Light in the darkness

There’s this guy walking down the street who suddenly falls into a deep hole he did not see coming. It’s dark in the hole and the walls are steep.

Graphic found via Google

A psychiatrist happens by and the guy calls out, “Hey, Doc, can you help me out here?” The doctor writes a prescription for Prozac and throws it down the hole.

A priest comes by and the guy calls out, “Hey, Father, can you help me out here?” The priest writes out a prayer and tosses it down the hole.

Then the guy’s best friend comes by, sees his friend down in the hole, and immediately jumps in. “What did you do that for?” the guy says. “Now we’re both stuck!”

“Nah,” the friend says, “I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”

::– –::– –::

I love the way this story (retold here by Scott Hoezee) describes my life. Sometimes things feel very dark, like I’m in a deep hole. I’ve felt this way when someone has died, when I’ve been stressed out, when the future looks uncertain. And that says nothing about the darkness in my life caused by sin – my own stupid mistakes as well as all the brokenness in the world that impacts my life. Sometimes it feels like I’m stuck in a dark hole.

Even more, I love the way this story expresses the power in relationships. Things are never quite so sad, so strained, or so scary when there’s someone with me. And when things are going well for me, this story reminds me to be the friend for someone else who feels stuck somewhere. My love and care may very well help this person make his or her way back into the light.

Mostly though I love this story because it reminds me of how Jesus is the best Friend who has come down to where I’m stuck. No matter what dark hole I find myself in, he knows what I’m experiencing and offers me a peace that passes understanding. More than that, he’s strong enough to fight the power of sin in my life. In fact, he’s been in the darkest, scariest hole ever: the grave. And he even knows the way out of there!

Much of the time I feel like I need to figure out a way to get up to God. Like I need to get his attention or impress him before he’ll notice me. The fact is God came down to me in the person of his Son, Jesus. And now his Holy Spirit moves in my life, often long before I even realize it.

Jesus is the light of the world and of my life, bringing hope to the dark places. His is the light that shows the way and illuminates God’s love for me even when my love for him is shaky and unimpressive. And he is the friend who takes away my loneliness, forgives my sin, and even promises me eternal life.

You can’t find a better friend that that.

This is my latest contribution to the faith column in The Rock Valley Bee. It was published this past week. Here’s another one from a couple months ago.


Friends with Jesus: Cliché or reality?

If I ask you to think of a friend, who quickly comes to mind?  Someone you’ve known since before you can remember?  Your spouse or significant other?  Your old roommate from college?  The person you hang out with at or after school?

Maybe you’d like to say that Jesus is your friend.  (“It’s what a pastor Friend with God hoodiewho blogs wants to hear, right?”)  But you wonder whether that sounds disrespectful. (“Calling the Son of God a friend is not a reverent way to speak of Him.”)  Or maybe it sounds trite or like a cliché.  (“Only saps without any real friends say that!”)

Over the past couple of years, it’s become obvious to me that thinking of Jesus as my Friend (as well as Saviour, Lord, and so on) is not only encouraging, but also deeply biblical.  It’s not silly; it’s not sacrilegious.  It states what is real and true as the Holy Spirit works in God’s people.

Helped along the way by pastor and blogger Andrew W. Holt, I’ve written on this subject numerous times (here, here, and here, for example).  Finally last week I preached on it, using John 15:9-17 as the foundation and launching point, where Jesus says:

I no longer call you servants,
—–because servants do not know
—–their master’s business.
Instead, I have called you friends,
—–for everything that I learned from my Father
—–I have made known to you.

I affirmed what a Friend we have in Jesus.  And the truth of this transforms our friendships with others.

Please click here to read the message I preached in its entirety.

You can get your own “Friend with God” hoodie here.

Redefining friendship

FacebookAs far as I know, Monica and I are friends with everyone at Telkwa CRC who is on Facebook.  We are also friends with my mom (who just recently signed up to see what it’s all about) and Monica’s mom.  Then there are several of our current and past colleagues as well as acquaintances we have made through our children at school whom we have befriended online.

I’m curious how widespread Facebook’s influence is in redefining friendship.  Several years ago, we would not necessarily have thought of everyone in our online friends list as friends – some are relatives, some are colleagues, some are acquaintances.  That doesn’t mean we don’t like them; it’s just that all these people are now lumped into a single category: “Friends.”

Rev. Peter H. Holtvlüwer, pastor of Spring Creek Canadian Reformed Church in Tintern ON, views this with alarm in his article I read last week.  I appreciate his concern of the potential inappropriateness of considering Facebook friends mosaicsomeone in authority over us as a friend, an equal.  And his observation is true that having hundreds of friends really does rob the word friendship of its value: A long list of friends may speak more of our selfish tendencies than the authenticity of our relationships with the people in our list of friends.  (I mentioned this a year ago, too.)

On the other hand, I wonder if in one way, Facebook is actually redeeming our concept of friendship.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve seen the theme of friendship with God and with one another crop up quite often (most recently here and here).  Jesus says to His 1st century and 21st century disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command…  I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  When we are in Christ, we are friends with Jesus!  It stands to reason, then, that if we are friends with Jesus, we are also friends with each other, regardless of how else we relate with one another.

To put it another way, I am my parents’ son, and the Bible teaches that I am to honour my father and mother.  But they are also my brother and sister in Christ, are they not?  Thinking of them as such does not negate the command to honour them, but it does remind them and me of how we are equals in a bigger sense – sinners equally in need of and receiving God’s grace!

Facebook friendships can remind us that before we see each other as parents, children, employers, employees, teachers, students, leaders or followers, we are sisters and brothers – and I’d like to add friends – in Christ.  Who and what we are in Christ is what defines us first.

One last comment: I commend to you the section in Rev. Holtvlüwer’s article on “The Real You” as it’s a good reminder of how real friends relate – whether online or irl.

Graphic credit:
Facebook friends mosaic created by Jennifer Daniel and several hundred of her friends, found at
The New York Times.

Friends with God and with others

In Christ Jesus, God befriends us, as I blogged the other day.  That God is friends with us propels you and me to lovingly befriend our neighbours and help them to enjoy God’s friendship, too.  We sang about this yesterday at Telkwa CRC, using this hymn by Roy Berkenbosch of The King’s University College and CRWRC

In Christ Jesus, God befriends us,
comes to meet us in our need;
by His wounded flesh Christ heals us,
from the powers sets us free.
With a shepherd’s eyes He finds us,
in His arms we are embraced,
through His teaching we learn wisdom,
in the cross we meet God’s grace.

God brings help for those who struggle
and relief from poverty
when we act with love towards strangers,
risk ourselves to set them free.
Lay the walls of hate to rubble
‘til the cries of war are ceased,
when the rich share hoarded treasures
with the ones who have the least.

Creeds cannot dispel the hunger
that brings children to their knees,
nor can weekly rites of worship
ease the pain of dread disease.
Only love made real in service
reaches others in their need.
Holy Spirit, move our faith from
empty words to living deeds.

All my neighbours, near and distant,
must enjoy God’s friendship too.
They are waiting to be welcomed
to the feast where life’s made new.
Let us join our hands together,
raise our voices, shout our prayers,
live the life that Christ commands us
‘til there’s justice everywhere.

© 2002 Roy Berkenbosch. Posted here with permission. 
You can sing this hymn to the tune “BEACH SPRING” (Psalter Hymnal 579)

More than fair

A few weeks ago, I preached on Jesus’ parable about the man who owns a vineyard and hires workers at different points in the day.  The surprise in the story happens when both the people who were hired at sunrise and the ones hired just before suppertime are paid a full day’s wages.  Those who had been "Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard" by Andrea del Sartoworking all day quickly complained: “These men who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day!”

The parable reminds us that God is not fair as we typically understand fairness.  Rather than being fair, God is lavish in grace, whether you’ve walked with Him for decades, were introduced to Him more recently, or were born a few days ago.  If God were only fair, you and I would be in a lot of trouble, because we deserve death and hell.  But thank God that His fairness is exceeded by His grace through Jesus!

And that, in a nutshell, is what I talked about in my message.

Now I wish I had noticed and pointed out one other thing.

The landowner says to the complaining workers, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you.”  I focused in my message how, in his generosity, the landowner (representing God) is “not being unfair” in his graciousness.  But what if I skipped right over something even more important, more significant than the “fairness” of it all?  What if the most significant thing the landowner says is “friend?”  What if that’s the real surprise of the story, an even bigger surprise than all the workers being paid the same amount?

Jesus is not only teaching about the generous economics of God’s Kingdom, but is calling us to friendship with the King Himself.  Friendship is not first of all about what is and isn’t fair; it’s about love and care.  We don’t keep accounts with our friends, gauging how fair we are and they are in giving and receiving love.  Friends simply love each other.

That’s how God desires to relate to me, and it’s how He invites me to relate to Him.  He doesn’t think of me as an employee or a slave.  In Christ, He has befriended me and walks alongside me in the journey of life.

I’ll take that over being fair any day!

Artwork: “Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard” by Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530). Found at Biblical Art on the WWW.  I first really noticed the word “friend” via a meditation in Forward Day by Day.

Who I say Jesus is (part one)

How do I describe Jesus?

For a long time, I was satisfied with the titles “Saviour” and “King” (or “Lord”). That Jesus is my Saviour reminds me of what He has done in the past to set me free (to save me) from the tyranny of sin and death. That Jesus is my King is more future-oriented, reminding me that I must continue to submit to Him and His will. Saviour and King remain a good pair of titles in my mind and heart.

Over the past while, however, I’ve begun adding two new titles.

It started with reading Andy Holt’s blog where he asks whether we as church leaders want fans or followers. “One of the strongest temptations of the preacher is to develop a fan base, like we were a baseball team or some kind of branded product,” he writes. Instead, we “should try to build a group of followers” as we ourselves follow Jesus.

So far so good. This aligns nicely with the CRC’s emphasis on discipleship in recent years as well as my own thinking of Jesus as King, submitting to His leading.

But then Andy writes how this

didn’t come to rest on my soul the way certain truths do. There was more to the story, I thought. But I couldn’t articulate it until the words of Jesus shot like lightning through my mind: “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.”

I think the real distinction is not between fans and followers, but between fans, followers, and friends. Jesus called his disciples his friends twelve hours before they all abandoned, denied, or betrayed him (which he knew would happen). They were more than fans and more than followers. They had become his friends. People he loved. People with faces and families that he wanted the best for.

So, it’s been percolating in my mind that being a follower is not enough. Jesus wants friendship. In addition to Saviour and Lord, He wants me to also know Him as a Friend. Granted, this is not brand new to me as I’ve been singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” for decades. But this truth has hit me afresh. I need to (re)emphasize the relational aspect to discipleship!

In a subsequent blog post, Andy follows up on his initial thoughts by reflecting on how friendship is a theme throughout all Scripture: “One way to look at the Bible is to see it as the story of God in search of friends.” Then from Adam & Eve to Jesus, Andy briefly outlines God’s desire for community with His people, and how He finally achieves it when He became like us (the Incarnation).

I love this paragraph Andy writes:

The funny thing about God’s pursuit of friends is that he isn’t lonely! He is Three-In-One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God exists in eternal community within himself. God’s search for friends isn’t driven by his need for us, but rather by our need for him. He knows we need him, and not just as a distant deity but as a close, personal friend. And he wants to be your friend. Really, he does. The Creator became a creature, not because he was lonely, but because the world he created was, so to speak, dying of loneliness; and his presence, his closeness, was the only thing that could save it.

So, this is what has slightly altered everything over the past few months. It’s had implications in my teaching and preaching: I’ve added the language of friendship to that of discipleship as I speak from the pulpit or in conversations. It’s also having implications in how I view my own friendships with people, wondering if I unrealistically expect something from people (even Monica) that I should really be looking for in a friendship with God. My premarital counselling resources tell me to watch for whether couples who think they’ll find their “all in all” in each other: They’ll soon be disappointed if they’re looking for something in each other (e.g. perfect love, understanding, acceptance, constant availability, etc.) that they should be looking for in their divine and loving Friend. It makes me wonder how much of my own desire for friendships is actually a manifestation of my true desire to know and experience Jesus as my Best Friend.

(To be concluded…)

Knowing You

In a post about her Facebook “abstinence,” one of Lauren Carrion’s readers makes this comment: “I don’t understand how people can have 1000+ ‘friends.’ I think that really de-values the word friend.” It makes me want to go through my list of Facebook friends and do some “de-friending” – not because I dislike any of the people, but because – really now – how many peoples’ lives do I need to keep regular track of? That I have several hundred Facebook friends probably speaks more of some desire to be noticed than of me genuinely wanting to know and experience community with these individuals. (And, unless their security settings are through the roof, just because I “de-friend” someone doesn’t mean I can’t still send them a message sometime in the future if they happen to cross my mind.)

How many people can a person really know? Can you say that you deeply know a person’s likes and dislikes, values and goals for more than a dozen people? Or Five or six people? Maybe only one or two people?

I stand in awe of God: He knows everyone on planet Earth by name – every detail of our lives down to how many hairs are on our heads.  He knows you and what’s going on in your life just as He knows me and my life.  He never forgets my name.  He never loses track of where I am or what I’m up to.  In fact, the Creator of heaven and earth knows me better than my family knows me, better than my wife knows me, even better than I know myself.

The only thing more astonishing than the fact that God knows me is that I can know Him, too!  I don’t need to settle for knowing about God.  As a devotional last month reminded me, I am “given the greater privilege of knowing, really knowing God.”

In other words, I can be friends with my Creator.  Through Jesus, He wants “to friend” me – not virtually in cyberspace, but intimately in real life.  If I ever doubt it, I can reread the friendship language Jesus uses in John 15.  Through Jesus, God wants to be my friend in the complete, best sense of the word.

These are some of the things that were going through my mind as we sang “Knowing You” at the end of the Sunday’s service…