Suppose you wake up tomorrow and discover that someone has stolen your identity.  They have drained your bank accounts, taken possession of all your property.  Left you high and dry.


Now you need money.  You need a place to live.  You need help to get a new start.  You need someone to talk to.  What you really need, as never before, is a friend.


Who, among all the people you know would be such a friend at a time like this?  Someone you can trust.  Someone who will be there for you.  You pick up the phone and call the one person who you believe is that kind of friend. 


"Stay there, I'll be right over," they say.  This person comes and listens to your problem.  Sympathizes.  Sheds some tears.  Then they pull out their checkbook and write you a check for a thousand dollars as a token of their love.


But when they're gone, you feel as lost and lonely as ever.  Yes, they're your friend.  But that thousand-dollar check was not a token of their love.  It was a boundary.  A limit to the friendship.  "Here's a thousand bucks.  I'm sorry, it's the best I can do.  You've got your problems.  I've got mine.  See you later."


Truth is, there are not many friends out there who, when push comes to shove, will actually be there for you.  If you have such a friend, who's always there when trouble comes, you are blessed.  And if you are such a friend to your needy neighbor, you're a miracle from God.


But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.  Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.  And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"  And he said, "Who are you, Lord?"  And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."

                                                                        Acts 9:1-5


Saul doesn't know it, but he has just met his first real friend.  Up to that moment, Saul didn't need friends.  He was doing fine on his own.  He was smart.  He was the fair-haired boy of the big shots in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Now, suddenly Saul knows that he's an empty shell, a hollow man. 


Trembling with fear, blinded by the light of the holy, he cries out, "Who are you, Lord?" 

"I am Jesus whom you are persecuting."


Jesus reaches down into Saul's life, turns him  around, raises him up, sets his feet on a new path, and begins to walk with him.  Never has Saul had a friend like this. 


And like any real friendship, you never stop getting to know your friend better.  There is always more ahead --- more good surprises, more blessings.  So that years later, after establishing churches in cities all over the Empire, Saul, who we now call Paul, is still just getting to know Jesus.  Because knowing Jesus as his friend is what gives meaning to his life.


But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.

                                                                        Philippians 3:7-9


For Paul, Jesus is not an "idea."  Jesus is not someone they told him about in Sunday School.  Jesus is his living Lord --- his Friend!


Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. 


This living friendship with the Lord Jesus was the foundation of Paul's life, the source of his power.  And keeping this friendship alive was the focus of everything he did.


….That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

                                                                        Philippians 3:10-11


That I may know him…..

 --- and the power of his resurrection,

 --- and the fellowship of his sufferings,

 --- becoming like him in his death,

 --- rising with him in the Final Rising.


Is it possible that you and I can have such a connection with the risen Lord Jesus?  A friendship, in which we know him --- know that he's there, all the time, wherever we are, whatever we're going through --- as the source of our life?


"I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.  Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also…..He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to him."… ("I will love her and manifest myself to her.")

                                                                        John 14:18, 19, and 21                     


We're looking at something much more than believing in a creed.  We're looking at a friendship with the risen Lord Jesus.  A friendship.


The whole purpose of his dying on the cross and rising as the Firstborn of the New Creation, and pouring out his Spirit on the earth (and on you as you read these words) is to draw us to himself, so that we can know him, not only as our Lord, but as our Friend.


If we are open to it, the risen Lord will help us to get to know him in the same four ways Paul was getting to know him.


….That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.


If we will allow it, the risen Lord will make himself known to us, first of all, in the power of his resurrection.  That's how the friendship always begins.  He visits you with power --- the same power that raised him from the dead: the power of the Holy Spirit. 


He comes to us at our place of greatest need.  We're at the end of our strength.  Our bluster and our pride are gone.  Suddenly, there he is, reaching out to us, just like he reached out to Paul.


If this hasn't happened to you yet, it will.  When you come to the end of yourself, he will visit you in the power of his resurrection, and you will know it --- through his healing touch, through a strange peace which floods your soul, through a word which awakens you, and raises you to life.  You will know it!


Secondly, the Lord Jesus will make himself known to us in the fellowship of his sufferings.  Your friends start shaking their heads.  "What got into you?  Aren't you going a little crazy with your faith?   Why you've become a fanatic!"  And some of them turn away.  Now you are beginning to taste the kind of rejection the Master received.


To your amazement, instead of feeling frightened and confused by this rejection, a strange peace floods your heart, as the Lord Jesus makes himself known to you in the fellowship of his sufferings. 


Thirdly, the Lord will make himself known to us as we become like him in his death.  Everybody knows that Jesus died on the cross.  What few people realize is that he began that death three-and-a-half years before, when he went down into the water.  That's where Jesus died to himself as the Son of Man and gave himself  up to the Father's will.


And when we go down under his yoke, put ourselves under his authority, the same thing happens; we're dying to ourselves, giving ourselves up to the will of the Father.  And as we do this, we're getting to know the Master on a still deeper level: we're becoming like him in his death.


Each morning as we present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, the Lord Jesus is right there, helping us to die to our own will so that we can enter the fourth and final miracle:  rising with him from  the dead --- not only on the Last Day, but now!


"The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live."


Hearing that voice is not a once-and-done thing.  It's a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment miracle.  "Come on," he says, "Get over yourself.  Rise up and come with me!"  He keeps raising us from the dead.  Lifting us out of our bondage to the dark powers into freedom and light.  Raising us from the death of our own self-preoccupation into life in him.


It's a wonderful thing to belong to a fellowship where people look after each other, care for each other, strengthen each other, forgive and forbear.  Hopefully, that's what our fellowships are becoming.


It's a wonderful thing to have our lives organized enough so that we know how to get alone with God every day to become renewed.  Hopefully, we're learning to do this.


But best of all is when our connection with the risen Lord is no longer hit-and-miss, but burning with life --- because we know him as our Friend.


God help us to pursue this friendship the way Paul pursued it all his life.


That we may know the Lord Jesus as our Friend, in the power of his resurrection.


Our Friend, in the fellowship of his sufferings.


Our Friend, as we are becoming like him in his death.


Rising with our Lord and Friend moment-by-moment, day- by-day, until the final glorious Rising, which is coming soon.






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