I Missed my chance to say goodbye… Forever

Written by Jon Zenor

This article has been a really tough one to write.  After several days of thinking about this I don’t even know how to begin, so I will just start writing…

On Sunday I got a phone call with some very bad news. My biological father had committed suicide.  This has left me with some very mixed emotions that have been hard to deal with.

My parents divorced when I was 3 or 4, and my mom then married my (step) dad who was in the Navy so we moved a lot, and my dad officially adopted me and I haven’t seen my biological father since then.  It didn’t really bother me at all.  My dad did a good job of raising me and as far as I was concerned my biological father had walked out on me so I had no real connection with him.  Growing up I didn’t hate or love him, wasn’t angry or upset or anything else, I just felt indifference; he was nothing more than a stranger on the street to me.

Two years ago God put it on my heart that I needed to contact him, so I did.  We had a couple of good emails and facebook messages back and forth, ending with him saying he wanted to catch up on what he missed.

One day after another went by and got busy with life, I fully intended to keep in touch with him and wanted to meet him one day.  But I just never got around to sending the emails that were on my mind to send.

And now it is too late.

Plague of the “What If”s

Anybody who is affected by the death of someone who committed suicide is plagued with the mental agony of asking “what if” all of the time.  Talking to his wife I heard a few of these questions.  “What if I would have done something different? Why did I not see that he was acting different? What could I have done differently to prevent this?”  Until now I never fully understood the pain caused by such questions.

What would have happened if I had contacted him recently?  How much would it have meant from him to get an email or phone call saying “happy father’s day” from his only (not-adopted) son that he has not seen in 24 years?  Would things have turned out differently if we had made plans to meet so he could meet me and his only grandson?  I can’t help but think that things would have been different… if I had just …. If I had just taken 10 seconds out of my day to send an email saying “Hey, I was thinking about you, how have you been?”

Someone told me even if I had talked to him then I would just be asking what if I had said things differently or talked more often… I guess he is right that the plague just never ends, no matter what you wish you would have said.  But as we are creatures with free will I believe we can affect our futures, and the futures of those we interact with.  Which means what I did in the past could have prevented this altogether.

Eternal Destination Reached

I do not know for sure if my biological father is spending eternity in heaven, or in hell.  But the very thought that he could be in hell right now made hell a little more real to me.

I know this is a very touchy subject, but a very real one that needs to be covered.  Our society, our own human nature, is convinced that almost everyone except the most hardened criminals are going to heaven.  When is the last time you went to a funeral service where they did not talk about the deceased person “being in a better place” or “watching from above” or some other saying which implies that the person is for sure in heaven?

We really want to believe everyone gets to heaven, especially those who have done nice things for us, those who have really touched our lives in some meaningful way, and those we love.  But that is not reality.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Matthew 7:13-14

I cannot say how much I hope my biological father had a relationship with Jesus and is now in heaven worshipping God, but my hopes do not give salvation, only him having a relationship with Christ.

The thought that he could be in hell right now, that the instant after he died he could have waken up in hades, being eternally tormented by hades itself and by the realization that he spent his life rejecting God, the one who created him. Every time we sin we are offending God, we are doing wrong to Him, hurting Him.  Even after we continuously reject God with every aspect of our lives He sent His son to die in our place so that we could be restored and have a relationship with Him.

God did all of this for us and many of us, most of us, do not care one bit. We just keep rejecting God.  Hell will be a rude and painful awakening for way too many people. And it will last for all eternity.

Do you understand how long an eternity is?  Someone who goes to hell today, will still be there in 20 years. When I reach 50 years old that person will still be there, being tortured by the agony of hell and the lake of fire, and tortured even more so by their conscious with the regret that they lived their few short years of life rejecting God and living in sin and just living for themselves.

If my biological father did not have a relationship with God then when my son is 50 years old, he will still be in hell, still be in agony, and it will just be the beginning.

I do not say this to bring shame to his name, or to tear down his character — because as I said I do not know for sure what his relationship was — but I say this because just the thought that he might be in hell brought all of this to my mind and it disturbed me.

I say it as a warning, to all of you.  You do not know how much longer you have to live.  You do not know how much longer those you know will live for.  I wanted to have a conversation with my biological father about his relationship with God.  I thought I had time.  I thought I could send off an email any day I wanted to, so there was no rush to send it off today.

I was wrong. The last possible day for me to contact him came, and passed right by without any warning, and I forever missed a great opportunity to lead a man to Christ.

That is a huge lie that Satan plants in us all.  We think we all have more time when really we are all just a vapor that could fade away at any instant.

James 4 says

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”;  whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:13-14)

Do not delay one more day! Right now, make sure that you have repented and have a relationship with God! Make sure that you are not living the life of a hypocrite, pretending to be a Christian because you go to church every week but in your heart you deny God the throne of your heart.

Do not delay one more day in righting relationships that have been strained, do not wait to share the gospel with those God brings into your life.  Do not wait one more day to repent of those sins you know you are living in.  Start living for God today because you may not have a chance to tomorrow.  If you do not want to repent of your sin today because you do not want to give it up, then my heart breaks for you.  That you would choose to continue rejecting God, why? So you can look at pornographic pictures on the internet?  So you can keep feeding that addiction of alcohol or gambling?  Sin leaves you a broken empty shell.  Sin promises riches and pleasure but leaves you emptiness and worthless junk.

Choosing to live in sin over choosing to live for God is like denying a feast because you want this candy bar that is right here in front of you now.  It smells really good and makes your mouth water, so you say you don’t need a feast, you just have the candy bar.  So you follow the trail of candy bars that lead you farther away from the feast, further from God. Only to wake up with realization one day that what you really have been eating and enjoying is a chocolate covered dog turd.

It is at that point that you realize how nasty sin really is that you want to go dive into an ocean to clean out that nasty taste in your mouth, which you thought just a day before was delicious.

God is offering you something so much better than what sin can offer you, stop choosing your sin over God, put down the chocolate covered dog crap and run to Jesus who will clean you of all the nastiness your sin left on you, and he will happily welcome you into his banquet hall to feast.

Hell is a real place, and it is a sad truth that so many will go there, not because they deserve it more than me or any other person alive, for we, I,  fully deserve hell.  But they go because they refuse to accept the forgiveness Christ offers us when we turn our lives over to Him.

It took this tragic death to make eternity a reality for me, don’t wait for the same thing to happen to you.  Repent, today. Restore those relationships that have bridges burned down, share the gospel with those you can influence in your life.

Nothing else in all of eternity matters.

Want to be saved? Just raise your hand and repeat after me…

Written by Jon Zenor.

The decision to follow Christ is the most important decision made in your life.  It is that decision where you decide to quit living your life for yourself and to follow Jesus, making him your master. You go where He wants you to go, do what He wants you to do, you stop living the sinful lifestyle that goes against God and you commit your life to Him.

Jesus says that if we want to follow Him it means giving up everything for Him, and to count the cost before you decide to make the journey (Luke 14:25-33).

That is what it means to make yourself a slave of Christ, you make Him your master.  The decision to do this is not one made lightly, and it is not a decision to be made light of.

In 2002 I made a decision to join the U.S. Navy.  This was not a decision I made lightly, I considered it for months beforehand.  I was signing a contract with the government to serve in the military for a minimum of four years. I would go where they told me to go, learn what they told me to learn.  I was theirs.

Our church normally does an alter call, where we invite people who want to give their lives to Jesus to come up front and talk with one of the pastors, to receive prayer and be given some information about what the decision they are about to make really means.  But it wasn’t so on Christmas Eve.

Maybe it was because the Christmas Eve service was so full, maybe for some other reason I don’t know about, but whatever the reason our church decided to take the “short cut to salvation.”  They gave the announcement “If you would like to receive Jesus in your heart just raise your hand.” A few people raised their hands and then the pastor led them in prayer. “Repeat this prayer after me and you will be saved!”

This is one of the sickest common perversions of the gospel in our society today.

What’s the big deal?

You are probably thinking that this is no big deal, it doesn’t matter how they are led to the prayer as long as they prayed.

Why does someone come to Christ?

A person comes to Christ because for one, they realize and believe that He is real, and then they realize they have offended God with how horrible their sin is, and then because of that they repent, turn from their sinful lifestyle to live the way God calls them to live.

and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

The response to realizing God is real and you are in His presence is to worship, and the response to realizing you are a sinful is grief over your sin, and the response to you grieving over your sins is repentance, and the response to your repentance is forgiveness. Forgiveness of all of the sins you have ever committed or ever will commit.

And you are telling me a person went through all of this by simply raising their hand?

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Still don’t see the problem?

So you still don’t see a problem with this way of presenting the gospel?  Let’s have an analogy.

So this guy is standing in front of a group of people seated before him.  He says in a slightly excited tone “I have the winning ticket for the Power Ball lottery! Raise your hand if you want it.”

A few people in the crowd raise their hand.

“Awesome,” the man says, “Just repeat after me and it is yours.”

“Thank you for giving me twenty million dollars and I promise to use it to get my life right.”

The crowd responds, repeating what the guy said, and then after the guy is done talking they all quietly get up and start heading out the door calmly and quietly.

In this scenario, would you say that any of the people being offered multi-millions of dollars actually believed they got the money the guy up front told them they would get?

No, there was no excitement, no change, no commitment to actually follow God.

When a person gives their life over to God, they receive something so much better than all the money in the world, shouldn’t there be some type of response?

The Very Real, Very Serious Consequences

Here is the extremely real, extremely serious consequences of such a gospel message.

You convince people that they are saved, that they have a relationship with God, just because they raised their hand and repeated a prayer during an alter call.

Raising your hand and repeating a prayer does not save you. Cannot.

But now you have a few dozen people who walk out of that church believing they are saved because they raised their hand.  They didn’t even have a pastor talk to them to explain what raising their hand really meant.  But they believe; not in Christ, not in sacrificing their life and carrying their cross before Christ, no, they just believe they are saved.

But belief in salvation does not save you, only a relationship with Christ.

We have a generation of thousands in churches that believe they are saved because they said a prayer once but they have no fruit of the Spirit as evidence, no change in their life. This is why Leonard Ravenhill boldly proclaimed that “the sinner’s prayer has sent more people to hell than all the taverns in America.”

I doubt if 5% of professing Christians in America are born again–and that’s true of England! – Leonard Ravenhill

But it gets even more serious, we have churches full of leadership who think they are saved but have no relationship with God, they serve because they want to do the right thing but when they get to heaven they will just hear “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)

But because all these thousands of people believe they are saved they will go on their life ignoring anybody who may tell them to repent. “I don’t need to repent, I’m already saved!” the person will say to himself.

You have just given a blind man headphones and praise music to make him happy but you never turned him away from the path he is on, a path headed straight for the cliff.  All you did is make it harder for him to hear others trying to warn him over the praise music.

Do you see yet the serious problem here?

What do I do?

If you believe you are saved, it is one of our duties to examine our salvation, to test ourselves to make sure we are saved and not just fooling yourself.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Have you felt that godly sorrow over your sins that leads you to repent?  Do you live a holy life, not because you try to but because God has transformed you?  Do you live your life according to scripture and breath in joyfully every word of the Bible?  Spend some time in scripture analyzing what it means to be saved and see how you match up to it. Repent of the areas you fail in, and pray for strength to help you where you need it, but fist make sure you have that relationship with Jesus.

Holiness is not a Iuxury, it’s a necessity. If you’re not holy, you’ll never make it to heaven. – Leonard Ravenhill

If you are not saved, then there is no better time than right now.  Every sin you commit hurts your relationship with God, drives you farther from Him.  He is the one who created you and despite you turning from Him and living in strict opposition to Him He still sent His only son to die, to pay the penalty of your sins.

Why did Jesus die for you? Because He wants you to be free from sin, He wants you to follow Him and find true joy in Him, and He wants you to share that with others so others can find joy in Christ.

If you want someone to walk you through this you should contact someone at your local church, or call Eternal Truth Ministry at 719-4285-ETM and leave a message and we would love to walk you through any questions you may have.

This is too important of a decision to make to let yourself be fooled, and it is way too important of a decision to put off another day.

Finally, if you are a pastor, preacher, evangelist, or in any position to give “alter calls” then do the right thing, go out to the people, get them alone one on one and pray with them, answer their questions, explain what this decision really is, guide them as they repent and decide to follow Christ.

There is nothing wrong with having someone raise their hand to say they want to be saved, but keep their hands raised until someone can pull them out of the crowd and take them aside.  One on one, make it personal to them.

 

Do you agree with what I said here or do you think I am being overly picky? I would like to hear what you have to say in the comments section below.

Faith, Works, and Salvation

Have you ever been so scared by a passage in the Bible that you could not sleep at night?  This has happened to me more than once, most recently by this passage in Matthew.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ – Matthew 7:21-23

Sometimes reading that passage makes me stop and think “Is that talking about me?”  When I die, will Jesus say to me ‘Well done good and faithful servant,’ or will He say ‘Depart from me, I never knew you?'”  This question can be scary, very scary.

For one, you do not want to be doing everything you can to serve God, only to find out you missed out on the most important thing, the treasure that God actually wanted from you.  But also you do not want to go through life thinking that everything is fine, only to reach the final moments and find out your one way ticket to heaven was nothing more than a sham, sold to you by Satan and your betraying flesh.

What it means to be “Saved”

When a Christian says he or she is “saved”, what does that mean?  What is it exactly that we are saved from?

The most obvious answer that comes to mind is that we are saved from hell, to heaven (John 3:16).  But more than that, we are saved from sin, to righteousness – to good and righteous works God has called us to do (Romans 6:18, 22, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:10).  But one of the most important things we are saved for, is for the glory of God. That’s right, we are saved so that God can get glory (Romans 15:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Philippians 2:9-11).

How many people will be saved?  Not many.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Matthew 7:13-14

Examine Your faith

Salvation is important. It brings God glory, empowers us to do the good work God has for us, and it saves us from the damnation we deserve.  But it is clear that only a few will find it, and many will think they have found it but will be deceived (Matthew 7:21-23).

For this reason Paul tells us to examine ourselves to make sure that we are saved.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. – 2 Corinthians 13:5-6

What Faith is Not

This brings us to a crucial point. The few passages we have looked at so far makes it seem like faith and works are the same thing.  But they are not.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should  boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

This passage shows us there is a difference between faith and works. Faith saves us, not works.  Remember the first passage we looked at, Jesus rebuked people who were doing good works, but lacked faith, lacked a relationship with Jesus.  Jesus said “I never knew you” which shows us that it is the relationship God wants from us, not our works of healing, casting out demons, building churches, or giving to the poor.

Works themselves mean nothing.  Isaiah 64:6 says that our good works are worthless, that “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”

Are Works Meaningless?

Those passages make it clear that it is only by faith that we are saved, our works mean nothing.  So are works not important?

Actually, works are crucial to a Christian’s faith.  “Wait a second” you are thinking, “You just said works mean nothing, we are not saved by works and all our good works of righteousness are as filthy rags, how can they, at the same time, be crucial to a Christian?”  It does seem a bit contradictory at first, but dig deeper in to scriptures.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? – James 2:14-20

So we are saved by faith, not by works, yet faith without works is dead and such a faith does not save you… confused yet? Just hang on a little bit longer.

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. – 1 John 2:3-6

This is a cause and effect situation here. What came first, the chicken or the egg?  Which comes first, the faith or the works?

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. – Matthew 7:16-18

And there Matthew sums this all up so nicely for us.  When we accept Christ, when we put faith in Him, something real happens, we are literally changed, transformed, the old person has passed away and a new being is created (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This does not mean that we never sin (that topic will be covered in another article).  The only way we can be sin free is to be in a new body, as long as we are trapped in these earthly bodies we will sin (Romans 7).

But our spirit is made new and the Holy Spirit indwells within us.  It is this which gives us the desires to do good works and gives us the ability to do good works.  Good works do not save us but they are the evidence that we are saved.

Just as a good tree only produces good fruit, a Christian, someone who is saved by faith, produces good works. Not because the works are required for salvation or give us merit at all, but because our nature changes completely.  It is something we can not help.

When I was in college – several years ago – I was a math major. In High school I could do math without a calculator.  I could solve the most complex calculations in my math class with nothing more than an occasional scratch piece of paper, but I could not write to save my life.

Just recently I took an algebra class and struggled through it.  I could not comprehend the math. I barely got a B in Algebra and Trig, and ended up getting a C in my pre-calculus class.  But I aced every one of my English and writing  classes and (so I am told) I write fairly well.

This is an example of my nature changing.  I went from being a math wiz to being a writer.  No amount of work on my part can change what I am.  I can practice and get by at math, but it will not come as naturally as writing does to me now.

In the same way a Christian cannot defy his or her nature.  When we are still stuck in sin we cannot do good works except by our effort, it was a struggle, but now, after salvation, the good works are a natural response, just like breathing.

This shows how it is possible that works are important to our faith and salvation but do not save us, because they have nothing to do with the salvation part, they are just an example of that salvation.

How do I examine myself?

So how then, do we go about examining ourselves?  The only thing I can say is to pray and read the Bible.  Examine your life, your actions, your check book (where you spend your money), your thoughts, everything, against scripture.  Are you living in sin that needs to be repented of?  Are you doing works in the church on a daily basis but missing that relationship with God?  Are you doing good works but feel that it is a burden to you?

Examine yourself, see what is keeping you from having a relationship with God, what is keeping you from the Bible.  Use natural works, the ones you enjoy and are not a pain to perform to see if it is a natural response or something you are (subconsciously) trying to fake.

Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” I cannot stress enough how important the word of God is in our seeking God.  Read it every day, even more often in times of examining yourself spiritually.

*Photo by Jon Zenor, Copyright 2010 Jon Zenor Photography.*