Friendships … They are So Precious!

   It is quite uncommon for this author to utilize the entirety of “inside space” for writing tributes, but this seems one of those uncommon times when it is necessary. This past Wednesday, about eleven hours apart, two friends of mine departed this life, and now face the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Not so strangely is the fact I’d known these men for approximately the same length of years (about forty), but neither knew the other. Their ages were some forty-two years apart, but that doesn’t change my appreciation for either of them.

   EARL WALDEN was 84 when he passed. I first met Earl through his parents, Lawrence and Virginia. It never seemed to matter where in east-central Illinois I’d be preaching, sometime during the week I’d have a meal scheduled with Lawrence and Virginia, and that of course included Earl and his brother Orval and even their sisters if they were in town. Equally habitual was a trip to Earl’s store whereupon I’d enter the front door and seeing Earl in his office would ask rather loudly, “Is Earl here?” which brought an even louder reply, “Absolutely not!” The rest of the afternoon usually resulted in leaving the store and enjoying lengthy discussions of a variety of interests. Most valued to me were the times he frequented the assembling of the saints.

   Steve and I first met somewhere in Ohio when both of us were working with rural churches of Christ. When we moved to Indiana in 1988, Steve and I quickly renewed acquaintance and strengthened our friendship as he was preaching in Salem, IN and I was at Pinhook. He would invite me to be with him on the radio as listeners called in their bible questions and we endeavored to answer quickly and accurately. We shared several mutual interests like racing (his was dragsters and Buicks while I enjoy NASCAR, Chevys, and Fords), Civil War history, photography, and of course Bible! Steve was working with the Shelbyville, IN, church of Christ when he died.

   Earl struggled with his faith, while Steve worked to consistently increase his faith. Nonetheless, both freely discussed their faith and valued the redemption of their sins through their obedience to the gospel (Romans 1:16; 6:1-6). It was a great delight to hear from another Christian that Earl was being very consistent with his attendance and worship with the saints before his illness immobilized him. As for Steve, he had preached for many years, then focused on photography and for a time being a salesman before returning to the work of preaching. For both of my friends, their lives found disappointments, but their determination to refrain from defeat was always greater!

   Earl grew up on a farm and learned hard work the hard way. I don’t know where Steve learned to work hard, but from whomever or wherever he learned it, it wasn’t wasted knowledge! Earl’s family wasn’t all that large: two daughters and three grandchildren. Steve’s family was larger: four children and twelve grandchildren. But both men had a tremendous adoration for their offspring, and so their toil was both for their temporal provisions and their spiritual provisions. “If a man will not work, neither should he eat,” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) was taught in both word and deed in these homes!

   Memories? Oh, I could fill books of the pleasantries shared through the years with these men! Among Webster’s definitions of “memory” is the following: “a: a particular act of recall or recollection; b: an image or impression of one that is remembered; c. the time within which past events can be or are remembered.” All the above for me when it comes to these two.

   The Scriptures speak a great deal about friendship. Examples like Jonathan and David, Abraham and God, Paul with Aquilla, and Priscilla are marvelous patterns of righteous friendship. Solomon’s statements come to mind: “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) and “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17) Of these two men, both were friendly; both sharpened my countenance.

   Still, there’s a greater Friend, the One who died, but who rose from the dead, never to die again! It is THIS friend we must cherish most and THIS friend who will sharpen our countenance with a finer edge than any mortal friend. Jesus said, “Ye are My friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:14). Such is not a “dictatorial friendship,” as some might suggest, but rather a friendship wherein He (Jesus) knows more about us than we know of ourselves, and therefore, because of His love for us (i.e., His friendship with us) knows what is always best for us! Therefore, He commands, and because of our love for Him, and our hunger and thirst for His friendship, we willingly comply! He is the One who sticks closer than a brother; He is the One who sharpens us to the finest quality for His service.

   I grieve that the opportunities to share a meal, laughter, serious discussions, etc. can no longer exist with these two friends. Hebrews 9:27 is a reality that is troubling at times. Yet, I state without reservation that our friendship does not end by their death! As with all true friends, remembrances of them will continue to delight me if God allows me to retain my mind. However, friendship with Jesus Christ is all the greater! He is ever with me, for He lives in me (Colossians 3:1-4; Galatians 2:20). No one can find a friend so dear as He!