more like the tiny seed that is buried in a fluff of freshly picked cotton.  I am in God’s kingdom, surrounded by Him.  

When I grasped this idea just a year or so ago it changed my perspective dramatically.  I don’t need to ask God to come help me or be near me.  I just need to slow down my brain and remember I am always in His presence.  We are all in His presence, whether we believe in Him or not.

It reminds me of the movie, The Matrix.  There are those in the movie whose brains and bodies are hooked up to a virtual reality machine.  They move about in a phony world without realizing its fake character.  And then there are the people who have disconnected from the computer and live almost in an alternate space – the real, tangible world.  When we disconnect from the world of the flesh and recognize that this is God’s world, His created space, and that we are in His midst, we start seeing life and how to live it from a new perspective.

The Kingdom, Jesus reiterated in our first verse is not a specific “thing” to be seen.  It’s because it is everything in God’s creation.  It is the grace God gifted us through Jesus.  It is His Holy workings in our lives via the Holy Spirit.  The kingdom is God and God is the kingdom.  Gnaw on that a bit!

When I’m struggling with an issue or feel pulled apart by the fleshly world, I now seek that “sweet spot.”  That quiet moment where I can feel nestled in His presence, like that little cotton seed.  I wrap it around me like a warm, soft blanket and thank God I can call him “home.”


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Are You Ready?

 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:26-28

One of my friends has found herself in an unexpected teaching opportunity.  She and her husband were active participants in a Bible study held at my house for about 5 years.  My observation was that he wasn’t progressing in his faith journey.  He seemed a bit stuck.  He was definitely a man of faith and attended church regularly.  But he kept listening to the world’s half truths about Jesus.

A year passed after that study group disbanded and my friend came to me asking about doing another study group.  She was particularly concerned about her husband.  They were no longer attending the same church and with the study group having disbanded her husband was without the counsel of other Christians.  We decided to start a new group but it would be just women this time around and it left her concerns about her husband unanswered. 

Over the course of last year my friend has made amazing strides in her faith progression.  Just last week I listened to her as she was able to answer a difficult Bible study question with a great analogy – making it all clear to the rest of us!  Like the glee I had while watching one of my Girl Scouts successfully learn to build a fire I jumped for joy at my friend’s insight!  I loved it!

And God has answered her prayers about her husband.  It wasn’t the answer she was expecting.  You see, the teacher he needed was her.  Her husband has watched her transformation with awe.  She is living out the Word.  And he started asking her questions about Jesus.  After church (their new one) they go for breakfast and sit and discuss the sermon.  He relies on her for further insight and instruction.  

 “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” 1 Peter 3:15-16

My friend’s teaching opportunity was close at home.  And at the start of Jesus’ ministry, He too started close to home.  The first recorded teaching by Jesus was to His cousin, John the Baptist.  Jesus asks John to baptize him but John recognizes Him as the Messiah and tries to convince Jesus it should be the other way around. 

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. Matthew 3:15

Jesus knew His audience.  As a devoted man of God, John was well practiced in what it meant to achieve holy righteousness.  And so he accepted Jesus’ reasoning.

When you follow along Jesus’ teaching path, you’ll find it to be not only slow and patient but tailored for each person or group of people He encounters.  And that’s the joy in teaching.  No matter what we teach it’s important to know the delivery method.  At first, Jesus reached out to His cousin, then His cousin’s followers and their friends.  And the tipping point, after performing quiet acts of healing and word of them spread, was the Sermon on the Mount.

But even after He preached to large crowds, He would encounter individuals and specifically set aside time to teach them.  To tell them about the glory of God and the forgiveness of sins. 

To the learned He spoke with confident knowledge of Moses and Isaiah.  To the poor and lame, He taught through love and compassion.  To the average man and woman, He used parables containing everyday elements like farming and relationships.  And to the disciples He opened their eyes to the mysteries of the Kingdom.  Each time He sought the “ah ha” moment for which every teacher longs.  The moment when the light comes on inside.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

I once was leading a small Bible study and the topic of “evangelizing” came up.  It usually makes people squirm.  One participant said she just didn’t feel ready to talk to people about God.  And yet she’s been a Christian for about 50 years. What if we erase the word “evangelize” and replace it with sharing or teaching?  What if instead of picturing ourselves standing before the Pharisees or Sanhedrin we picture ourselves sitting with our children or a friend?  And sharing how Jesus has brought us peace and joy in times of trouble.  That should at a minimum be expected of us.

My friend I mentioned at the beginning has come a long way.  About a year ago, her adult son started asking her questions about God and Jesus and she felt unprepared. She had prayed for many years that her son would turn to Jesus.  And now he was asking her questions.  So, what did she do?  She sought instruction, she prayed, and she was bold.  And at her next opportunity to teach a family member, her husband, she was ready.

“Our lives should reflect the love and goodness of Jesus but we should pray that the Lord would give us opportunities to share the gospel with people who come into our lives.”  

Pastor Adriel Sanchez, Core Christianity Podcast

Jesus didn’t want to keep His life offering amongst a small group of people.  So yes, He lived a good and faithful life but He didn’t stop there.  He reached out to people.  He shared through teaching the most important lessons we will ever learn.  He prepared for this task.  And when His time came, He was ready.

The question is, are you ready?  

Your role as teacher may be needed right now.  For your children, your spouse, your neighbor, a struggling believer or searching non-believer.

Have you worked on the other steps so you can teach, like Peter says, with gentleness and respect?  Have you put yourself in positions to be a humble servant and therefore interacting with non-believers in positive ways?  Are you studying His Word so when confronted with half-truths or outright lies about God you can stand firm like a warrior?  God has already tested you in all these areas.  He’s tested me.  What is your report card?  In what areas do you need to ask for God’s help today so you can be ready?