Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Does It Mean to Be a Godly Friend?

Todd McVicker opens his message, "Doormat" by mentioning an event that was held at Victory World Church called, "Your Final Destination". It is a full fledged production about the way people in the world struggle with problems, both as Christians and nonchristians. In the play, some of the characters die and you see interpretations of their after-life based on the life they lived here.

This play got Todd thinking about how we all live.  Generally, we feel pretty good about our lives and we think that we can pretty much handle things, but God wants so much more for us.  He offers an abundance in heaven and our current world. He invites us to live and walk with Him in joy.  But often times, after we've become Christians and some time passes, the "Honeymoon" with Christ is over.  We then start to think that we are living a flat-line faith walk.

In the "Song of Solomon", which is a collection of about eight chapters, it talks about a love story with King Solomon and a poor servant girl. In this story, a relationship develops between the two and you begin to see the intricacies and struggles of this simple relationship. Yet this story is a metaphor of God and our relationship with Him.  Studying the story in these passages, we get a glimpse of God's heart.

In the first chapter, the girl says, "I know that I am dark, but I am lovely", meaning that she knows that, compared to a king, she is not much to look at. Yet she knows that she is beautiful in Solomon's eyes. Then she asks where he plans to lead his flock (his people). Knowing the potential that he sees in her, she asks him why she cannot be in his flock. The king responds by telling her that she can.  She just needs to "follow the path of (his) people." This may well be symbolic of the church today in that, if we want to pursue a relationship with God, He tells us to follow His people (sometimes that's the church).

Each night, when Todd and his wife are putting their daughter to bed, they read a bible story to her.  Recently, they were reading about how Jesus was going into a town and ten lepers came up to Him. They asked to be healed and Jesus tells them to go and be seen by a priest, which they do. The lepers are then healed. A while later, one of the lepers comes back to thank Jesus. Christ responds to the him by saying he will be blessed because he was the only leper to thank Him for changing their lives!  Showing gratefulness and humility is only one part of any relationship, but they are particularly applicable in how we see our role the local church.

In another instance, Todd's family was talking about for what they were thankful to God. Various things were brought up about life, such as trials, relatives and children.  But the conclusion Todd drew while mulling over this question was that the thing he was most thankful for was the church. Todd was saved in church. He met his wife in church.  He was married in church.  He was given a platform to minister in the church and his heart has been molded to pursue God in the church.

The servant girl in the story of Solomon was invited into the king's palace.  It was a place of promise and a place of security.  In the chapter that follows, love abounds. There is talk about flowers, fields, apple trees, doves and gazelles. It's the familiar communication we experience when we fall in love.

But, like in most relationships, a chapter three of this story comes.  It starts with the servant girl, who has wondered back out of the palace and has lost a sense of where she is.  She then begins yearning for her "missing" lover, roaming the streets in vain. So, what happened here?  This woman suddenly realizes she's not connected to her lover. Sometimes we wake up and realize we aren't really connected anymore to our Lord. We start heading right back to where we came from, usually out of fear or frustration. But, it's not long before we realize we're not going to find Him in our old way of living. The watchmen stop the woman in the street and she asks if they have seen her lover. The watchmen, symbolic of the church, are the protectors in the streets and they guide her back to the palace.  A little while later, in chapter four, the woman finds the king and won't let him go.

A few years ago, Todd had a friend that came from drugs, DUIs, fights and partying. He was a "real firecracker". Somewhere along the line, he bumped into a pastor and accepted Christ. Immediately, he was immersed in the church. He was constantly at the services and opportunities to serve. But there came a time when he decided to go back to his life. Somehow, he couldn't free himself from his past. His Christian friends rallied around him and tried to encourage him to stay connected. But one day, he left his christian roommates and went to live in his mom's house, which really wasn't a good situation. So, Todd and his friends decided to go after their friend. Finally, they found him (drunk). They surrounded him and told him that he was their friend and they reminded him that he wasn't going to find what he was looking for in the old life. After a while, he sobered, straightened up and he returned with them.

Back to Song of Solomon, the king responds to the girl returning and starts talking about her beauty. He loves her and gladly accepts her back. Reaffirming her, he tells her that she has ravished his heart and he refers to her as his "treasure" and his "bride". Echoed later in the bible, we read, "Neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation can separate you from the love of God." So, this is the happy ending, right?

Wrong. In chapter 5, the girl awakens to the knocking at the door by her king, who asks her to open up the door and her heart to him.  He has come and is now pursuing her. She lives in the palace, but she is not mentally available to him and he senses this. God has come so far and gone through so much, in the way of Jesus, to be with us. In hearing the knocking at the door, her heart leaps and she makes her way. But when she finally unlocks the door and opens it, he's not there. So again, she goes out and, as before, is searching to find him. This time, though, instead of guiding her back to the palace, the frustrated watchmen strike her and wound her!  She doesn't have the same protective experience with them as before.

Sometimes the church can be this way; a wounding influence. A few years ago, there was a service at Victory Church and the paster gave an invitation for people to come down front and accept Christ. Todd went down to the front to help with counseling. He ran into a guy who was shaken up by his experience because he was once a Christian who had a great relationship with Christ in a church. But he fell into a sexual relationship with a girl and got her pregnant. Wanting to be back with God, he went back to the church to let them know that he felt terrible, but wanted just to be back where he had been before. "I felt like they beat me." It devastated him and drove him away from the church and God. Todd grabbed him and hugged him saying how sorry he was that this had happened. Hearing the pain that the church caused was painful to hear.

Instead of being the voice of love and the voice of Jesus, sometimes we run into people who say, "Why can't you just stop living like that?", "Why can't you just clean up your mouth?" or "Why can't you just read your Bible?" For someone who doesn't realize our faith in Christ is about the heart, these are valid questions. But for someone who is on the receiving end, these questions can be like daggers.

Todd has lived on both sides of the aisle spiritually. He remembers how many times he let his friends down and how many times he lied to people, even working in the church. He himself had an inappropriate relationship with a woman there. It broke him and the truth about him eventually came into the light. While he was sitting in a Walmart parking lot, his roommate calls him and tells him to "just come home". Todd walks in, his roommate greets him and they turn in for the night. Its during a 4 hour conversation the next day that, right in the middle of his mess, his roommate says, "a lot of people keep asking me why I keep putting up with this and with your lies and with the hopelessness that you will never change." But then he tells Todd he is willing to give Todd his all. He wasn't going to give up on his friend, not matter how long it took. This has forever impacted Todd and it drives him now to put himself in the same path of others who are as tough on him as he was on his roommate.

"I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but by me." Jesus says that He is going to prepare a place for us. If Jesus is the way, in essence the door to heaven, then maybe we are called to be the doormats. Maybe its not such a bad thing to be a bridge to the new life. Maybe it's not so bad to "be walked on" for the greater good. The whole reason we are called to be a church is to help provide for others a way. We are called to connect others with Christ. Are we willing to be doormats?

When we walk away from God, He isn't angry. He just wants us back. In chapter 6, the woman finally reconnects with her lover and everything goes back to flowers, doves and apple trees. "I am his beloved and He is mine."  I belong to God and He loves me. For those who are searching again, are you ready to come home?  God says that when we draw close to Him, He draws close to us.

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