This weekend begins a new six-week sermon series called, "A New Command" based on Jesus' words in John 13:34-35, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (NIV) More than anything else, this series will be about how to build genuine caring relationships with one another which is something that is relevant to each of us.
There's no question that one of the greatest gifts God has given to us is the gift of friendship. I was reminded of that this past week as Sandy and I traveled to Houston for a week of vacation. Houston holds a special place in our hearts because it was where we met, where our kids were born, and where we had our first ministry. Houston is also home to some very special friends.
One of the unique things about friendship is that it is something that can bring great joy and great heartache. No doubt that's why Paul instructs us to "rejoice with those who rejoice" and "mourn with those who mourn" in Romans 12. We did both of those things while in Houston. I have two close friends named Darrel and David who I lived with before any of us were married. Sandy and I married first and then I had the privilege of marrying Darrel and Kathie and then David and Suzanne. Kathie and Suzanne stood with Sandy and Darrel and David stood with me when we were married. Suzanne is Sandy's long-time best friend who lived down the street from her while she was growing up. I don't have enough room in this blog to describe the depth of our friendship. So when we travel to Houston it's like we travel back in time and experience life the way it was over twenty-five years ago. We eat together, we go to movies together, we shop together, we play golf together, we stay up late together, but mostly we laugh together.
Houston is also the home of the best mentors Sandy and I have ever had. Two couples in particular are Jack and Charlotte Tipton (both from Oklahoma) and Rusty and Linda Wilfong (both from Illinois). We got to worship and have lunch with Jack and Charlotte on Sunday. On Saturday we got to see two of Rusty and Linda's kids and their families as we celebrated one of their granddaughter's birthdays at their new home in Fulshear, Texas. It was a beautiful, warm, blue-sky day with a lightbreeze...just the escape you're looking for in February. The only problem was that Linda wasn't there. The last time we were in Houston (February 2008) we were there so I could preach her funeral. The day after Valentine's Day that year Linda suffered a heart-attack, fought for her life in the hospital, but never made it home. It won't be a surprise to any of you that I didn't make it very long before I broke down and cried. That happened when I was praying for our lunch. A little later in the day, when everyone was gathered around the table singing "Happy Birthday" to three-year-old Addison, it was just too much for Sandy to take as she thought about how much Linda loved moments like that. I told her that she was supposed to be the strong one in our family. Later, as Sandy and I sat with Rusty on the back patio we talked about Linda and everyone cried.
I love the fun that friendship brings. I love the laughter and the celebration...I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I feel the same way about the sadness and the pain that friendship can sometimes bring. It was a different kind of joy that Sandy and I felt as we sat there on the patio with Rusty, but it was still joy. Proverbs 17:17 says, A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (NIV)
Do you have a friend that you haven't laughed or cried with in a while? Life gets busy with work and grocery shopping and paying bills and Super Bowls and meetings and shoveling driveways and time spent worrying and sitting in front of a computer screen like I'm doing right now. Don't miss out on friendship. Don't miss out on the full experience of friendship. Whether you're laughing or crying, there's no question it's one of God's greatest gifts.