"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)
If we desire to have the type of friends that would lay aside their lives, lay aside their time and maybe even their financial 'nest egg' to step into the storm with us, we have to be willing to be that type of friend. Not the casual, sunny weather type….but a friend who is invested, not just in word but in action. Interaction based on interactional relationship.
"Run your car off the side of the road/Get stuck in a ditch way out in the middle of nowhere/Or get yourself in a bind lose the shirt off your back/Need a floor, need a couch, need a bus fare. This is where the rubber meets the road/This is where the cream is gonna rise/This is what you really didn't know/This is where the truth don't lie. You find out who your friends are/Somebody's gonna drop everything/Run out and crank up their car/Hit the gas, get there fast/Never stop to think 'what's in it for me?' or 'it's way too far'/They just show on up with their big old heart/You find out who your friends are" as the song goes…..a friend who faces life's challenges not from the couch or from the sidelines, but is in the thick of it with you.
Look at the early church, that establishment that began when Christ ascended to Heaven with the promise to return. It didn't grow slowly…….it grew explosively, not because the Gospel message was so dynamic, for even then it would've been hard for those who didn't get visited by Christ to simply believe in His resurrection…..but it would've been hard to see these twelve guys who preached a Gospel of a RISEN Christ that clashed directly with the Roman line of body thievery, who put their own lives on the line to tell everyone about the precious gift of salvation. And, even when the thousands stepped forward to accept it, the twelve didn't turn away from them and bid them to jump out on the street and do the same…..no, they gathered everything they owned, sold it and gave each according to their need, in fellowship and friendship. They met together each day for meals, for fun and companionship……and their numbers grew daily.
It wasn't just because everyone 'got' it or that the 'preachers' were gifted in the articulation of the Gospel…….it's taken me so long to write this because I couldn't articulate what brought the number of people to the Church….it wasn't the companionship, though that was helpful…..it wasn't the miracles, though they did happen…..it was something more, something so fantastic and desirable that they dropped what they were doing to discover its origins and to embrace its totality in a way that is absent in the church today……
Pastor Shannon nailed what it was a few Sundays ago in his third sermon on the "Unleashed" series (you can find the mp3 on mosaica2 page on facebook or www.mosaic.org)……written after the church began by one of its greatest apostles, who once was its greatest enemy.……
It is an aroma……a scent so unworldly, so out of place in the decay of humanity that it stood out, oozing from the very pores of the apostles and the believers who followed……………
"…..the aroma of Christ among those who are saved and among those who are dying. To some people we are a deadly fragrance, while to others we are a life-giving fragrance." (2 Corinthians 2:15b-16)
An aroma that defies the stagnant decay of humanity's sinful nature……and brings alive in those who come near us a hope for the promised eternity, or salvation's gift. It is the smell that guides those of us who are called to do mighty things, because of who we have embraced……it is a smell, an aroma of sacrifice….
And when God smells it, He is reminded of the sacrifice of His Son….
It is an aroma that wafts through a relational faith……that allows true friendship and accountability…..true community to exist and the extraordinary growth to its numbers to happen, just as it did in the beginning days of the Church. It was something more than changing deodorants or soaps…..it wasn't even an adherence to some new biblical code or methodology….. it was, to borrow J.B. Philips' words in "Letters to Young Churches," " a real experience…..to them….[an] invasion of their lives by a new quality of life altogether."
This is the level, the quality and the example of friendship that Christ left us. This isn't something that we can drape on our shoulders as we walk into the halls of our congregational meeting places, our ministry meetings or our small groups. And it isn't something that we, broken human beings that we are, can be on our own.
Sure, we can give our money away, purchasing temporary stays of sufferance for those who strike our fancy or whom we may never even meet because we give to charities…..we can be friendly and nice to everyone we meet, smiling infectiously and being considered a 'nice' person. We can do great and nice things for the homeless, the battered and the torn…..from the depth of the kindness in our hearts. But it doesn't carry the same affect, it doesn't make thousands upon thousands upon thousands desire to share in what you have found, these things….that takes something supernatural and beyond human corruption.
The Holy Spirit.
To be a true friend to the friendless, the hopeless, the battered and torn……to be something beyond a temporary stop-gap in the storms of life, to weather the foaming seas and the crashing waves with them, we need more than our natural tendency to hover around those who 'get' us, those who 'understand' us and reach into those 'demographics' that we would never dream of interacting with and be real…..
We need the anointing of the Holy Spirit to be true friends in this world……….
Part 3 coming……….What does a supernatural, Spirit empowered friend look like?