Four Friends | Finding My Faithful Community
My freshman year in high school was a significant year of transition. Our family moved from the city where I was born and had lived for the first 14 years of my life. The distance between the two places was only 30 minutes, but it felt like 30 states. I was forced to learn new street names, meet new teachers, and make new friends. To say that it was uncomfortable would be an understatement, but it shaped my life uniquely in a way that I would never have chosen.
One of my first memories from the move revolves around a salmon-colored Ralph Lauren dress shirt. It was picture day, and I thought I’d brand my first year in high school with a trending new color from my favorite designer.
It didn’t go as planned. As I walked through the hallway that day, I was constantly stopped by students asking me if my shirt was pink! This only got worse throughout the day and peaked around lunchtime when I went to sit with some of my football teammates. To give a bit of context, most of my teammates drove tractors to school and wore Pantera and Korn T-shirts. So when I plopped down at their table with my lunch tray, wearing a salmon-colored shirt, things kinda went downhill. I was a running back, so I had learned all too well how it felt to be crushed by an opposing lineman, but this was my first experience being ripped apart by my own team. I’m pretty sure I heard about every “pink” joke you could come up with in the mid-90s from guys who would normally be protecting me at the line. A lesson was learned, and I never wore that shirt again.
Oddly enough, that circumstance gave opportunity for me to gel with four guys who would have my back from that moment on. One was a senior who had significant influence and respect from everyone around him. Two of the guys were multisport lettermen and all-state athletes who were known throughout the county. The other friend was another freshman, who grew up in this sleepy town and knew Jesus on a very personal level. Each of these friends helped me find my place in a very foreign environment. Throughout the years, this tribe of friends encountered all kinds of situations in which we needed to care for or support one of the tribe. We were ride or die before it had a hashtag.
I could probably write several books on our glorious misadventures together, especially from the college years, but what’s most profound to me is that each of these guys now has a relationship with Jesus Christ. It blows my mind to think about it because if you knew any of us during those days, you’d probably think we were most likely to live out our adulthood in a fraternity house far, far away from any church building. Ironically it’s very much the opposite of that. But we couldn’t have done it on our own.
Here’s a bit of evidence that reminds me that we can’t always experience Jesus alone. I remember one day the four of us put on black suits and sat next to one of our friends as he watched his father be laid to rest. For days our friend had no desire to go to work, eat or do anything normal. He was paralyzed with anger and bitterness to the point that he couldn’t even get up. We did everything we could physically do to find a way for our friend to experience Jesus, but the last thing he wanted to do was go to some church service. It took all four of us being present and carrying some of the load for him until he arrived at a place of willingness to heal.
This reminds me of a story in the Bible in which a group of friends went to great lengths to help their paralytic friend. These friends had heard that Jesus was in town and that He had the ability to heal, so they all packed up their friend and carried him toward the home Jesus was staying at in Capernaum. Upon their travel to the home, they encountered a massive crowd that hindered them from getting to Jesus, so they were forced to either give up or think creatively. Thankfully they decided to grab a pallet, remove a roof, dig a hole, and lower their friend into a space to meet with Jesus. It was there, in that space, and because of their faith that Jesus healed the paralytic man.
Maybe we can learn a lesson from these faithful friends.
Each of us needs friends — and needs to be a friend — who will “ride or die” for Jesus and one another. It won’t be easy, and it will surely come with suffering and pain, but that’s the church we’re invited into every moment! It’s not merely a building filled with crowds (in the case of the paralytic man, the crowd actually prevented him from meeting with Jesus); it’s about imperfect people dependent on the perfect person of Jesus.
For the gospel to be lived out fully, we must be willing to desperately find Jesus together. And when we’re too paralyzed to move, we need a community of friends willing to sacrificially give of themselves so we can together be up in the presence of Jesus.
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