Thursday, December 21, 2006

A riff on friendship at the foot of the cross

As of today I have 196 friends. Must be true cos facebook says so! What is friendship? A list of names on a webpage? The number of hits thebluefish.blogspot.com gets on Technorati? Can a click of a mouse create a friendship? Friendship takes time and depth. I do know most of those 196 people to some extent but could we call it friendship? Is it the kind of relationship where they know how I tick, and vice-versa? Do they know my struggles and weakness? In how many of those 196 cases do we know what God is doing in one another's lives? In how many is there depth of trust and deep love for one another... If I'm honest, many of my closest friends aren't on facebook at all!

Out in the slightly more real world we see thousands audition for X-Factor and the like... I can't sing at all, and neither can most of these people. The difference is that I have a measure of self-awareness, and friends and family who will tell me the truth. Too many of these people must be hated by their friends and family who wont tell them the honest truth about their lack of talent... Is that friendship? The ability to lie convincingly and passionately to one another?
"Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses."
Proverbs 27v6
That's not to say friends should attack one another but it ought to include some measure of honesty! And not just about weaknesses, but strengths also. A couple of weeks ago I asked a few people who know me well to share what they consider to be my strengths and weaknesses. What could be more helpful!

Often seems easier to see weaknesses in others, and strengths in ourselves. And surely that's where the gospel hits friendship. As a Christian I have one and only one boast: the cross of Christ. There all strengths and weaknesses are levelled out. I'm no longer defined by comparison to other people. Galatians 6 tells me that I am a new creation in Christ. Set free to love others, to bear their burdens and seek to restore them.

The old life of law, sin and performance revelled in comparison, it rejoiced in my victory over others or wallowed in my comparative weaknesses. Now none of that is required! The only goal is for Christ to be formed in each of us. And the more than can happen to you the better for you and for me alike!

I am, simultaneously, a work in progress and a work completed at the cross! Everything that needed to be done has been done. And God's on my case every day. But, on the road I need others to help me. Not people who will win me over to themselves, but who will win me to more joy in Christ. I need people who will help me to discern my sin not by being sin-obssessed but by being Cross-obssessed. Most importantly people who will discern grace in my life, seeing and encouraging the effects of the Cross in me.

I need people who will spur me on. People who will help me to keep on running to the end of the grace. People who will unswervingly point me to the Cross of Christ. People who will help me to lift my eyes from the instability of my thinking, my weak and changing affections and my foolish actions. Lifting my heart and mind to the cross of Christ. Over the last few years I've had the priviledge of studying Galatians with Steve, Tom, Paul, Dave, Debbie, Tim, Ed and Carolina... God has opened my eyes and changed me through that. And those guys have pointed me back to the cross as we've gathered around God's word week by week.

This time around I've been particularly humbled to see that the way I live has the power to show the value of the cross in my life. If I go back to slavery to law or sin or anything else, then I nullify the Cross... if I add to it in anyway then it is of no use to me. But if I will rejoice in it, boast in it, revel in who it makes me and delight in the people it brings me into friendship with... then, then, then the Cross will look big. Not because my life will bring something small into sight. No! The cross is vast. It is magnificent. It shines brilliantly....

Social utilities like Facebook are all well and good, but real friendship is built around the Cross of Jesus. My identity isn't found in having 196 facebook friends. My boast is not found in how many people write on my wall. Where will those things get me? What I need is the Cross, and friends who love the Cross.