Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Mark of Spiritual Friendships

New Testament Lesson                                                          II Corinthians 1:1-5
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.

In the movie “Castaway,” Tom Hanks plays an employee of Federal Express.  Early in the movie, he boards a jet plane and says good-bye to his girlfriend.  He gives her the keys to his car and says, “I’ll be right back.”

Well, everyone who bought a ticket to that movie knew that wasn’t going to be.  Because we all knew from the advertisements that this movie was about a man trying to survive on a deserted island after a terrible plane crash.

When the character played by Tom Hanks gave the car keys to his girlfriend, you wanted to scream out at him to keep the keys.  Because hooked to the key chain was a Swiss Army knife. 

Alone on a deserted island, you could use a knife like that.

After the crash, the lonely man walks the beach gathering debris from the crashed Federal Express plane.  He opens the boxes looking for something to help him survive.  Perhaps a Swiss Army knife or two.

But no.

Instead he finds things that, at least on the surface, seem useless. 

Ice Skates.  Yep, they would come in handy on a small tropical island.


A volleyball.

Yet, in time each becomes useful.  Including the volleyball.  Tom Hanks draws a face on it one night and begins talking to it, in order to pass the time.  He even addresses this volleyball by name – Wilson.

At first this seems to be just a way to entertain himself.  But after five years of being alone on that island, this light-hearted source of entertainment becomes an obsession. 

Right before making the decision to try to get off the island in a homemade boat, the character played by Tom Hanks becomes angry and frustrated and to express that anger he takes the volleyball named Wilson and throws it away, into the sea.

The marooned man watches the ball as it falls into the sea and suddenly realizes, “That was stupid.”  And he goes after the ball.  He risks his life rescuing his friend (the volleyball), swimming against the tide and among the rocky beach until at last he has in his hands his friend (the volleyball). 

He looks at it and says, “Wilson.  Wilson.  I’m so sorry.  I’ll never do that again.  Forgive me!”  He says this to his friend (the volleyball).

Yep, at this point the viewer of the movie knows, this man has been alone on that island way too long.

There is a silliness in that moment, but the way Tom Hanks plays his part, it’s more tragic than silly.

We all desperately need friendships.

And it doesn’t matter whether we are the only person on an island far from anyone else, or if we are in a crowd.

Our church has identified seven marks of discipleship.  These are seven characteristics that every Christian, every Presbyterian, ever member and visitor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church should exhibit.

One of these seven marks is Spiritual Friendship.

Friendship is important to us all.

We sing songs about friendship.

We write poems about friendship.

We love stories about friendship, especially when it involves loyalty under pressure.

And yet – we are painfully aware of our loneliness.

It is not God’s will for us to be alone and lonely.  In fact, in the opening verses of Genesis, God makes that very observation – “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)

We need people who can show friendship to us, and we need people to whom we can be a friend.

But not just friendship, you need a spiritual friendship that can only be found in a church.

I want us to look at several passages of Scripture that can teach us about a different key to building successful Spiritual Friendships.

The first key is CONSISTENCY, and we find it reflected in Proverbs 17:17, which says, “A friend loves at all times.”

One of the reasons why many of us may feel lonely is that in what friendships we have, there is a lack of consistency.

We can’t depend on them, and they can’t depend on us.

But in building a true spiritual friendship, God would have us to be consistent.  “A friend loves at all times.” 

Not sometimes.

Not when it is convenient.

But at all times.

I heard about this incredible story several years ago. 

In November of 1992, a 65 gentleman suffered a fatal heart attack while playing golf.

As his body lay on the 16th green, covered with a sheet, and while course officials tried to contact his wife and funeral home personnel, the three men who had been playing with man had called 911 to report his death, but then continued onto the 17th and finally the 18th tee to continue their game.

"Life goes on," said one man, "so we had to keep going."

How deep were those relationships? They were shallow because real friends put aside self-serving agenda and help where it’s needed.

“A friend loves at all times,” says Proverbs. 

So often our friendship is based on convenience.  But in spiritual friendships we need to be friends at ALL times, convenient or not.

The second key to successful Spiritual Friendship is MUTUAL ENCOURAGEMENT AND SUPPORT.

Jackie Robinson was a baseball player from many years ago. He was a great player, but he is perhaps best known for having been the first African-American to play major league baseball. While breaking baseball’s "color barrier," he faced the boos and insults of crowds in every stadium.

While playing one day the fans began booing Robinson – which was not unusual, but this day it was particularly bad.

He stood at second base, humiliated, while the fans booed him.

That’s when shortstop "Pee Wee" Reese called for a time out and walked toward Robinson and stood next to him. This man put his arm around Jackie Robinson and faced the crowd.

The fans grew quiet.

Robinson later said that arm around his shoulder saved his career.

How often do we need the friendship of another person?  Someone who can simply be there for us.  I’m not talking just about those nights when there is an ambulance in the driveway or the boss has fired you or your teenage son has been arrested.  I’m also talking about those days when nothing tragic has happened, but you’ve just had a no-good lousy miserable day.

Paul said in one the first letter to the Thessalonians, “So encourage one another and build each other up...” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Or to put it in the words of our Old Testament lesson:  "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

This is a tough world, and we need each other’s encouragement to get through the day. 

The third key is HONEST AUTHENTICITY.   

Authenticity means that you’re real. You are honest about who you are and how you feel.

Most of us spend so much time and energy trying to be something we are not in the eyes of others.  We deceive others about who we are.  We pretend to be something we are not.

There is a story of a newly promoted colonel had moved into a makeshift office during the Iraqi War. He was just getting unpacked when out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a private with a toolbox coming his way.

Wanting to seem important, he grabbed the phone and pretended to be in the middle of a conversation:  “Yes sir, Mr. President.  I’ll be happy to do that Mr. President.  Well that’s kind of the First Lady, you give her my regards as well.”

He hung up the phone on that none existent conversation and looked at the private.  "And what can I do for you?" he asked the young soldier.

The private looked at the colonel sheepishly and said, “Well, sir, I’m just here to hook up your telephone."

We need to be honest with ourselves and others.

If we’re all about making good impressions and keeping up appearances we’ll never go deep in our Spiritual Friendships.

Why do we put up the fronts? Even Jesus Christ admitted to his closest friends when he was in need. The night before his crucifixion, knowing what was about to take place, Jesus revealed his true feelings to his friends.   Looking at Peter, James and John, he told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death." (Matthew 26:37-38)

Jesus was real.

He never tried to pretend he was something he wasn’t.  He was never dishonest with who he is, even when he was in deep despair.

In his New Testament letter, James said, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  (James 5:16)

Spiritual friendships are honest and authentic.

The final and most important key to any strong Spiritual Friendship is THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST.

There are many kinds of communities. Fraternal Organizations abound. Groups like Kiwanis; Lions; Jaycee’s; and the Masons. Even Fred Flintstone was part of the “Water Buffaloes”. There are many Local Clubs and Youth Gangs - all of which have community. Even prisons become communities.

In a small town in Iowa, a lonely 76-year-old ex-convict demanded two $50 bills from a bank teller and then announced he would be outside in his car smoking a cigarette -- waiting to be returned to prison.

Bank employees were not sure he was serious, but they gave him the money. As Stewart left the bank, he said he would be in his car, smoking a cigarette, which is where police found him.

Stewart said he had no family and wanted to go back to federal prison.

Prison is a poor substitute for real community! Youth Gangs are a poor substitute for real community.  And even positive groups like some of our social organizations fall short of the fellowship found in the church.

Spiritual Friendship always includes the presence of Jesus Christ in the relationship.

Join us in Conway Hall after worship for friendship AND coffee.

For the ladies there are circles.
For men and women there are Bible Studies.
For all ages there are Sunday School Classes.
There are youth groups – and if you aren’t so young any longer, volunteer to help be one of the leaders.

 “It is not good for anyone to be alone,” so said God when he created us.  And that is so true.  Why, therefore, would we choose to be alone when God calls us to build Spiritual Friendships?
Copyright Maynard Pittendreigh, 2012
All Rights Reserved