The last two months have been horrible ones for me and my family. In August our cat died (I know some may think that's not a big deal, but we loved her as we would a member of our family). We also lost a beloved aunt and on the day of her funeral, my mother (her sister) had a stroke from which she never recovered. We said our final goodbye to my mom this past Tuesday. Her funeral was beautiful and at times it had my mind racing.
There was a deacon (a woman) from the Anglican church, who has known my mom for 20 years or so. She officiated the service. She quoted all the right Scriptures and everything she said was lovely. And then she said, and I'm paraphrasing here because I can't remember it clearly, but it went something like - “Jean never talked about her faith, nor did she wear her faith on her sleeve. I would like to believe she had a deep faith in God.” And there it was . . . and I was torn. Was my mom in heaven or in hell? I can't remember her ever going to church, although I do remember her telling me she often prayed. In Evangelical circles some would probably say she was either a nominal Christian or not a Christian at all because she never made a public confession of her faith. To be honest I struggled with that interpretation since the moment she died. Do I choose to believe John 3:16 which reminds us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” or do I take the evangelical approach that if someone hasn’t verbally confessed their sin, repented of it and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, then they are not saved? One belief says my Mom, although quiet about her belief in God still believed in Him, and resided with Him even now. The other says she is in a place of eternal torment because she never spoke about her faith. So I asked myself – who was it that taught me to pray? My mother. Who made me go to church on Sunday mornings and Vacation Bible School every summer as a child? My mother. Who taught me to be kind to strangers? My mother. Who taught me to help those less fortunate? My mother. Who was my greatest encourager during my singing ministry years and often brought her relatives and friends to my concerts when she knew I would be singing about God? My mother.
My mother left me a great heritage (my salvation) without really saying anything at all. Her actions, her giving and loving spirit, her generosity and hospitality towards strangers set a great example for me on how a Christian should live. She made me want to be a better person. Her life inspired me to pursue God. I only wish I was half the person she was because when I look back at my life I see my many faults, failures and sins and wish I had been as gracious and loving as my mother was towards others. I can be impatient, headstrong and at times too blunt with my words. So, yes I am thankful for the gift of forgiveness that Jesus offered me through His death and resurrection. I am thankful He offers His love and forgiveness to someone like me. Someone who doesn't deserve it. And I may speak openly about my faith, but that doesn't make me more of a Christian than someone who does not. So to all those out there who have lost family members or friends and you have wondered, "Were they saved? Did they really know the Lord?" You are asking the wrong questions and are stuck in an evangelical mindset that says only "certain" kinds of people will enter heaven. Did your loved one believe in God and in His Son? Were they generous with their time? Did they visit the sick, feed the poor or entertain strangers? Rest assured they are with the Lord and enjoying their reward even now. Just look at these assurances of their salvation from the Lord's own lips - John 6:47; John 14:6; John 5:24; John 3:16: John 3:36.
At her funeral yesterday we listened to one of Mom's favourite songs which was The Prayer, by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion. It was a fitting tribute to a woman whose faith in God, while not exhibited verbally, was lived out in her daily life.
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, "Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?" And the King will answer and say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:37-40, NKJV).
Life sucks. Yep, I said that and yes I believe it's true for a large number of people in the world. After, all, this life we have here on earth was never meant to be the life God wanted for us. If you have never been touched by heartache, disease, fear or death then you have beat the odds. There was never supposed to be any of it. There was never supposed to be murder, terrorists, refugees, children dying, hunger, war, etc. We were never meant to struggle with disease, heartache, catastrophes, death or sin. We were never meant to be forever wondering if there is a God. We were never meant to wonder why God lets bad things happen. We were never meant to fight over our "rights" . . . gay rights, religious rights, women's rights, etc. All of it was never meant to happen.
God's original design for his creation was so vastly different than where it is now. God made us in his own image (Genesis 1:27). Beings that were meant to be in communion with God and with each other. We were never meant to kill for our food. All the food we needed was supposed to come from plants and trees - fruits and vegetables were supposed to be our mainstay. Not other living creatures (Genesis 1:29-30).
We were meant to be able to walk and talk with God as we do with each other. Paradise was ours - no problems, no worries, no sickness, no disease, no terror - just peace and communion with God. And yes, we can blame Adam and Eve for screwing us all over, but in truth, most people would have done the same thing. We were conceived in innocence and are easily deceived because we don't expect people to betray and hurt us. When Eve met the serpent in the garden he wasn't a snake on a branch in an apple tree as some artists like to render it, he was one of God's guardian angels (Ezekiel 28:13-15) and because of this Eve (in her innocence) would not have expected to be "tricked" into disobeying God by one of God's angels. We know what happened from there - Eve tasted the fruit, saw it was good, encouraged her husband to do the same thing and it was at that moment, when their eyes were opened and they recognized that they had just destroyed the best thing they ever knew - total communion with God in paradise. They were cast out of Eden and were cursed (Genesis 3:16-19) and that curse (which resulted in us being separated from God) went out into the world and we have been trying ever since to get back to paradise.
Thankfully, we did not lose full communion with God, because God created us in his image. By that I mean he made us spiritual creatures, able to communicate with him through prayer by faith. But he went even further. He provided a way for us to escape the curse! No more death, no more sin, no more condemnation. Through the sacrifice of Jesus' blood on the cross, we have been saved from an eternity of condemnation. Yes, our physical bodies still die. There's no getting around that. But that part of us that was made in God's image, that spiritual part, never dies. It lives on and it is the element which gives us the ability to have an intimate relationship with God (John 4:24). It is when we come by faith in God to receive His Holy Spirit that we are once again uniquely joined to our Creator as we were in Eden. This communion is precious and sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ, who poured out His life for us, so that we might be saved from the curse of eternal separation from God.
As spiritual beings made in God's image, we are also unique in that we have souls. The spirit connects us to God, but the soul is who we are. It is our personality, the essence of our humanity. It is the part that lives on after our physical body dies. The soul is the part that chooses to continue in sin and wilfully do what it wants. In other words, it remains under the curse and is subject to the result of the curse - death and eternal separation from God. Or it can choose to align itself with the spiritual part and receive the Holy Spirit (which comes from God) to become one in Christ Jesus.
Jesus said, "Abide in me and I will abide in you" (John 15:4). So our spirit is uniquely joined with the Holy Spirit of God, because of Jesus. Eternity therefore, begins the moment you invite God's Holy Spirit into your life. And paradise? It's guaranteed.