Oiling Prayer

Throughout the Baptist Convention in which we work I have been told that the use of oil for prayer is prohibited for several pretty good reasons. The first is its connection with traditional practises, which the church does not wish to encourage. The second is the presence of hucksters and false prophet who make a practise of cheating people by selling them oil, which they claim has all kind of magical properties. The abuse of anything good is really only restricted by the imagination of the turkey willing to abuse it.

In my own practise, however, both in Africa and back in Canada, I have made the decision to use oil when I pray for healing for a few reasons. First, it is scriptural – we are told to do it (see James 5.14-15) – and no amount of abuse ought to make us throw a good baby out along with dirty bathwater.

Second, I have found that the process of anointing with oil underscores for me and those with me the seriousness of what we are doing when we pray for healing. It is possible for prayer for healing (or anything else) to be a kind of ‘throw-away’ event, something of which we may not expect anything to come. But if we really believe in our God, that he is not only kind and compassionate, but also strong and powerful, then we should be expecting him to act each time we come to him with a petition. The act of anointing with oil, for me, helps to pray with a higher level of expectation.

I fully understand our Baptist Convention’s reticence in this area, though. I have seen and heard the frauds sell their holy water and oils, along with the outrageous claims that go with them (e.g., “bury this under your threshold and when you go out you will not contract AIDs, or any other STD; you will get that job, that woman; you will be healed of that cancer,” and so on). So I have stopped carrying my own oil but always use some that is lying around the compound where we are. And I always instruct my translator (lately, my friend Suleimanu) to explain to the people that what we are doing is in obedience to the word of God, and that there is no magic in either the oil or the one paying, but there is power in God to heal.

The third reason I use oil is that it tends to heighten the expectations/faith of the people around me that God will do something through this process. Sometimes I feel that I do not “step out of the boat” enough to really see God at work. In praying for healing, anointing with oil, and offering the explanation that we do, we are putting God’s reputation on the line. Since he is the one who does the actual healing, if nothing happens it will be his business, not mine. This again heightens my expectation that God will work on our behalf – but it must begin with me doing what it is my part to do.

These days the people for whom we pray are very often very poor, with limited access to medical facilities and resources – by which I mean, the resources are often around but at a distance, both economically and geographically (which, again, means at an economic distance). After praying we will also often give some small funds to help people be transported to clinics, or to purchase the drugs needed and so on. We do not pray to the exclusion of giving other kinds of medical aid.

One final thing I will say is that we have seen times when no healing has been forthcoming in response to prayer (I have in mind one young girl up north who is suffering from some sort of psychological disorder or possession), much like Paul speaks of Trophimus (see 2 Tim 4.20). On the other hand, we have also seen God do some wondrous things which, as my old youth pastor used to say, we would not have seen had we not prayed.

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Thank you for your thoughtful Christmas gift….

Well, after a flurry of traveling before Christmas, Jeff and I have celebrated a very quiet and fairly uneventful Christmas, and 2018 is fast approaching. We would like to thank all of you for your very thoughtful gifts to us.

What gift did you give us, you may ask? Well, while a few of you have sent us specific Christmas gifts in some way or another, the most valuable gift is your support so that we can be here. Jeff and I didn’t really exchange Christmas gifts, (although I did still do a stocking of goodies for each of us), mostly because there wasn’t really much that either of us felt we needed.  We are so grateful, after the long period of planning and support raising, just to be here, starting to do the work we have described to all of you.

There is one thing you CAN do for us, though. We are still not much closer to our 100% support than when we left, so we hope that some of you might make a new Year’s resolution to support us.  Or if you know someone interested in supporting missions in Africa, can you please direct them to our NAB website?  https://nabonmission.org/missionaries/jeff-and-sonya-kilmartin/   And if your church hasn’t finished their budget for 2018, perhaps you can put in a word for us.

I should tell you about a few cool physical things that we have received in the past few months. The first is all the boxes of books, household things and teaching materials that we sent via White Cross. I’ll probably write another specific blog about that, but we really did get our Christmas in November when the bulk of our things arrived from the CBC warehouse in Mutengane. Having familiar kitchen items, my sewing machine, Jeff’s books, a few more clothes…many of these things are positively luxuries after a few months without them.

Funny thing is there were two rather large items I debated sending via White cross, and decided against. One was a bread machine, and the other was my Yamaha electric piano. Decide both were rather ridiculous luxuries to ship,  that I didn’t’ really need, so didn’t send them.  About a month ago another missionary gave me one that she had been given and never used. (and I haven’t actually used it yet- which proves my point about its necessity)

I am also amazingly enjoying a Yamaha Clavinova, very similar to the one I sold and left behind.  I had borrowed a keyboard from the seminary, with the proviso that I had to buy my own power cord. While I don’t have much music with me (it’s mostly in the last boxes we sent with White Cross, which I hope arrives soon) it was enjoyable to play a bit. But I really miss the feel of an acoustic piano, or the weighted keys of my old electric one.  And presto! Cal Hohn emailed me to tell me they didn’t have room in their new place for the one that had been in their old house, and it came up my way with the next visitors to Ndu. It is SO much sturdier, and nicer to play, I am finding myself on it more…and my neighbor, who is a music teacher here at CBTS has asked if he can come practise some time on it too.  🙂

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God is so good, and gave us the priceless gift of His Son which we have been celebrating this Christmas.  And His people are so generous- we are very grateful for all of your support.

Oh, and God gave us the gift of missing an extremely cold Edmonton Christmas!! 🙂

Merry Christmas!

It is time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

We have just returned from a twelve-day trip up north where we visited about six believing Fulbe communities, ranging in size from just a few families, to whole villages. Our purpose there was several-fold: we wanted to reacquaint ourselves with the people there, and them with us (or, in Sonya’s case, to introduce her for the first time); to inspect their living situation; to teach, encourage, and build up; to pray for the people; and to see what practical assistance could be rendered.IMG_8039

A typical day was one where we woke up in our grass-roofed hut, ate a hearty breakfast of rice with a cabbage sauce, and then began visiting in people’s compounds. We did this from 8 am until 2 pm, walking from one family unit to another; seeing how people lived; anointing the sick with oil and praying for them, sometimes giving money so people could go to the hospital; giving advice where that was needed. At the end of all that one day our friend Suleymanu had to remind us of Jesus’ words to cast our burdens upon him (Matthew 11.28-30), because it would be easy to be overwhelmed by it all. In fact, I will not share everything we heard here, for fear that you too might be overburdened.

The most touching thing came about the 7th or 8th day. When we went to leave one small community where we had found much need, several of the women climbed into our Helix, bearing flour and beans. They were taking them to a family whose head had been stricken with epilepsy, and were going to share what they had with them. I was reminded of Paul’s words: “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Cor 8.2). Here is the Christmas spirit at work.IMG_8036

Some of the communities are doing very well. They have good, strong leaders who are working together to improve not just their faith but their people’s living situations. In other places the leadership is not as strong, and both faith and people struggle. In one place I spoke on “God’s Will for Communities,” simply listing many of the ways God’s people have organized themselves through the biblical story, plus giving them illustrations from what some other communities are doing. As Suleymanu says, in some places they do not need material assistance so much as practical instruction on how to live.

These Fulbe are a people in transition – from being cattle herders they are settling down as farmers, when they have never done that before. They are like cowboys of the Old West who are trying to bring their women and children into the new world. In some cases they have failed, and have fallen back into Islam, and all that goes with that. The stronger Christian leaders among them are seeking to see that does not happen to any more of them. It is difficult work, but they know what is at stake and are determined. They have tasted the heavenly gift, have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, and do not wish any to fall back (cf. Heb 6.4-5).

Part of our mission is to help them in this task. Seeing these folks once more, experiencing their gracious hospitality, talking with them in the dim light of their lanterns, reminded me of how worthwhile the mission is. Thanks so much for partnering with us in it. I will do my best to write more on this in the days to come.

A Glass of Juice…

I know. I don’t write blogs like Jeff. Eventually I will tell you more about the ministry and teaching stuff we are doing. But I like to write about everyday things that we experience, so you can get a sense of out life here,  so bear with me.

This Wednesday, we had a glass of juice. Now, it is possible to buy some fruit juices here, for fairly exorbitant prices. I bought 1 litre in Bamenda when we arrived, but haven’t run into the same kind here, and find that $3 US plus is a bit steep for a litre, if I could find it here in Ndu, anyhow.

Juice isn’t really that good for you- it’s much healthier to eat the fruit than to drink the juice. Juice is all the sugar and none of the fiber, etc. etc., but I digress.

Fruit I can get. Papaya is in season, if you care for them; guavas are on the trees (I have a few on a tree here, but I really don’t like those very much)  bananas are available year round,  regular oranges (but they’re green) can easily be had, and I’ve actually had little mandarins (but with seeds) since we got here. Those are gettting smaller and less sweet so I think the season is tapering off.  Watermelon is great here.  Mangoes I am going to have to wait a long time for- I think it’s a rainy season crop.

Pineapple is my favorite, but unfortunately it doesn’t grow well, or is out of season, up here.  But when a visitor was coming up this way, Cal texted and asked if I wanted any fruit picked up along the way from Douala. I requested 2 or 3 pineapples. And I got some HUMUNGOUS ones. So I have been cooking sweet and sour dishes, eating  it fresh, baking with it,  bringing it for staff coffee time,  and finding a little space in my tiny freezer for some of it.

And, while  doing all this cutting, slicing, crushing and dicing, I did get  the spinoff of some pineapple juice. Which is yummy, and very, very sweet. So, having about a cup of it in the fridge, I thought I would stretch it a bit with some orange juice as I really like the combination.  You know that Tropicana commercial about juice from 64 oranges in every carton of  OJ? Well, no kidding- that’s believeable!!  After 20 minutes, I had squeezed 8 oranges of various sizes and types, gotten all sticky, and finally had enough about 2 cups of pineapple-orange juice.  We rationed some out for that meal and some for the next breakfast.

It was delicious, but not something I’ll do on a regular basis.

 

Good morning Ndu

On November 6th, I went to bed at 9 pm.

Now that might not seem like anything newsworthy, but for those of you who know my normal nocturnal habits, if this becomes my new normal, it will be a lifestyle change of epic proportions.

But to any of you who have lived anywhere near the equator, where the sun sets around 6 pm, and rises around 6 am, and where electricity is not a guaranteed thing, you realize that using the early mornings just makes sense, and so, by extension, late nights generally do not. And while I have some light options for late into the evening (even when the power is off), realities here are forcing some changes in my behavior.

So where was I? Oh yes.  I went to bed at 9 pm. Because there is no power this evening, the local establishments are not blasting their music at immeasurable decibels, so I am asleep quickly. Besides, I AM tired. My Fitbit is regularly registering my daily step count at 10-14,000 steps per day, and my body is still adjusting to living at an elevation of around 7000 feet above sea level.   Around midnight I wake briefly to a roll of thunder, but the accompanying patter of steady rain soon lulls me back to sleep.

At 4:54 I wake to the plaintive call from the muezzin calling out the adhan, summoning the Moslems to prayer.  Two minutes later the neighbor’s rooster gives his first clarion call. I think some other roosters started earlier than him, but they are far enough away to not disturb me. At 4:59, the second call, or iqama, from the muezzin goes out. I glance at my watch a third time, and the idea of this blog strikes me.

As faint daylight through my skylight window tries to raise my level of consciousness, I drift in and out of sleep til the sonorous cadence of the Catholic church bells at 5:30 filters down our way. Like ecclesiastical snooze buttons, they ring again at 5:45.    Moments later, my brain registers the first motorbike horn beeps of the day- I suspect some are ferrying the faithful to early morning mass. I smile at my Baptist persuasions, and roll over under my covers.

Jeff, who loves early mornings (and grew up Catholic for some years), slips out quietly at 5:50, while I still successfully feign being asleep. But at 5:55, the neighboring poultry alarm, having already given me an hour to respond, crows insistently again, and I give up part of the battle, roll over and grab my phone. It seems prudent to jot this series of sounds down in the memo section before I forget.

My smart phone also serves as my low light bible, and so I scroll in my Bible app to Psalm 127, part of my reading for the day.  A host of prayer points rise as I read this Psalm- so I pray for my children, who are my heritage from the Lord, for peace and security in this still tumultuous crisis in English-speaking Cameroon, and a few other things. I then claim a bit of Bible promise (He grants sleep to those He loves- verse 2), until by 7:15 it is SO light in my room that sleeping any longer seems just a bit ridiculous.

Good morning, Ndu. I still have 2 hours and 15 minutes before I have to teach today.  Plenty of time to dress, cook breakfast (yes- COOK breakfast- cold cereals -those that are available- on cool mornings are rather unappetizing, especially with powdered milk), make a list for my househelp-in-training, get organized for the day and walk up the hill to the academic block. On Friday, Monday and Wednesday I do not have this luxury of a slow start, as I teach English at 7:30 am.

So, I may yet become a morning person.  (Although, ironically I am posting this late on a night that I can’t sleep) And since I finally have internet of sorts again, I am able to share this revelation with all of you.

And the Electrician said “Let there be light”(and a good chunk of the time, there is!!)

Our year in Nigeria (2008-9) gave me a taste of living in an NAB mission house in West Africa. So I came with some medium to low expectations (and higher hopes) about our housing here in Cameroon. But for those of you who envisioned us living in a hut with a grass roof- we are way beyond that! (Except maybe when we will go out to the villages) The NAB mission houses are quite comfortable, large (especially since this one was designed for a large family and there are only two us here right now) and very liveable.

The big difference between our Nigeria experience and here, is that in Cameroon we have a Field Director (Cal Hohn) who personally oversaw many of the renovations and repairs to our house here in Ndu, and I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the house when we arrived. Cal has an excellent Cameroonian electrician (Abel) and the whole house was rewired and LED lights installed.  So except for no light in MY office for some reason, pretty much everything else works well- as long as there is actually grid power.  (The seminary is loathe to turn on its generator unless there is something really important happening.)

Our first night, the power went out about 5 times, for a few minutes each time. There has been a loss of power for a while pretty much every day so far, but considering what I had been told about Ndu power, I was expecting it to be much worse. I think the longest it had been out has been a couple of hours, unless it went out longer at night sometime when we were sleeping, but my refrigerator seems cold every morning.  (Yes, I have a refrigerator, with a small freezer. And now that I have figured out the controls, I have stopped freezing everything in the fridge portion as well.) However,we were without power from 1 amt Friday  til about noon Saturday, and since I am missing a part to get my generator hooked up, That was not a power option, so I definitely was in danger of losing my freezer contents. Hopefully power is better now til I get the generator fixed, since most of the stuff in the freezer is ‘special’ stuff from Bamenda that I can’t buy here!!

I also, much to my delight, have a microwave!!!!!!!!!!   I was prepared to treat ourselves and buy one eventually, but because of some renovations and rearrangements going on in Baptist Center in Bamenda, Cal was able to ‘dash’ (give for free) us one. Cooking for only two people, left overs are a HUGE part of meal planning so this is a massive bonus – if the power is on at dinner time. Since that is peak consumption time, that is questionable.

The biggest adjustment is the switch to 220 power and the hazards involved in using any 110v equipment or appliances brought from North America. Having blown the circuits of the one electrical appliance we brought to Nigeria in 2008 (a popcorn popper) by plugging it in without a step-down transformer, I was determined not to make the same mistake this time. So instead I am making slightly different variations of the same ones.  I referred to one ‘oops’ in my previous blog.

When Cal inventoried the house, there was an old washing machine that has been sitting here for a couple of years, not working. This same amazing electrician (Abel) was able to determine what was wrong with it, got it running and since I brought over a new dial for the controls, it is now easy to operate. However, having no extension cord to have the cord reach the wall outlet, I innovated and put a regulator in to act as an extension. It made noises but didn’t want to do much. So I filled it manually to clean it (You have NO idea how much dust had settled on, in and throughout the tub) and then tried to start the agitator. It made funny noises but was doing something, so I left for a few minutes. I came back to that distinctive smell of an unhappy motor. So I shut it all down and engaged my time-honored problem solving technique of going to bed and sleeping on it. In the morning it suddenly occurred to me that there are two different outlets in the regulator. Sure enough, I checked and I had accidentally plugged in to the 220 outlet instead of the 110!! Somehow that did not blow the motor, and now the machine has happily done 2 or 3 loads for me- cold water only, and a little bit of leaking, but WHO CARES?!

That same day, buoyed by my electrical problem solving prowess, I tried to eliminate some factors in the puzzle of why I had no light in my office, so I decided to test the wall sockets. I have NO idea why I didn’t just plug in my phone charger (yes EVERYONE has those here!!) Instead I grabbed the really nice 110 power bar of my desk, (which I hadn’t used yet and was saving for printer, and other 110 office things we have coming) and plugged in in with a socket adapter. I should have used the extra step down transformer in between, which was my eventual plan, but that is currently in the laundry room, acting as an extension cord for my washer. I naively figured that if I wasn’t running anything with it, the extra voltage wouldn’t matter, and the light on it would tell me if there was power. But of course, it is 110 with a light, meaning it’s using power, and FZZT- POW-POP!!  And that awful electrical smell! And oh yes- all the lights went off in the house.

Abel has labeled the panel better than the last two Canadian houses I have lived in,IMG_7783 so I grabbed a torch (aka flashlight),  flipped a few breakers, and we were back in business- except for my power bar.   And, for some reason, there is now no power in that office outlet so there is now neither power NOR light in my office. So I am sitting at the small table I have placed in the parlor for exactly this purpose.  But the power has gone out anyhow, so I should quit now and not run down my computer battery too far. (And I was not successful uploading any more pictures. Gave up after 8 attempts. Sorry.)

Besides, it’s dinner time and I have to go figure out how to heat my leftovers for dinner on the stove (it’s a gas one!)

Update on the woodstove….

…..It would seem that the solution, as is often the case here,  is to hire someone who actually knows what they are doing. So Mark came one day, and Godwill another and split a bunch of wood for us in different sizes, and we got a reasonable fire going for a couple of hours for the last few days, and we have had a much more pleasant evening in the parlor.

It’s still  a bit tricky figuring out how to tend the fire with this wood, but that’s ok- I like playing with fire. 🙂

COLD HARD FACTS ABOUT NDU WEATHER

Well, we haven’t posted for a while- been in the throes of actually MOVING here to Cameroon.  So here we are!!  Seems like it is my (Sonya’s) turn to start blogging. I tend to write about the mundane things about life, so here we go…

Our house here on CBTS campus is equipped with a nice wood burning stove in the parlor (Cameroon speak for living room) which is also our dining room. It was put in to replace the original fireplace which never  vented properly and tended to make the house smoky. Apparently it is the envy of the neighborhood, because it heats the main room efficiently and nicely.

Heat, you say? In Africa? Yes, heat. Ndu is probably the highest village in Cameroon, situated at about 7000 feet above sea level, so for Africa, it is really quite cold. People walk around here with winter jackets, toques (or whatever they call them here) scarves, etc, especially in the morning, and when it is cloudy. Which, in the rainy season, is a lot of the time. I haven’t figured out temperatures, but for all you prairie people who are like me and pooh-pooh anything above -20, it’s a damp cold, so even though it is well above freezing, it is very chilly.

In addition, houses are built of brick, stone or cement, are not well sealed or insulated, have no central heating, and have at best, single pane glass for windows. So whatever the temperature is outside….it’s about 3 degrees warmer inside, if you don’t have any heat source.  Sunday was an in between day for weather. Light cloud in the morning, a bit it of sun by noon. An hour or more of rain in the afternoon (rainy season has stubbornly not quite let go here yet) and I am guessing a low of 10, and a high of maybe 20 Celsius for the short time the sun was out.  Tonight as I get ready for bed, I am estimating it is around 12-15 degrees Celsius….and 15-18 in my house. Which, while very nice by Canadian outdoor standards, means a sweater on all day, and shoes or slippers on the cold cement and tile floors at all times, and one or two blankets on the bed. (In all fairness, having not brought an outdoor thermometer with me, these estimates are all based on my internal thermometer, which I suspect is slightly out of whack.)

So, back to the wood stove.  I pride myself on being able to start a fire, with all my camping background,  and Jeff is pretty good at it too, but so far, we are failing miserably here.  Cal got us a grand load of eucalyptus wood, which is conveniently stored in our huge laundry-drying room, but …
a) It is currently all too long to fit in the stove
b) it is rather damp, being the end of the rainy season, and I don’t’ know how to tell what is cured/dried, but this is apparently not.
c) Even when we borrowed a machete (no axes), Jeff easily(?) managed to make starter kindling, but we have no idea how to make  the mid size pieces with it, and still keep all our fingers.
d) the person’s son who we were told could cut it up for us ‘has not yet come’.
e) I don’t even have any ‘Scout water’  (kerosene or Naphta fuel) on hand to help me out here

So although Dinah had a nice fire crackling in the fireplace when we arrived on Wednesday, we have yet to successfully do the same.  I hope we figure this out soon.  Apparently days get hotter in the dry season, but nights get colder. Seems our location in the Sahel (the belt  in Western Africa below the Sahara) means we get the same winds that make the desert so cold at night.  Cari, I should have brought my down vest after all.

I’m going to crawl under my two blankets for now. We went to church, took a nap, and actually got on the internet today. I wrote a blog, checked out facebook  a little,  did email. I tried to set up an office space, figured out how to reset the breakers when I did an electrical ‘oops’, and made chicken and rice soup by LED lantern when the power inconveniently went out around dinner time. Firewood is a challenge for another day.

Travel Mercies

I had my first Fulbe dream a couple of mornings ago. I dreamed I was with the Wakili and about a dozen or so other folks that I know. We were spread out and trekking along a hillside all heading in the same direction across it. I don’t remember too much more about that part of it, except that I felt happy and privileged to be a part of it – even as I knew it was just a dream.

I have travelled a good bit with the Fulbe by now – even trekking for short distances at times. One thing I have learned from our time in Nigeria is the necessity of praying for God’s help and protection while on the road. Crossing the Donga, 2

I was surprised by it at first. Someone would be driving from one city to the next, or even just one village to the next, and special mention would be made in our prayer meetings that we needed to pray that the journey would be safe and free from harm. This struck me as being excessively spiritual for the first little while – until I began to hear about the accidents on the road.

At this point I have several friends who have died in vehicles on the roads there, and more who have been in accidents. Very few wear their seat belts; fewer still wear helmets on the motorcycles; there is no driving training (a driver’s license is not earned but bought); the roads are generally poor; there are few speed limits posted; and so on.

Of course, as I contemplate what has gone on here in North America, with the most recent tragedies affecting so many innocent victims and their families, I cannot help but think that there are no truly safe places in the world. The best place to be is where we believe we can do the most good, and seek to glorify God there.

All this is on my mind because we are (at the time of this writing) 48 hours away from our own long journey, taking us from Edmonton, Alberta, and our family and friendsIMG_7700 here to Ndu, Cameroon, to new family and friends (some we already know, others I hope to meet soon). It will take about 26 hours, in the air and the airports, before we land in Douala. We’ll reach there on Friday afternoon and drive to Bamenda the next day. There we’ll meet with the Hohns, the Grobs, and the rest of the missionaries there, getting acclimatized for a few days before heading off – finally – to Ndu and our new home.

So we covet your payers during this time of travel and transition. Most of the packing process is done (though I am sure we will find more things to do and take care of in the next day or so), so we are just looking forward to the journey now. Thanks for your partnership along the way. We cannot make it without you. God bless.

Friends with Jesus(?)

Here is a question for you. If you can be God’s, or Jesus’, friend, can he also be your friend? And if you are his friend, and maybe he is your friend, what kind of friendship would that be?

I ask the questions from a pastoral concern (I am a recovering pastor now, not having preached for a couple of weeks, so I am in some kind of withdrawal here). My sense is that too many Christians have conceived of a friendship with God/Jesus that looks like the relationship they have with their BFF, instead of the Almighty God – and this has damaged their Christian walk. Instead of being focussed on obedience and holiness, their concern more often looks like being comfortable and feeling good (which means that things like suffering and sacrifice all too often fly out the window).jesus-thumbs-up21

Consider this passage from John 15, where Jesus is talking to his disciples during the time of his last supper with them.  “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

This is not your normal definition of ‘friendship.’ If I had a ‘friend’ who insisted that we remain on speaking terms only as long as I did what he or she said, I would soon have one fewer friend. Yet for his friends Jesus commands obedience, and for my part I suffer Jesus saying that to me, and seek to remain his friend. I do this because I recognize that he is my Lord, and not (only) my friend.

That leads to my other question – if we can be Jesus’ friends, based on our obedience, can he also be our friend? My own feelings on this are ambivalent.

Think of the passages where Jesus is said to be the friend of sinners. Here is the whole quote: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Jesus does not deny that he is a friend to sinners, but he does not deny that he is a glutton and a drunkard either. It is as though the accusations are so fantastically false they do not deserve to be answered. We know the latter charge is untrue, but what of the former?

Abraham was said to be the ‘friend of God’ (see 2 Chronicles 20.7), but God was never said to be his friend. Their relationship was what one scholar has called ‘asymmetrical’ – that is, it is uneven, unbalanced. God cannot be a friend to Abraham in the same way Abraham can be a friend to him. I would contend that our relationship with God/Jesus must be seen the same way.

Think of Jesus’ reply to those who said that his biological family was waiting for him: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12.48-50) Again, a proper relationship with Jesus is based on obedience to God’s commands.

Jesus is Lord, and my relationship with him cannot/should not look like my relationship with any of my other friends. So, while I may speak of Jesus as ‘my friend’ in at least one sense (e.g. he has helped me in times of trouble), I need to work to ensure I do not imagine that friendship is something it cannot be.

It is wonderful to feel close to God the Father through our relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I believe it is God’s desire and purpose that we be on intimate terms with him – all he has done through the ages has been to accomplish this end. But if we forget the basis upon which our relationship is built – our proper response to God’s action in Christ – then we are building on a foundation of sand and living a lie. Let us be  better than that. Let us be good and true friends of Jesus.