The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Exodus 33:11
I want to be like water. I want to slip through fingers, but hold up a ship. Michelle Williams
I have a picture in my office at home that might be the one thing that I own that I treasure the most. It is a picture taken in 1972 of me and my grandfather. He and I are sitting snuggled tight in his favorite chair. He is wearing a plaid, blue and white checkered short-sleeve shirt; he has on his Saturday khakis that he would wear while working in his enormous garden; and he is sporting some glasses that kids today would say are hipster and cool. I am wearing some blue shorts, an orange shirt, and the biggest smile a five year old could have. Why is this picture so important to me? It is the perfect image of who Jesus is to me today — me sitting in his lap.
My grandfather was easily the most important person to me when I was growing up. I could argue that there has not been a deeper influence on me in all of my life. Let me share a little back ground. The year that picture was taken is when my biological dad left my mom and I. One day, he just picked up and left and never turned back. I don’t really have any memories of my dad in those years and it wasn’t until I was nineteen that I went and searched him out and finally met him. At that moment in time, when I was just five years old, it seemed as if I was left fatherless. How untrue that really was.
When my dad packed his bags and left, it left my mom in a serious bind—she was now a single mom, she only had a part-time job and a mortgage to pay. We were always close to my grandparents and so the most sensible thing to do was to move in with them. We moved just a couple of miles away and for two years we lived with my grandparents in their small two bedroom home with its one bathroom. I think at best its size would be about 750 square feet—in today’s standards, it would be considered a small apartment. For the entirety of their fifty-five year marriage, my grandparents lived and died there. Though it was small, it was the perfect home.
As you can imagine, with this sort of background, my grandparents had a humble and simple life. To this day, I am so grateful for that heritage. My grandfather worked for over forty years at the local Roper plant making refrigerators and stoves. My grandmother worked as well—second-shift at a factory that she also gave forty years of her life. I have vivid memories in that fifth year of mine, when my mom and I lived with my Grandma and Grandpa Stutz. Every week night my grandfather and I at ten o’clock at night would drive and pick up my grandmother from work, because she never learned how to drive. When we would awake the next morning, I can remember an early breakfast being made by my grandmother’s hand—always an egg, two strips of bacon, a piece of toast and some sweet orange juice from the carton. And most importantly, I remember my grandfather, a solid place to stand in a time of confusion and tumult.
My grandfather was a simple, but an extraordinary man. He served on the board of his church for many years. He was an extremely devoted family man, where even to this day, not just I, but most of my cousins would also tell you that he was one of the most important persons also in their lives. And he had two vices—he loved the Chicago Cubs and he enjoyed wearing nice clothes. My grandfather was the sharpest dressed man at his church, and you would have never guessed that during the work week he was getting his hands greasy and grimy working under a factory roof. He bought some of the finest suits, fedoras and ties, and he taught me early on that “it’s the clothes that make the man.” And he loved the Cubs—a “gift” he gave to me which to this day I will never forgive him because they are always losing. On many occasions, I remember driving up to Wrigley Field, both just he and I, or with some senior group, and we would sit in Wrigley Field and watch the Cubs lose another baseball game. Here is a fitting antidote—I think in all of the games I personally went to—the Cubs won only one game…
As I have alluded to, my grandfather was one of the hardest working people I have ever known, but beyond that, he was a good man. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He was always honest, even to the point that on one occasion I remember him returning to the bank teller because she gave him an extra five dollar bill. He was an ever-faithful and loving husband. That was what my grandfather was to me—he was solid, like a branch of a tree that you could hang onto and know it would never break. Everyone should have a person like my grandfather in their life, because for me, in a way, he is a picture of what God must be like—generous, kind, caring, wise, faithful, sacrificing, humble—I could go on and on.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Jesus can be this person for us and we can have someone even more solid than what my grandfather was for me. When Jesus spoke about himself, he clearly emphasized that he desires a deep relationship with us, even to the point of calling it friendship (John 15:15). He wants to be a safe, secure place for us where we can learn more and more about him and where we can learn just as much about ourselves. In our relationship with God, we can ease our lives into His and become who we were meant to be. This is what he told us it would be like. We will look into his face, friend to friend, and it would be as natural as anything we have ever experienced.
But for any of this to begin, we need to seriously look at our lives. Are you caught in that believer stage of faith? Is God distant from you because it is you that has moved away from him? Could you care less about how you live life and you truly think that the choices that you make don’t matter? Have you grown up in the church, but never made a genuine commitment to God, making the claim that you were going to live for him and him only? Perhaps you are the type of person who at the end of the day, you live your life as if you don’t need God. Is that you—are you so self-sufficient that God is a nuisance in how you want to live? But with all of this, you also know that your life is not on track and that just around the corner a crisis of some kind could overtake you. Are you in a place in your life that when you look at yourself in the mirror, you realize that your whole life needs a significant overhaul?
For others, perhaps you grew up in the church, but this thing about friendship with God is entirely foreign to you. Does everything have to be perfect and in its right place in your life, but in living this way, you never seem to add up to this standard? Have you when you look back over the years, you have served in many different ways, but almost always out of obligation and not because you really wanted to? And there is something else—deep down, something is missing, and also something is hidden in you that is dark and secret. Instead of being in friendship with God, you really have become just a religious person. Yes, you can speak eloquently about grace or forgiveness, but to know this deep down in your soul, you’ve never really experienced that (and somehow, someway you would really like to). Perhaps a common theme for your life is control—to control your relationships, your marriage, your kids, even your relationship with God. If this is you, Jesus is waiting for you—grab his hand and learn how to become his friend.
There are many shapes and sizes to being a Christian. But with this, we need to make our days count and attempt to develop our relationship with the One who created us. The choice is ours—whether it is living indifferently or ungraciously toward the seriousness of our lives. Life is short and we need to make the most of it, especially as it relates to becoming a friend to God. In our kitchen for about sixteen years has hung a picture that quotes a Psalm: it says this:
Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
We need to count our days and the wisest thing we can ever do is move into a friendship with Jesus. For the person who keeps God at a distance in whatever way they do, they miss out on so much. Remember, he wants all of our lives, not just the edges or the crumbs of our lives. Some years ago, I came across the beautiful epitaph that the poet Gregory Corso wrote for himself. It lies etched on his gravestone in Rome. It simply reads:
It flows thru
the death of me
like a river
On some level, we are all afraid to come to God. No different than Adam and Eve after they had wronged the One who had created them, each of us looks for all kinds of ways to run and hide. But in every situation in our lives, he is right there trying to find where we are hiding. For each and every person, no matter where they are, where they come from or what kind of lives they lead, he is waiting for each of us to courageously pursue him. Each and every day, he is speaking to us in a singular way. Just as he wishes to be sought after, he will pursue us in creative ways—we just need to have our eyes open to his coming. Just like that river in Corso’s epitaph, we have to decide to be unafraid of moving into the sea. To be unafraid of the most daunting thing we will ever do—to learn how to be friends with God, to truly be in relationship with him. When we do this, when we make that decision—we will then be able to swim out to him into the waves that at first we thought would overtake us. But here was the reality of the situation—we didn’t need to swim at all. We could actually walk on the waves, because he already had showed us how. In the end, we learned how to take his hand, and we learned how to look him squarely in the face gaining a confidence we never had before. We were unafraid of what might happen when we took that first step—we were unafraid of the waters that now we could walk on with ease.