Saturday, March 26, 2011
That’s What Friends Are For!
(Artwork by Irmabelle Rivera)
The word “friend” comes from the Greek noun philos, which is primarily an adjective, denoting "loved, dear, or friendly." The great American city of Philadelphia, known as the “City of Brotherly Love,” derives its name from philos.
The dictionary defines “friend” as a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard, a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter, a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile, a member of the same nation, party, etc.; and a member of a religious assembly of friends, a like-minded fraternity of those who are devoted to God.
For those of us who are fortunate to have close and dear friends, we are often blessed with friends who most of the time are even closer than members of our own (blood line) family. Some friends, dear and close ones going back as far as high school, are to be treasured. I’m fortunate to have two such friends including my schoolmates (singer and songwriter) Alan O'Day and my sister-in-law Patricia Marcil Ortiz, the kind of friends you can call on a moment’s notice and pour out your heart knowing they will never betray your confidence. Believe it or not, I even have such friends on the Internet (and you know who you are).
Nowadays, many of us who have numerous co-workers and acquaintances, normally behave “friendly” or at least cordial towards them, but they may not necessarily be considered true friends.
How does one determine if the person you call “friend” truly meets up to that definition? Or even up to your expectations? That answer is best summed up, thus, "when the going gets tough, true friends are always there for you."
The Bible speaks much about friends. We are reminded first about those who claimed to be great friends in the story of Job, where we see that those who claimed to be great comrades actually turned on him. As the story goes, the devil challenged God by telling Him that His children only serve Him when they are blessed, as Job, who possessed a great family, wealth and respected by many in his community. The devil says to God, “Yes, but what if things were different, and he lost all of his wealth and became poor, destitute of health, family and community status? Would he still remain faithful?
God took the challenge and told Satan he could bring whatever harm to Job, but he could not kill him. Satan commenced to wreak havoc on Job’s life. Satan took away everything Job owned, including family, property, community status and health. Throughout the ordeal Job remained faithful to God, but his friends began to scorn him, turned against him and even mocked him. Yet, in the end, God restored Jobs fortune, because he forgave and prayed for his friends.
I’m certain that many of us have experienced similar circumstances, where friends stood aloof during our crisis; but many of us are fortunate to have friends who will stand by you, but they are rare and few. Some of us have friends who can hurt you, but in the long run are also ones that can remain faithful. These friends are the ones whose counsel can enrich the heart. These are true friends can debate a variety of issues with you and still remain faithful even if you disagree with each other. But, when push comes to shove, is that friendship strong enough to endure the worst case scenarios of life? If you stumble and fall, commit an almost unforgivable act, such as lying, cheating and betraying them in a moment of weakness? Maybe; but such a friend is a rare, rare person.
Being that each and every one of us is human, prone to weakness and pressures that we often buckle under, there is one friend that we can depend on, regardless of the severity of the most heinous peccadillos we can commit. That friend is Jesus Christ. Now, realize this first and foremost, in order to be called a “friend” of Jesus, true friends have to obey His commands. Does Jesus abandons us because we slip and fall and not always obey Him? Most certainly not. He is best known as one who always fellowships amongst even the most grotesque sinners. During that fellowship He is always a true friend who comforts you with the truth. Recognizing that the truth is the Gospel, that He died on the cross to pay for our sins, it forces us (if not behooves us) to share With our other friends what Jesus has done for you.
Now, be aware, that sharing what Jesus Christ has done for you is not about debating things theological nor is it about piously flaunting doctrine in a haughty manner. It is about giving testimony to others about the saving grace and mercy you have received. As you share your story (which does not include the gory and sordid details), telling others how Jesus was able to pull you out of circumstances so horrible, that suicide was one of the options you considered, has greater convincing power. It is these testimonies that impact the listeners, not the quoting of scripture. Actually, the ones who need scripture quoted are the ones who claim they have known God for a long time, but yet fail to practice the same grace, mercy and loving kindness they have received from Jesus Christ.
As you continue this new found journey with your new friend Jesus, and those who have yet to turn to Christ see and sense the difference between the new you from the old, the Holy Spirit begins to move into the hearts that have been softened by your loving testimony. As you see the changes coming about, true friends begin to rejoice with each other when sinners repent. Then, as they begin to grow in this new friendship, their heart is open to instruction from those who have served the Lord for an extended time, those who have deeply studied the word of God, who are new friends that can provide them with the knowledge of God and His purpose for mankind.
However, be mindful that hearing and learning the word of God (at least in the learning stages, however long that may be) does not give a person the license to begin spewing forth the scripture to others solely because they have experienced God’s power at work in their life. Those duties actually belong to the elders (Presbyteros), one who is advanced in life, (a senior citizen, if you will), especially those who have labored long in the word and doctrine, who actually deserve double honor.
If anything, new converts need to work as servants in the fields, not as novice pastors, preachers and evangelists, but as laborers for Christ. He calls them disciples (Greek noun, mathetes, lit., "a learner" (from manthano, "to learn," from a root math, indicating thought accompanied by endeavor), in contrast to didaskalos, "a teacher;" hence it denotes "one who follows one's teaching).
Disciples are first and foremost new babes in Christ who are on a mission to learn about Christ and God’s mission for mankind. There are two major ways a disciple grows into ministerial leadership. One is to learn from the elders and the other is what I call on-the-job training, those learn what true religion is all about. It’s not about going straight to Bible college or seminary to obtain pastor credentials (as many are prone to do) in this status-conscious church we see today. We learn best our true roles as Christian by doing the works we were called to do, which is to visit and help the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. This is where true friends consider the poor rather than the rich and mighty, which (sadly) consists of many who claim to be serving the Lord.
Our mission is clearly defined throughout the Bible but, unfortunately too many view their roles as preachers and evangelists, or self anointed ministers who are accountable to no one but themselves. These are they who remain friends of and with the World, who cannot be God's true friend. The true disciples of Christ are in the front lines working with the homeless, the infirmed, widows and orphans, prisoners and the aliens.
Those who are handicapped, seniors and others who cannot labor on the front lines, should at least be God’s prayer warriors. Many are they who have been chosen as Missionaries, a job that is not in much demand as they were 100 years or so due to the fact that many servants of Christ now exists in foreign lands due to the efforts of those who traversed in dangerous countries that had not heard of the Gospel before, of which many laid down their lives and died for their friends.Those who have regular jobs can also minister by financially supporting those front line individuals and organizations.
It is these faithful of which God calls His friends. When He returns to rule and reign on earth for an eternity, we will see Him face-to-face. Albeit we may be war-torn,wounded and tired from our labors, almost to the point of death, He will personally reach out, to thank us, to hand us His reward. Many of us will bow our heads, even begin to sob, realizing that our devoted faith in Him has been worth all the suffering we experienced. By abiding in His will, we will finally be able to look and see our dear and precious friend, knowing that what He promised to the faithful, is now being fulfilled by His presence. Yes, we will know that by His grace and mercy and His loving kindness, we will finally know that we are those who were the true Friends of Jesus, who will forever share in His Glory.
It will be these valiant soldiers of the cross who God will greet them by their first name as all friends do and He will personally bless each and every one of you for your faithfulness.
Now, isn’t that's what friends are for?
Joe Ortiz has the distinction of being the first Mexican American in US history to conduct a talk show on an English-language, commercial radio station. He began his broadcasting career in 1971 at KABC TALK RADIO 790 AM in the highly competitive Los Angeles media market. He went on to become an award-winning broadcaster, news reporter and newspaper columnist in Los Angeles for over 30 years. Semi-retired, he promotes his three books on theology, is the President of the "Official Tom Flores Fan Club" and manages several blogs and web sites, and his public relations consulting company at Joe Ortiz Associates ~