Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The day I became a true believer....

Last night on one of our favorite shows, they “killed off” one of the main characters.  The daughter of the woman who was in love with the deceased said, “Mom, he’s in heaven.”  The mother (who is an atheist) replied, “How do you know?”  To which the girl replied:  “He was a good person.”  This seems to be the consensus among those who really don’t know Scripture, because NOTHING says we will “get into heaven” just because we are “good people.”  By whose “measuring stick” do we know we’re “good”?  What “good” means to me, doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to someone else….

Anyway, a similar scenario caught my attention on the day I “got saved” in a little town in Missouri on a cold January day in 1995. God had just assigned a handsome farmer named Ellis to “lead me to the Lord” and this was our first date.  (In a CHURCH of all places!  Who’da thunk it, LOL!  Me, at the ripe ol’ age of 44, sitting in a church on a DATE!   I truly thought all Christians were hypocrites and pretenders, and it upset me to know that this new man in my life was a “Bible thumper.”  But I had high hopes that I would eventually get him over his “Jesus” kick….)   

Well, the joke was on me because the pastor at First Baptist happened to say just the “right” things that day, starting with this:   “Let’s suppose for a moment you died today and stood before the Lord God, and He asked you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’…What would your answer be?”

Peering at Ellis, I grinned and shrugged.  Until that moment, I had never really thought about it.  God had never asked me that question, LOL!  Yes, I had had several “divine experiences” during the course of my life, and I definitely “believed” in God – but I had never heard that you could “have a personal relationship” with Him until Ellis told me.  (I had had some truly mysterious experiences in my life.  To name just a couple, I met Jesus when I was in a three-week coma just before I turned 21; and nobody was hurt when I was involved in a high speed auto accident on a freeway outside of Houston, when some pregnant woman with two kids in the car cut me off, and I broadsided her.  We should all have died that day, or at least, been seriously hurt….)   
Regardlesss, far as I knew, I would automatically end up in heaven.  After all, I was a good person who just happened to have lived through many misfortunes and been forced to endure hell on Earth.
An uneasy silence hung in the air before Pastor Wil spoke again. “Would your response be something like, ‘I am a religious person trying to live a Christian life the best I can’?” he asked.  “Or, ‘I go to church, give to the poor, help people in need, and have always tried to be a good person’?” 
“Of course that’s what I’d say,” I thought.  What else can you say when you’re standing in front of your Maker?”

But the pastor’s next comment knocked me for a loop: “If your answer to any of these questions was ‘yes’ then you’d be wrong because none of those things would get you into heaven!  The only thing that gets you into heaven is your belief on the shed blood of Jesus Christ – by your faith in Jesus Christ who was our Sin Sacrifice and died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins….”

Sin Sacrifice!  The words resounded in my mind.  Jesus was our Sin Sacrifice?  What on Earth did that mean? 
As if in answer to my question, Wil’s sermon went on to explain why and how Jesus was the divine Being sent by God to forever abolish the need for the animal sin sacrifices required of God’s people since the day Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden.  If you believed in Christ with all your heart, Wil explained (and of course, I am paraphrasing quite a bit here, but I’m doing my best to get the gist down), then you were “a brand new creature” who would be assured a place in heaven.
I couldn’t believe my ears! Here was the answer to the question I had posed once while looking at this dead Jesus hanging on a cross in a Methodist church (whose threshold I crossed ONLY to join my singles group on Sundays).  I had asked him in my mind as I stood staring at his lifeless body:  WHO are you?  And the reason I had asked that question was because he seemed to crop up all the time, when least expected.  Throughout my life I never managed to get completely away from Christians hounding me about “getting saved.”  It had been truly irritation sometimes….
But Pastor Wil’s simple explanation had explained everything for me:  Jesus was our SIN Sacrifice; THAT’s who he was!  WOW!  Why had no one ever told me this before?
As if guided by some unseen force that was telling Wil exactly what I needed to hear, he went on to explain that God, in His wisdom, grace and mercy, had provided the world an easier way to atone for sins and that was why, in the modern world, the priests and rabbis and whatnot, weren’t required to kill innocent animals anymore….
A faint memory emerged from the archives of my mind about some book I’d read, or some movie I had seen that had included the idea of the Old Testament God demanding blood sacrifices for man’s every little infraction.  One thing that had remained with me was the idea that God had killed an animal to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve who suddenly knew “shame” because of their blatant disobedience to keep away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  I remembered thinking how awful it must have been for Adam and Eve to have an animal they had loved and named, being killed in their presence.
As disgusting as the animal sacrifice thing was to me, it made sense in a way because God Himself had provided a “covering” for us, just as He had for Adam and Eve.  Jesus, from what I had just learned, was the covering for those who actually believed in God and all those fairy tale-like stories in the Bible….They WERE just fairy tales….right?
Somehow, I found it incomprehensible that a good and perfect person like Jesus – whom I had actually had the privilege of seeing while in my coma – had died in my place.  After all, I was the one who had sinned; not him!  On the other hand, as Wil was in the process of explaining, God always demanded a perfect, blemish-free, clean sacrifice – which meant I wasn’t qualified to atone for my own sins.  Ohhh…this was just too weird.  I truly wanted to get up and dash out of there!
A thousand thoughts crashed through my mind at once.  My rapist adoptive father always proclaimed to be a Christian – so was he in heaven? (He had died a few years back, and I had always hoped he was in hell!) If he was in heaven, I didn’t want to go!   On the other hand, it wasn’t up to me who did and didn’t get to enter Heaven, was it?....
“Nobody,” Pastor Wil was saying, “is good enough to enter Heaven on their own.  Nobody.  Our works are like filthy rags to God.  He is holy; He is perfect.  Nothing imperfect can come into His presence.  That is why Jesus took the sin of the entire world upon His shoulders.  He chose to do it; He didn’t have to.  Thanks to Him, and Him only, we have a chance at eternal life. The moment He died, we were all forgiven, every one of us.  When He died, He rose again and as a result, we have the Holy Spirit to remind us to BE like Him.  All we have to do in order to ‘be saved’ is to repent and ask the Holy Spirit into our hearts, confess with our mouths that we know we are sinners, and then ask Him to guide our lives from now on.  That is what will get you into Heaven.  That is the only thing that will get you into Heaven.”
“YES!” I thought.  “YES!!!” Inside my head, something – like raising the blinds on a window, or opening a door and seeing what was on the other side – happened, and I felt strangely...liberated. I “knew” the things Pastor Wil said to be true; just like I had “known” that my foster grandmother was telling me the truth about God once, back in Germany when I was just five.  It was a feeling like the first time I figured out how to read or ride a bicycle:  I just “knew”…. (You would have had to be there to understand the picture I’m trying to paint here.)
“...He is the Potter and you are the clay,” Wil was saying.  “He loves you and desperately wants to have a relationship with you.  Realizing this, repenting, and getting down on your knees in complete surrender to your Maker is the only way you will ever be able to live your life to the full.”
My throat ached as the urge to cry became overwhelming. I knew that I knew that I knew that the things Wil was espousing were absolutely true. 
Peering over the rim of his glasses, Wil slowly scanned the congregation and said – and I couldn’t help but think he was addressing me – “Won’t you give your life to Jesus today?”
I wanted desperately to go up to the altar to publicly accept Christ, but found I just couldn’t do it.  While I felt something special had just taken place inside my soul, the fact remained I was a stranger at First Baptist; I didn’t know these people, and didn’t know how they would react if they were to discover I was now one of “them.”  Just because I now believed, I didn’t want to come across like some Bible thumper, even though I was sitting in a nest of them.  Plus, I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself by bursting into tears in front of all these strangers....
In the back of my mind I realized that the sermon had come to an end, and I suddenly felt tired and worn out.  With the apprehension gone – along with some of the resentment towards Christians, I felt good and yet guilty at the same time, knowing that somebody else had died on my behalf.  The thought was almost too much to bear. A million questions crashed through my mind, but they would have to wait until I had a chance to speak with Wil, one-on-one.
Ellis smiled and took my hand as we stood to leave.  I believe he could tell there was a change in me; that something was different! I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, but something had changed inside my mind, my heart, my very being. It was as if a light bulb had been turned on and I could now “see” what God had been trying to tell me all my life.
I was a new person that day when I left that little white church in Seymour, Missouri.  And I now knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that meeting Ellis had been no coincidence. We were never meant to be a couple, because YHWH had other plans for me.  But it’s amazing how HE leads you to exactly where you need to be to hear that “just right” message that finally gets through all the muck of your life, so you can begin to learn about God and the Bible and accept the salvation He offers through belief in His Divine Son, Yeshua haMashiyach. 
Halleluyah!  Thank YOU, Abba, for never giving up on this unworthy woman who once was blind, but now had 20/20 vision! 
And that was only the beginning!

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