FriendsI spent my birthday lunch with an old friend. We met at the Lake Club. As usual, we talked about work, family, friends, church, and key world events. But as always I realized that the meaning of such encounters was more than the sum of the parts. There was, for me anyway, and I would like to believe for him as well, some inexplicable pleasure at just being together.

I forgot to add that he has invested a lot of hard earned money into my life and ministry. It is not that I am ungrateful. I am very grateful and often feeling that I give him so little in return. But there is something about the nature of friendship. Friends help each other. But help does not define the friendship.

I wondered again at how our friendship developed. We first encountered each other in the mundane context of church work. We were leaders of our respective churches and had dealings pertaining to church property among other things. And we just clicked. I have often wondered about this. How and why does one decide that someone is to be a friend? I am sure that the psychologists and the behavioural scientists will have their theories. But I contend that there is still a high degree of mystery involved in the dynamics of friendship.

I am grateful for this mystery. As I pass my 48th birthday, I look back at my life and realize yet again, how I have been blessed by so many who have given me the gift of their friendship. They have made my life so rich. They have given me so much joy. Indeed they have seen me through times of deep pain and dark despair. And If I were to thank them for being my friends, for having given me so much, I know I will be met with embarrassed silence and awkward smiles. Friends do lay down their lives for each other (John 15:13) but friendship is for its own sake.

As Gordon T. Smith reminds us in his book ON THE WAY:

“Friendships take time to develop and are not meant to be useful—in themselves. They are a foretaste of heaven; they are relationships in which people are enjoyed and appreciated merely because they are friends.”

The greater mystery however is that the Almighty God chooses to give a sinful humanity the gift of His divine friendship.

Talking to his disciples, Jesus said: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from the Father”. (John 15:15 NRSV) But long before Jesus’ sojourn on earth, “…the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend…” (Exodus 33:11 NRSV)

It is sad that so many either reject God’s friendship or take it for granted. That may be one explanation as to why we do not know how to be friends to each other.

Still, I for one know that my cup overflows. I thank my divine Friend for bringing so many friends into my life. And I thank my friends for choosing to give me the gift of their friendship. It is all undeserved.

A group of friends ambushed me with a birthday cake last Sunday. They had sneaked into my house without my knowledge and hid in a small, hot room while I was finishing a group meeting. (They had obtained the cooperation of my children, the traitors!) The meeting finished about a half hour later than usual. When they erupted from the room I was surprised. Last year they had done this on my birthday itself. This time they had done it on the Sunday before my birthday. And this time they had brought the wine. And a lovely chocolate cake. But no pizza!

But who cares? The evening was one of much laughter where the wine (a meagre one bottle shared by six) flowed freely, Toots Thielemans was playing on the CD player, and there was much laughter and happy conversations. Another foretaste of heaven to keep us going until the real thing.

Your brother, SooInn