Breaking Breakfast News:
The week after “Snowmageddon” had most of Atlanta iced into their homes, we drove a quick hour away for a quick “staycation” in Helen, GA. Nothing fancy, bargain hotel deal with a pool to wear out the toddlers and breakfast included. Just had to get out of the house, you know? After a post-breakfast stroll, I went back to the hotel to find 3 urgent voice mails eagerly awaiting on my cell. It wasn’t “good” news: my sister Shanua, had suffered a stroke… in India… and the brain bleeding looked like it could go from bad to worse. Shortly after admission to ICU, the doctor gave her 24-48 hours to live. “Fine, how was your breakfast?”
I’m 42. My sister’s only a couple years my senior. Nobody in my family dies of a stroke in their 40s! Do they?
A few days pass, tons of prayer across the country, some emergency expediting of visas takes place and a few family members make haste to her side at the ICU. She’s better, still a little numb on one side, but would have to return to the States to complete her very miraculous turnaround and recovery. The day before she arrived home I got the news one of our most beloved uncles died. It was tough news for me and would be tough news for her even under normal circumstances. I spoke with her on the phone yesterday morning, she had taken it well. I could tell she was a bit busy wrapping her brain around the fact that her brain had almost taken her out… “Less than 10% of people who went through what I went through survive.”
Today, with my sister’s miracle as the first word of the sentence and Uncle Rufus’ death as the period, I understand a phrase that Shanua now knows in all too vivid detail: we all have an expiration date.
The question has to be wrestled with – “what happens to us when we die?” No, not me, you. I already have my mind made up. But, what do you believe? Is it all over when it’s over or is there some sort of afterlife, afterbirth, after we die? If you believe in “heaven”, how do you get there? No, not me, you again… I only know two ways to get into heaven: based on how good you’ve been (the good things you done vs. bad things) and what Christianity refers to as “grace”. For purposes of simplicity, I’m going to refer to them using the “s” word (salvation) as either “works” for the former and “faith” for the latter. Tracking?
If you believe that salvation is based on how good you’ve been or the differential between your good works and your bad works, then you have another question to work through: “how does the grading system go?” I mean, is there a bell curve with Mother Theresa on one end and Hitler and Mao on the other, with everyone else falling somewhere between? How good is good enough? How many good works does it take to work off the lies I’ve told, the figures I’ve fudged, speed limits I’ve demolished… How many points is a lie worth vs. a “little white lie”? Do I get points for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, or is stealing just stealing?
Just Like Them
When you hear the story of the woman caught in adultery and Jesus not only talks to a woman in public (pretty scandalous for that culture at that time), but tells her accusers “whoever of you is without sin, cast the first stone”, do you kind of cringe with me and think – “yeah, I’d have to drop my rock and walk away, too”? Many of us would even say “I’m no saint”. So, we have a common ground here for a lot of us: one day we all expire, we all spend eternity somewhere, and we’re not without blame for something or other in our lives, but when pressed, we probably couldn’t give a detailed account of what kind of grade we’re going to get on the final Final.
If you’ve already made your mind up on a lot of these matters and you think I’m nuts, let me just say I’m not here to bore you with the same old, same old about “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I’m just asking you to ask yourself… ask your god: what do you believe about God and about the death you don’t actively think is coming until someone close to you comes too close to it? Do you believe that your god is bigger than you, but not so good you can’t “good enough” yourself to him/her/it? Or, do you believe that your god is as big as the bible makes Him out to be, and so holy that nothing you or I could do to bridge the gap between our sinfulness and His holiness?
Part of the “In” Crowd?
There are only 2 crowds I can be part of “sons of Adam”, by default, or “in Christ”. That goes for you, too. I believe we’re all born spiritually separated from God. Evidence of this innate wickedness is obvious in my life from the time my seemingly innocent toddlers hid the first thing they ever broke as if I wouldn’t figure out that it was broken or who broke it. What did you do at their age? Me, too. “Where are you, Adam?” asked God. God knew where Adam was… God knew what he had broken… And, Adam was “in Adam” and no longer “in God”. But, this separation has to be “fixable”, doesn’t it? Yes. That’s the message of the Gospel: “you, too, can be ‘in’ with God.”
The New Testament tells us over and over – we’re born separate from God. The sin-gap between us and Him is too wide to be bridged by our works. Jesus, the Messiah (Yeshuah Ha-Moshiach), didn’t just “die on a cross”, but took the rightful wrath of God for the sin-gap on Himself, paying the eternal price that we ought to pay for our debt. Did you get that? We don’t have to “do good” to bridge the gap. We just have to turn from our sin [Greek: metanoia – “repent”], turn from our belief that works can bridge the gap and to the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, and we lay claim to sonship with God. We are now “in Christ”. We are legally transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God. We are now no longer sons of Adam, but adopted and recognized as sons of God. It’s called grace. And when you look at it from that angle, it is very amazing.
Dodging a Bullet Runs in the Family
Not long ago, Uncle Rufus had a heart attack while driving, crashing into a telephone pole, knocking power lines onto his vehicle. It happens. But, who has a heart attack and crashes into the telephone pole right that’s directly in front of the fire station? We all said “man, he dodged a bullet!” But, with congestive heart failure, I’m sure he knew there were more bullets yet to come. My younger brother was shot point blank in the chest 7 years ago, but miraculously survived with no long term physical damage. That kid has always been able to dodge a bullet! When we die, I believe there’s another bullet waiting, which we either dodge based on what Christ has done or take because we deny what He’s done is sufficient to bridge the gap. Shanua had just moved across the globe to embark on a new season of life in her 40s with plans and ideas and hopes… I can’t imagine she saw a bullet headed her way. But, she dodged it, too… for now. One day, her bullet will come as will mine… and yours… Are you ready for either one? Will you have a clean slate and be part of the “in Christ” crowd because of the blood sacrifice made on your behalf?
What About Your Sister?
My sister sounds pretty good for someone who almost died a couple weeks ago. Her blood pressure is back under control and she’s taking things one step at a time with love and comfort from her family. Thanks, for asking. On another note, my sister knows Jesus. She knows He took more than a bullet for her. And, I’m pretty sure she’s not doing good things these days because it’ll get her to Him, but out of gratitude for what He’s done for her. How about you? Whaddaya know? More importantly, who do you know? Did he pay the price for your eternal sins against a holy God, or will you stand in His place and take the eternal bullet yourself?