{Pew Ponderings} Unexpected Friends

There is just a bit of irony in the fact that as I write a blog series on the church, I've missed more church in the last six weeks than I've missed since our three girls had the chicken pox several years ago. (They succumbed consecutively, rather than concurrently, so that we had someone with the pox for seven weeks straight.  Not the best fall ever. ;-))

However, I'm pressing on with the series, and praying that this season, as those crazy weeks of chicken pox, will also pass.  If anything, missing as much as I've had to recently has made me realize even more the importance of the church.  It's hard when we miss! 
(Author's Note: This is another post that has been sitting in draft for a month or so. :) We've actually made it to church as a family for most of the last month. Yay!  Again a bit of irony...I was home again this morning after waking up with a horribly sick headache. I've finally had enough Excedrin that I can do something other than sit with my head in my hands, and I'm looking forward to getting back to church tonight!) 

In Placing Ourselves Deeply, we stopped in the middle of chapter 1 of Anne Ortlund's Love Me With Tough Love.  As I pick up there now, the first thing I see are these underlined words:

We need to learn to love!

Yes! We do!  do!

I tend to feel as though this is something I'm pretty good at, and then I am hit with reminders of how far, far, far I have to go in this area. 

I can definitely say with Anne, however, "Thank you, Lord! You have made me rich in friends.  They're friends who know me well--my sins and failures, too--and they still love me."

She goes on to pray for her readers to be given the tools to forge this kind of Christian friendships, the kind that make us courageous to live for Him as we could never otherwise do.

Then she talks about Paul, a writer and traveler who "could easily have been a loner".  She points out that in spite of this, Paul "made his way deeply into the lives of many other believers."  He talks about some of them by name in his epistles. 

Paul talks about all kinds of people, and it is obvious that he was deeply involved with them.  He knows their strengths and weaknesses, and he talks about his great love for them. 

Although I know from other writings that Anne and her husband Ray put a priority on family time, they also felt strongly that serving the Lord in front of and alongside their children was a vital part of raising them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  Anne tells of her encouragement to a young wife who was hesitant about her husband being involved in a certain area of church work.  Anne said, "Let your husband go....let him plunge into all the church life he wants to.  His heart may need it.  Encourage lots of exposure to godly people.  He'll be a far better husband and father as a result!"

(She is careful to say here that she couldn't have said that if their church wasn't "living and functional"-- being in the right church is crucial here. )

The input of our brothers and sisters in Christ should make us better spouses and parents.  It shouldn't take away anything from our families, but should add richly to them.

"The miracle of the church! Who can explain it?  We need all the relationships God will give us.  Each believer represents a different facet of Jesus Christ, and as we are baptized into a life of fellowship in the Spirit, we are plunged into Christ Himself.  Doctrinally, we are baptized into Christ at the moment of our conversion.  Experientially, you might say that we are 'baptized' into Christ as we are daily immersed in our fellow believers."

Years ago, I was exposed to some teaching that I unfortunately didn't check carefully against Scripture.  It was teaching that elevated the family to a place far above the church, and which encouraged a type of isolationism for families within the church.  It discouraged close relationships within the church with those who weren't "like-minded" in even minor areas. 

God has done much in my life to show me how wrong (and even dangerous) that teaching was.  I still believe strongly that parents have ultimate authority and responsibility for their own children.  I still believe strongly that a measure of sheltering, especially in the early years, is important.  I still believe that our very closest relationships should and will of necessity be with people who have very similar standards and beliefs.

However, God has blessed us tremendously with relationships  with those in the church with whom we agree on the "majors" (salvation and major points of doctrine), but from whom we may be worlds apart in other ways.  He has filled the gaps in our ever-shrinking extended family with people who have become very precious to us over the years....people who in earlier years I would kept at a distance. 

What blessings we would have missed if I had! 

He has also blessed us abundantly with people who've become "unexpected friends" in other ways.  People of different generations...older and younger...and people from all different walks of life have entered our lives and hearts in amazing ways. 
What blessings we would have missed without those unexpected friendships! 
How have you seen God work through unexpected friendships within the church?  How have you seen God make you a better spouse or parent through relationships and service within the church? I'd love to hear in the comments! 
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