This week's devotional is from Pastor Art Greco.
December 24, 1988 was preparing to launch us into the worst Christmas celebration of our marriage. Of course, as a young church-planting family, we were perpetually underfunded (or at least we usually thought we were). But the stress of that reality was soon to be put in it’s proper place when, after concluding the 11:00 pm candle light service, Brenda and I planned to drive through the night for a rare treat – celebrating Christmas with our parents in California.
Adding to the anticipation was the fact that our eight-year-old son, Josh, who had gone to spend Christmas vacation with his Grandparents in Sacramento, was excited to see us and be reunited with his older brother and younger sister. This was going to be a much needed “celebration for the soul” and I couldn’t wait to begin a ten-hour drive I would normally have bemoaned. Then, seemingly on queue, the used car we had purchased a week earlier decided to just stop running for no apparent reason. I parked it on the side of an icy/snowy road a few miles from our house, walked to a pay phone, and called a friend from church to pick me up.
Our trip was off. We would not be having dinner with our extended families tomorrow, and, worst of all, something that felt maliciously unnatural was a looming reality: Josh would not be with us for Christmas. It seemed that the only thing darker than the foreboding Portland skies that day was the layer of awful sadness that blanketed my heart.
It was obviously a pretty quiet dinner at our house that evening, followed by some time for me to rework my reluctant message for the worship service that was scheduled for later that night. Then, in the middle of me “moping” through the Christmas text, our doorbell rang.
“Grec, are you expecting anyone?” Brenda asked as she wiped her hands and walked toward the door.
“Don’t answer it.” I jabbed, “With our luck, it’s probably a neighbor with an old fruitcake.”
I was correct on one point: it was someone with a gift for us.
“Terry and Ellie! Hi. What a surprise!” Terry and Ellie had only recently joined our struggling church and had been a huge source of encouragement to us, as well as many of the other ministers in our town.
“We have a gift for you and if you say no to it, we’ll just lose the money we spent to get it for you, ‘cause it can’t be returned.”
Shocked, we I looked over their shoulders to see a brand new minivan parked next to their car in our driveway.
“Don’t get too excited,” they cautioned, “we didn’t buy you a new car. But we DID rent you one for the week. Now let’s get it packed so you can leave for California right after tonight’s service.”
Then, sensing the protest that was forming in my mouth, they went on with the words that prompted me to include this particular story in this week’s devotion, “And not a word about your precious ‘pastoral ethic’ about receiving gifts from parishioners. We’re not doing this because Art’s our pastor; we’re doing this because you’re our friends.”
I tell you, to this day – with almost 28 additional years of pastoral ministry added to my experience since then – that event stands as one of the most lung-filling, heart-swelling, God-praising, dance-producing, life-giving acts of friendship in my life.
We packed the car, hugged Terry and Ellie, then watched them simply drive away – no doubt feeling every bit as blessed as the motley crew whose smiles and laughter they had just caused.
Return to a passage Pastor Ben used two weeks ago, Philippians 2:5-11.
Read that passage through and mark down every parallel you see there between what Jesus did for humankind and what Terry and Ellie did for the Greco family.
Christ’s friendship as expressed there, was certainly “life-giving” friendship. So was that of our dear friends on that night we were so needy. How have you known or experienced that kind of friendship from someone in the past?
When might you have been someone’s “Terry and Ellie”? It’s OK to mention it. After all, it’s just you and God talking, not you bragging.
List some of the people whose friendships have given you life. Now reflect on them and thank God for them.
BE A BLESSING
Pray, asking the Lord to give you the privilege of loving someone like that. Now keep you eyes open and your ears tuned to the voice of Jesus. He may have it scheduled for you to blow someone’s mind or even lift the spirits of an entire family ... through your life-giving act of true friendship.
Here’s an idea that could not only make an act of friendship even MORE fun but also extend the effects on people’s hearts. Bring a circle of friends into the act. One Christmas morning Brenda and I took our kids to deliver some simple gifts to a widow from MCC (who is now with the Lord). It was a great experience, but it didn’t compare to the joy we had the next year ... when we decided to invite the Wittes (one of the other families in our church) to join us. Being together only served to WIDEN the circle of joy and deepen the friendship between our two families.
Oh, and no need to wait until Christmas to be a life-giving friend. Strangely enough, this stuff tends to work well in all seasons and on all days of the week. :-)