An obstacle to making followers of Jesus in America is America’s aversion to deep friendship. Sociologists Stewart and Bennett have observed:
Although Americans have numerous relationships that are marked by friendliness and informality, they only rarely form the kinds of deep and lasting friendships in which friends become mutually dependent upon each other.
God is relational. The insularly existence so natural to Americans is unnatural to God. Jesus came to earth and demonstrated the beauty of friendship in his relationships with men and women. It was not only through his instruction that his followers learned how to love and to be loved but also through the experience of him laying down his life for them. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13
Christianity’s tendency has been to align itself with the American approach of making and maintaining relationships through activity. Again Stewart and Bennett:
Friendship is formed and friends maintained in shared activities-doing things together. Thus, Americans have friendships, which originate “around work, children, or political opinions-around charities, games, various occasions for sharing food and drink, etc.”
Take away the activity and we no longer know how to relate to one another. Sermons, books, and bible studies on friendship, though helpful, are not enough. It is not until I experience the sacrifice of one giving his or her life on my behalf do I understand friendship and love.
Taylor Gardner discipled me and trained me-not just taught me-to be a follower of Jesus. I wish you could meet him; his spirit is contagious. For as long as I have known him, Taylor’s life has displayed an unbroken commitment to disciple-making.
Of the many things that I learned from Taylor, his life stands out as an illustration of what it means to lay down your life for others. I recall an incident that occurred more than thirty years ago. I was living in Kansas City and one evening I received the news that my dad had been severely injured in a motorcycle accident in Indiana, hundreds of miles away. I felt so distant and so alone, and if I’m honest a little afraid. And who do you think showed up at my doorstep? Taylor Garner, of course. Though it was late and he lived on the other side of the city, Taylor came to sit with me and to make sure I was all right.
I’ll never forget that act of kindness as long as I live.