WHAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN HAVE I BEEN?
I received some very sad news yesterday – one of my best friends from high school died unexpectedly a few days ago after an extremely brief illness. He was only 56 years old, had five kids – including a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old – and was looking at a pretty bright retirement not too far off after a successful career as an engineer at Ford.
Frank was the guy in our group who always took chances, lived life with a lot of enthusiasm, and just had that extra energy most of us envied.
I remember the new purple Challenger he bought – then drove like a maniac – squealing his tires around every corner and from every dead stop. Sometimes, four or five of us would squeeze into that car, smoke something a little funny (hey, it was high school!), hit I-94 and plug in “Hey Jude.” Then Frank would bury his right foot into the floor. I know, it was really stupid, but we’d quickly be flying toward Port Huron at 120 mph plus, screaming “Hey Jude, don’t let me down,” and I swear we’d get there before the song was over.
Must have been the long version. Or the mind-altering substances. I don’t know why, but it’s a good memory. Maybe because it was so Frank. Nothing he did was half-hearted, and I pray that his kids who hardly got to know him will learn some of these things about their Dad, so they can fully understand what a unique, cool guy he was.
And that time at the U.S border, returning from Canada. Oh boy – that was fun! Four of us had gone to Kingsville to golf, and were driving back to Detroit. No drugs, no speeding, no alcohol, no nothing. We were just coming home after a long day of chasing balls into the woods.
Of course, the Customs agents pulled us over and told us to go inside. We obeyed, unworried, because we had nothing to hide. “We know you have drugs,” they screamed at us. What? “Where are the drugs?”
“What are you talking about?” we answered, with as much respect as we could. “We were just golfing!”
For some reason, these guys had a bug up their pants about us, almost as if someone had tipped them off that we were transporting large quantities of heroin across the border, and they were about to make the biggest drug bust of their careers. They were determined to find something, just to save face.
So that’s how – to the best of my knowledge – I became the only guy in the world to actually get strip-searched with Frank. That’s something only he and I shared, and I always kind of treasured that memory. To this day, I still get nervous crossing the border between Detroit and Windsor, even after years of actually being a smuggler – carrying Bibles into mainland China for our Christian brothers and sisters there. Go figure.
And no, we didn’t have any drugs that day. All they got was a good look at us.
So what does all this have to do with the title above, about what kind of Christian I’ve been? For many months, I’ve been rethinking a lot of things about my faith life, church involvement and Christianity in general, and I’ve written about them in this blog. Frank’s death has got me looking even deeper.
After I gave my life to Jesus about 35 years ago, I left a lot of things behind. Some were necessary and some were not. I’m afraid I didn’t do such a great job with most of my old friends, including Frank.
My life radically changed in 1974, and I needed new friends – ones who believed and practiced just like me. Or so I thought. And that’s pretty much what I did.
I saw the old gang a few times through the years, but not too many, and certainly not as often as I should have. These were my friends! We had a lot of good memories together. So what happened? Apathy – or I guess I got so busy being involved in church, that people sometimes took a back seat.
How can we share God’s love, care and blessings with those we pull away from? It just doesn’t work. I’m sure my friends thought I’d gone off the deep end – I hadn’t – but they didn’t have the benefit of talking to me about it, because I wasn’t around.
In my defense, a lot of things happened between high school and settling down, including living out west for a while, coming back and getting married, starting a new career and a family, then living in Hong Kong for several years. But that doesn’t excuse me for not being more available, more loving, to my friends.
The Gospel message is one of inclusiveness, love, sacrifice and “giving your life for your friend.” Was I there for Frank as he went through difficult times in his life? Did I even know about the struggles and challenges he faced? Sometimes. But not often enough.
I remember when Frank’s son, Adam contracted leukemia when he was little, and it didn’t look good for him. My wife and I heard about Adam’s situation, and were able to pray with him and the family and spend some time together. I remember how scared Frank was during that time, and how extremely grateful he was to God that Adam made a miraculous recovery. I’m sure he thanked God every day – until last Wednesday – for Adam’s life, and now he’s thanking Him face-to-face.
That’s the friend I always want to be. The one who’s there when a crisis hits, sickness takes control, financial ruin approaches, and sadness and grief overwhelms. That’s the friend Jesus would have me be. That’s what a real Christian does.
Have I always been that friend? No. But I want to be, and I know I can be.
I’m sorry, Frank for not always being there for you. But since you always liked to get places faster than anybody else, put a good word in for me, will you?