Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Climbing the ASH HEAP for my friend

This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it! As I type this blog, I am looking out of my home office window, and what a beautiful day that it is! Absolutely gorgeous! And that is exactly the kind of weekend that my family and I had. We were the Senior Pastors at First Assembly of God in Huntsville, AR for ten years from 1991 – 2001 and made many good and close friends. I had the privilege to preach their 75th anniversary homecoming Sunday and had a blast. Their current Pastors, Brad and Glenda McMath (my daughter and son-in-law) are doing an excellent job leading this fine church. It has been six and a half years since we moved from Huntsville, and many of them we had not seen in that entire time. One of those friends was Roger Burnett. Roger became a close friend of mine before we moved. We played softball together, and would just stand around and talk any chance we got. I saw Roger Sunday for the first time in almost seven years and we picked up right where we left off without missing a beat. We talked as if it had been a week since we saw each other, and not over six years. Roger is a good friend that I believe would come to my aid if I ever needed him to. Then, there was Gary Earnest, one of my best friends in Huntsville. He is another one that I can go years without seeing or talking to, but our friendship endures lapses of time. Right now, if I had a crisis that I needed some counsel on, Gary would be one of those guys that I call. Then there is a friend of mine that goes many years back, Steve Vanover. Steve is one of my favorite people and friends, yet we don't get to see each other very often, but when we do, you can't tell that it has been months since we talked. I could go on and on discussing names and friends that we saw. Just suffice it to say that it was a great time of renewing old relationships. This got me to thinking about the importance of friendships. I am a blessed man to have the friends that I have made down through the years. The question came to my mind, "What Kind of a friend am I?" I plan to discuss friendship this week on this blog.

As I was thinking about that, last night I was reading my Bible and spent some time on Job 2:11-13. I would like to share these verses with you and then tell you some things that God spoke into my Spirit.

Job 2:11-13 When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. (12) When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. (13) Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job is now the repulsive symbol of rejection by God and man. On an ash heap outside the city, he represents the evidence of the prevailing belief of his day that suffering is caused by sin. Three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—who are wise men of the East, come to comfort him. The sight of Job, however, throws them into mourning. Seven days of silence speak their belief—Job is as good as dead.

Job is on the ash heap. Each ancient town in the Middle East had a waste site outside the protective gates where garbage and dung were dumped. Periodically, the rotting, smelly mess was burned as a primitive method of sanitation. The fire left ashes which hardened into a mound that rose higher with each burning. On top of the ash heap sat lepers and other victims of contagious or unexplained diseases in medical quarantine and social isolation. For Job, the ash heap represents ultimate humiliation. He who has enjoyed the reputation as the "greatest of all the people of the East" now sits highest on the ash heap—his cross—just beyond the spit of the wretches who ridicule him. Job is all alone—without children, wife, or friends.

Three distant friends hear of his troubles. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, from three different cities, covenant together to meet and comfort their friend Job. They too have a reputation for wisdom and wealth, even though they do not match Job for greatness. Some scholars also make them kings who prefigure the three kings who came from the East to worship the baby Jesus. In any case, they are loyal friends who come with good intentions to comfort a brother in need.

Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights' takes on new meaning when you understand that the friends climbed the mountainous ash heap where there was contagious diseases all around him, and the smell of death. His three friends came from a long way, and then had to climb a sickening, nauseating hill to be able to sit down with Job. His friends take a lot of abuse at times because of their foolish words, but they had good intentions. Someone had taught them false doctrine, (we will look more at this later this week) however they proved to be good friends in the beginning. They saw Job from a distance because he was sitting on the hill reserved for those who were facing eminent death, isolated from everyone and everything that they loved. What a miserable, horrible time that Job was facing. But thank God that his friends came to him and sat down with him for seven days and seven nights. That is the epitome of a good friend.

Good friends are there for you REGARDLESS of the distance or the pain involved. They don't necessarily have to say anything; just being there to help and to grieve is what matters. I have seen times when a friend may be just trying to find the right words to say, yet their words cause more pain and uneasiness than if they had just remained silent. Job's friends didn't say anything at all for a while. They were just there for Job during his difficult time. Being there caused much difficulty for them, but friends don't care.

We will see in the next few days that they proved to be better friends when they kept their mouths shut than when they started talking. Too often we become harsh and judgmental when our friends are facing difficult times. I don't want to be a friend like that. I want to be a friend that will come from a long way, if need be, and will climb any ash heap to get to my friend to help him out.

I believe today the Holy Spirit will bring to our minds friends that are sitting in mourning on the ash heap of their lives that desperately need someone to see them in their pain, and go to them. Why don't you ask the Holy Spirit to lay a friend on your heart, it may be someone from years ago that you haven't thought about in some time, but listen to the Spirit of God as He gives you that nudge, then go to them via phone, email, card, or a visit. That's the kind of friend that I want to be! Blessings.

Pastor Rusty

Today's "THROUGH THE BIBLE IN A YEAR" Bible reading: Tuesday (April 29, 2008) Psalm 1:1 – Psalm 4:8