“Daddy if I die and go to heaven will I live forever and ever and never have an end?” This was a thought I was pondering at 5 years old as my dad was tucking me in to bed. It was a thought that had been bothering me since I had watched the Bugs Bunny cartoon. It depicted an angel in a long white robe, floating around on a cloud, playing a harp. Was this what heaven was like?
If so, it didn’t look very fun to me. I liked my blue jeans, green grass and toys. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be an angel because I kind of liked the way I looked now. Besides, in my finite mind everything had a beginning and an end. There were babies born and they got old and then they died. Trying to grasp eternal life at the age of five was taxing my brain, so, at some point I shelved the idea…at least for a while.
I had been raised going to church. My parents didn’t attend every Sunday but as a family we did attend. My Grandma Frazier was a strong Christian with a strong faith. She made sure that if I was visiting her on a Sunday we went to the little church in her town. I grew up going to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. In fact, both of my parents taught one or the other at any given time. So it was not unusual for me to have these questions periodically about God and eternity. I just didn’t know what to do with them.
I can remember sitting in church hearing a sermon on the parables of Jesus. I wondered why Jesus had to tell such hard to understand stories and couldn’t make them easier for some of us to understand. I listened to many a boring preacher and sat through many a dull church service wondering when we could just get done so I could feed my growling stomach. In time, my young inquisitive mind began to go on autopilot. As I hit adolescence I began to ponder other issues in life.
One issue was brought up by Bobby Stevens at recess. We were in sixth grade and all of us playing kick ball or some such sport. We had a time out and Bobby commented to me “Shelli, you would be a pretty cool girl if you weren’t such a ‘goody goody’.” Well what kind of a statement was that I wondered? What did he mean ‘goody goody’ anyway? Hhhmmm…got me thinking. I did love my parents and was for the most part pretty compliant. While some kids were sneaking around behind their parents backs and lying about what they were doing etc. I was one to follow the rules. Was that what he meant? Maybe he knew something I didn’t because he had an in with the cool crowd and I sure didn’t.
This began to set me on a new course. It wasn’t just the Bobby incident. It was the fact that even while I tried to be good and do the right things I still felt like a bad person. If on the outside I could perform, on the inside I had anger, hatred and all kinds of yuck that broiled around deep within me testifying to the fact that I was NOT a good person no matter how hard I tried. So why did I even bother? It didn’t matter how good I was I didn’t FEEL good. For that matter, what was the reason for being good? For who? Why? The popular kids seemed to have plenty of fun breaking all of the rules, so why was I so diligent in keeping them?
So, of course, one could guess what happened next. I quit caring or trying to be good. This was working for me until my parents started attending a new church. I was a good sport and decided to go but it began to be a problem. The pastor was anything but boring and he actually was making sense. He could explain the Bible in a way that I understood and every Sunday he would ask the congregation if anyone wanted to give their lives to Jesus Christ. Whoah! There was the problem. I had already decided the direction I was heading so why was he making things complicated? I hadn’t committed any unpardonable sins yet and was still ‘pretty good’ or so I thought. What was this lump in my throat every time he talked about how much Jesus Christ loved us and that He gave up His life to cover my sins? I tried to justify myself that I wasn’t that bad, but deep inside I knew I was by my very nature. This Jesus was so holy, pure and good, so selfless…there was nothing in me that could measure up to what He was.
That was where the good news came in. I began to understand that I couldn’t measure up. There was nothing that could be done. According to the Bible “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. That “all” included me. Then there was that really killer of a verse that any person who ever visited a church would know. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life”. “Whosoever”…me again…stop already!
I guess that is when I began to resist going to church, I had walked the aisle, got baptized, my family joined the church. However, I wasn’t totally sure what I was doing at the time, I just wanted rid of the lump in my throat and rid of the guilt. I then went back to my friends and started heading down my own path. That is……until my brother starting acting all wierd and took this whole repentance and baptism thing seriously.
My brother was two years older than me. He began attending our youth group and carrying his bible everywhere. He was changing drastically and I could see it. He didn’t argue so much anymore, he had a joy and peace that seemed to rest on him in contrast to the turmoil I had inside. My parents could see the difference and encouraged me to attend one of the youth group concerts that my brother would be performing in. I really would’ve rather stayed home and hung out with my friends but I decided to go with my parents. The concert was annoying to say the least. There were at least 350 teenagers on a stage singing about Jesus and how much He loves everybody and that only He can satisfy our soul and set us free from sin. All those convicting verses had now been put to this great music and they sang it as if they believed it. The real agonizing part was when they introduced a song and talked about how Jesus had changed their life. I kept fighting back tears and the lump in my throat and vowing to never let myself get in this fix again.
I survived the concert as well as the message from my pastor. He could have been Billy Graham and that wasn’t helping. I knew he was the real deal. A new problem began because now my parents and brother were wanting me to attend this youth group. I was way resisting this idea. I remember stating that I was pretty sure all of those sweet smiling people on the stage were acting that way because they had to perform not because they were really that way. I was determined to make them out into phonies and plastic people. Fine….I would go to the youth group in order to prove my point. My family would see I was right.
Youth Group night came and my brother drove us to where it was held in the church basement. I went inside dragging my wall in with me and pretty sure that it couldn’t be penetrated. By the time the evening was over the wall was gone. I had never felt so loved and accepted by so many smiling, genuine people in all of my life. They sang their songs off the stage the same way they did on stage. They reached out to me and included me as if I had been part of them all along. Basically I saw Christ in these people and I knew it was real. That night I decided to fully give my life to Jesus Christ and love Him back. I knew He loved me and had proven it many times over. Now I was going to follow Him. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I knew that my life would change, but I knew He was worth giving up everything for and never looking back. I have never ever regretted that decision. Not once. He has never failed me.
I have also learned that I don’t have to float on a cloud and play a harp for eternity! I have learned heaven is a place that is so wonderful that no words can accurately depict the glory that will be held for those who love Him. Nothing can describe what it will be like to be in the presence of Jesus Christ for all eternity. Until then I will enjoy His presence here and now and hope to see many more people come to see His goodness before my days are through. His salvation is free to all who will call on His name. He alone can forgive sin.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16