Thursday, May 5, 2011

“The Only Way to Heaven...

...is through Jesus,” were the words I heard the preacher say.  It was 1969 and I was a little over 12 years old.  Going to church was a new thing for me, as were the Bible lessons and sermons that I was hearing and learning for the first time. 

I had started going to the Baptist church at the invitation of my friend, Millie, and over the past few months, questions started to stir in my mind.  I was a good girl, shy and quiet, a low-maintenance child, didn’t give my parents trouble, seldom heard from and it was easy for me to get lost in a crowd.  So when I began to hear that sin would keep me from going to heaven, I wondered what the limit was and had I reached it... how bad did a person have to be before they would not be allowed to go to heaven.

Then I heard the preacher say, “The only way to heaven is through Jesus.”  and I knew I had never done anything to get Jesus. I couldn’t get those words, or that thought, out of my mind and I wondered... if Jesus is the only way to heaven, how do I get Jesus?

Mrs. Larry Warren, the pastor’s wife, was the lady that talked with me about salvation.  Salvation... that was a strange word to me, but if it was about getting Jesus and going to heaven, I wanted to know more.  As she talked I was still getting over my timidness and didn’t quite get what she was saying, but her kind and gentle manner put me at ease and I began to listen and understand.  “We are all sinners” she said and began to explained that telling lies was an evidence of sin.  Lies... I was a good kid but even I couldn’t say that I had never lied, I was sure that would’ve been a lie!  After all, my Dad had taught his children the value of truth.  Dad used to tell us, “You kids better never lie to me.  I’ll beat you if I catch you in a lie.  If you get in trouble, I’ll do my best to help you through the trouble, but don’t you ever lie to me!”  Our Dad never lied to us, and when Dad said it, we knew he meant it.  And then I reasoned... if my Dad hates lies that much and wouldn’t put up with lies in his house, then it was equally true that the Heavenly Father would not want lies in His heaven.  I was sinner... I wasn’t going to go to heaven... it wasn’t about how much bad I had done, it was about not being good enough for heaven... that’s why I needed Jesus; “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Jesus died on the cross... I always knew that, but I never understood why He had to.  Then I began to understand, sin is a debt that must be paid and the price of sin is death; “for the wages of sin is death...”.

Jesus rose from the grave... I always knew that, too, and I always knew it was bodily that Jesus lived again, He was not just a spirit, but the impact of what that meant was something I did not understand.  He was, and is, the conqueror of death, the grave could not hold Him.  He is the only one who could die to pay the penalty of sin and live again in victory over death to make salvation the gift of eternal life; “...the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ...”. (Romans 6:23)

Most people know John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” but few understand its meaning.  For the first time, as simply as I could understand it, I would never be good enough for heaven because I was a sinner and the fact that I was able to tell lies was evidence of this truth. Jesus could take me to heaven as the One who had died and paid the penalty of sin (as well as the entire world) and lives again, but I needed to believe and put my trust in this truth.  “...if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  (Romans 10: 9, 10)

The things I knew (Jesus died on the cross... Jesus bodily arose from the dead...) and the things I had learned (I am a sinner... The only way to heaven is through Jesus.) began to come together in my mind and I understood my need.  Then, beyond the understanding part was the confession and calling part, and I needed to pray.  “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  (Romans 10:13)

I had never prayed before and so Mrs. Warren gave me the words to say, but the words would have been empty without the sincerity of my heart making my request to God, and I knew this.  The prayer was something like this:
Dear Jesus,
I know I am a sinner, and I know I cannot go to heaven without You. I believe You died on the cross for my sins, and I believe You rose from the dead to live again.  Please forgive me of my sins, and take me to heaven when I die.  I trust completely in You.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

We had been kneeling at the church altar when I asked Jesus to save me, we then stood, and I remember a feeling like a weight had been taken off of my shoulders.  I remember rolling my shoulders backwards at relief from the weight, and I said to myself, “So that’s what it feels like to have the burden of sin lifted, and I didn’t even know the burden was there, until it was gone.” and it felt good.  I began to cry because I was thankful, but I didn’t tell anybody about the lifted weight feeling, I thought they would tell me I was just dizzy from kneeling down and standing too fast.
 
This moment in my life was more than 40 years ago, but it’s a moment that I have never forgotten.  Now that I’m older, I know I’ve had that dizzy feeling from kneeling and standing too fast often enough to know the difference.  The burden of sin was lifted from my shoulders years ago... and it still feels good.
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