"By this we have known the love of God, because that One laid down His life for us; and on behalf of the brothers we ought to lay down our lives. Whoever has the means of life of the world, and sees his brother having need, and shuts up his heart of compassion from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:16-17 LITV)
It has been a very different eight months than I have ever known in the entirety of my life, going on some forty something years now. Not only because of the harder than ever task of obtaining a new job in the disaster of economic climate that hovers over the state of Michigan and much of the rest of the country, but even in the areas of my faith and my obedience to God. Family dynamics have been challenged, the future seems both bright and glorious as well as dark and frightening as I step into situations and circumstances that often seem to be beyond my control…as if I could ever say that I have had control of my life. Even when it was in my hands.
I'd like to say that I've handled everything successfully; that my faith has grown smoothly and my grace has been sufficiently adequate to the task of growth….but I would be lying. It has been a hard eight months for a man who has been overly blessed without explanation and logical reasoning. Even as I struggle in the darkness of the past wounds of my life, pay for the consequences of a life spent geared to be finished by the age of thirty and cling to a hope that sometimes I think I am far from being able to claim…..even as I live…..God has continued to bring His promises to bear. Even in this place……
In the last eight months, I have found a rare and even harder to accumulate commodity; even in, nay…dare I say….especially in, the Church…… that of friends, not friends that circle in the same ministries as I do…I have a group of men that I consider true friends but we are united by our common desire to minister to men, mentoring them to be what God calls us men to be. No, not the friends that are common to our collective experience on this world and in this broken, difficult life; friends who would 'hang out' with me for a time before life called them away.
Not those friends whom you nod to as you pass them by in the classroom, the hallways of work or even sit next to occasionally in service at Church. Not those whom, as the dictionary puts it, we are ….trusting and 'fond' of……. think well of or are on good terms with….or (even the most basic) who is not an enemy. It is part of the herd mentality of the human species and necessary for the existence and continuance of society that such designations exists…..friends of this surface and shallow level. A 'sunny weather' friend….the basis of which the world lives……and unfortunately, the level at which many of us within the body of Christ chose to stay at.
In this level of friendship, we can greet each other at Church, ask how everything is doing without wanting to hear the truth and stand next to each other in the seats of the worship center praising a "God who is glorious, loving and gave all for us" while we think of how quickly we have to leave to get to the ballgame, hope to get over to that store's sale or home to watch the TV show we're dying for. We avoid deep contact and interaction with those we call "brother" and "sister" and use "we'll pray for you" as the balm of avoidance when those broken, bruised and battered souls of our "friends" walk up to us and answer the standard question within the crowd of "Christians"….'How's things?'..as we hurry towards the exit sign. It is the shallowest of connections…..the humanistic glue of denominationalism or religiosity……and unfortunately it is the biggest flavor of friendship within the body of Christ today. It is the safest, from a standpoint of self-preservation, and the most acceptable form within the walls of our 'community.' It is the secular aspect of our communal life in Christianity that allows those who oppose Christ and His followers to malign and deride them so effectively, because it is the well-known model of a world so bent on self-preservation. It requires nothing from us and we can manage to convince ourselves we are 'good' friends. Like Eliphaz, the 'good' friend of Job, who spoke with great compassion while charging him with weakness and faint-heartedness, or Bildad, first to attribute Job's calamity to actual wickedness and Zophar, who was the most verbally abusive of the three in his reiteration of the three's collective arguments about Job's condition….all considering it a friendly touch while each deeply wounded Job. Interaction without involvement.
It is that level of connection that defeats and convicts upon the world stage the 'religion' of Christianity and its adherents. Justifiably so.
Many of us don't aspire to be such shallow friends, especially in the glow of Salvation's gift……it just becomes a safety net and fall-back position as we run face forward into the clash of a world bent on destruction and the needful cry of the walking wounded that we find, often to our dismay, within our own congregational walls. After all, as the three friends of Job claimed, it has to be a failure of adherence to the 'rules' of faith that cause the wounded not to be healed, the needy to remain needful and the broken to remain incomplete. It is never something that maybe, in the length of its angst, that brings greater glory to God in the 'endurance' rather than the 'overcoming'…..a testimony to the greater power and authority of God. We don't accept that, even within the 'religious' walled fortresses of faith.
We aspire, when we embrace the life of Christianity, to 'quick-fix' the problems of our friends…..to zoom into and then out of the life floundering on the waves of the world's sinfulness, leaving them under the appearance of doing better as we quickly rush back to those less wounded, less needy and less broken. We don't want to remain in those places where we are reminded of our own weakened humanity, our own powerlessness and our own follies. We don't dare return to those dark places where we once languished in agony to bolster a brother or sister in faith who is wallowing in its powerful clutches. We instead throw a torch to them….which often fizzles out before it can even reach them. Then, we shrug our shoulders and walk on….after all, it must be their fault, a sin, or just their own weak faith that forces them to remain in that place. God wouldn't…..or would He?
What affects a greater change in those who live in the perpetual darkness of secularism, humanism and unitarianism , where it is mankind who is in control, mankind who is author and finisher of their destiny? Something they have 'overcome' on their own? It would seem so with the amount of books out there telling us that it is all in our minds and we can speak our future into reality. It would seem that we are nothing more than a step, a word or a thought from our greatest human achievements for all of us……maybe we should all submit to brainwashing….then we'd all be millionaires.
If such is true, why do we……humanity…….need each other, human interaction? Why, if we are a confused and ignorant biological being, do we seek out other confused and ignorant biological beings to associate with? Why are our greatest social establishments nothing more than someplace where people of like minds, tastes or enjoyments are gathered together? Why do we make, break and lose friends?
Why do we admire and secretly desire the type of people who are friends with desperadoes, thieves and liars that go into the lion's den and the fiery pits because of who they are friends with? Why do we want those friends who stand beside their friends in a deadly situation and stand firm? Why do we hope and pray for a type of friend who would be nailed to a cross of wood and DIE for us…in our place, because of our own corruption? Why, so that we could get a 'quick-fix' to our problems? How many of those quick-fix friends do you have left in your life when the 'quick-fix' fails?
Next, what a true friend is and the biblical example of it…….the early church as described in Acts 2.