This post is from a larger series under the cat­e­gory Friend to Jesus. It is a detailed explo­ration of the three stages of faith: the believer, the ser­vant and the friend of God. If you want to start at the begin­ning, it begins with the post How Look­ing at a Car­avag­gio Paint­ing Can Change Your Life and then con­tin­ues chronologically.

Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In our society, most of us wear protective masks of various kinds and for various reasons. Very often the end result is that the masks grow to us, displacing our original characters with our assumed characters. Clarence John Laughlin

As we take this topic one step further, remember how earlier we discussed the importance of Jesus “knowing” us (Matthew 7:23). As a parallel, a good question to ask yourself is how many people know the real you? In one aspect for Jesus to know us means that we must also let others into our lives in vulnerable ways. Jesus makes this remark, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (John 3:12) I think in the same way, one of the best ways that Jesus can know us is how well we let others know who we are. In tandem, just as we attempt to develop a relationship with God (i.e., a heavenly relationship), we must also push into friendships with those around us (i.e., an earthly relationship). Typically, on this front, those caught in the servant stage have a long way to go.

This is another way to find out if you might be caught in this servant phase with regards to your relationship with Jesus. If so, there’s a good chance that you limit your friendships to acquaintances in your life. The question you have to ask yourself is—how deep do I go in my relationships? How much do people know the real you? How many people know for example that you struggle with anxiety at an extreme level, or you periodically slap your kids, or your marriage is maybe just one or two fights away from a separation? Those who keep others at bay, usually keep God at bay in some manner as well.

And often these types of shallow relationships flourish in a church setting. As a metaphor, too often, going to church means we are going to the symphony, when in reality, going to church should be more like when you go to a hospital in an emergency. If we were to go to the symphony, we would put on our best jacket or dress, blow dry our hair just perfectly, and put our best smile on to impress. But church is not like going to an orchestra concert; it should be more like going to a hospital.

Some years ago, one December day, I was getting the mail and walking down our driveway. I slipped on an icy patch and down I went. As I fell, I used my left arm to brace my fall and just then, I felt my elbow twist like it never had before. I laid on the ground for a second and was wondering what had just happened. That left arm was in excruciating pain. I lifted myself up and realized I had done something very bad to my arm as I could not straighten it. It hurt like nothing I had ever experienced. Julie was on her way home and I called her in painful cries. Once she got home, she immediately drove me to the hospital. However, before all this had happened, I had yet to take a shower and I had yet to change from what I had slept in the night before. This is how I entered the emergency room that day. I was in pain. I needed help. My hair was unwashed. I did not have on my Sunday best. The real Kelly Bonewell had entered that emergency room, because I needed help, and I needed it now. This was the real me for all to see. In a way, this is what going to church should be like. Not like going to the symphony, but more like entering the emergency room to receive help where you are allowed to be the real you.

Too often, when we are at church we play a part, but we don’t let anyone know the real story behind our lives. People ask us how we are doing, but we quickly reply, Oh, fine. But are we really doing fine? In fact, the truth maybe is that we’ve made a mess of our lives and only we know it. We maybe are moments from doing something really stupid and nobody in our lives knows the truth of that.

Early in my journey in being a Christian, I had a startling experience with this aspect of going only so deep. After becoming a Christian, I was desperate to find a church, because I wanted to know others who also knew this Jesus person. I had been told you can find people like these in churches… One day, I was going to class on the train into Chicago and as I flipped open my green Gideon’s New Testament this red-headed guy sat next to me. He quickly asked me if I was a Christian because he noted the book I was reading.  I told him I was and over the course of that twenty minute ride on the train we talked. Right before he was about to got off at his stop, he invited me to his church. I was grateful and excited.

Over the next year, I became highly involved in this tiny little church which met in this huge old church building in Oak Park, Illinois. I came into my own as a Christian and got to know the pastor of the church and his young family. During this time, I had heard a message that Tony Campolo spoke which really impacted who I was to become as a Christian. He maintained in this message the vital importance of accountability with others in your walk of being a Christian. I remember one line in particular; as a paraphrase, he said, “Unless you become ultimately close with others and open up your life to them, you maybe will be sitting in a church pew in your old age, but you won’t be a Christian.” I really took that to heart and asked my pastor and some others to join me in living this life of being accountable with one another.

I can remember our first meeting and this is when my eyes were opened. We were a few guys at my pastor’s office, sitting on furniture which had been bought at the local Salvation Army and with full coffee cups in hand. Because I initiated this little group, I began first and shared what was going on—I didn’t hold back and shared the genuine struggles that were going on in my life. After that, two other guys did just as I had and shared with vulnerability the sin and struggles in their lives. When it came to my pastor, he looked us each one-by-one and said he appreciated what we shared, but at that point, he said, he really didn’t have anything to share. Taken aback, our time together ended.

I walked away puzzled. He had nothing to share? As I spent the next couple years at that church, I slowly began to realize that this was my pastor’s natural way of operating—he never really shared what was going on in his life whether that was from the pulpit or when we shared breakfast at our favorite diner. At the end of four years, I didn’t know him much better than the guy who lived next door, who worked third shift and who I would wave and say hello to when we would pass in the hallway. After spending those four years at the church, I moved and therefore, had to find another church.

About six years later, we had a sort of reunion with a some who attended this church. During our time together, I learned that my pastor had left his wife and four kids. He literally packed up and moved to where no one knew where he had gone. He simply vanished. I was shocked. He literally left his wife and family? My pastor? And then it dawned on me, it kind of made sense. A lot of other stuff must have been going on in his life which he was just not dealing with and he just never let anyone into all of the secrets in his life.

Let me make an important statement—you will never grow as a Christian without the help of others. Those who think that they can live as followers of Jesus, but not have any relationships that mean anything are dead wrong. The way that God designed how we grow as a person is that we grow first because we have a developing relationship with him, but a close second, is because we enter into deep relationships with others. This is a good question to ask yourself—how well do others know the real you? How many genuine friendships do you have and how deep do they go? And here is an important point, you might have three thousand friends on facebook, but how well are you known? Can you count on at least one hand how many of your friends know most of the nooks and crannies of your life? The inevitable truth is this, if you have very few friendships that are authentic in your life, most likely your life has a shallowness to it. If you have very few deep friendships in your life, most likely you are not moving in the right direction. For some, if there are very few people in your life who can support you, you probably are a catastrophe waiting to happen.

In: Friend to Jesus
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