Dear friends, October 2020
A couple of weeks ago, Claire and I were invited to talk a bit about Vital Signs Ministries in the Sunday morning service at our church. For that opportunity we created a PowerPoint presentation that used Scott Wesley Brown’s song “Who Will Stand in the Gap?” as a backdrop for photos that covered – can you believe it – 37 years of pro-life ministry! As you can imagine, putting that photo collection together was a pretty emotional experience. So many memories of victory and gladness and hope…so many memories of heartache, disappointment, and heavy challenge.
Perhaps the most moving blessing in going through those photos, however, was the vivid reminder it was of how good God has been in allowing Claire and me to serve alongside inspiring, heroic friends over the course of these long years. I emphasized that point to our congregation that morning, “As you all can see from these photographs, Claire and I have grown old in the pro-life movement!” But I quickly added, “Of course, short of an early invitation to our heavenly home, there’s no escaping that we were going to grow old no matter what we did! So we lift praises to our gracious Lord that He allowed us to grow old 1) together, 2) in an eminently godly cause, and 3) to travel our journey alongside the most remarkably compassionate and courageous of friends. A few of those friends have been involved in our lives for 50 years, some of them for 30-35 years. Yet others have connected with us much more recently. Nevertheless, in all cases, the inspiration, encouragement, example, and assistance of these saints have been absolutely invaluable to us.”
But what we have experienced in our adventure is exactly what God desires; indeed, what God designed Christian friendship to be. Consider just a few of the Scriptures that emphasize this.
“A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)
“Therefore, encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (Thessalonians 5:11)
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,10)
“My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 5:12-15)
“Oil and perfume make the heart glad. So a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.” (Proverbs 27:9)
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
No, there is no doubt that spiritually-minded, enduring friendships are a critical force in a Christian’s life and witness. They are an important gift of the Holy Spirit which helps move us forward in personal growth, motivates us away from temptation and towards loyal obedience to Jesus, stimulates us to love and good deeds, and increases the impact of our collective witness to a watching world.
So, if you don’t have friends who are truly inspiring you to live holy, who seek to protect you from being “bespotted” by the world, who urge you by their counsel (and by personal example) to invest your time and talents in heavenly pursuits…go find some!
To illustrate my point, let me include in this month’s letter a few friend-oriented highlights from our last few weeks. And I’ll start with the Hartford Cafe. This early Tuesday ministry has been a bustling activity for many months now but, since we laid new carpet downstairs (what Dick Wilson calls our “terrace level”), we have been hosting a select group of friends in our cozy library area there. It’s really nice and our conversations cover humor, politics, culture, stories from the past, and applications of Christian discipleship for the present. As such, the Hartford Cafe is similar to most of the other hospitality ministries we pursue. They are designed to encourage and challenge our friends even as we are, in turn, blessed by them. These hospitality ministries are part of what we refer to nowadays as “Mitford ministries.” (You can, by the way, learn more about that by checking out my Vital Signs Blog post of October 2, “Denny Reflects on The Mitford Novels.”)
These ministries include our dinner parties, early morning coffees, lunches out and brunches in, and book discussions. But those are not the only vehicles we try and use to encourage and build up our friends. There’s a lot of writing letters and cards, making phone calls, setting up Zoom conversations, and being busy every day with social media.
Let me move on to another wonderful (and quite literally “friendly”) event that Claire and I enjoyed just a few days ago as we participated with members of Friendly Baptist Church in Branson, Missouri for the Life Chain. It was two years ago when we first discovered this remarkable fellowship and it was through the same event. We have been richly blessed by attending services there several times. In fact, as I write this letter, we are still here in Branson. We’re here for our annual working vacation and so we will be over there at the church a few more times before heading back to Omaha. It’s proof of how friends can be a great inspiration despite distance or even frequency of meeting. And, if you don’t mind me mentioning Vital Signs Blog again, you can find a somewhat provocative piece I wrote there about this church. It’s from October 5 and the title is, “And What Might We Learn From this Country Church?” Why not check it out?
Want another “friend” story? Here’s one. Though we wanted to get into Branson as early as possible, we delayed our departure Saturday morning in order to join our colleagues for the regular prayers and pro-life witness outside the Planned Parenthood abortion business. It turned out to be a particularly intense time as we compared notes of what the Lord has been teaching us and as we prayed in concert about many things: for national repentance and revival; for renewed purity and courage in the Church; and for God’s righteous judgments upon the devil’s vicious evils of abortion, sexual perversion, lawlessness, the persecution of Christians across the globe, and so on. And, before we left, the brothers there laid hands on us as they prayed for our health, safety, productivity, rest, and joy in the Lord. That will be a moment we long treasure.
Another of our ongoing friend-oriented ministries has, as you know, been the creation and promotion of a whole series of “Anti-Boredom” Packets that we send out to the senior care facilities and, through our website, to anyone in the world who wants to use them. Each packet is 9 pages full of trivia, quizzes, inspirational quotes and Scriptures, song lyrics to finish, and a introduction letter from Claire and me. We’re delighted to have learned that the residents love the packets, but that the personal letters have gone a long way to prove that the two people who bring the “When Swing Was King” shows to them are genuine friends. That means the world to us. And just last week we heard of two really neat responses. In one situation, Carol prints the packet from our website and passes them on to several elderly women she ministers to. The other case involved a friend from California with whom I ministered in a Joni & Friends “Wheels for the World” team in Poland back in 2001. Jill goes through the packets with her parents as entertainment and encouragement. She even passed along the news that last Christmas season, she and she and her parents were blessed by reading aloud together my novel The Christmas Room. Thank You, Lord, for these uplifting examples of how You bless the work of our hands.
And finally, let me mention one more update dealing with Christian friendship. As most of you know, I meet for an early morning coffee every Thursday with longtime, deeply trusted friends Patrick Osborne and John Malek. We have done this for several years and it has always been an invaluable blessing to me. However, our conversations in recent months have been more purposeful, more provocative than ever before. The topics of our conversation have always included our families, work, Vital Signs Ministries matters (both Pat and John are on the VSM Board), current events, and our respective journeys of personal sanctification. But, in recent months, it has seemed that the Lord is preparing us for deeper challenges as the culture grows more wacky and wicked. For instance, our discussions have intensified over the issues of prophecy, personal purity, and spiritual warfare. Indeed, concerning that warfare element, we are being quickened to more fervently pray and speak against Planned Parenthood, the nihilistic “cancel culture,” the demonic doctrines of evolution and socialism, the lying media, and the increasing drift of the Church into the fetid waters of worldliness, cowardice, and heterodoxy.
You can see how Thursday mornings have become more than a pleasant “sanity check.” They are, along with several of the other friendship ministries I’ve mentioned today, very important times of re-charging our batteries and helping each other be the most effective Christian witness we can be. And how desperately we need such friendships for overcoming the troubled times we live in.
Okay, let me finish this letter with a post I dropped in on my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago. I think that the quote and the brief exhortations I add afterward make for an appropriate conclusion to.
“I’m a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.” (Abraham Lincoln) Applications? 1) Persevere for, like Lincoln, you too have friends (including the most important Friend of all) watching you and wanting your best. And 2) Be sure to be that kind of friend to others. Pray for them; encourage them; forgive them when necessary; and cheer them on to be everything that God desires them to be.
“The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Proverbs 12:26
Until next time, dear friends, stay the course.