When I was 11 or 12, my father called me in to sit with him in our living room. He wanted to ask me two questions. He told me they were the two most important questions he’d ever ask me. He was right.
The first question was, “If you died today, would you go to heaven?” My immediate response was of course I would.
The second question was even shorter, “Why?”
That seemed so simple to answer. I was the son of a minister, went to a Lutheran school, went to church, prayed and did all the things I thought I could to prove my worthiness for heaven and felt just awful when I fell short. I explained all this to my father in stumbling detail, but I still had no doubt I was heaven bound.
My father looked at me with such compassion and said as plain and simple as he could, “No, that won’t do.”
From that moment on, I can’t recall how long we sat together talking and crying – first out of shame – and then talking and crying – out of joy. There has never been and never will be a more profound moment in my life. By the end of that long conversation, my life’s load has never been lighter, my step never easier, my joy never more lasting.
You see, I came to realize that I am nothing more than a poor and miserable sinner. Nothing more. Try as I might, I am incapable of not sinning. I really am worthless and am totally unworthy. I was caught in the trap of effort and good works that was only dragging me deeper and deeper into sin. Isn’t that wonderful news?
That news has freed me. I had no choice but to look to my Savior for salvation. As I sat with my father, I began to truly understand what my Savior has done for me and what I can’t do for myself. Christ died for me, for you and for all to free us from our sins. I can look at my sin and know that it is washed away by Christ’s blood. That frees me to live my life filled with joy. My sins are forgiven. I don’t have to earn this or try to barter for it because I can’t. I am a sinner. It is a gift. A pure and simple gift.
Unfortunately, as pure and simple as this gift might seem, it is still sin that makes accepting that gift so hard. It is human nature to want to be in control and feel entitled when my Savior reveals to me that I can’t. It is my sinful nature that is constantly trying to pull me away from the realization of the gift and let me pound my chest in personal glory. How foolish of me.
Sadly at my age, I attend more funerals than I’d like. I listen to people being eulogized. I hear of how wonderful, kind and friendly these people were here on earth. “He was a great guy” is something I hear often. Naturally, I hope people will say of me when my time comes that I “was a great guy,” but I also know that there are plenty of people in this world that think I am a horse’s behind and because of my sin might well be justified in saying just that. That’s why I have spent a lot of time of late thinking about two men.
The first is a wonderful photographer, Scott Weaver. I have known Scott from his days as a photo intern at the Topeka Capital-Journal many years ago. He has somewhat the same job at Kansas State as I do at KU. The major difference is that Scott’s is not a full-time job as is mine. He still does a great deal of freelance work in the Kansas City area. While we have often shot together and always been friendly, it wasn’t until the recent Kansas Relays that we realized we shared a bond of Christian faith. I had referenced him to this blog to look at the KU time lapse which led to him read some other posts about my faith.
As we stood together near the high jump pit waiting for our respective school high jumpers to make their attempts, we shared our stories of faith. We talked of how we both have let our sin and the devil control us when it comes to being more open about our faith. We both shared stories of opportunities missed to witness that faith to others. Scott has always been a very quiet man. On a peaceful early morning at the Relays I learned more about Scott and he about me than in all the years we have known each other. I cherish that conversation and have looked to its revelations since.
That is why when I read of the death of former Kansas State quarterback Dylan Meier, I was deeply saddened for many reasons. I didn’t know Dylan at all, but had read of his many adventures in his young life. They were something I truly admired. I spoke once with his brother Kerry about Dylan playing football in Milan and also working as body guard for Milan super models. Who wouldn’t have loved to do that. Laura and I hope to make a summer and fall-long adventure hiking the Appalachian Trail when I retire some day, so the news of Dylan falling to his death on a trail hit me hard.
While I know nothing about Dylan personally, his death drove home to me how life can be so short. People pass on long before any of us hope. The stories of these two men have been tied together in my heart and in my mind since. Please, if you do believe, ask yourself those two questions now and think about your answers. When my time comes, you can say I was a good man or a lousy one for all I care. I only hope you will say I knew why I’ll be in heaven.
I love this benediction used often at St. John’s. To all of you. “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”