Graduation Day!

Created with GIMPGraduation Day!

All Right … I’m pretty sure that you have been led to read this blog post out of a desire to learn about some sort of exciting graduation announcement. Forgive me for misleading you. While it certainly is not my intention to ever deceive, I am glad that you ended up here.

Don’t think, though, that what I’m going to share isn’t interesting or even exciting. In fact, as you continue to read, I hope to develop an idea that will excite you to your very core!

To begin, I’d like to ask a question or two. First, how long have you been alive? Second, how much longer do you think you’re going to live?

One of those two questions is easy to answer, even to the point of knowing the day and the hour for some people. The second question may be known with some certainty by some individuals, but very, very few. Let’s face it, unless you’re going to commit suicide or you’re on death row in a maximum security prison, you’re really not going to be able to predict your death date and time with any certainty. Even those with terminal diseases can only come close to knowing the when of their departures.

As I sit, today, in a Panera Bread, I notice many people coming and going through the two sets of double glass doors. They are young, middle-aged, and older. I wonder about their mortality. Will any of them be gone from this world tomorrow? Today? Next month? How many of them will live another 40, 50, 60 years?

There is a strange emotion that rises in me when I think about my own death. It revolves around unpredictable future happenstances. I feel a mixture of confidence and fear.

Death is approaching each one of us. You and I are individual beings stitched inside of temporary mobile homes. We call these homes bodies, but they are known by a multitude of other names: tents, temples, “ugly bags of mostly water” (my Star Trek-geek friends will appreciate that one), corporeal forms, etc.

One day our ability to stick it out any longer in these bodies is going to come to an end. We are going to die.

On that day, almost every one of us is going to hold on for that one extra breath, that one last moment of consciousness, that one last look through our eyes. Almost every one of us is going to hope that our lives meant something; that we left our own positive marks on this world; something that will be remembered; something that will endure.

One thing is for certain, though: Every fortune that we have ever amassed (or the lack thereof), every picture that we have taken, every story that we have written, every single physical object that we have ever touched or seen, will be left behind as we depart this realm.

The “strange emotion” that I mentioned does not have a single thing to do with any of those physical evidences of our lives. Frankly, I will be glad to no longer have to worry about any of that.

What are your thoughts about your possessions? Do you believe that on the day of your death, you are going to be concerned even one iota about that Mercedes or Toyota that you might own (or never got)? How about your house or your apartment, your libraries of books or music?

As for me, I’m certain that if my death isn’t the result of an instantaneous, fatal car wreck or gunshot wound, I’m going to be laying in whatever bed I’ve been placed thinking, “What’s going to happen next?” I’m betting the same will be going through your mind, as well.

Even if you’re an atheist. Maybe especially if you’re an atheist.

At least the question ought to be. It’s important. Waiting to the last few hours or moments of one’s life to wonder what will occur next, will cause no small amount of alarm for those who have not wisely spent time pondering and seeking out answers to the question.

Few people want to die. Even people who believe there is more to come after death, don’t want to die. If you’ll excuse the pun, we have a death grip on this life. We’re scared. And, yes, my atheist friends, you’re going to be scared, too.

At this point, you may be wondering what my specific afterlife perspective is. Brace yourself. I am a Christian. One of those “born again” types. I’m sure you’ve heard of us, and maybe even made fun of us. That’s okay. I don’t mind.

Do you know where the term ‘born again’ came from? It was a statement made by Jesus. He said, “Unless a man is born again, he cannot inherit Heaven—God’s kingdom.” He let us know with that sentence, something very important: that though we have been born physically, we also have the need—the opportunity—to be born a second time, spiritually.

Without a spiritual rebirth we cannot have the peace and the joy that we hope for after we have spent this life.

Here are some difficult facts with which to contend:

  • If you are an atheist or an agnostic, it does not matter how hard you try to believe away the existence of God, you cannot make Him disappear.
  • For those who say things like, “I have my own beliefs about God,” you cannot believe God into being who you want Him to be.
  • For those who ascribe to a different religion, may I suggest that you seek out truth more than you hold onto traditions that have been handed down to you.

God promises to be found by those who will seek Him out with all of their hearts.

Jesus said something else that links to His statement that everyone must be born again. He actually told us the reality of His own importance when it comes to a person being born again. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father [in Heaven], except through Me.” Being born again means to have a relationship with Jesus. This is a fact that you can try to dismantle or reject, but in the end if you’re wrong about who Jesus is, you’ve made a mistake that has unending consequences.

Twenty-five years ago, or more, I heard someone comment that if an individual lives once, he will die twice, but if he lives twice (born again), he will die only once. What does that mean? If you are willing to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation through His death—His sacrifice—on the cross, you will only die physically, having lived this first life and then will enjoy a second everlasting life. But if you are not willing to accept God’s means of absolution through Jesus, you will only live this one time on Earth, then you will die physically followed by a second everlasting death. Everlasting death does not mean annihilation. The person that is you will never stop existing. You are now, and ever will be, a fully conscious being. The question becomes, then, where will you and I spend the remainder of our everlasting lives?

For those who know Jesus Christ (through a relationship with Him), physical death becomes Graduation Day! We have been through the proverbial School of Hard Knocks, and after leaving that school we will never have to go back!

One of my favorite authors, Ted Dekker, wrote a book called When Heaven Weeps. It’s a book that beat me up emotionally. It’s one of those novels that will never completely leave me. It shaped an area of my understanding that impacts me to this day. Hopefully, through a few passages from that story, you, too, will never be the same.

Allow me to set up the story a little bit.

During WWII, an Anglican priest—Father Michael—who pastors a church in a Bosnian village, is the only man remaining after all of the other men have been carted off to war. He loves and is very protective of his flock of women and children who remain. He does not know that his village is about to be devastated by some of his own countrymen, under the command of an evil man who hates all who believe in God. But prior to this encounter, he enjoys a conversation with a number of children who have encircled him to hear his stories about God.

One little girl, Nadia, asks Father Michael a question.

“Does this mean that we should die for [Jesus]?”

He replied, “If need be, of course, Nadia. We will all die, yes? So then if we have worn our bodies out in service to him then we are dying for him, yes? Like a battery that spends its power.”

“True,” she said, “But what if the battery is still young when it dies?”

All of the room grew quiet. He reached down and stroked her chin and said, “Then you would be fortunate enough to pass this temporal world quickly. What waits beyond is the goal, Nadia. This – This fleeting world may look like the Garden of Eden to us, but it’s nothing more than a gift.

“Tell me – at a wedding feast you receive gifts, yes? Beautiful, lovely gifts … vases and perfume and scarves … all delightful in our eyes. We all gather around the gifts and show our pleasure. But, do you think the receiver’s mind is on the scarf?” The children giggled. “No, I think not,” he continued. “Her mind is on her groom, waiting breathlessly in the next room. The man whom she will wed in sweet union. Yes?

“We look at this world, but it is a gift. We long for who is in the next room. Our groom. We are excited about the union, the wedding. It is death which is the door to our groom. So, if you should die sooner than later, I suppose it would be like dispensing with the gifts a little sooner and crossing the threshold to your groom a few minutes earlier than some of the guest thought proper.”

What a beautiful way of expressing what death really is! It is a doorway! It is an opening to where our dearest loved One awaits us. No matter how wonderful life is here, it is merely shadows. It is all gray compared to where real color, real life resides, where our Creator can wipe away our tears and remove our pain.

But, there are two doors. Two. One of them is very wide, with multitudes of people crossing through it every minute. The other is narrow, where only those who love Jesus can cross. The first door leads to pain. The second door leads to life, filled with peace and joy. And you and I are left to choose.

It’s been said, truthfully, that Earth is the only Heaven that a non-believer (in Jesus) will ever experience, and likewise, Earth is the only Hell that a believer in Jesus will ever experience.

When it comes to the one question that you have to answer before dying, how will you answer? Will you receive Jesus Christ to be your Savior, your Redeemer, your means to everlasting life? You can only answer “Yes” or “No.” Both “Maybe” and “Not yet” count as a no.

Do you choose to flunk the test or do you choose to graduate? Free will has been given to you to make your own decision, but, please, decide well. I, for one, want to greet you, or be greeted by you, on the other side of this life’s stage, at the Graduation Celebration.

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