The Gift of Friendship

band-of-brothers

This past week I had the opportunity to spend time with two different but dear friends. They don’t know each other, probably never will this side of Heaven, but the time spent with each got me thinking about the friendships I’ve held dear over the years.

First, I met Lyle Branton for lunch on Wednesday, as we planned a motorcycle road trip together. Lyle and I have known each other nearly 40 years, since late childhood. Over the years and miles, we have been there for each other’s school years, graduations, marriages, the births of each other’s children, through career success and job loss. We’ve shared each other’s joys and pains, and our families have grown up close to each other as well. He is a friend as close as a brother. I share a similar story with another dear friend, Jimmy Jimmerson.

I spent the next day working with my ministry friend and fellow pastor Greg Sweatt, cutting lawns for 10 hours. As exhausting as the work was, the drive times spent talking with him were salve to my soul. I’ve known Greg since about 1996, and served alongside each other in ministry for five years at Hebron. When my 13+ years there came to an abrupt end back in February, Greg was the first one to contact me, ministering encouragement, hope, and new direction to my broken heart. Greg has been like Barnabas in the Bible to me, speaking prophetically into my life with the love of God.

Saturday Lisa and I spent some time with Liz Turner and her mom Marilyn, family of my friend and recent brother in Christ Aaron Smith, who tragically died of cancer in 2012. It reminded me of the years of friendship with Aaron, whom I first met in 9th grade, knew throughout high school, and reconnected with several years ago. Aaron became a Christ-follower, and before my eyes, grew more in his love for the Lord in four short years than most Christians do in a lifetime. I look forward to seeing him again someday.

I am reminded of Mike Hinton, whom I have ridden across America with. We have covered many miles and crossed many states over the years, seen sights and made memories out on the road I will always reflect on and cherish. I am thankful for a “road bro” I would entrust my life to out on the highway. Mike is the big brother I never had, and his company and counsel I value very highly.

I think of Jeff Cureton, a friend I made in my first years at Hebron. Jeff got involved in our children’s church and summer camps with me, and became not only one of the most respected volunteer leaders in the ministry, but a close friend of mine as well. We hung out a lot together, and to this day, with Hebron long behind, Jeff still spends time with me, still calls me, still prays for me. That is a friend indeed.

God is the giver of friendships, this blessed gift that brings so much joy to life. These are but a few of the men I am privileged to count as friends, and I thank God for each, and for the ones He will cross my path with in the years to come.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

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