The Gift of Companionship

Photo b Pam Ecrement

It’s a sad commentary that despite the many ways we have to connect and communicate with others so many people still feel isolated and alone. Some are in that place after wounds or efforts that didn’t bring fruit and even though they feel isolated and alone, they now choose to be alone rather than risk more hurt and disappointment.

Others are in a season of loneliness as a result of a change in their life or location. Sometimes a move, change in job, change in church, change in health, or a death brings about a loss of companionship.

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Others still miscue on discovering companionship. It doesn’t happen in sound bite moments. It doesn’t happen in 280 character tweets or snapshot moments on Instagram or Facebook.

Companionship comes from a span of time spent with intentionality with another person where your conversation moves beyond the current topics of the day to risk unveiling your heart.

It can happen over long walks, time spent lingering over coffee or tea, unhurried moments on a front porch, or intimate moments around an open fire. It rarely happens unless we pause. It’s doomed to fail if we are only looking for what we can get.

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It happens best when we are committed to another person’s highest good. It happens best when we do not set aside who we are at our core to simply please the other person.

We see it happening as Jesus walks with his disciples from one place to another. Sometimes Jesus is teaching a crowd, but sometimes it is only time spent intimately with a few or all of the disciples. Sometimes Jesus is feeding thousands and other times He is breaking bread with only them or washing their feet. They experienced Him in varied contexts and despite their failings, they were his closest companions on earth along with his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Over time the disciples came to see the same truth and share it. Perhaps that is the secret to the deeper friendship of companionship.

It brings to mind Amos 3:3 (NKJV):

“Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?”

In spite of times and seasons where the Lord may pull us away from all that distracts us to be with Him alone, most often our lives are richer and healthier when we develop companions to walk with us. A companion can challenge us when we falter or drift away from truth and the highest good he or she believes for us. A companion will listen well, but not hesitate to speak what is needed.

Companions are easier to develop when we first have companionship with the One who will never leave or forsake us. Over and over again God reminds us through the Bible that He will not leave our side if we walk with Him. He is there when others cannot be for whatever reason. And if He is not there first, we are not as likely to know companionship.

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How can we be committed to the highest good for another person if we do not have love? The Lord can demonstrate best what love is when we (like the disciples) spend time with Him in many contexts so that we come to share the same truth − His.

To know companionship is a gift of grace, grace received and grace offered.

“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”  ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

In the epilogue in the beautifully written book, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan, she writes a reminder to us about grace that applies well to our intentionality about companionship:

“Grace does not tell us how long we have in our life, or what comes next − that’s why grace is only given in the moment.”

Patti Callahan

Grace moments woven together one upon another opens the door to companionship.

“When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.”

Henri Nouwen
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The Epidemic of Offense

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Recent years seem to have resulted in a growing epidemic of offense. No matter who you are or what you think or believe someone seems to take offense. It often doesn’t matter how you say it, the tone you use, or the choice of words, a person is tempted to take it personally and come blazing back before even clarifying what you are trying to convey.

Sadly, I think we have failed to recognize how deception is running rampant and what the source of the rise of the offense is.

Do we not recognize the enemy in our midst?

Who else is so clever to set us up so that we see ourselves as victims of someone else’s beliefs, values, opinions, or positions? It results in us attacking each other and guess who wins?

Our tendency to blame others keeps the fire going and escalating while Satan gleefully stands back watching the scenes play out one after another. He uses anything and everything as props for the drama that unfolds.

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John Bevere makes the issue plain in his book, The Bait of Satan:

“When we blame others and defend our own position, we are blind. We struggle to remove the speck out of our brother’s eye while there is a log in ours. “

Reading this might tempt us to start pointing out others who are doing that in our personal, church, or political life, but that shows the snare. We miss that we are no less guilty.

One of the consequences of this growing problem has been the division and walls it has created between so many of us about more than a few things. We unfriend and unfollow people on social media and start opening our lives to only those who agree with us.

We make assumptions and develop expectations that run through the filter of our own perceptions.

What a web the enemy has woven and how skillfully he has used it.

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He has divided families, friends, churches, cultures, and nations for starters and he won’t be satisfied until we destroy everything and everyone we once held dear.

Strongholds have developed that set up the patterns of how we process information, communicate, and respond.

“…the soil of an offended heart is barren, poisoned by bitterness.” (John Bevere)

One of the tools of the enemy evident even back in the Garden of Eden was to get a person isolated. We are more easily seduced, swayed, and defeated when we are isolated. And if he succeeds in erecting more and more walls, few of us will not succumb. To only trust our own counsel is foolishness and deception.

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God created us to live in the context of relationship – first with Him and then with one another. Of course Satan would want to take the legs out from under us in this arena.

I have heard it said that it seems like everything that can be shaken is being shaken. The enemy may be doing the shaking, but God has a purpose.

John Bevere’s wife notes in his book “there are five purposes for shaking an object:

  1. To bring it closer to its foundation
  2. To remove what is dead
  3. To harvest what is ripe
  4. To awaken
  5. To unify or mix together so it can no longer be separated”

What hope that gives if we correct our perception and do not fall prey to fear because of the shaking.

That does not mean we are to compromise.

Jesus never compromised the truth in order to keep others from being offended, but He also was not pulled in by being offended. He was crystal clear in his knowledge of who He was, where his trust lay, and what foundation of truth resided within Him.

That reality…is it ours?

It brings to mind the refrain in the hymn, “I Know Whom I Believed”, written by Daniel Whittle in 1883:

“But I know Whom I have believed, And am persuaded that He is able To keep that which I’ve committed Unto Him against that day.”


No one of us can turn back the tide by ourselves, but one thing each of us can consider doing: we can resist Satan by not becoming offended.

It isn’t about abdicating the truth, His truth. It is about having our hearts, minds, and spirits planted in that truth based on the witness of the Holy Spirit as we read the Bible in context (not pulling out certain verses or passages to support our own position).

“Jesus offended some people by obeying His Father, but He never caused an offense in order to assert His own rights.” (John Bevere)

If we have been confused, perhaps it is time for us to confuse the enemy.

God has a story about that in 2 Chronicles 20. Things were looking pretty grim for King Jehoshaphat.

The armies of the Ammonites and the Moabites were about to overrun Israel and Judah; but as they began singing, the Lord confused the enemy camp and these two enemies began attacking and destroying one another.

The armies of the Lord defeated the enemy in the midst of his people.

Aslan is on the move.  

Will we join Him?


A Stubborn Habit

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Each of us develops a rather lengthy list of habits as we go from infancy well into adulthood. Some of them come from training we receive early on. They include things like how and when we brush our teeth, make a bed, get dressed, use a knife and fork when eating, and many more. Others we pick up on our own such as biting our fingernails, arranging our food on a plate in a certain way, determining how we prefer our eggs, and how we share our stuff.

If we are honest, most of us have a collection of habits, a mix of good and bad as well as some that are neutral. The neutral ones aren’t good or bad but simply the way we prefer to do things like how we tie our shoes or whether we sleep on our side, back, or stomach.

Because habits are things we tend to practice habitually, they are difficult to break if we try to change them. I am sure any brain scientist could tell us why. I only know that as a teacher I once learned that if we misspelled a word three times that we would need to practice it accurately 25 times to learn it correctly.

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Some of the hardest habits to break are those connected to our health. Most of us do not have an affinity for exercise and are challenged to develop a healthy habit of regularly doing it. Many of us have difficulty even thinking about breaking our habit of eating chocolate or ice cream more often than we ought. And those are just small examples of what we deal with and plague us as we get older in the offices of our physicians.

Habits reflecting our character (whatever that may be) are other difficult habits to break when they do not serve us well. Some seem to be intrinsically a part of us such as not always telling the truth, selfishness, and preferring our own way. Perhaps they are woven into our human DNA since they are present in the earliest stories of humanity. Those I mentioned tend to be evident from very early ages and how we experience consequences or are trained often impact how embedded they become. Even with consequences some of us believe time and time again we can get away with doing them and persist. If we persist, at some point the consequences have ramifications we can no longer avoid.

We can be very good at justifying most of our habits. We say things like “I just had a small bite,” “I got up too late,” “I forgot to bring that with me,” “everyone in my family always did it this way,” or “I tried, and I just can’t stop.”

It’s true that some habits affect the chemical makeup of us and be extraordinarily hard to break, but it is also true that many pesky habits are ones we really like and don’t really try to break.

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We prefer our own way of doing things and for us they become the “best” way and as a result we can be judgmental and critical of how anyone else does it and a stubborn habit of dissatisfaction develops without even realizing it’s there. This is the “right” way to do “this” and doing it any other way is clearly “wrong.” We dismiss the idea that it may be a personal preference and neither “right” or “wrong.”

This pesky stubborn habit of dissatisfaction can have a deadly effect on relationships with our employers, other people in our lives, and even God. This habit erodes our gratitude. Gratitude and dissatisfaction may co-exist for a time, but one will ultimately overtake the other and often it is the worse of the two. Then we are guilty of not appreciating how someone did something for us because they did it differently or we don’t appreciate the thought behind a gift we were given because it isn’t within our taste. It can mean we decide God isn’t good because He didn’t answer our prayers in the way we wanted Him to do and our faith and trust in Him erodes. We don’t even recognize we are being critical of God in that scenario.

This stubborn habit can mean getting bad reviews at work or even losing a job. It’s even more deadly in relationships, especially those closest to us. We live with family members much of the time and this seems to be a “hot house” for breeding and growing this problem. It’s where our preferences either get reined in or become our demands. It can start with something small like how the towels get folded or which way the toilet paper roll gets put on, but it rarely stops there. The habit can grow like a cancer until soon the other person can’t seem to do anything “right” in our eyes.

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The tragedy of such a trajectory often leads to broken relationships or regret that consumes us when that person is no longer a part of our lives by either choice or death. It’s then that we come face to face that it was us putting ourselves first, preferring ourselves over someone else, and determining we were “right” above all else. The cost sometimes is one we discover when it is too late. We had spent our time feeding our dissatisfaction until like dandelions in a lovely green lawn – it took over the lovely lawn and soon there were only dandelions.

This is a habit that is against every spiritual tenet we espouse and believe and yet its essence is sin that we need help from God to break. He alone can break its power and convict us, offer us grace, and forgiveness so that what is most dear to us is not harmed or even destroyed.

One way to begin to take back the territory is to begin practicing gratitude. It may not be easy but is a powerful weapon to defeat dissatisfaction. Some I know make a gratitude journal and they jot a few things down in it each day. Others deliberately start thanking others for things they have done (no matter how they did it).

Yes, it can sound harsh to label this as I have but of all things, we will one day answer for, it will be how we have loved God and one another. When we are convicted that too is a place for gratitude because it gives us opportunity to change. It reminds us that God loves us so much that He communicates a better way to get to those goals and most of us (me too) need that reminder and nudge often.

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Blessed Assurance

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Reading the title above brings a beautiful hymn to mind that some of you may recall. It was one of 8,000 gospel songs and hymns written by Fanny Crosby, America’s most prolific hymn writer who was born in 1820. A quick overview of her life could cause one to wonder how such lyrics could come from someone who lived with blindness after a poorly trained doctor applied a mustard plaster poultice to her eyes at 6 weeks old.

Fanny’s father died not long after this and her mother was forced to work as a maid leaving Fanny in the care of a Christian grandmother who read the Bible and various poetry to her. Fanny began to memorize vast amounts of scripture early and wrote her first poem at 8 years old that echoed her lifelong love for Jesus and a determination never to feel sorry for herself.

In 1873 she was visiting a friend’s home that was having a large pipe organ installed. The organ was not finished but the friend’s mother began playing a new melody on her piano and asked Fanny what she thought the tune said. Fanny responded, “Blessed assurance. Jesus is mine.” That assurance was evident in all her lyrics and birthed the beloved hymn. (There were so many hymns by Fanny that some were written under a pen name.)

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How much we all long for assurance in our lives, that positive declaration meant to give us confidence, a promise so sure we can lean on it with all our weight. Perhaps we are born with that longing. It is a lifelong trait within us. We want to know we are safe, cared for, protected, and more. The chaotic and dangerous world in which we live makes that desire even stronger.

We want the assurance we can make it in what we are pursuing, the assurance we have what it takes to meet the challenge, that we will survive. The list of things for which we might have need of assurance can be long indeed. If we are a person of faith, we (perhaps a bit like Fanny) look to God to be our provision in such times if we are rooted in the truth of his love for us and what the scripture teaches us. We may not know how things will turn out, but we know whom we believe in.

But uncertainty often hangs over us like the cloudiest of days when storms rise on the horizon. We look for the support of others during such times that can strengthen us. It is then we most need their presence, not with casual words of positive assurance based on their own hope, but words as well as silence birthed from the confidence of faith that has grown in them through their own journey. When we receive this, it buttresses our own faith. When we give it to someone else, we are most like the Lord.

Often it comes from someone we would not expect, and it reminds us the Lord has provision we sometimes miss, and it widens our vision of the larger body of faith.

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Sometimes we most need the reassurance that comes from an expert. Sometimes that may be a financial advisor. Other times it may be an attorney who can guide us through the maze of a contract we cannot comprehend. Many times, it is reassurance and understanding from a physician about us or someone we love to comprehend symptoms or results of surgeries or tests far beyond our knowledge. Any of these “experts” can be a help or a hindrance based on not only what they say but how they express it to us. In most cases when we look to any of these or other experts, the situation is serious, and their communication can make all the difference to us.

These types of connections do not tend to include words of the faith journey of the expert because that is not the counsel we have primarily sought from them as a professional so when it is unexpectedly included, we are impacted a great deal.

So, it was such a surprise for me recently when a physician who was performing a procedure on someone I love came to share the report with such faith-filled care for the person and me as the listener that it seemed the Lord was present in the moment. He was smiling and assured as he told me what he had learned but went on to speak of his pursuit of medicine as a desire to be the best he could be and to care for all of “God’s kids” because it was God whom he would need to give account to for his decision and actions.

And it didn’t stop there as he spoke of how much we need to appreciate life and live it with an assurance of stepping into eternity one day that only God knows. Here was this physician whom I had never met sharing his faith journey in the midst of his professional knowledge. What a difference he made to the concerns I felt.

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It was a powerful witness to my faith and caused me to reflect on how I communicate to others who intersect my life. Am I patient enough to listen long as my first response? Do I offer my presence and words as a cup of cool water rather than misapplied words of advice that was never sought? Do I risk sharing the source of my own confidence if I have never met them previously or do I hold back the reason for my own “blessed assurance?”

Each day wherever we live and whatever we do we have the opportunity to offer hope, the assurance Fanny Crosby penned in 1873. Do we? Will we?

“Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you,”

1 Peter 3:15b (GNT)
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The Best News

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It seems like every day we are bombarded by bad news. Stocks go down, antibiotic resistant bacteria surfaces, tornadoes rip through a small town, a factory shuts down or a business closes its doors and wars or discord seem to be multiplying everywhere in the world.

We can be tempted to think things are worse than they have ever been, but if we are history lovers (I am!) we can easily point to other times and eras when people living in those days would have said something like that as well.

In the midst of it all, God keeps calling out to us to return to Him, to look to Him and trust in Him.

That is often not so easy when it is our stock that has fallen, our family member is the one ill, our house has been destroyed, or our son or husband have been called to active military duty.

These sorts of things can leave us at our worst. Our faith can falter. Our trust may teeter and our mood can become sour or our face downcast.

It is no laughing matter. Ask Job.

When difficult things happen to us, the state of the foundation of our life will likely determine how well we weather the challenge.

The things we practice daily in ordinary moments will automatically kick in when the world turns us upside down.

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What we practice is what we will become.

Because we are finite and very fallible, we will often not meet the hard times in our life operating as well as we would wish. Sadly, we will then start berating ourselves for not doing better.

When I look at some of the heroes of the faith in the Bible, more than a few of them could identify with that.

Jonah lapsed into believing he knew better than God what should happen to the people of Nineveh. He fled from the Lord, took a ship, and discovered the cost of disobedience was being dumped in the sea. He was clearly at his worst, but God sent a fish to swallow him into less than ideal accommodations. He called on the Lord and the fish vomited him up.

Now he was totally prepared to preach up a storm and call down fire on their heads because of the evil in their midst, but he was unprepared to accept God’s decision to forgive them when they repented. When the king repented and called his people to do so, Jonah went off in a pout under a plant.

You know the story. When God chooses to spare Nineveh, Jonah is angry. Here is the man of God acting out at every turn. He is missing what the Lord wants him to see. It is clearly not Jonah’s best day.

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Peter likely experienced that as well when he had insisted to the Lord that he would never deny him despite what the Lord had told him would happen. The morning in the courtyard while Jesus was being beaten, questioned, and mocked, Peter had one of his worst days. He denied the Lord in front of a charcoal fire before the rooster crowed three times just as the Lord had said He would do.

Those few disciples gathered around the cross on that Friday of the crucifixion agonized over what they witnessed. Jesus had told them what would happen, but they could not comprehend He meant this was how it would all end. It was the worst of all days. He was dying. They faced an uncertain future and watched helplessly as His ordeal played out.

Saul was the Pharisee of Pharisees and could not believe in this new sect who believed in the man who had been crucified. What crazy stories they were telling about how he had risen from the dead! What blasphemy! He was determined to bring punishment on the heads and bodies of them all. He was blind and unaware he was blind. He was at his worst.

Then on the road to Damascus he lost his eyesight so he could finally see the truth about himself, the new sect, and this Jesus who had been crucified, but now lived.

Over and over again things happen that are not only bad news, but also leave us at our worst.

Here is the key!

When we are at our worst, God is at His best.

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He meets us with grace and mercy, pours oil on our wounds, takes us in His arms and wraps us in His love.

You see nothing about being at our worst surprises Him. NOTHING.

He has always known we would have those times and that life would be turned upside down by any number of things that would happen. He planned for that. He provided for that. He simply loves us that much.

Bad news will continue to come and we may be at our worst, but He has a plan for that.

So do not lose heart, on your worst day, God will be at His best.

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