Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”
“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.
“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. C . S . L E W I S , TH E L A S T B A T T L E
I have been thinking (and teaching) about the eternal nature of friendship recently. After nearly four months on the road (including our one-month trip in July, and the three months since we left the US August 22), we continue to meet some amazing people, and often we form surprisingly strong affections after just a few days (or even just a few hours) together. We find ourselves leaving country after country sincerely hoping for an eventual return and a rekindling of the warmth of friendship we have only just begun to enjoy. Our understanding of the significance of friendship in God's kingdom and between his children leads us to keep our hearts open to these kinds of friendships, as we know that no act of friendship, regardless of how small or seemingly trivial, and no friendship itself, however brief, is wasted in God's economy, as he uses all things for the good of his children. Here are a few brief snapshots of some of these people we are very glad have entered our lives, however briefly.
- We've been given several same-age-and-stage friendships with couples who are in ministry and have grown kids. We spent a day with an international ministry couple about our age who have made their home in the middle east and have spent years loving a congregation well, but who will be transitioning in a few months to a wider regional role with the Alpha Course, training churches (including Catholic and Orthodox churches, and all varieties of protestant and evangelical churches) to use the Alpha Course both to train their members and reach out beyond with the gospel. Their own tale of the wind of God's Spirit moving to unite churches behind a common desire to deepen the faith of their members and reach beyond their own communities was inspiring. They were tremendous encouragements to us personally, and they opened their church to our preaching and teaching ministry. As they prepare to enter a period of sabbatical as they leave their church setting, we were able to connect them to some sabbatical insights and resources we knew about.
- We also spent time with our friend Gail, a supported missionary from one of our supporting churches, who was working among refugees from a nearby conflict zone. She opened her home and her life to us, introducing us to her ministry here and some of the refugee families and kids, and helped us reflect on our own time here. She will be transitioning to a teaching role back in the US, as she works with people who are moving toward ministry in this part of the world.
- We were invited over to the home of a woman who is in ministry with the IFES group in her country. She invited us to her "spiritual birthday party" in part to tell us her amazing story of conversion, which involved miraculous healing, a vision of Jesus speaking to her and calling her to tell her friends about how he healed her, and her call into ministry. It was a privilege to hear her story, and to see her gifts at work during her party at which many non-believers were very much at home in her place, celebrating with her the work of God in her life.
ETERNAL FRIENDS (LUKE 16:1-9): The story Jesus told in Luke 16 troubles us as we read it. The good guy is cheated and the bad guy is commended!
The manager, serving as an accountant for a wealthy landowner, was accused of wasting his employer’s goods, either through faulty accounting or poor decision making. He was fired and told to turn over the written records. It is as if he were told, “Have the records up-to-date and be ready to turn the books over to me by Friday.” So he decided to cook the books before turning them over to his master. He made friends by giving away his master’s money. In decreasing the amounts of rent people owed, he was making his master poorer and his master’s tenants wealthier.
He hoped he could later turn these transactions into contacts and friendships he could literally take to the bank. His plan was that these clients would be indebted to him and would welcome him into their homes when he was turned out. It seems to be an encouragement of Machiavellian thinking or of outright dishonesty!
The master was a shrewd businessperson himself. He had fired the manager because the manager was not shrewd in his dealings. So, in a moment of desperation, this inept manager developed a plan that was uncharacteristically shrewd. When the master discovered the plan, his own appreciation for shrewd thinking (even though at the same time he was dismayed about it) made him commend his former manager for this unexpected display of brilliance.
At this point in the plot, the parable ended and Jesus spoke to the listeners: “Children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” (Luke 16:8). To retranslate, "Businesspeople know how to use money to make friends, but Christians don’t.” And then Jesus went on to say perhaps the most confusing thing of all: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (verse 9).
Let us consider what Jesus meant by a few of these phrases. First, “dishonest wealth” could also be translated “worldly wealth.” He was not speaking about wealth gained illegally. Jesus went on to contrast “worldly wealth” with true riches, that is, treasure in heaven (v. 11). Second, Jesus spoke about “when it [wealth] is gone” (v. 9). Wealth is gone when life itself is over, and that is when only treasure in heaven matters. For all people and all time, money always fails at the point of death. Finally, Jesus spoke of “eternal homes” (v. 9). Here Jesus was referring to heaven, where his disciples will live eternally with him and with one another.
So what was Jesus trying to tell his disciples? Jesus told them to use money to make friends who would welcome them into heaven. Was Jesus actually telling people to buy friends?
Missionary and martyr Jim Elliot wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jesus appears to have agreed. Money one day will fail, but friendship, it seems, has the potential to be eternal. Jesus told his followers to invest their temporary, worldly wealth in other people who will become friends and welcome them into heaven.
How does this happen? How do we make friends who will welcome us into heaven? We do this by spending our resources so that people will come to know our generous and wealthy God. As we spend our money on people, we communicate that they are valuable. The gospel says that God so loved people that he spent his only begotten Son on the cross in order to save them. God used his resources to make friends who would celebrate with him in heaven. Jesus, in this parable, was telling us to do the same.
Is it appropriate to anticipate heaven for the company we’ll enjoy there? Our pursuit over, our quest achieved, what will fill our days? What society will we keep? Certainly we’ll drink deeply in fellowship with Jesus and bask in the glory of God. We’ll worship with the saints of history and the great men and women of faith of our own time. But it seems it is quite appropriate to seek to prepare for ourselves a company of eternal friends. We are told to order our affairs, set our priorities, even allocate our resources so that our eternal lives will be as friend-filled as our natural lives, if not more so. We are to live out our pursuit of God so that not only we but also those we care about find God as we do.
Jesus’ words in Luke 16 tell us that no effort in friendship is wasted. In a society as transient as ours, it is easy to become cynical or complacent, settling for entertainment over intimacy and familiarity over risk. Nothing—no act of friendship, no friendship itself, however brief—is wasted on us, for whom “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). So we can love with abandon, knowing our love in faith will abide, even as our friendships change over time.
So, faced with my frequent choice between making a phone call to a friend versus sinking into my solitary reading of a book or web article, I can be counseled by Jim Elliot. I cannot keep time—it slips through my fingers at an alarming rate of speed—but I can invest it so that I can gain wealth I cannot lose: deeper knowledge of God and friends committed with me to the enjoyment of God forever.
I recently read through my college reunion directory. I looked for the name and address of my freshman roommate, fully knowing that I would not find it. I lived with Art for two years, and sometime after that, he became a follower of Jesus. Our friendship deepened in a dimension we had not shared during our years of living as roommates.
After we graduated, he worked as an engineer (and soon as a manager) for Intel. I joined IVCF staff, and Art joined my support team. We toured Silicon Valley delis, lunching together every few months. This continued for a few years, until I received a phone call telling me of Art’s death from injuries sustained from a thousand-foot fall while ice-climbing Mount Shasta. That night was seventeen years ago. Art never knew my wife or children; I had heard he was recently engaged but never had a chance to meet his fiancée.
Our friendship dates from a distant past, all but inaccessible to my life today. Yet this friendship is not inaccessible to my life a hundred years hence. Art will be one of the friends who will welcome me into the eternal homes. ...
Imagine what it will be like when the faith is sight and the skies have been rolled back as a scroll. When we no longer see as through a glass darkly, what will we see? Among other things, the tremendous personal and eternal impact our lives and choices have made on so many, and the ripple effects from those lives similarly spent.
C. S. Lewis told us (and by the final page of the Chronicles of Narnia we are ready to believe it) that our whole earthly lives are like the title page of the never-ending story of the people of God in the realm of God. We are, in this life, compiling the dramatis personae of our heavenly tale. So the pursuit of God in the company of friends ultimately turns into a celebration of God in the company of friends. Friends are with us not just for the journey but also for the party afterward. As we begin to suspect about many things in this life of faith, it is true also of friendship: the best really is yet to be.