Most of my friends hail from the South. As kids, we were taken to church where we were to behave and pay attention. When we reached “the age of accountability,” (whatever that was), we were expected to profess our faith in Jesus and ‘get saved.’ Some denominations had classes to help get you there. Others just let you wait until the 8th or 9th repeat of “Just As I Am” during the altar call. But the goal was the same . . . for the parents to rest easy knowing their kid would go to heaven if something bad happened. Not being critical here . . . I did the same thing. When my kids chose to believe in Jesus and were baptized, I breathed a sigh of relief.
But for a lot of us, that’s as far as we ever got. We believe. We belong to a church and attend sometimes. But in the core of our being, God is an idea. Faith is a notion. Heaven is a faint hope, unsupported by logic and with no credible first-hand experience. We feel guilty talking about Heaven because we’ve doubted it so much. And we feel really guilty (and scared) thinking about getting in because we’ve lived such selfish lives and committed so many sins.
But then we get sick. Our wife, brother or sister. Someone close to our age. Suddenly faith matters because it’s the only place to turn when we have no control. No time to build faith through exercise. We can’t say a little prayer, see God move, say another prayer, see God move, and watch our faith deepen a little at a time. Because of our doubts, our sins and the guilt we feel for having ignored God or for putting our intellect in the way of accepting Jesus as the only way, we have trouble humbling ourselves and making the big ‘ask’ when the crisis comes. The big ‘ask’: “God I need you. I need your peace and courage. I want your Heaven when the end comes.” It feels like a big ‘ask’ when you’ve been wandering around in your own theology and self-absorbed in your own priorities.
Jesus isn’t turned off by your ‘ask’. He’s drawn to it. He’s loved you all this time . . . ever since confirmation class. He’s been there, listening to your intellectual arguments against His deity. Watching as you’ve ignored the church and the poor and hurting. Watching as you’ve been deadly in your judgment of ‘those hypocritical self-righteous, narrow-minded Christians.’
But when you ‘prayed the prayer’ with your preacher, your Sunday school teacher, your mom or dad or grandparent, God made a covenant with you. He never breaks a covenant. Ever. So all your doubts, sins, wandering off the farm, agnosticism, atheism . . . nothing has dissuaded your Heavenly Father nor breeched that covenant. Jesus told story after story of how His Father never gives up on one of His own. No matter what you did, you can’t be un-adopted from His family.
The deepest faith is demonstrated by how we face our death. If you have time to see death coming, use it to clean up your relationship with God. Confess. Thank Him for the forgiveness He gave you when you first believed. Don’t focus on ‘cleaning up your act.’ Live in the deepest of faith . . . that the Son of God died for you. Rest in knowing that you’ll be in Heaven with Him when you breathe your last.
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