On the Need for Pals & Parchments

What keeps you going? What gets you through the rough days, the times of uncertainty, the questions that do not have easy answers?

Well, the answer for that is probably a bit different for each of us. This morning, I was reminded of two ways that help me face the challenges — and I was reminded of it as I read some scripture that rarely gets more than a passing glance.

In my last two posts, I discussed a “canon within the canon.” I firmly believe in that concept, while at the same time not wanting to overlook any scripture. This morning, I got that message, again, as I read the end of 2 Timothy. This letter, from Paul to his “son” Timothy, reaches a soaring conclusion with Paul’s words in 4:6-8, which include these words: I have fought the fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith. Those are tombstone words; you know, words you’d want on your tombstone. They are the kind of words that sum up a life. (And just as there is a canon, and a canon-within-the-canon — so there is life as a whole, and then there is the life we live that can be summed up with just a few words.)

The past couple of mornings, I have pondered these words from Paul — soaking them in, praying them — that I would continue to fight the good fight; that I will finish the course; that, when all is said and done, I’ll be found to have kept the faith.

And then I moved on, to the final words of 2 Timothy — verses 9-22 of chapter 4. They are kind of like an epilogue; an afterword. On the surface, they seem like words we can quickly scan to finish up the letter. And, in a way, we can. For they are full of greetings and final requests. Nothing exciting; nothing about them that feels canon-within-the-canon-y.

But, believing that all scripture is God-breathed, then there is no doubt they have the power to speak, perhaps in surprising ways. And as I read these verses, I hear Paul’s pathos, his human side, his pain. In verse 16, Paul has to stand up and defend himself, and he looks around, and there’s no one there. He’s alone. Some friends, like Demas, have deserted him. Others, like Titus, have been sent on to other ministries. But Paul’s need for encouragement comes through loud and clear.

And so, in this “afterword” to his letter, Paul begins by urging Timothy to quickly come to be with him (verse 9); he then repeats this sense of urgency with his last request of Timothy, telling him in verse 21 to hurry and get to Paul before winter. With winter, sea travel became treacherous, and so if Timothy doesn’t get moving, Paul will face a winter without him. As he writes these final thoughts, Paul makes it clear: this letter isn’t just about the encouragement that Timothy needs from Paul — it’s also about the encouragement that Paul needs from Timothy.

And there’s one more thing Paul tells Timothy: When you come, bring the books — and especially the parchments. An easy-to-miss line, but one that I think also describes something Paul needs. He longs for the encouraging words of Timothy, but he also needs the encouragement of words. One, for Paul, is life in person; the other is life on parchment. But both are necessary to help Paul fight the good fight; finish the race; keep the faith.

Perhaps this speaks to me because, like Paul, I am learning how much I need the encouragement of others — in person, and on paper. In a season of transition (for Paul, end of life; for me, end of a ministry), there is a need friends to sit with me, both in the flesh and in print. In other words, I am yet again reminded: I need pals, and I need parchment. I can’t fight the good fight, or finish the race, or keep the faith, without them.

So, that’s the word (at least to me), in an afterword.

(And I didn’t even get to commenting on Paul’s request in verse 11 that Mark come — for he is useful in ministering to me. This is the same Mark who went home early from a mission trip; see Acts 15:38. That’s yet another story, found in one of the “side paths” of scripture. But don’t take my word for it. Journey through scripture yourself — walking through its main paths, and its alley ways, too. There’s important stuff everywhere.)

WHO is your burden?

I have a friend whose kids were having a disagreement (read: fight). The brother told his sister, I hate you. To which his sister, Sarah, replied, “God put me in this family & you have to love me or He’ll put you on a cross.”

That would take care of the whole sibling rivalry thing, I guess. But Sarah was right about one thing: she and her brother are family, and they need to love each other.

You see, love — the kind of love that is all over the pages of the New Testament, isn’t simply the opposite of hate. Nor is it even liking someone, and it’s definitely not about how you feel about someone else. For the truth is, brothers and sisters often don’t LIKE each other, do they? Much of the time, they don’t feel good about each other.

But real love is a choice, and chooses to act based on what you know about God, and about that person — that God IS love, and longs for that love to be made real to everyone. As Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche Community, has said: “Love is to reveal the beauty of another person to themselves.” Love is the choice we make to seek the best for another person.

Often, that is very practical, where I choose to do what’s right — where I choose what builds another up, or meets their need, or challenges them or encourages them. Love has as its goal the other’s best, where we take on the responsibility of choosing that best — even when it inconveniences or even harms us.

I just finished reading a book on Christian friendship, where the author, Wesley Hill, gives practical ways to live out friendship. One way you do that is by letting someone be a burden to you.

That might strike you as odd; it does me, too. And obviously that statement can be taken too far. But I like the idea behind it; that love is where we are deep enough in relationship with others that we know their burdens, and help carry them – because isn’t that what love looks like?

So, pause for a moment, and think: is there someone who may be facing challenges that you need to let be a burden to you? Where you come alongside them, or continue walking with them, and help them face something difficult, messy, something not-easily-fixed?

Because the best, most-lasting love, isn’t quick, or easy, or casual. The best love isn’t when you give five bucks to a guy on the street, or participate in a one-time service project, or even sponsor a hungry child overseas. Those may all be good things, but they don’t go very deep into the depths of love. For that, I believe, we have to love up close, personal, and faithfully.

So, who needs to be a burden to you?

Four Kinds of Friends You Need

There are four friends you need in your life. I say this not because I am very good at this, or because I am some kind of “friend expert.” I say this because, after 46 years, I am slowly learning this to be true in my life.

In fact, these kinds of friends are not original with me. What follows below is adapted from a sermon podcast I listened to recently; the preacher said he had adapted it from someone else. The truth is: very few ideas are original; we’re all just riffing on stuff we’ve heard elsewhere. So why would it be any different when it comes to something so essential, and so timeless, as friendship?

So, based on centuries of accumulated wisdom, 46 years of life experience, one sermon I’ve heard, and one key guy from the Bible (David, who is the example I’m using), these are the four friends I think you need in your life. (Note: everyone I mention is a guy, but you don’t have to be a guy to apply this. Also, these specific people won’t fit your exact situation, but adapt it to your life. It’s what people have been doing for thousands of years).

  1. You need a Nathan. When David lost focus and turned his eyes to a woman who he had no business being with — and when things then really hit the fan for David — Nathan was the guy who was there to challenge David (with one of my all-time favorite lines from the Bible: You are the man!). Not an easy job for Nathan, but vital. Unlike David, you are a not a king, but you need a Nathan to challenge you, guide you, and mentor you in those places where your head gets a little big for your crown. You need a friend like Nathan.
  2. You need a Jonathan. He was the friend that stayed with David, even when Saul, Jonathan’s father, turned against David. Jonathan was a true friend; a peer who loved David for who he was. When others did what was convenient, Jonathan stood by David. To the very end. You need a friend like Jonathan.
  3. You need a Solomon. Solomon was David’s son, and was his successor in the kingship of Israel. Unfortunately, the train went off the rails for Solomon. But the point isn’t about Solomon, so much, or even that he was David’s son. The need we all have is someone we pour ourselves into; someone we influence who is coming up after us. We need to be encouraging and mentoring someone who will continue the journey after we are gone. The fact that Solomon failed is the exception that proves the rule: faith must be passed on, or things fall apart. You need a friend like Solomon.

In summary, these three friends can be viewed this way: someone older and wiser to guide you through the places they have gone; someone who is a peer to walk with you wherever you go; and someone younger who needs to be encouraged to carry the baton to places where you can’t go. I hope you have these 3 in your life. If you don’t, begin praying and thinking about who might fill these areas of friendship for you, and then do whatever you need to do to make it happen — because you need them. And they need you.

But there is one more friend you need. You also need a Mephibosheth. He was a servant in the house of Saul; a handicapped man whom David chose to love for Jonathan’s sake. Mephibosheth had nothing to offer David. In fact, a lesser man would have treated him as a threat, as he came from the house of Saul, David’s enemy. But David chose to bless Mephibosheth, a man who could offer nothing to David in return.

You need to befriend and love someone who can’t return the favor in equal measure. This person may be poor, physically or spiritually. They may have a mental or emotional condition that makes friendship difficult. They may come from a completely different mindset and lifestyle than you. But you are blessed when you open the arms of friendship to someone who can offer nothing in return. You need a friend like Mephibosheth.

So, these are the four friends you have to have in your life. The kind that make you human. The kind that make you like David. The kind that ultimately make you more like Jesus.