It seems like people don’t care to think of nor be reminded of their mortality.
Yet we all know that one day our bodies like Don’s will fail and we will come to our last breath on this side of eternity. As someone wisely said, “nobody gets out of life, physically alive”. Perhaps that’s why Don wanted this time to focus more on eating, swapping stories and enjoying each other’s company.
One of Don’s favourite words as long as I’ve known him was “forgiveness“. He had found true forgiveness and wanted everyone he knew to know about forgiveness before they leave this earthly existence, as there is so much joy to be found in it.
Don was of that mindset even though at times he got so depressed that he didn’t want to live anymore. I have known Don for about 10 years. And all of that time I’ve known a man who was severely challenged by a body that was crippled up by pain and disease. At times he was so hard to watch because all you could see was pain in motion. So I can see why he might have been occasionally depressed and at times wanting to die. He was a very broken man.
And yet Don still found ways to enjoy life. He also found people that he was so very grateful for to enjoy life with. I suppose that’s why he wanted you and me to have a laugh or two and enjoy one last good meal on him.
When I first met Don he had come into Grace with Lynda and I went to shake his hand. I soon realised that the tradition strong grip was out of the question as he couldn’t lift his arm up high enough to do so. Yet it was clear that he wanted to.
Touch is such an important part of our lives! So I always made an effort anytime I met Don to greet him with a hardy handshake…while being careful not to inflict more pain into his life!
As we got to know each other we had several deep talks on spirituality. Don like most people had seen it all and wasn’t afraid to let me know what he thought about religion. But one evening while Lynda and Don were at our house we got into a discussion about the difference between being religious and being a Christian.
As we spoke we came away with two definitions. First we saw that a religious person does things because of the possible consequences if they don’t do it. And even when a religious person doesn’t do things…again it’s because of the possible consequences …you know…if they should be caught doing it. You know what I mean? It’s all about the consequences! Typically the consequences had to do with going down to hell or up to heaven based solely on what you did here on earth. How good or bad you are, forms the mindset of a “religious person”. If you do enough good things you get on the up elevator. Don’t do enough and it is the shaft that you step into as the door opens. ‘cause you don’t need an elevator to go down.
Don figured out quickly that if good works out weighing the bad things he had done in his life were the determining factor it was “too late for him to go to heaven because he lived like hell at times”. His words as I remember it.
So I said to him that’s why I’m not a religious person. ‘Cause, like Don, I had done more than enough to get the shaft.
He said something like, “ ya but you’re a Pastor you’ve made up for it, right?” “How can you say you’re not religious!”
So I told him what the Bible says. It says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). And that “the wages of sin is always death but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). The Bible says that God put on flesh and walked with sinners like us, He knows that there is not one who has not sinned. That means every one of us deserves the shaft, since the wages of sin is death! And we’ve all sinned….well at least I know that I haven’t been perfect. And Don wasn’t perfect either, how about you?
What’s more, the Bible says, “Salvation is by faith and not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:9). So even if you were nearly perfect the shaft was still waiting.
I’ve only met one person in my life that called himself a Christian and said directly, to my face, that he had never sinned. At which point I turned to his wife and asked her if she’d agreed with his assessment. I think I started a bit of a family feud with that question!
The Bible says we deceive ourselves if we say we are without sin. And both Don and I were not deceived in that area. We were guilty as charged.
So I pointed out to Don that though the wages of sin is death the same verse says but the gift of God is eternal life ( Rom. 6:23 ). You see Jesus, who is God, came in the flesh and paid the wages our sins demanded. The Bible says, He died once for all sin, so that many people would be saved through Him. But there is a little catch.
Don got it that day…caught the up elevator to keep my analogy going. You see when I asked him if he understood what I had just told him he responded with something like “I need the gift, right; how do I get that gift?” He knew that if he had died without that gift he’d get the shaft.
The gift of forgiveness was the key.
Have you ever been to a building where the elevator takes a key to operate? Our church has such an elevator. Without a key you can get into the elevator but it doesn’t go anywhere. You can push all the buttons religiously but that elevator will not budge!
With the key however, you can take the elevator to the top floor. No key…no go! Simple! But how do you get the key?
Well sometimes you have to ask the greeter at the door for the key as you come into Grace. Then you need to put it in the lock and turn it. At which point the elevator is ready to go up.
When Don asked me “how do I get the gift” the principle is the same. You must ask and then receive the gift but don’t stop there. That elevator at Grace doesn’t do anywhere if you just turn the key, you have to push the button and keep pushing it until you reach your destination. Likewise, after receiving God’s gift of Grace, you must put your faith into action to continue to receive the gifts God has for you. The Bible says, “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:10).
Don said, “but who do I ask, and how do I receive?” I love that question! I said to him what I’ve told many people both before and since. To receive “the gift of God …which is eternal life” you need to do as the Bible says, “…confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved”.
The Bible says, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, (a fancy word for forgiven) and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”.
And the Bible also says, “that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”
Everyone! Including Don who that evening across my kitchen table prayed and received the gift of God. His sins were forgiven; and again according to the Bible he was on his way to heaven. Today he knows that what he did in faith that night was beginning of his journey home.
Since then Don and I kept in touch sporadically but I was blessed to hear how he prayed for his children and friends that God would help them to forgive him and one another and accept God’s forgiveness too. And he chose to forgive those people in his life who abandoned him when things got tough. He wanted them to receive the key to the elevator and not the shaft!
That’s another difference between religious folk and Christians. Religious folks take perverse joy in the downfall of those who do them wrong but those who have received this wonderful gift of grace realize that but by the Grace of God there go I down the shaft.
Even on His death bed, Don assured me he was ready to go home to Jesus; he just was waiting to go.
And so I can say to my friend Don “thanks for the party today, and I look forward to a bigger bash in heaven the next time I see you”.
“Although I do wonder if I’ll recognize you there my friend with a full head of hair and healthy limbs! That new body of yours must be such a relief!”
Typically I would preach at you guys for the next ten minutes on how you need to be headed for where Don is and how he’d want you to receive the key to heaven’s elevator. But that would involve talking about your death and it would sound way to much like a funeral. So let Don’s journey speak to you instead. He clearly knows the way.
Enjoy the party he has for you today and enjoy the people around you too. Life is way too short not to.