July 2019   
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    Philippians 2:9-11      Luke 10:38-42         Romans 12:10

MANY OF US ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE POPULAR HYMN “What a Friend We have in Jesus.” We all agree that the Savior is a great Friend, but very few of us have an exhaustive knowledge of the heights and depths of His friendship. Let's consider some of the elements of His relationship with us if we have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior.
•    HE IS COMMITTED TO US AS A FRIEND FOR LIFE. In fact, this commitment is for more than a lifetime. It's eternal. He will never leave you or me, no matter what we do. And though life is bound to hold some disappointments, the Lord Himself will never let us down.
•    HE is OPEN AND TRANSPARENT TO US AT ALL TIMES. Jesus will show us as much about Himself as we desire to learn and are able to appreciate. He isn't going to keep from us anything that we need to know about Him.
•    HE IS RENEWING HIS LOVING OVERTURES ON A DAILY BASIS. He knows how to meet our deepest longings.

What kind of friend is Jesus? John 15:13 answers that question. Because He gave Himself for all people, we, as His followers, can give ourselves for a few. Who in your circle of influence needs the sacrifice of your time or care? Take time to minister to them and provide for their needs, because there is no greater privilege than being the hands and feet of Jesus.

HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED WHY the Lord created you? When you consider the extreme sacrifice He made by sending His Son to reconcile you to Himself, the answer becomes obvious. The supreme God of the universe wants a personal relationship with each of us. That's why He created human beings in His image and gave us minds, wills, and emotions capable of relating to Him. We were made for the Lord not because He needs us, but because He wants us.

Once we accept Christ's offer of salvation, we have the awesome privilege of growing in our relationship with Him. However, if we think of Him as being only in Heaven and not by our side, we'll miss this opportunity. We can't walk around with Jesus the way the disciples did, yet we can experience an even closer relationship because He lives within us through His Spirit.

When we pursue Christ, our lives become fulfilling. Since we live in the midst of a war between the kingdom of God and the domain of Satan, our challenge is to live a holy life in a sinful world. But we have a Friend who promises to walk with us through adversity and to guide us each and every step of the way. Do you think of Christ as your Friend to help you grow in your relationship with Him, the One who loves you more than you'll ever know?

HAVE YOU EVER FELT BACKED INTO A CORNER, with the odds stacked against you? In situations like that, Christians too often refuse to acknowledge an important truth. That is, they fail to recognize that God may actually be orchestrating their challenging circumstances. You may think,
        No way. God protects me from such things. The world and Satan are doing this to me.
Perhaps. Yet maybe, just maybe, God is trying to tell you something, and He first needs to get your attention.

Time and again in Scripture, we see that the Lord uses difficulties to build our faith. It's easy to trust Him when things go our way. God can remove comforts and false securities from our lives to remind us that He is the true Source of our strength.
•    Consider Judges 7:1-25 in which Gideon was ready to lead a powerful militia of 32,000 men into battle against the enemy.
•    The Lord stepped into the situation two different times, whittling the Israelite army down to less than one percent of its original size.
•    We may have replied, "What? It's impossible to defeat enemy forces with just 300 men!"
•    That's probably true. 300 men alone couldn't do it. But the Lord could.

When the odds are not in your favor, don't think that God has abandoned you. Your money, your success, and even people you thought were friends may disappear, but those wouldn't win the battle anyway. Stand your ground and stay focused on the Lord. With everything else stripped away, you'll be amazed at what your heavenly Father will achieve.

YOU'RE IN A DIFFICULT SITUATION, and one by one, friends have fallen away and lost contact. Now the pain is worse because you're suffering alone. This happened to Jesus at His crucifixion. Why did these people desert you? There are many possible reasons.
•    They might have left because they felt inadequate.
•    Or maybe they couldn't stand to watch you suffer.
•    Perhaps some had their own best interests in mind and feared falling into similar trouble or being associated with a socially unacceptable situation.
You might wonder how to respond to them. Whatever the reason was for desertion, there is only one appropriate Biblical response—forgiveness. As forgiven people, it makes no difference what someone has done to us.  We never have the right to withhold forgiveness.

After being left alone during his Roman imprisonment, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:16 about those who had abandoned him:
        May it not be counted against them.
In other words, he forgave them. The apostle probably remembered what happened when Stephen was stoned. Paul had been present as one of the persecutors, and he heard the dying man cry out,
        Lord, do not hold this sin against them! (Acts 7:60).

But it is probable that Paul had an even greater act of forgiveness in mind: Christ's atoning death and His attitude toward the crucifers in Luke 23:34.
        But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.
Because God forgives all who turn to Him, we don't have the right to withhold forgiveness from anyone, and that certainly includes our friends. Is there someone you need to forgive? If so, do it today.

JESUS HAD GREAT AFFECTION FOR MARTHA, her sister Mary, and her brother Lazarus. One day He sent word to them that He and His disciples were coming to visit. The women started preparing their home, as there was a lot to accomplish before the men arrived. Martha, however, in all her busyness, lost sight of the importance of spending time with the Lord.

But let us not be quick to judge her. We know that in our relationship with Jesus, He is to have first place above all else in life. Thoughts, attitudes, and actions are to flow out of our intimate connection with Him. But, as we have all no doubt discovered, this is not easy to do. Our own selfish nature clamors for supremacy, and the world with all its temptations encourages us to indulge ourselves. Even while carrying out the Lord's work, we can lose sight of our first priority--deepening our intimacy with Christ.

When Jesus arrived, Mary stopped what she was doing so she could listen to His words and learn from Him. Martha, distracted by all that was still to be done, kept working. The Lord affirmed Mary's choice to be with Him and urged Martha to follow her sister's example. Both women expressed their love and care for Jesus through their actions, but as Scripture says in Luke 10:42,
        Mary chose the better way.

During Jesus' visit, Martha—with the best of intentions—let her service for Him become more important than time with Him. Nothing should supersede the believer's relationship with Christ. Both character and conduct should reflect His likeness (Ephesians 4:24). If friends observed your life, what would they say matters most to you?

WE ALL LONG TO BE IN GENUINE RELATIONSHIPS. God created us with this need. We were not meant to live in isolation. Our world is so driven by technology that many people today try to ease their loneliness through computer interactions. We cannot deny that if a friendship relies solely on social media, it doesn't compare to the human fellowship. Healthy friendships don't just happen. They require intentional effort.

Looking to Jonathan and David for a Biblical model of godly companions, we see how mutual respect is vital in a healthy friendship. Let’s look at two more aspects of their relationship.
•    These men had an emotional godly love for one another. 1 Samuel 18:1 says,
            their hearts were knit together.
      When one man experienced joy or sadness, the other man felt it too, which had to be by the Holy Spirit.
•    They also had genuine devotion to each other, which is a type of commitment that involves giving. To show loyalty, Jonathan gave his friend material items--his robe and a weapon. But both of these men selflessly offered more. Jonathan even risked his life and future kingship in order to save David from execution. Notice, too, that Jonathan was often the initiator and the one who gave more. He was a prince, whereas David was a lowly shepherd.

Social status shouldn't interfere with cultivating a true friendship. We were designed for true companionship based on mutual respect, genuine love, and commitment. This requires time, selfless devotion, and transparency, which means being real, even about our faults. Taking such a risk requires trust, but genuine relationships are well worth the effort.

HOW MANY TRUE FRIENDS DO YOU HAVE? At first, a lot of names may come to mind, but the longer you consider the question, the more likely it is that the number will start to dwindle. The reality is, we do not have many genuine friends, ones who will remain loyal no matter what circumstances arise. This dependable, intimate closeness is what the Lord wants for us, but it's a rare treasure. The Biblical account of David and Jonathan can help us learn how to develop a relationship, a genuine friendship built on a foundation of mutual respect, love, and authentic commitment.

For true companionship, each party must appreciate the other's godly qualities. This starts with an attitude of valuing all people. After all, if Jesus chose to die in their place even before they acknowledged Him as Savior, they must certainly have great worth. But at the same time, the high regard that David and Jonathan had toward one another was greater than mere respect.

It revealed admiration for qualities that Scripture commends. These included
•    loyalty to the nation of Israel
•    courage in battle
•    strong faith in God
Consider the question asked earlier about your "true friends." Do these individuals exhibit godly attributes that you respect? And do they, in turn, have admiration for the Biblical characteristics they see in you? This mutual, scriptural respect is a necessary foundation for genuine and lasting friendship.

WHENEVER DISASTER HAPPENS IN YOUR FRIENDS' LIVES, it is natural to try to comfort them in any way you can. But how many times do you feel as if you've said the wrong thing? Sometimes expressions of consolation create even more pain. For example, the well-intentioned words "I understand" feel empty if the speaker has never actually experienced the situation. Yet we all long to feel understood. And it helps to know individuals who have endured circumstances similar to ours. Hebrews 4:15 reassures us that Jesus truly understands because He experienced struggles like ours.

Hebrews 4:14 refers to Jesus as our High Priest. Each year the man who was chosen to serve in this capacity would enter the Holy of Holies, and in God's presence, offer a sacrifice for sin described in Leviticus 16. The priest was the Jewish people's bridge to God. Christ took on this role and became the sacrifice when He died on the cross. By doing so and dying in our place, Jesus endured every possible sin. Now He sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven and intercedes on our behalf. That in itself is encouraging. But even more than that, we know Jesus truly understands our pain and our weakness. For example, a single parent who has suffered greatly can be assured that Christ also knew
•    betrayal, when Judas turned against Him
•    loneliness, when Peter denied knowing Him    and
•    depression, when facing separation from His heavenly Father
If you feel alone in the hardships you're facing, recall Jesus’ trials, hurts, and temptations. You'll find comfort in His understanding.

SOMETIMES WE WANT TO PRAY FOR ANOTHER PERSON but aren't sure what to say. If you've ever been confused about how to intercede for someone, Paul's prayer in Colossians is appropriate for every person and every situation. Because it aligns perfectly with God's will, you can ask these requests with confidence—both for yourself and for others:
•    TO BE FILLED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL IN ALL SPIRITUAL WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING. We need to know God's plan for our lives, but we also require discernment to distinguish His guiding voice from our own self-directed notions.
•    TO WALK IN A MANNER WORTHY OF THE LORD, PLEASING HIM IN ALL WAYS. Our lives should be patterned after the One we follow, with the goal of glorifying Him.
•    TO BEAR FRUIT IN EVERY GOOD WORK. Instead of being wrapped up in our own jobs, possessions, pleasures, and plans, we should be contributing to others' lives.

SINCE PRAYING IS SUCH A COMMON PRACTICE for believers, over time it's easy to fall into habits that result in a lifeless and empty prayer life. Instead of a dynamic conversation with thoughtful requests and active listening for God's response, our prayers can seem more like grocery lists. Because communication with the Lord is such a vital part of the Christian life, we occasionally need to examine how we're doing. Begin by asking yourself these questions:
•    How effective are my prayers?
        Is the Lord answering your petitions, or does it seem as if they never go past the ceiling?
•    Who am I praying for?
        Are most of your requests for yourself or are they for others?

Laziness frequently shows up as procrastination.
•    We procrastinate when we tell someone we will take action and then repeatedly delay the start time.
•    Nor should we be neglectful about the needs of others or relationships with loved ones.

WHEN CHRIST HAS FIRST PLACE IN OUR LIVES, we will experience many blessings. These include
•    A QUIET SPIRIT. As we turn our attention to the Lord and meditate on His Word (Psalm 23:2), the Holy Spirit will help us shut out the noise of worldly distractions so He can provide assurance of our Father's love and support. With a quieted heart and mind, we will be able to discern what God is saying to us. We'll be able to pray with absolute confidence, knowing that He will hear and answer our petitions. Consider 1 John 5:14-15 about praying with impact.  Prayer is such a time saver when you think about it. And always pray         “In Jesus name.”
•    A STRONGER FAITH. Studying Scripture will enlarge our view of God and give us insight and direction. Reading how the Lord has helped others, we will gain confidence that He is at our side, enabling us to meet life's demands. Our faith will grow as we follow His direction and watch how He works on our behalf.
•    A PURIFIED HEART. Like a mirror, the Bible reflects back to us who we truly are and reveals where we need to change. 1 John 1:9 says,
            When we confess our sin, God promises to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
•    A PREPARED MIND. We don't know what's in our tomorrows, but God does. He wants to prepare us for the future—both the joyous times and the hard ones. Through the Holy Spirit's ministry, we will be equipped for whatever life brings (2 Peter 1:3).

The apostle Paul's life demonstrates what it means to give Jesus first place. Because he made Christ the Lord of his life, Paul knew joy amid trials and received the strength to face turmoil and difficulty. These blessings will also be ours when we give highest priority to our relationship with Jesus. We must be willing to offer Him prime time, not leftover minutes. Giving God attention and spending time with Him is one way to show Him we love Him. God gives us His best. We should put forth no less in return.

We need to truly be Jesus’ friend.

★    You can't depend on your own goodness to get to Heaven. We've all sinned  (Romans 3:23). Jesus paid the penalty for your sins with His death on the cross and His resurrection (John 3:16).
★    To be forgiven and be guaranteed a place in Heaven, you need to repent of sin, confess that you are a sinner, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart (Acts 2:21).
★    You can use the following prayer or your own words, but you must actually believe in your heart that your prayer is real:
          Lord Jesus, I believe You are the Son of God. I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed. Please forgive all my wrongdoing and let me live in relationship with You from now on.
          I receive You as my Savior and recognize that the work You accomplished once and for all on the cross was done on my behalf.
          Thank You for saving me. Help me to live a life that is pleasing to You.
                In Your name I pray, Amen.