Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Where Do You Find Your Friends: In a Bar or In a Church?

You may be familiar with Stu Weber – the former Green Beret who has authored some great men’s books, particularly Tender Warrior.  He writes these words, “Down deep at the core, every man needs a man friend. Down deep at the core, every man needs brothers to lock arms with, down deep at the core, every man needs a soulmate.”

Stu’s words have always resonated with me. I think everyone of us yearns for friendships. Every one of us deep down longs to be in the fraternity of authentic men. 1 Samuel 18:1 in speaking of the special friendship of David and Jonathan records, “As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knot to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” They were soul mates as God intended.

Yet few of us ever really experience this kind of relationship. Most of us live busy, shallow, isolated lives, disconnected from one another. In the late nineties, Promise Keepers conducted a survey of over 20,000 in which 95% confessed they had no friends. When we get right down to it, we’ll admit we have lots of acquaintances and few, if any, real friends. Those real friends I have are incredibly special. Those occasions when I’ve locked arms with them when something really important has been at stake have been exhilarating and memorable.

My Dad was largely absent when I grew up in the fifties. I sought the affirmation and encouragement I so desperately needed from buddies and teammates. In 1966 I joined a fraternity in college wanting to belong, to fit in, to have an identity, and, of course, to have fun. John Lennon once penned, "I get by with a little help from my friends." My college fraternity offered good times with the guys but deep down I needed more, something better and deeper. I needed more than a little help from my frat guys in dealing with the hard things of life. I needed authentic, enduring friendships.

We live in a world system bent on discouraging us, confusing us about our identity and squeezing us into its mold with all manner of counterfeits. I remember time when I felt like I was crossing an ocean in a tiny boat with trials and temptations swirling all around and people telling me “you’ll never make it…it’ll never work…you can’t do that...give it up.” But over the decades the Lord has graciously brought godly men into my life like Stan, Mike, Pat, Randy, Rich and Bruce to laugh and to cry with me, to listen to me, to give me straight talk when I most needed it, and to cheer me on when I was really flagging - saying, “Dave, you can do it. Go for it. The Lord is with you and for you.” Where do we go these days to get encouraged? Facebook? Who do we have to help us pursue things that really matter? Dr. Phil? Where can we go to get encouraged, hear truth and experience a genuine community of grace?

I’m reminded of these lyrics from theme song to the popular eighties/nineties TV sit-com Cheers – that took place in a Boston bar.

Sometimes you wanna go
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
And they're always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You wanna be Where Everybody Knows Your Name

"Sometimes you got to go where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came..."

That sit-com and its catchy song touched a responsive chord in many people because I think they wanted someplace where they could be accepted just as they are. Ironically it expresses the deep longing of the human heart for intimate community – a community that in truth can only be experienced in Christ, not in a counterfeit, fantasy neighbor bar, or in anything else the world can offer.

The neighborhood bar may be a good example of the counterfeits of what Christ has for his church. It's an imitation for sure, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality. But it is an accepting and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. You can tell people secrets, and they usually don't tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has wired us all for relationship. God has given us a longing for belonging. He’s put into our hearts the desire to connect to others, to know and be known, and yet so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.

I believe Christ wants his men to be unshockable. He desires to have us in friendships where we can come in and say, 'I'm sunk, I'm beat, I've had it, I’ve sinned badly” and then receive truth and grace from the brothers. C. S. Lewis put it this way, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.

All of us want real friends - whether it’s just one other guy, or in a small group where we can feel safe - where we don’t have to pretend to be perfect or have it all together, where we can admit our faults and struggles, and confess and repent of our sins, where we can be encouraged to stay the course in our faith in Christ and encourage others to do the same. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together..." Hebrews 10:23. The only place on earth to find genuine friendships that last forever is not bars, social groups or gyms but among brothers in Christ - who accept me the way I am but who love me too much to leave me that way – who continually remind me of the gospel and exhort me to live in the power of its truth, grace and freedom.

The purpose of friendships is not to allow me to hole up in a comfortable safe place isolated from the world and the tough stuff of daily life. They help prepare me and equip me to take my place out there in the arena of life where the battle is being waged for the eternal destinies of people. I go there not alone, for the Lord goes before me and brings brothers alongside to strengthen and uphold me when I grow weak. In Exodus 17 the men of Israel fought as team against the Amalekites and when Moses got tired of directing the battle his two friends Aaron and Hur held him up. We all need some Aarons and Hurs in our lives. When we live in community with our brothers in Christ we learn to spend our lives for others, to be what Martin Luther King Jr. called “dangerously unselfish”

Proverbs 17:7 says “just as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” When men are pulling at me, pulling on me, pulling for me, the friction of that relationship shapes me morally and spiritually and makes me fit for battle. Life is a battlefield, not a dance floor. It’s a war, not a waltz. Who’s going to stand shoulder to shoulder with me – with you - when the hordes of hell are unleashed against us, our families, our church, our nation? Is there someone alongside us who can see things about us that we don’t – blind spots, dead-ends, dangers. Or are you alone in the arena, vulnerable to getting picked off and cut down by all kinds of things that tempt us and threaten us and others?

Our hope, our confidence, our trust is in the One who graciously rescued us and adopted us and says to us, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” John 15:13-15.

Dave Brown is the Director of the Washington Area Coalition of Men's Ministries (WACMM) and pastors at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg MD