That headline is likely to be a shocker to anyone who "knew me when," but the fact is, I spent a lot of time waffling on the question of the existence of God before I was convinced by some startling answers to prayer that I'd best live my life as though He did exist. There are much better reasons than that to believe in the existence of God, but that's where I started.
Here's where it went from there.
The summer of my 22nd birthday, alone on a long
looked in the motel's Gideon Bible to see what
God required of people to let them into heaven. I read
As it turned out, I hadn't read far enough.
A few years later, looking for an entertaining radio station, I started at one end of the dial and gave every station I found a one-day "audition." Every station but WBMI that is. WMBI is the station of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and as soon as I heard what "those phonies" were talking about, I skipped to the next station.
As it turned out, I hadn't listened long enough.
In my 27th year, things began to happen that got my attention. First, one by one, all my closest friends moved away to other parts of the country. Shortly after that, I was laid off from the company where I'd worked for nine years.
On the afternoon of my last day, returning from the customary liquid farewell lunch, a friend and I met a secretary in the hall, one with whom I had occasionally carpooled. "Watch out for Tom!" My friend joked.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because I'm drunk!" I said, and pretended to stagger. To my surprise, a look of genuine hurt came over her face.
Her reaction got my attention. I'd never known anyone to have that much concern for a casual acquaintance. And I realized that, unless I did something, I might never see her again.
A few weeks later, after considerable thought, I invited her to come with me on a trip to visit a friend's family, half a day's drive away. On the way back, she began to tell me about the church she attended, a church where the congregation took being a Christian seriously, and took God into consideration in all they did. And she wasn't being pushy about it, in fact she was rather shy. But she was sincere.
Then she told me that they also
expect Jesus to return to earth some
I was somewhat suspicious, because I'd never heard of this part of Christianity before. I'd known her for a while, and never thought of her as being a fanatic or anything, but this was at the time when the "Moonies" and other cults were on the rise, and I didn't want to get into any group that would mix me up and mold me into a copy of themselves!
I still went out with her, but this Christian thing continued to be an issue. So I asked where I could find out more about this kind of people, and she suggested I try listening to the radio station WBMI.
Well... OK... I guess... if that's what it was going to take. Hey, I'd turned it off before, I could turn it off again.
So I listened again, this time wondering what kind of people they were, and if they were "for real." The longer I listened, the more kinds of people I heard. Most if not all had a sense of humor and interests other than Christianity. They had a variety of personalities and professions, and although they didn't always agree with each other on some of the finer points, they all clearly counted being a Christian and "knowing Christ" as the greatest thing that had ever happened to them.
So much for getting pushed into a mold, but I still wondered if they were as good as they needed to be to get into Heaven, and how good would I have to be to be good enough.
My friend invited me to accompany her to church. I figured it involved getting up early on a Sunday morning, but I thought I could take it for a week or two, so I agreed. Then she mentioned we would have to leave extra early because we would be going to Sunday School before we went to Church. Sunday School for adults? But I'd promised, so I went.
The first thing that impressed me as I walked into church
The Sunday School class was made up of college-age men and women, not much younger than me, and the teacher was the Senior Pastor of the church. And the lesson was, if I recall correctly, about Matthew chapter 18, the very section I'd read in the motel, five years before.
The real kicker, as far as I was concerned, was learning that no one is good enough to get into Heaven. Not me. Not my friend. None of the students. No, not even the Pastor. No one at all. Nada. Zip. Zilch. We are all past all hope of ever being good enough to get into heaven.
"So now what," I thought, "Are we all up the creek without a paddle?"
No! According to the teacher we still have a way,
but it isn't (and could never be!)
because of anything we have done or
could do. We cannot earn our way to heaven,
we are totally helpless
in this situation. The good news is: God has, in the form
of His Son, provided a substitute to take the punishment
we deserved. That's why Jesus died on the
Well, that's awfully nice of Him, but...
So now I started to get defensive. I thought "I'm not really a bad person. I've never killed anyone. Not actually, that is. Sure, I wanted to a couple times, but I didn't actually do it, and hey, who hasn't, right?" Same for a bunch of other sins I could think of. I didn't think about some of the other ones. (The memory can get amazingly selective at times like this.)
That's an old, old, argument I was using,
and it doesn't hold water. How bad do you have to be, to be
a sinner in God's eyes? Here's a hint: In
the book of Matthew, Chapter 5, verses 21
and 22, Jesus said "Ye have heard that it was said of them
of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill
shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you,
That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall
be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his
OK, but I don't remember hearing any of this in the church I grew up in. Is this just one church's idea of how it is? What about other churches?
I joined a lunch-time group Bible study at my new place of employment. There I found people from many different churches. There were some differences of opinion on the smaller matters, but the basic story, as found in the Bible, remained the same: you can never get to heaven by being good enough, but you can get there by accepting as a gift what Jesus did when He died in your place.
A few Sundays later, at the end of the sermon, the pastor invited those with questions, or who wanted to accept Christ, to come to the front of the church, and I went. The man I met when I got there looked like he'd rather be someplace else, (again, no one's perfect) but he took the time to explain the way to salvation to me.
"Yeah, but," I said "I'm not a sinner!"
And he said "How many time does someone have to murder to be caller a murderer?"
Once."So how many times does someone have to sin to be called a sinner?"
Once.Well, I didn't want to keep him any longer, as he obviously had someplace to go. And I had a lot to think over. Later that week, however, I couldn't put off acting on what I already knew to be true. I accepted Jesus, and his death on the cross for me, as my only claim to a life hereafter in heaven.
Not that my story is over, in
fact it's still going on. God is not someone you
can ever know completely in this life.