Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Christian Friendship: A Heavenly Thing

I have several good friends from my high school and young adult years.  And the ones with whom I find the most commonality, and the closest affection, all have one thing in common.  They share my Lutheran faith.  These friends are able to build me up in the Gospel of Christ.  And when warranted, to tear me down with God's Law. 

One of my best friends, Lisa, called me last night.  She does this periodically.  Lisa is a family counselor for Lutheran Social Services.  Or the organization that was formerly known as Lutheran Social Services.  Lutheran CounselingFamily Service, maybe?  Anyway, as a counselor, Lisa travels to various communities in Southern Wisconsin to be available for parishoners of the LCMS churches in her area of service.   On some evenings, while she is on the road (with her hands-free phone set-up of course) she calls to gab. 

I love the unexpected phone calls.  If I'm busy, I sometimes have to say, "Sorry, Lisa, can't talk tonight."  But other times I might only say, "Call back in 15 minutes after I have the littles in bed."  Or something like that. 

Last night was a call-back-in-10-minute night.  After all my littles were tucked snugly in their beds, the phone rang for a second time.  And Lisa and I got to visit for about 20 minutes.  Of course I won't go into details about our conversation.  I probably couldn't even if I wanted to.  I can't remember specifics. 

But what I do remember is the shared foundation that underlies all our conversation.  We believe the same things.  We share the bond of a common world view, but more importantly a common "heaven view."   We can build each other up with God's gift of grace and forgiveness, though Jesus.  And we can also when necessary tear each other down with reminders of God's Law. 

Does that sound harsh?

It's not meant to be.  To those who are unfamiliar with Law and Gospel preaching and teaching, it can sound harsh.  When we as Christians talk about things like sin and guilt, it's not a hateful or arrogant thing.  But instead, a necessary realization that without Jesus, we are unable.  Unrighteous.  Nothing.  Worse yet, we are enemies of God.

We are guilty from the moment of our conception.  We are tainted by the sinful natures that we inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve.  We commit sins of omission and commission; in other words, we fail to do those things we ought to do, and we instead often do those things we ought not to do.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot live up to the standard of perfection demanded by God's Holy Law.  And that separates us from Him and eternally.

But the flip side of that, the Good News of the Gospel of Christ, is that Jesus took care of that sin.  Jesus paid the ransom.  His perfect life is attributed to us.  So our Heavenly Father sees us as righteous.  And our debt of sin was paid by Jesus.  Through His sacrificial death on the cross, He suffered the eternal punishment that we deserve.  The breach is healed.  We are entitled to bask in the presence and perfect love of our Father. 

Our slate is wiped clean and we are assured of the promise of Eternal Life with God in Heaven.

If we don't see the purity and "harshness" of God's perfect demands, in His Law, we don't realize how we need Jesus.  We need to see and be reminded of our need for the Righteousness of Jesus, our Savior.   

Even after the assurance of eternal life because of the atonement with our Father through Jesus,we still must live in this sinful world.  We are broken.  We are surrounded by brokenness.  We have our families to raise and our spouses to love.  We have neighbors to serve and communities of which to be an active part. 

All these things come with various challenges due to both the imperfect state of the world in general, and more specifically of each person in the world. 

It's a great blessing to have someone with the same core beliefs off which to bounce ideas.  To talk about parenting.  To talk about Sin and Grace.  Law and Gospel.  To help us see the ways we are wrong.  And to remind us of where to go for wisdom and healing.

So getting back to my friend Lisa, and her wonderful periodic phone visits, I couldn't tell you anything specific about most of the calls.  We're simply friends sharing the trials and joys of our lives.  Sharing the inanities of every day living.  Building each other up and tearing each other down.  Pointing out sin, and comforting with the reminder of the Gospel of Redemption that makes us righteous.

Lisa called again this morning.  A morning phone call is a rare thing.  We're both busy being moms, homemakers, wives, etc.  It's hard to make time to indulge in the pleasure of a friendly phone call.  But Lisa called today to rejoice with me in the gift of our friendship.  Simply to express her pleasure and gratitude for what God has given us in our abiding friendship. 

I remember once, in the early days of Lisa's and my friendship, my mom and I had a little argument over the way I tended to make friends.  My mom, in her efforts to raise me with good habits and the ability to make wise choices, was worried that I only chose friends who agreed with me, or who were fun to be around.  Shallow friendship indeed, were that the case. 

I remember, in my immaturity, fumbling for a response.  Fumbling for the right way to explain.  I remember wanting Mom to understand that the reason I valued my friends so highly is because we can talk about the "real things" of life.  The "bigger picture." 

I won't go so far as to say the advice of these friends was always sound.  And I'm quite sure I didn't always offer sound advice in return.  We were young adults trying to figure things out.  Trying to find our footing in this unstable world. 

But Thanks be to God!  We had a Foundation.  A firm Rock upon which to stand.  We fumbled our way through life's big decisions and life's little problems together.  We knew what was right and wrong.  And we knew where to go to find the righteousness we so desperately lacked.

Throughout the years God has blessed me with many life-long friendships.  Through my early years in Lutheran high school and my one year of Lutheran college, and then continuing into my young adult years and the friendships I made at church during my time at a secular University, I have the continued friendship of a rich circle of wonderful people.  People with whom I share the corest convictions. 

Is that a word?  Corest convictions.  The deepest part of myself and who I am.  The Foundation. 

Thanks be to God for the gift of Christian Friendship. 

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