Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dispatches From the Field #2 -- Close Encounters of the Beneficial Kind

A few months ago I started setting aside early Tuesday mornings to head up to one of my "branch offices" (the Panera's restaurant on west Maple) in order to do some writing and ministry planning and, as it’s worked out, to enjoy very stimulating conversations with John Malek, who drops by for 45 minutes or so before he heads for work.  John has long been one of my best friends, a Christian brother who is a fellow pro-life activist, a Board member of Vital Signs Ministries, and a part of the Notting Hill Napoleons, our rather famous literary club that's been going for over 20 years.  John and I were even friendly competitors for many years in a fantasy football league.  So we share a lot of interests and have experienced some 27-28 years of adventures together, some of which (sidewalk counseling, intercession, civil disobedience) have been pretty intense.

These Tuesday morning conversations are but the latest revelation to me of how valuable such friendships are to my ongoing spiritual development.  For even though one can (and should) find friends comforting, the ultimate purpose of Christian friendship isn’t comfortability. Rather, it's growth in Christ and improved service to His kingdom.

The writer of Hebrews describes it like this: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Christian fellowship should provide comfort certainly.  But it should also produce plenty of encouragement, accountability, correction, exemplary living, assistance, inspiration, prayer, complements, thanksgiving, empathy, rejoicing, wise counsel, and a sanity check which helps defend one another against the constant attacks from a pagan culture.  And these are the things I receive from solid friends like John.  They are blessings which stimulate my growth in Christ, expand my vision, deepen my understanding, improve my service to others, and enlarge my hope for that perfect fellowship I will one day enjoy with Jesus Christ and all of the redeemed.

Tuesday mornings then have produced good things.  I’m convinced that I've got stuff done that I probably wouldn’t have had I not re-arranged my schedule.  But, certainly as important, have been the quality conversations I’ve had with John.  They are reminiscent of other high quality fellowship that has so enriched and helped me over the years -- long talks about everything under the sun with Dan Butler; endless hours on the front porch with Dana Hall; a Friday morning Bible study at our place in Village Green that included dear friends Perly Schoville, Dan Hovanec, and Mark Morin; lunches with Tim Sullivan, Bob Thune, Kurt Oyer and a lot of others over the years (most recently, with Allen Nelson); tea with Pat Osborne; coffee with Patrice Kabore; post-production talks at the radio studio with Tom Sharman; early morning prayers down in Nebraska City with Quint Coppi; and dinners with Keith and Carol Moran.

And, certainly not the least valuable, was the stimulating fellowship with fellow pro-life activists at Village Inn on early Saturday mornings after praying in front of the abortion mill. That group would include John, Quint, Tim, Kurt, Mark, Keith and Carol, Pat but also Matt Troutman, Don Kohls, Dick Wilson, Bev Weis, Karla Struble, Jack Miller, Ruth Denzler, Terry Herring, Jim Williams, Joe Ferrante, Mary Roberts and many more.

And, yes...Claire.

From Chuck Cooke and Dick Hall in the the very first days of my Christian experience through the more than four decades since, the stimulating, protecting, joyful fellowship of serious "doers of the Word" has been of limitless benefit to me. And I'm deeply grateful to them all (and to "the Giver of all good and perfect gifts," God Himself) for the myriad of blessings they have provided me.

If you don't have such friends, for crying out loud, go get some! And, if you do have such heroes in your life, make sure you're taking the time and effort necessary to glean all that you can. Don't just play church. Don't settle for surface conversations. Hang around Christians who are intent on studying God's Word and then living it out. You need such friends around you...and you need to be such a friend to others.

Godly fellowship -- accept no substitutes.