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FRIENDSHIP IS A VERB

(in a hurting world)

Copyright 2003 - 2004 by Stuart Wood

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FRIENDSHIP IS A VERB

Copyright © 2003 Stuart Wood (Waywood Music)

(Rebecca’s poems Copyright © 2003 Rebecca Wood)

First published in 2003.

The author may be contacted at:

Waywood Music

PO Box 202

Loughborough

LE11 1WH

United Kingdom

Website: http://www.waywood.com/

e-mail: stuart@waywood.com

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher.

All Scriptures quoted from the Good News Bible published by The Bible Societies/HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., UK, © American Bible Society, 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992.

Disclaimer

All names used in this book have been changed to protect identity and preserve confidentiality. Any similarities are, therefore, coincidental.

This book is also available in paperback, published by:

Xulon Press, 210 Crown Oak Center Dr., Longwood, FL 32750, USA ISBN number: 1-591608-82-1

Xulon Press may be contacted at: http://www.xulonpress.com/

Xulon Press books are available in bookstores everywhere, and on the Web at

http://www.xulonpress.com/

Copyright © 2003 Stuart Wood Page 2 of 135

FRIENDSHIP IS A VERB

Preface

As we live-out our faith each day we encounter joys and sorrows, trials and temptations, pleasure and pain. Sadly, some of our most traumatic life-experiences can come from within the Christian community.

Although it may come as a shock to some of us, church leaders are human and therefore, perfectly capable of making mistakes. Many of these mistakes are made as fellowships seek to work out their interpretation of what God says in Scripture (The Bible). They are important for growth, maturity and forward movement. However, it is when leaders try to claim infallibility and take over God’s role that the mistakes become dangerous. Pride can all too easily replace humility, and spiritual fervour displaces common sense and discernment. “What would Jesus really do?” is replaced by “Let’s sort this out!”

It is also possible for pastors and teachers to be placed in positions of responsibility which they cannot hope to fulfil. Young pastors, with no real life experience, are expected to perform miracles without adequately mature backup or support. Alternatively, and more sinister, the leadership may close their ranks to protect or even cover up mistakes from which lessons need to be learned. The end results can be disastrous leaving lives, or whole communities, irreparably damaged.

The material in this book is based on personal experiences, and those of close friends, over many years. I have used my favorite tools of poetry and verse to challenge attitudes which we often accept as normal. I have also tried to express some of the joys and rewards of knowing the Creator God, who loves us, cares for us and enjoys a relationship with us.

I pray that through the words of this book the hurting will find healing, the silent will find a voice, and the abusers will see the damage they can cause “in Jesus’

Name.” More than ever, I hope that all readers will find something which encourages them to keep going and to see that God IS at work in His church.

I would love to receive your feedback.

Copyright © 2003 Stuart Wood Page 3 of 135

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You can contact me at:

Waywood Music

PO Box 202

Loughborough

Leics

LE11 1WH

United Kingdom

Website: http://www.waywood.com/

e-mail: mailto:stuart@waywood.com

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FRIENDSHIP IS A VERB

Contents

Preface .................................................................................................. 3

Acknowledgements ............................................................................. 6

Introduction ........................................................................................ 7

CHAPTER 1 Friendship & Relationship ...................................... 10

Insecurity ....................................................................................................... 18

Friendship ...................................................................................................... 29

Injustice & Abuse .......................................................................................... 40

CHAPTER 2 God ........................................................................... 53

Knowing God ................................................................................................ 59

Showing God ................................................................................................. 67

Seeing God .................................................................................................... 78

CHAPTER 3 Sin ............................................................................. 87

Judging Others............................................................................................... 91

Forgiveness..................................................................................................109

CHAPTER 4 Family..................................................................... 122

APPENDIX Rebecca’s Poems...................................................... 134

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Acknowledgements

“Life is about relationship”. This is so easy to say but very difficult to live out. I have learned that words are cheap unless they are backed-up by positive action.

A few people who have been with me through the fair weather and the storms have earned the right to special mention: Lynne Throup, Martin and Rebekah Neil, Tanvi Muir, Mark and Gail Kennedy, Steve and Ruth Fletcher. Without your help I would not be here to write this book.

There are also those who have helped by simply being there: Caroline Roe, Rob and Karen Bullock.

Final thanks must go to my family for your patience, love and encouragement: Viv, Rebecca and Matthew.

I love you all.

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Introduction

I have been asked on many occasions why I wanted to write this book. Well, I believe that we can only be truly effective and fulfilled in life when we have good relationships with other people, God, and are comfortable with who we are.

This is vitally important in ensuring that the church demonstrates God’s love to other people.

More recently, teaching within the church has focused on personal salvation and relationship with God. Although important, this is only part of a much bigger picture. We are not saved by God to remain individualized. The concept of community is written in to His recipe for a successful and productive life. The church is included in that mandate and is called to be the model community, demonstrating our love by how we treat other people.

The way in which we handle our relationships and friendships is crucial to both the positive and negative impact that we will have as individuals, and as the church. If we handle them with sensitivity and integrity, people will see and experience the love of God through us and be drawn in. If we handle them badly, we can end-up abusing others, damaging people and communities. From my personal experience, relationships and friendships are much easier to handle when everything is going well and God is on His throne in heaven! The real testing comes when we are called to develop or maintain relationships in the painful and difficult times. If sin is involved, there is a danger that we become so preoccupied with sorting out the sin that we destroy both the relationship and the other person in the process. We live in a hurting world where we will encounter problems, difficulties and sin. Since people from the world may occasionally populate our churches, we will almost certainly face these situations in our congregations. Hurt is not limited to those outside the church. Some of the most broken and hurting people are actually inside our churches. Sadly, many of these are broken further through the words and actions of people within our own fellowships.

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We should remember that Jesus came to live in a hurting and broken world too.

He made himself available to His friends and followers in the good times and in the bad. He was also there for the outcasts, those in society who had been wronged and for those who had committed wrong. There were many experts and religious leaders in Jesus’ day who were quick to offer their advice and also to criticise Jesus and His followers. Jesus was criticised for healing or working on the Sabbath, mixing with sinners and tax collectors and spending time with gentiles (non-Jews). The strongest opposition to God’s reconciliation and healing actually came from those who should have been most sympathetic to His work, the religious establishment.

Jesus was a man of integrity and therefore, His words were backed-up by His actions. This was unlike many of the religious elite who knew all the rules and applied them to the last letter of the law, but without compassion and true understanding. Therefore, Jesus exposed their insecurities and inconsistencies, which did not make Him a popular man! He accuse them of being a bunch of hypocrites who demonstrated great piety at their worship services, but operated to different standards in their private lives.

Does this sound familiar? Nothing has changed over the years. We are still fallen people, each one of us capable of doing wrong. If we acknowledge this, we are a long way towards being real and being able to help others and ourselves. It is only when we try to cover up our own insecurities, doubts, failings and fears that we ask for trouble. We then enter the world of unreality and deceit. Jesus was real, sharing both His fears and successes with His disciples. The problem is that we have grown new church communities which are based on flawed theology, where we must live in the victory, overcome our wrongs, doubts and fears, or even worse and far more dangerous, deny that they exist! Since this comes downwards from the leadership, it is not surprising that there are many people who are bound-up with guilt just because they acknowledge that they haven’t arrived yet. Even if we don’t subscribe to these somewhat extreme views, we are all guilty of hiding what we are really like from others. We may even ensure that we are excessively busy, so that we don’t have time to examine what we are really like inside. The result of these insecurities is that we are fine until something happens which is a bit too close to home or reminds us of past bad experiences. Then we either panic or recoil in self-defence because we can’t handle the situation any more. As a result, we leave those who trusted us and

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made themselves vulnerable to us, more broken than before. Although we can retire to our friends for help and support, they cannot. We leave them desolate and isolated.

In this busy, hectic, instant age, many of us would like easy answers and quick fixes to these tough and difficult situations. However, Jesus asks for our commitment, time, effort, love and sacrifice. He may even lead us into situations where we risk being misunderstood as we live out His love to those around us.

Too often in today’s society and within our churches we relegate friendship and relationship to nouns: objects. I believe that Jesus calls for a radical shift towards making them verbs: action or doing words.

This book is a collection of poems, prose and observations which are based on the experiences of my close friends and myself over the years. I have tried to avoid simple answers or trite words of comfort. I hope you will be stirred, challenged and moved, perhaps even to the point of discomfort! It is often in our uncomfortable and vulnerable times that God can speak to us most clearly.

Ask yourself, as I did, “Is there anything of me in here that God wants to change?” Then commit yourself and pray that He will. I will continue to pray that this will be an ongoing process so that, each day, we can all demonstrate more clearly that friendship is a verb in a hurting world.

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CHAPTER 1 Friendship & Relationship

Understanding Our Relationships

The subject of relationships is complex. Relationships are two way and are vital in our everyday life and in the life of the church. Our successes, failures and sense of fulfilment are integral to the kind of relationships we build and maintain.

I’m reminded of a story about a priest who decided, one sunny Sunday morning, to play a round of golf rather than take the morning service. So, he rang the church office to explain that he was ill and then drove to the golf course. The angels saw this and told God, who said, “Don’t worry, he’ll be suitably punished.” At the first tee the priest took out a wood and drove the ball straight down the fairway. Two bounces later it had cleared the bunkers and rolled onto the green. Then, forming a long, slow, right hand arc the ball eventually struck the flag and dropped in the hole. A hole-in-one! At the next hole the story was similar. A shorter hole, with the green beyond some nasty thickets, the priest decided to use a one iron. He played his tee shot and watched in amazement as the ball flew towards some trees, struck one, bounced over the thickets and a large bunker, onto the green, hit the flag pole and dropped straight in. Another hole-in-one! The angels were getting agitated and said to God, “Do something about this!” God said, “It’s all in hand.” Despite this, the priest continued to score a hole-in-one at each of the successive sixteen holes to give him a round of 18, an all time record. At this, the chief angel lost his temper. “You said you’d punish this priest and all he does is break the course record with a total score of 18!” “Yes!” said God, “But who can he tell?”

Communicating with others and having the opportunity to share our triumphs, failures, fears and ambitions is so important for fulfilment in life. If this was not so, why is solitary confinement used as a punishment? When we do not share with others, either through choice or through imposed circumstances, we can become frustrated and angry, or we may become depressed and reclusive. God designed us for relationship; otherwise He would only have made Adam!

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Failures in relationships lead to great sorrow, stress, anger, and in some cases, loss of life through murder or suicide. Because God designed us to be in relationships, I believe that we can only really live out our faith and beliefs effectively when we make our relationships a priority. For the Christian it is our relationship with God that is of paramount importance. This is the anchor which should hold us steady in this world, the foundation on which all our other relationships are built. A good relationship with God is a great start, but it is not the whole story; the Bible calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Luke 10: 27b). Therefore, it follows that unless I learn to love myself I have little chance of ever loving my neighbor. I believe that loving myself begins when I begin to see myself as God really sees me; valued, unconditionally loved and cherished for who I am (warts and all). For some of us, taking this onboard may require considerable effort, even adjustment or a change of our culture.

If we are honest, many of us find it hard to love ourselves. Sadly, this is often the fruit of our upbringing, or of erroneous teaching. We have grown up meeting the expectations of others, having to respond to demands like, “Do this or you won’t get the reward” or “Aim for the top or you’ve failed.” Others may have been severely punished, either physically or psychologically (emotionally), by family, friends and/or church for attitudes or behavior which ‘doesn’t fit in to their expectations’. So, if someone says or does something that either consciously or subconsciously reminds us of these past events, we are likely to respond more negatively than when something is said that reminds us of happier experiences.

Therefore, it is not surprising that a negative response can be triggered in us by what someone else says. In such a situation, we may feel uneasy or threatened because we no longer feel in control, or we are suddenly back in the classroom being made to look stupid in front of our friends. These types of response arise through insecurity and are more common in people who have grown up with a lot of discipline, but little love, support or encouragement. Since there is this inextricable link between our emotions and our actions, we should not be too surprised if we don’t always handle other people very well!

What Can Go Wrong?

In short, a great deal! Imagine two people interacting, both with past hurts which have not been dealt with. As we have seen already, it may only take one word to trigger a bad response in the other. If we now expand this to a community of

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people, such as in a church, we can begin to see the potential for problems. The Bible describes God’s church as ‘living stones’ (all different) and not ‘living bricks’ (all the same). God brings together people from all backgrounds and walks of life to form His church. This is rather like a craftsman who builds a dry stone wall. He does not use cement or mortar to hold it together. Instead, he chooses specific stones to fit together securely. Sometimes, he will chip a bit off here and there, or re-shape the stones so that they fit together as he wants. In the same way, God builds His church from an odd selection of people, some of whom actively dislike each other! The difference is that in the church the Holy Spirit binds us and holds us together.

However, because we all carry baggage and insecurities, there is opportunity for any of our relationships to go wrong. We find it easy to judge each other based on our own experiences. We also tend to hold grudges and rank people’s importance based on their status, position, title, appearance; even how good we think they are. This is dangerous! God Himself tells us in the Bible that

‘Everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence’ (Romans 3: 23). We are all in the same position; we fall short of God’s standards. We feel inadequate, insecure or the need to control a situation or person, and these often drive the decisions we make. Perhaps we exercise power in order to get what we want, rather than what is best for the other person. We may lose the ability to act in a way that is best for the other person, because the outcome may threaten us.

What starts out as a well-meaning relationship becomes distorted as we subtly begin to work for our own advantage. In short, it becomes abusive. We not only damage others, but often ourselves as well.

We may try to hide these insecurities b