Calling Out a Friend


I received a Christmas gift this week, inexpensive but meaningful. It came from a patient who is becoming a friend, a man who attends my men’s support group on Wednesday mornings. His gift of a T-shirt touched my heart.

In October Lisa and I took a trip to the Smoky Mountains and I have shared many stories of the trip, of the people and the beauty and how much we wanted to return there. His gift of a “Great Smoky Mountains” T-shirt was personal, a gift that made me smile.

What made the gift even more meaningful is the back story behind our friendship. Joe (not his real name) has been a patient of mine for several years. He is an alcoholic, for a while drinking enough for his blood tests to reveal liver damage. For years our visits were characterized by him making empty promises to do better, half-hearted commitments to decrease his intake but never to quit. He almost never followed up as requested and sometimes over a year elapsed between visits.

This changed a little over a year ago. During that visit, when he said, “I know I need to do better,” I interrupted him.

“You know what your problem is?” I said matter-of-factly, “Your problem is that you’re are a filthy, rotten, drunk.”

He looked as if I had slapped him in the face. I explained that I felt comfortable saying this because I was also a filthy, rotten sinner. My struggles were not with alcohol, but being a good man is still a struggle. I went on to explain that the key to a successful life was not the absence of dysfunction, but the willingness to recognize one’s dysfunction and deal with it. I told him he needed to get serious about his alcoholism.

He did. He has been sober for months now. A few months ago he started coming to the Wednesday men’s group. (The purpose of the group is for men to encourage one other to be better men, a perfect environment for him.) He has been a fixture ever since, openly discussing his problems and sharing his life with the other men.

His gift was not only kind, it was the perfect illustration for our conversation that morning. We discussed the proverb, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend”. The truth that there are times in life where we go off course and need some sense knocked into us, times when the truth we need to hear is painful. Faithful friends, true friends, will love us enough to hurt us when this happens.

He shared about how my words about his drinking had hurt him yet had also helped him turn his life around. It was a powerful moment. His story inspired us as the group talked about being the type of men who could both speak such words in love and who could also receive such words when spoken to us.

We went on to review the second half of the proverb, “Profuse are the kisses of an enemy”, about the tendency to surround ourselves with people who only tell us what we want to hear, who only praise us and never correct us, and how this is unhealthy and harmful. (We also talked about how a certain orange tinged politician could benefit from this lesson!)

We live in a world that is afraid to confront, afraid to correct, out of fear we will lose friends or be called judgmental. The words of my friend and the gift he gave are proof that this is not always the case. We have a relationship based on truth and a shared desire to be better men. For me, this is true friendship.



Men Need Men


We meet every Wednesday morning. We are of different ages, different backgrounds and different socioeconomic classes. Some of us are devout, others are still unsure about their faith. We are a diverse group, not all of us are married and our ages range from 28 to 64. We do not have much in common yet we come together each week with a shared agenda. We want to be better men.

We want to be better because we know we can be and we know we should be. We recognize that we are all messed up, all have problems, all have hang ups and issues. Most importantly we understand that we cannot become the men we need to be on our own. We have blind spots, prejudices and preconceptions, broken thinking that gets in the way, and keeps us from being the men we want to be. We need other men to help us.

We rise early once a week, drink coffee and discuss the struggles common to all men. We spent a month discussing anger, why we get mad, when we get mad and how we can learn to control our tempers. We have talked about women, but not in the way men often do. We talk about how we can be the type of men who respect women in our personal and professional lives. We talk about morality, honesty and integrity, and all of the barriers that make it hard to be good.

We laugh together, tease each other, challenge each other and encourage each other, week after week. As we do, a remarkable thing is happening. We are changing. Tempers are coming under control, goals are being adjusted, and definitions of manhood are changing. Friendships have developed and are growing. 

Also growing is the realization of how much men need other men. Many of us did not have strong fathers, most of us have not had many deep male friendships. All of us are seeing that we need each other and that we are better because we meet.

It is one of the most significant things I have ever done. I have been a doctor for 28 years and been actively involved in church ministry for nearly as long. I cannot think of a single thing I have done that has been as consistently powerful and meaningful. Men need men, and it is a privilege to bring men together.


If you are a man interested in meeting with other men, send me a message. If you know a man who might be interested, send them a message. We weren't meant to fight these battles alone.

The Foundation of a Lasting Friendship

Many friendships don't last. Some we think will last forever quickly fade while a few endure in unexpected fashion. This is a story of such a friendship.

I have known Rod for thirty-five years. When I was 18 he took me in as a roommate. 7 years his junior, he was a brother, friend, mentor and guitar teacher to me.   At times we shared evenings filled with long and deep conversations about faith and life, other times I would sit and marvel at his guitar skills, listening with envy at the beautiful melodies he created, many of which I can still play.

Out friendship has endured these years in unique fashion. We do not speak often but are always glad when we do. We have very few things in common. He loves the outdoors, hiking and nature and knows next to nothing about sports or politics. I am lost outside of civilization and am addicted to sports and am a political junkie.  Come to think of it, we have almost nothing in common!

In spite of this we are friends, true friends, not the Facebook sort, but the kind that would come to one another's side at a moment's notice without question.

We remain friends because of a single, deeply shared commonality. We are brothers in faith. In our own ways and in our own worlds we each live each day doing our best to serve the God we love, the God who first loved us and who made us brothers.

Which is why I found myself sitting alone in a coffee house in an unfamiliar neighborhood in Long Beach on a Sunday night a few weeks ago. Rod was playing, one of three artists scheduled to perform that night.

I listened to him sing about life and about loss, about a search for meaning and purpose, sharing his gifts and talents with all those God brought his way.  He was genuine and transparent, honest and forthright. He was Rod. This is who and how he is.

As I listened I was transported back 35 years, to a place where I was once again sipping coffee listening to his music and looking up to a man who possessed a level of character and integrity to which I aspired. He is still an inspiration to me.

There is no question that I would not be who I am today were it not for Rod. His friendship has been such a gift. 

- Bart

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4 Rules for True Friendship


Sometimes it is hard to know who your friends really are. You think someone has your back and then when circumstances get tough, they disappear. Who do you trust? Who are your true friends? A better question- what qualities define true friendship? Here is a short list-

1- A true friend runs to your side when times get hard. "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity,” is how it is described in Proverbs 17. When the going gets tough, great friends don't even wait for you to call. They come.

2- Friends tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted,” says the proverb, and it is true. Years ago a colleague called me at home and told me that my aggressive attitude was offending some of the other doctors. He encouraged me that a softer approach would serve me better. He was right and in correcting me he showed he was a friend.

3- True friends are committed to the friendship. Neither time nor circumstances should diminish the bond, which is why the Proverb says we should not forsake our friend or the friend of our father. I think of Daryl, a friend of 40 years. We have laughed together, played together and prayed together,even hurt one another, but we have never quit.

4- True friends know when to keep their mouth shut. “Gossip separates close friends.” says Proverbs 16:28, and boy does it. The writer expounds on the principle in the next chapter saying “He who covers over an offense promotes love.” Close friends know how to hurt us. True friends protect us.

What kind of friend are you? I know I can do better!

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