Today is my birthday. I’ve always wondered why we call it that. Actually we all only have one birth day… ok… two if you believe in that born again stuff (which I do). So technically it’s the celebration of your birth day, which is not a bad thing to celebrate. But for me, every birthday becomes a celebration of much more than the day I was born. Every year (especially highlighted by the advent of Facebook) I receive “Happy Birthdays” from all over the world. Last night my first greetings were from friends near Budapest, Hungary as they were just starting their day. And since that moment, along with a few pre-birthday people, literally hundreds of my friends have wished me well. I really wanted to share one small thing I appreciate about each person, but quickly saw that if I did, I would not get my job done today. I work hard at being a good friend. There is a little verse in the Bible that I have paraphrased to our children often as it relates to this subject. It goes something like this… “the person who wants to have friends must show himself to be friendly.” In some ways friendship can be summed up by that sentence. If you are a true-hearted person that cares for others, you will have valuable lifelong friendships.
As I mentioned in the v-blog earlier today if you happened to see it… especially the last five years I have been learning the value of broadening my friendships to include more than just those who share my understanding of faith. Sadly in many ways, the majority years of my life were filled exclusively with friends who looked/thought/believed just like me. My reason for this change is that I actually started paying attention to the way Jesus related to others. Certainly there were the inner-circle friendships that he had with his disciples. And it’s true that many of the friends of Jesus on the periphery also believed he really was who he said he was. Yet we consistently see Jesus pursuing time with all kinds of people who did not necessarily even believe in him. In fact, the Pharisees took him to task for this. Judgmentally accusing him of being a “friend of sinners”. But what a glorious accusation!
In my new awakening and expanding of my friendships I have found that most of the friendships I have made in the past have endured – at least to some degree. What I have also learned is that in gaining many more “kinds” of friends I have become a richer and fuller person in the process. The fact is that several of the people that I now consider my closest friends profess themselves to be atheists. In a recent conversation with one friend that I have known the entire time we’ve lived in Georgia, he asked, “Am I corrupting you?”… or something to that effect. To which I immediately responded, “Actually, you make me a better follower of Jesus.” I went on to explain to him that by avoiding friendships with people who disagreed with my perspective, I had unwittingly moved away from part of the lifestyle of Jesus. So these days the highest compliment you can give me… he is a friend of sinners.