The Wayfarer Weekend Podcast features special guest Kevin Roose as we discuss being Companions on Life’s Journey (Part 1).
My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)
Colossians 4:10 (NIV)
“There are friends who are friends for a season, and there are friends who are friends for life.” Thus said a wise woman to me while I was a Freshman in college. It was the first time I remember really thinking about the purpose and tenure of friendship in life’s journey.
Everyone knows that Jesus had twelve disciples, but Luke records that there was a wider circle of seventy-two disciples that Jesus sent out (Luke 10:1). Among the twelve it was only Peter, James, and John that Jesus called out to join Him when He was transfigured, when He raised Jairus’ daughter, and when He was in His deepest despair in Gethsemane. Like most of us, Jesus had concentric circles of relationship from the intimacy of His inner circle of three to the wider and less intimate relationships He had with the twelve, the seventy-two, and an even larger group of 500 followers to whom He appeared after His resurrection.
Along my life journey, I’ve had a number of friends, mentors, and protégés who became part of my “inner circle” during a particular stretch. Looking back, I observe a certain ebb and flow of pattern and purpose in relationships. As the wise woman stated, some paths converge for a season and then organically lead in opposite directions. Conflict, sadly, severed some relationships. In a few cases, I’ve realized it’s best to leave be what was. In others, reconciliation brought differing degrees of restoration. There is longing to experience reconciliation in yet others when the season is right. Then there are a few in which time ran out, and only memories both bitter and sweet will remain with me for the rest of my earthly journey.
Most readers of Paul’s letters skip through the personal greetings with which he typically tagged his correspondence at the beginning and/or end. This morning, it was one of these oft-ignored greetings at the end of the chapter that jumped off the page at me. Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, sends his greetings to the believers at Colossae. There is a back story there.
Mark, otherwise known as John Mark, had been a boy who was part of Jesus’ wider circle of followers. Mark’s mother was a prominent woman who also followed Jesus and likely supported His ministry financially. When Peter escaped from prison it was to the house of Mark’s mother that Peter fled. It was Mark’s cousin, Barnabas, who brought the enemy turned believer, Saul (aka Paul) into the fold of Jesus’ followers. Barnabas and Mark were part of Paul’s inner circle on his first missionary journey.
Then, it all fell apart.
In the middle of the journey, Mark left Paul and Barnabas and went back home. Paul felt abandoned and betrayed. Years later when it came time to make a return journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along. Paul, still angry that Mark wimped out and abandoned them, would have none of it. There was a big fight. There was a bitter separation. Paul went one way with Silas. Barnabas went the other way with Mark. The season of Paul, Barnabas, and Mark was over.
As Paul writes his letter to the Colossians it has been many years since the conflict with Barnabas and Mark. Paul is in prison and is nearing the end of his life. Mark is with him. We don’t know how the reconciliation happened or what brought them back together again, but Mark is there sending warm greetings through Paul. It’s nice to know that sometimes in this life we get over our conflicts. We let go of the past and embrace the present. Seasons of friendship can come back around.
In the quiet this morning I’m looking back and thinking of all the companions I’ve had along my journey. I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude for each one brought to my life and journey, despite where the ebb and flow of relationship may have led. And, in a few cases, I’m praying for the season when the journey might lead divergent paths back together, like Paul and Mark.
Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the ten men who were with him got up and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, with the sword, killing the one whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land.
Jeremiah 41:2 (NIV)
A year or two ago our daughter shared with us the news that the company she works for had been sold. The news caught Madison and her fellow employees by surprise. In her initial shock, she naturally wondered what this would mean for her, her employment, and ultimately her career.
In my own career I’ve had the experience of working with multiple companies who have been acquired. So, I talked Madison through what she would likely experience. “Nothing is going to change” is usually the initial mantra, followed by transitional leadership in the executive and upper management ranks. I’ve also noticed that the first year after an acquisition there is usually a natural exodus of employees looking for, and finding, other employment before they can be laid off or experience the changes they fear are coming. Cultural changes are often the first things to be noticed on the front-lines. Significant changes in structure and operations often start, if they start, about 12-18 months after the sale.
I talked through my observations with Madison and discussed her options. It was another one of those forks in life’s road that I wrote about on Friday, when one asks “Should I stay or should I go?”
In today’s chapter of Jeremiah, we read about a very different kind of transition. The chapter continues to tell of the aftermath of Babylon’s hostile takeover of the nation of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. Just as there is a pattern I’ve observed in what happens after a business acquisition, there was also a similar pattern to how ancient empires handled the aftermath of their successful siege victories. The King of Babylon and his army take the best and brightest captive back to Babylon to celebrate victory He leaves behind a governor and small military contingent to manage the mostly old, poor, and destitute citizens who are left in the area.
In all of the destruction, chaos, and transition there remains among those Judean citizens left a heady mixture of fear, anxiety, rage, and opportunism. A distant member of the royal line of Judah takes out a vendetta against the new governor appointed by the Babylonians. He arranges dinner with the new Governor, and then assassinates the Governor and his guard, taking the rest of the household captive.
An army officer and his men form a posse and chase after the assassin and his men. They rescue the captives, but the assassin and most of his crew escape. Realizing that they could easily be held accountable by the King of Babylon for allowing the governor’s assassination, the army officer and his men make plans to flee to Egypt. Talk about a whole lot of chaos.
This morning I’m thinking about transitions that I’ve experienced along my life journey that were out of my control. Transitions in family circumstances, unexpected tragedies and death, transitions in church leadership, transitions of companies for whom I worked, and transitions in organizations with whom I was involved. Transitions are a natural part of life. When they come suddenly and unexpectedly they create a certain disorientation among those effected. With the disorientation there can be all sorts of chaos and crazy-making. It’s that disorientation and subsequent chaos Jeremiah chronicles in today’s chapter.
Personally, I’ve learned that managing these times of unexpected transition requires drawing on faith and spiritual resources I’ve built up along my journey. First, I draw upon my faith that I can trust God amidst my present circumstances. God has led me thus far, and there’s no reason to stop trusting that God will continue to lead me because of an unexpected curve in the road. Second, I have confidence in what I’ve been promised. God is not going to leave me or forsake me. I can cast all my anxieties and fears on God and trust God’s plan for my life journey. Third, I have good companions who will walk with me, listen to me, encourage me, and remind me of what I know to be true even when I’m tempted to forget.
I can’t always control life’s transitions, but I can develop the spiritual and relational reserves necessary to handle the transitions when they come.
Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.” 2 Samuel 19:5-7 (NIV)
One of the most fascinating aspects of my day job is the opportunity I have to work with many different companies and to interact with people at diverse levels of the organization from the front-line to the executive suite. Long ago I realized that the culture of a company is a trickle-down affair that begins with the man or woman at the very top. I remember one client whose CEO ran the company by fear and intimidation. No one would stand up to him, even when he is clearly mistaken or making a wrong move, for fear of losing their proverbial heads in a board meeting (and, perhaps, their jobs). The result was a highly dysfunctional organization which mirrored the CEO. The entire corporate culture was one of intimidation, fear, and c.y.a. which permeated virtually every level of the operation.
One of the things I’ve observed about David as we’ve been reading his story the past few months is the fact that David had a select group of men in his life who could get in his face and call him to account even if they had to be careful about how they did it. In today’s chapter, David’s general and right-hand man Joab confronts David about the grave danger he’s putting himself in by allowing his grief for Absalom overshadow his duty as king. The kingdom was in a precarious political situation and David was close to losing it all. Joab lost no time in getting in David’s face and speaking the truth to him. To his credit, David listened to his long-time trusted general and advisor.
I have a handful of people in my life, people with whom I have intentionally surrounded myself, who have carte blanche to get in my face whenever necessary. These are people with whom I talk about and share life with on a regular basis. We talk about business, church, family, friendships, finances, and relationships. If they think I’m screwing something up, then they have permission to question me or call me out, and they would expect the same from me.
This journey through life can be a long hike. The first rule any child learns about hiking in the wilderness is “buddy up.” To go it alone is to put yourself in danger. Ironically, our greatest danger often resides within ourselves. Without faithful companions who can catch it and call us out, we may not realize it until it’s too late.
Today, I’m thankful for my faithful companions on this life journey.
The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain;
the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.
Proverbs 10:11 (NLT)
There are two regular appointments on my calendar each week. Each weekday you will find the same person’s name on my list of people to call. I have three men in my life with whom I converse regularly. We are sharing the journey together. When life and schedules throw a wrench in our weekly get togethers I can feel the difference, and it’s not a positive one.
There is chit-chat and small talk with these men. Sports, movies, hobbies and interests are regular topics of conversation. But the conversations regularly meander into much deeper territory: marriage, children, fatherhood, children, parenting, work, manhood, God, sex, finances, and etc. There is no subject that is off the table. We cheer one another when there are things to celebrate. We share the burden when life gets heavy.
I thought about these men when I read the above proverb this morning, along with a handful of other men with whom I have less frequent but just as refreshing conversations. I thought about Wendy with whom I have daily conversations about everything. The conversations with my wife and these men a life-giving fountain. They fill my heart and life. They overflow into my daily life and work. Like crisp, clear water flowing in a fountain they refresh, soothe, heal, inspire, motivate and energize.
We all need good companions journey, along with the life-giving conversations that happen as we walk this life road together.
- Companions for the Journey http://message(tomvanderwell.wordpress.com)
- Companions for the Journey Part 2 http://message(tomvanderwell.wordpress.com)
- We All Follow Footsteps…Choose Well (tomvanderwell.wordpress.com)
- My Daily Cross Road Blues (tomvanderwell.wordpress.com)
- Resolve Your Issues – A Devotion (lthomason.wordpress.com)
- Friends Who Help You Strengthen Your Character (cnhfaith.me)
- Friends Who Help You Strengthen Your Character (tirochelle.wordpress.com)
Chapter-a-Day Genesis 2
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” Genesis 2:18 (NLT)
I love the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. I know I’ve mentioned it on this blog before (probably multiple times). It’s one of the movies I could watch over and over again. No matter how many times I see it I can’t get through the ending without the tears welling up in my eyes and dripping down my cheeks. I love simple truths powerfully communicated, and I love when George Bailey opens up the copy of Tom Sawyer to find the inscription:
Dear George, Remember no man is a failure who has friends.
Alone-ness is not a good thing. We need companionship. We need fellowship. We need relationship. We need others walking beside us on our life’s journey. It is the way we were designed and wired by our Creator. We were created to know and be known and even God recognized that our life on this Earth would not be right without other human beings to share the experience. It is one of the first things we learn about humanity in God’s Message.
I am and have been blessed with good companions throughout my life’s journey, but my experience is that these relationships typically don’t just happen by chance. The fruit of good relationship follows seasons of cultivating, plowing, planting, watering, feeding, weeding, and pruning. If we want authentic relationships then we have to prepare ourselves for it, we have to pursue it, and we have to be willing to give time for relationship to grow.
This morning I’m doing a little introspection. I’m thinking about and asking God to reveal to me the ways I can be better at relationships. The further I get in this journey the more I treasure and need meaningful relationships. It starts with me.
Speaking of “buddying up” and having good companions for the sojourn: K is for Kevin. Kev and I started our chapter-a-day journey almost ten years ago, and the dude is still walking it with me. In what was one of the darkest moments of my journey to date, it was Kevin who called to say “I’ve got your back.” I’ll forever be grateful for that moment, and countless others we’ve shared on the journey together.
“But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith….” Jude 1:20a (NLT)
Any boy scout or girl scout worth their cookies knows that when you go hiking in the wilderness you should never go alone. “Buddy up!” It’s a simple rule that resonates with so much wisdom for so many reasons. Even on a good and safe hike, we need companionship. There’s always opportunities to give one another a lift, challenge one another to push ourselves, and encourage one another to keep moving. If, God forbid, things go wrong we need someone who can help us, provide for us or who can go for help.
“Buddy up!” is as equally important on a spiritual journey. God said it at the very beginning: It’s not good for us to be alone. The whole thrust of Jude’s short and sweet letter is the encouragement to be careful with whom we buddy up. If we’re not careful, we can choose companions who will lead us astray, look out only for themselves, and selfishly abandon us when things get difficult in order to save their own necks. The companions we need are those who will always believe the best in us, always hope the best for us, always trust us to seek the after the right path and who always persevere with us through trials on it.
Today, I’m grateful for my friends and companions on this sojourn. Those who walked the journey with me for a season, as well as those who are companions for life. Choose wisely those with whom you walk life’s road. They influence the journey more than any of us generally realize.
I get the feeling that this set of blogging questions was written by a young person. There’s sort of a preconceived notion that significant relationships are a busy, revolving door. But, I guess they do call it a blogging “challenge.”
I’ve already shared much in this 30 day challenge about my wife, and so with today’s question I’m focused more on our relationship and our marriage. I believe that in many ways we are a lot like every other married couple. Wendy gets cranky with my “dude-ness” as I leave messes behind, leave dishes on the counter, and get myopically focused on what I’m thinking about to the exclusion of anything and anyone else in the room. I am often frustrated with a dizzying plethora of female preferences and expectations regarding every facet of life in the house. Then there’s the personality differences with which every couple must struggle.
Anyone who knows us will testify that Wendy is demonstrative with her emotions. She is never one to avoid a conflict when there’s something irritating her. I, on the other hand, am easy going and never one to jump into conflict when there’s a way I can avoid it to see if it will just go away. You get the picture. And despite the differences in our personalities there is a reciprocal positive effect that we have on one another. Wendy teaches me how to be more honest and forthright with my feelings as I help her understand that the first emotionally explosive reaction to something is not always the most accurate nor helpful to the situation.
Those are the daily realities of living together with our flawed and self-centered humanity. Nevertheless, those irritations pale in comparison to the love we share and the joy of walking the journey together. As I mentioned the other day, we are together all the time. We work together out of our home offices and we enjoy the same activities. We are together more than almost any couple our age that I know, and I can’t imagine living life any other way. It feels strange when I’m away from the home office for a day of client meetings. I can’t imagine of better, more complimentary companion. Theatre, movies, books, art, conversation, music, company, dance, wine, Cubs and Vikings. We share and enjoy so many things in life together.
The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace— a celebration of God's destruction of our enemies— and to comfort all who mourn…. Isaiah 61:1-2 (MSG)
My friend, Kevin, and I have been reading a chapter a day together for several years. If my memory serves me correctly, it's been since the summer of 2003 or 2004. I've been blogging this chapter-a-day journey for over four years now, ever since April 4, 2006 when I posted about Mark 8. Along with the day-to-day thoughts about each chapter, I've also picked up some overarching thoughts and observations. For example, I have to confess that books like Isaiah sometimes feel like they take for ever to wade through. The incessant doom, gloom, and judgment gets a little depressing about twenty chapters in. Then you realize you have forty some chapters to go. Ugh. If you've been following along this whole time, I applaud you. Seriously, if it weren't for my commitment and desire to walk through every chapter of God's Message, I would likely have long since abandoned it for some easier reading in the New Testament.
That leads me to another observation, however. If I had abandoned Isaiah a third of the way in, I would have missed out on some of the most amazing passages of God's Message I've ever read. A journey through the entire Bible is, I must imagine, a lot like running a marathon. Friends who are runners will tell me about stretches of the race in which you "hit the wall" and feel like you can't go on. If you press on through these you find a "runner's high" in which you feel renewed and energized. I think reading's God's message is a lot like that. There are always oasis treasures to be found in midst of the dryest parts.
I also find that the chapter-a-day marathon has given me a renewed appreciation for the incredible story that the whole of God's Message tells. I read this morning's chapter and immediately think of Luke 4, when Jesus uses this very text for his semon in the hometown synagogue. Isaiah is full of amazing prophecies about Jesus. You don't appreciate the prophecy unless you've read the Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You don't have a full appreciation for the story of Jesus until you've read the prophecies of Isaiah. They all fit together.
A special thank you to Kevin and to those who've followed along on all or parts of this journey like Wendy, Cindy, Laurie, Jen, Mom and Dad, and Matthew. That's another lesson I've learned, and the final one I'll share this morning. It's great to have companions along the way. It makes the trip far more worthwhile.