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Eternity’s Brink – Episode 18 — Relationships Are All That Matter

I have taught for a very long time that the Bible is all about relationships: relationship with God; with physical family; with spiritual family; and with those who need to become a part of our spiritual family. Those who major in all of these relationship categories are blessed and happy people. The number of friends they end up with is often quite amazing. In my case, it is beyond amazing. I literally have friends all over the world, many of whom would be categorized as dear personal friends, the majority as my spiritual children. But even those in the latter category are viewed in individualized ways. When I went into the hospital, my family didn’t want me to be left alone at night. It started with Joy saying that there was no way she was leaving me by myself, so she was staying with me that first night (and did). She stayed other nights as well.

Then Theresa started asking me about possible people who could stay with me during the nights. Everyone she mentioned was a good friend, but I said yes to some suggestions and no to others. The main difference in my answers was a matter involving communication. I didn’t want anyone to stay with me who would feel compelled to talk, to keep conversation flowing. I didn’t want anyone who would make me feel like I was expected to talk. I was not only “out of it” much of the time, but I had a tube going down my nose to my stomach removing bile. It hurt all of the time, but it hurt the most when I was talking. Trying to maintain any kind of a normal conversational setting was beyond me. I needed friends like Job, at least for the first seven days of their visit. During that time, they literally didn’t say a word. After that, it all went downhill—badly.

One person came without being asked. He heard about my condition and got on a plane. That was my old and dear friend, the CEO of HOPE Worldwide, Dave Malutinok. He stayed several of the first nights with me and did HOPE work during the days. Of course, I had some conversation with all of those who stayed with me, but we kept it at a minimum. Dave has been a part of our movement of churches for decades and a part of my life for nearly as long. We met in Boston in 1988 and at Wyndham Shaw’s request, entered into a discipling relationship with Dave and Peggy. A few months later when their second son was born and I visited them at the hospital, I was shocked to be told that their newborn son was named Scott Gordon. Our relationship had a short history at that point, but obviously an important one. That occasion suggested the depth to which our relationship would develop.

Late one night in the hospital, Dave described a concept that hit me as extremely important and quite profound about our church movement. I think I recall being in sort of a fog at the time and asked him to repeat the concept. I immediately said that this should be written into a book and added that helping make that happen was reason enough alone for me to survive my ordeal. I did and we are planning on working on the book together. It was his idea and it will be his book, but I plan to assist in any way that I as a writer can. Fog or no fog, that conversation was neither a hallucination nor a delusion. I will never forget it. His ideas in print will help explain not only the real foundation of our movement, but the various actions and reactions of those in our group as well as those outside it, including those who have left it.

Another early overnight visiting friend was Mike Isenberg. I have known Mike from the early days of the DFW Church when he and his wife were on the ministry staff. After nearly two decades serving in this capacity, both he and his wife went back to school to prepare for careers in the medical field. His wife is a specialty nurse and he is a PA (Physician Assistant). I occasionally call Mike to get some input about medical issues and if he is unable to answer at the time, he immediately finds a way to text, informing me when he will call back. He is a special friend. I asked him why he wanted to stay with me in the hospital, sleep on a sofa and get interrupted at all hours of the night. He said that he felt that God had directly put it on his heart. The combination of his medical knowledge and personal friendship made him a very special overnight guest for me. In any medical consideration, Mike is always very helpful and reassuring.

Although I wasn’t receiving any visitors outside family members during the days, a number of other people offered to come and stay the nights. Others wanted to but for one reason or another, simply couldn’t. God bless them for their willingness. The others who stayed with me during those long and nearly sleepless nights were family members. Curt Clemens, Theresa’s brother (and my brother), stayed a couple of nights, even though he lives in a different city several hours drive from Dallas. He is a talker, but he worked hard on not talking more than I was comfortable with. I’ve known him since he was a little kid, and in his youth, he lived with us twice. He is as much family as you can get, that’s for sure.

Bryce Gordon, our oldest grandson, works near the hospital and came by to see me a number of days after he got off work. He spent one night with me, a night which began in the late afternoon. I was just starting to feel well enough to watch TV and since both of us Gordons are sports fans, we watched our Boston teams play (the Bruins and the Celtics) and two other games of each type (basketball and hockey). It was truly a sports night and a fun night in spite of my condition. Bryce is mature beyond his 24 years, an “old soul” type, according to his dad—my son, Bryan. He definitely sees through the immaturity and fallacies embraced by so many in his age category—thankfully! Anyway, that was a memorable and much appreciated night.

Joy stayed with me a number of nights and also wanted to be present during daytimes when specialist physicians came to update me on my status. As an experienced nurse, she had questions to ask that were important. Joy’s biological father left her family in her youth, although she was able to reconnect with him shortly before he died. He and her stepdad died within a short time of each other, emotional blows to be sure. But I am her dad and she is my daughter. We usually say that she is our daughter by marriage, rather than daughter-in-law, but even that description doesn’t explain our relationship. The mother of our niece’s husband calls our niece her “daughter-in-love.” That works too. Joy is our daughter, just as much as her husband is our son. Relationships are much more heart-connections than biological connections. I’m the only dad that Joy has left, but I am her daddy—heart and soul.

Finally, Theresa ended up staying a number of nights with me after my health improved. We will have been married 58 years this coming January 30. Our love has deepened into something difficult to describe. We are around each other almost every day, all day, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We are comfortable to the nth degree with each other, but it goes far deeper than that. We are still deeply in love, carrying with us the memories of the occasion that started our love affair way back in the fall of 1960. That initial spark of romance is still alive and well, deepened immeasurably by the many decades together since. In those hospital nights, our special indescribable bond made our time together a very special and treasured memory for both of us. It was marriage at its deepest level in one of our toughest times.

Bryan and his family came often to encourage me, and their presence gave me motivation to fight for life and for a return to health. Bryan was especially sensitive about driving Theresa to and from the hospital after dark, since she isn’t comfortable driving in traffic at night. Relationships are indeed all that matters and being on your potential deathbed will remove any doubts about the accuracy of that statement. Study after study has demonstrated that the happiest, healthiest people are the ones with the largest number of healthy relationships. In my case, healthy relationships were more than healthy—they were spiritual relationships. I’ve no doubt that my physical and spiritual relationships made it possible to come back from being on the brink of eternity to survival and ultimately, to a return to health. I’ll be back on that brink at another time, and when that comes, my relationship with God will be the one that matters most as I leave planet earth. During my hospital ordeal (and blessing), relationships with family, physical and spiritual, made all the difference. God has been and will be there in all of it. Amen!

Eternity’s Brink – Episode 17 — Medical Workers Are Servants

One of the medical workers who often served me during those long nights in the hospital had a genuine spiritual interest, and that led us to several spiritual conversations. He was a deep thinker and the concept of our purpose in this life was one topic he wanted to discuss. I had already come to my firm conclusion that God’s basic nature is best understood as Servant of servants, not only as Lord of lords and King of kings. The latter two are more about his sovereign authority, whereas the first is about his heart and nature. With that in mind, it dawned on me that life’s broad purpose is to begin by getting right with God and then representing him by being the best servant possible to the most people possible. That’s the essence of our purpose on planet earth—to be God’s image bearers as we imitate Jesus after we become his child. In doing this, we need to figure out the giftset with which God has blessed us and use it to the full.

Healthcare workers are servants, many of them amazingly so. I have always felt that way, for I have had many friends and family members who served in these roles. Since the Covid pandemic hit in early 2020, most of us have elevated our views of medical professionals to hero status. The NFL season of that year was played in front of empty stands for the most part. Weird. However, at the Super Bowl held in Tampa in early 2021, many vaccinated medical workers had been invited and were in attendance. When that was announced and the cameras turned to show them, I couldn’t keep from crying. I can’t now. Why? Because of their courage to put their lives at risk to serve people like me.

Joy, our daughter by marriage, is a Pediatric RN. Many of the mothers coming in to give birth had Covid and she cared for them and their beautiful newborn babies. There were shifts without many babies being born and at times she was assigned to work in the emergency room. She spent hours in the presence of those battling the virus, fighting for their lives. Joy, and many like her, braved the circumstances and did their jobs. They were, and are, my heroes. They are praiseworthy servants.

Some medical workers perform tasks that you don’t ordinarily even stop to think about. When I went into the hospital, I was too weak to do nearly anything. I was rolled in with a wheelchair and helped from that into my bed. I literally could not lift my heels off the bed. And guess what? I couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom either, even though I had severe diarrhea and was throwing up in projectile fashion. I had my diaper changed by more different people in that hospital than when I was a baby (by far). But they did it with great attitudes. When I apologized for causing them to have to clean me up, they replied cheerfully that this was why they were there—it was a part of their job. As sick as I was, the process wasn’t really awkward or embarrassing. I couldn’t help being in my condition and my heroes were there to help me. Thankfully, I could at least talk and thank them profusely for their service. May God bless those who serve in ways that I would find very difficult.

The hospital I was in has a major focus on serving cheerfully. The surveys they send out repeatedly ask for our experiences with medical personnel and the attitudes with which they served us. I’ve never been in a more upbeat, happy atmosphere medical setting. It was an atmosphere of servanthood with a smile and I’ve no doubt that my healing was significantly assisted by that type of service. I have wished for some way to thank them after the fact. I’ve even considered going back up to that twelfth floor and trying to find certain ones to again thank when now back in a state of sound mind and body. The next section describes interviews medical students had with me and some of the advice I gave them, which included this very topic.

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School is a part of the sprawling campus which houses the hospital I was in for those 23 days. It is the largest medical school in Texas, which is impressive given the size of the state and the number of medical schools in the state. It is also nationally well known for many reasons. Thus, the hospital I was in is known as a teaching hospital. In the earliest and worst days of my stay there, I was surprised by the entrance of a professor in the school along with several of her students. She explained that a part of their schoolwork was interviewing patients. Although it made sense to me, I was in such bad shape that I couldn’t imagine the teacher subjecting me to that experience. However, I decided to make the best of the opportunity and hope I made sense in so doing.

One of my first topics to share with them was the importance of keeping positive, upbeat attitudes in working with patients. I shared the results of studies I had read about, showing that medical personnel affected their patients significantly just by their attitudes. I recalled one study involving a hospital with two floors of patients having serious heart problems, life threatening ones in fact. One floor was blessed with an abundance of happy helpers and the other was not. The death rate on the floor without cheerful workers was alarmingly higher than the mortality rate on the other floor.

Of course, these students were having this very point drilled into them, for that is a vital part of the goal of the school. Mark Mancini, who strongly encouraged me to go to UT Southwestern, said that the doctors made you feel like you were their only patient. I saw a lot of different specialists during my time there, and the majority of them gave off that vibe in making you feel like you were very important to them. One of them, a Dr. Fuller, would spend up to a half hour at a time discussing my condition and possible steps forward, my case being unusual and somewhat complicated. He allowed me to help make several decisions that were not in line with normal protocol and carried some risks.  Another doctor, after she was replaced on my case, spent some serious time researching my condition and its cause and came back to share her findings with me—in spite of having been reassigned to other patients. Her empathy was clearly genuine as she spoke gently while patting my arm.

Another two pieces of advice I gave to those first students who interviewed me grew out of my own experiences. Both have to do with preventive issues, how to avoid getting sick in the first place by taking care of your God-given body. One of these issues I am convinced help save my life. Many decades ago, I started having prayer walks early in the mornings. I found that praying while walking allowed me to concentrate better than any other approach. During the early part of the pandemic, I started walking in the afternoons simply for exercise. That being the case, I found myself walking further and faster than normal. Three miles was a short walk, and four to five became the norm. One day as I neared my house, I looked at my pedometer and discovered I was almost at the seven-mile mark. I continued walking all around my yard until I hit the seven miles.

When I had the extreme reaction to the chemo that nearly killed me, I would imagine that few 79-year-olds have the physical conditioning that I did. I doubt that many in that age group would have survived what I survived, and a definite part of it was being in such good physical condition. Certainly the multitude of people all over the world praying for me was a huge part of my survival, but I have no doubt that a part of God answering those prayers was my good health prior to the illness. Although the Bible is not a book on how to maintain good health, Paul does make this statement in 1 Timothy 4:8: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

Some people foolishly almost worship physical conditioning and healthy practices and fail to worship God. No matter how healthy we are and the extent to which we go to be healthy, we still get old and die (if we are fortunate enough to get old first). But since God gives us life in a body, we should take care of it and I’m thankful I have. It made a difference. Although my physical weakness after being discharged from the hospital was significant and lasted a significant length of time, I pushed myself, hard, and it paid dividends once again.

The second part of the preventative advice I gave was about eating. The Old Testament does specify what could be eaten during the Mosiac period and what should be avoided. I am not certain how much of it directly pertained to health, but I am sure that some of it did. I am blessed with a wife who is very health conscious and as a result, considers what we eat to be a very important matter. I am not a picky eater, and that being true, I am fine with whatever she cooks. Most of the fruit and veggies are organic and she simply does not eat red meat. I eat it occasionally when we dine out, but for the most part, I eat chicken, fish and vegetables and try to avoid starches and sweets. I have a challenge with the latter, but I do well enough to avoid developing sugar related physical maladies. I remember having lunch with a brother who said he had just read an article claiming that sugar was seventeen times more addictive than cocaine. I had a hard time believing it, so he pulled out his iPad and showed me the article. There it was, in cyber black and white! I think of refined sugar as a type of poison to help me avoid it.

One of the things that makes Covid more dangerous is being overweight. What makes you overweight? Besides eating too much, eating the wrong things, starches and sweets heading the list. One of my doctor friends in Boston started doing research on what might help him with some of his physical challenges and those of his wife, who had Lupus. He basically discovered that eating meat (including fish and chicken) and vegetables was the most beneficial diet. When his patients with Type 2 diabetes followed this way of eating, he was able to take many of them off insulin. After talking to his wife about their approach, I tried it for one full year—2000. I did not eat sweets or starches (bread, pasta, potatoes, etc.). I lost weight without trying and felt better than I had felt in years. My energy level was amazing and I slept much better than normal. Sad to say, I went off that eating regimen in 2001 and gained back a lot of my weight. For the last several years, I am back much closer to that same approach, which is a part of my overall good health at the age (gasp!) of 80.

I understand that medical professionals cannot dictate what their patients eat; they can only advise. But I wish they could be more demanding. When Theresa was pregnant with our now 54-year-old son, her doctor was an interesting guy regarding weight control. He set a limit on how much an expectant mother could gain and if she exceeded it, he dropped her as a patient. I doubt that a doctor could do that today without ending up in court, but if doctors could insist that their patients eat healthy diets, it would be a blessing to them.

Anyway, I didn’t go into all of this detail with those students interviewing me, but I did stress the importance of making diet and exercise a part of their work with patients. I am thankful for my exercise regimen, which helped me overcome the aftermath of my recent illness episode, and I am thankful for my wife who helps me to be more aware of healthy eating. Both have helped me survive and now return to the health I previously enjoyed before my cancer saga and chemotherapy reaction saga. The oncologist said that regaining my full health conditioning by walking far and fast was unusual for a man my age. My cancer is in the full remission mode for now and I feel very good for an octogenarian. I am content with that as I try to simply live in day-tight compartments.

Eternity’s Brink – Episode 16 — Still a Narrow Road

I have already said quite a lot in this series about how highly Jesus valued the quality and practice of servanthood. I will dedicate the next episode to the hospital staff who served me in amazing and often challenging ways—all with a smile! But does servanthood alone ensure that we will be with God in eternity? In other words, are there other roads to heaven besides the one Jesus established that is called Christianity? Like the last episode, answering such questions tugs at the heart in ways that make even approaching the subject emotionally difficult. But let’s continue to examine all that Jesus meant by the road being a narrow one.

Having covered my somewhat conflicted views regarding seriously committed spiritual people who have a differing view of conversion than I do, I still do not question Matthew 7. Before we read this passage, let me mention my concerns for my relatives, neighbors and friends that led to the writing of “God, Are We Good?” What I have found in the older generations is not only a lack of Bible knowledge, but an amazing trust in human opinions about salvation. Attending funerals, or memorials, or celebrations of life, or any other end-of-life service is often quite alarming to me. If I believed the speakers at those types of services, I would have to conclude that virtually everyone must be going to heaven when they die. But is that what the Bible teaches? Let’s answer that question by taking what I call the “funeral test.” This test is based on Matthew 7:13-14, 21. Let’s read it.

Matthew 7:13-14, 21
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it… 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

 Now honestly, what do you get from reading those verses? Isn’t it obvious that most people will end up in hell and few in heaven, and further, that claiming to be a Christian doesn’t make you one? In our day of biblical illiteracy, most people are totally unaware of what Jesus clearly said in passages like this one. They just share opinions, and guess what? The one called the great deceiver and the father of lies, Satan himself, has done his job amazingly (and sadly) all too well. The vast majority of people, including many whom I know and love, are among the deceived. They don’t come close to living the life Jesus is calling us to live, and yet they feel spiritually safe in their condition. If they don’t know what the Bible actually says, why would they not?

Memorial services alone would provide them with the feeling of safety. They hear that everyone is safe in the arms of Jesus, in a better place and now at home with God and all of their dearly departed loved ones. It is simply heartbreaking to me. That is why I wrote that little book a couple of years ago. That is why I try to share with everyone I can, urging them to study the Bible, with me or others who know what it teaches about salvation. I urge them to ask the question posed in the book title, “God, are we good?” and then to study and seek biblical answers to the question.

While in the hospital conversing with many, many hospital workers, I realized that many of them didn’t come from a Christian perspective to start with. In their associations with those who claim a Christian perspective, they hear little to nothing about Jesus being the only way to salvation. In our modern Post-Christian setting, the assumption even by those claiming Christianity as their religion, is that every “good” person is going to be just fine after they die. But what does the Bible say? Here are a couple of verses to consider.

John 14:6 
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Acts 4:12
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Those verses are not hard to understand, are they? All roads don’t lead to heaven; all religions don’t lead to heaven. I appreciate every person who is trying hard to be good, and who are in comparison to many other humans, but from a spiritual perspective, none are good enough to be saved without the blood of Christ. Romans 3:10 says there is no one righteous in and of themselves, and two verses later it says that none are good. We may appear both good and righteous compared to other people, but when compared to Jesus whom we are to imitate, the picture is quite different. No wonder Romans 3:23 sums it up in these words: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Christ must be accepted on his terms as the Lord of our lives. He cannot be our Savior without also being our Lord (Master). Verses could be multiplied to demonstrate this truth. Luke 6:46 puts it this way: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

Acts 17:22-31 makes the point quite clear that religions outside Christianity are not acceptable to God. Here is Paul’s conclusion as he spoke to the people of Athens who practiced idol religions of many kinds. “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). During the Mosaic period, non-Jews were not judged as strictly as after Christ came and established the New Covenant. But now Christ is the solution to the problem of sin and will be standard by which all will be judged.

In the next segment, I am going to express my profound gratitude for the care I received from medical workers, most of whom are amazing servants. My appreciation for their service knows no bounds, but it doesn’t blind me to the realities of sin and righteousness and the basis of salvation. When Jesus encountered the Rich Young Ruler and called him to a standard he wasn’t willing to accept, it did not negate the love Jesus had for him. Mark 10:21 says that Jesus looked at him and loved him, but then he gave him the Lordship challenge which was rejected. I’m sure this hurt the heart of Jesus, but God’s standards for being saved cannot and will not be compromised by him. Will you compromise them? That’s the question I am asking here. I simply cannot and I pray that you won’t.

Thus, while I can commend a serious commitment to Jesus and the Bible, I cannot commend a watered-down version of Christianity nor an adherence to another religion besides that of Christ. The road is narrow that leads to salvation and I am always going to point people in every feasible way to seek that narrow road. Are you? If we truly believe the Bible, we don’t have any other option. Sharing our faith and pointing people to the Bible is the Christian’s only alternative. I want to have the heart and the life which reflects that truth. I want to imitate Paul’s heart when he spoke to King Agrippa. “Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:28-29). May God give us the convictions and the heart of Paul!


Eternity’s Brink–Episode 15–Perspectives About Salvation

The last book I wrote was also the shortest I’ve ever written, entitled, “God, Are We Good?” What prompted me to write the book is the awareness that most of my neighbors and extended family members know little Bible. What they think they know has most often not come from their personal study but from what others have said, most of which boils down to personal opinions. Thus, opinions are shared and used as a basis of biblical knowledge, which is a dangerous situation. Jesus is quite clear in Matthew 7:13-14 that most humans are not going to heaven. But how many people are even aware of this passage? Few. Hence, the motivation to write the book. I have given and sent copies to friends, family members and neighbors in the hope that they will read and learn some of the most basic, yet most serious, teachings of the Bible about salvation. Ignorance does not remove responsibility and accountability before God.

As I wrote my little book, I became more aware of a tension I feel in my own historical perspectives about salvation. I believe what Jesus said in passages like Matthew 7 with all my heart. The narrow road is the narrow road, and we will not be on it without a serious commitment to Jesus as Lord of our lives. My convictions about these matters are deep and certain. Yet, in one area, I do have tensions, and I was honest in writing about them. My background in the mainstream Churches of Christ was decidedly doctrinally oriented. Nothing was more important to most of us in this fellowship of churches than getting our doctrines straight and in total alignment with what the Scriptures taught—or what we thought they taught. Since my present family of churches had its origin in the mainstream churches, we too have maintained a significant focus on being doctrinally correct.

The first full length book I wrote in 1995 was “Prepared to Answer,” a book addressing a number of doctrines I believe to be in error. I softened some of the wording in a later second edition, but I was and am still comfortable with what I wrote then. I do believe that doctrine of all types matters and that the determination of which spiritual teachings are true and which are false must be determined by the Bible and not by human opinion. That said, this one area of tension remains—a tension involving the conversion process.

How Do We Get Saved Spiritually?

In “God, Are We Good?”, I have a chapter about how we get saved spiritually in the first place. To me, the biblical pattern is easily discerned and should be virtually impossible to miss. Certain teachings are left somewhat ambiguous in the Bible, but this topic is not one of them. Yet, most of the Christian oriented churches don’t teach the plan of salvation the same way I do and as we as a family of churches do. That is a mystery to me. I just don’t understand why this is the case, and yet it is. The Bible is crystal clear about the necessary commitment to Christ and his way of life. The level of commitment Jesus described in passages like Luke 9:23-26 and Luke 14:25-33 is not negotiable; without it people are lost. Anyone not committed to producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24) but is rather producing the acts of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:19-21) cannot be saved. These latter verses leave no doubt about the matter. “19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

My tensions enter when I see the biblical commitment being lived out by those whose conversion experience doesn’t line up with the Bible as I understand it. For example, my hospital experience demonstrated that more people than I might imagine are serious about Christ. Erin, one of the sisters in my local church group, had a large banner printed up to encourage me and then took it to a marriage retreat being taught by my old friends, Roger and Marcia Lamb. Many attending signed the banner and most of them wrote short but encouraging notes. Joy brought the banner to my hospital room and taped it in a location so that anyone who entered my room saw it almost immediately.

The Perfect Banner for Sharing

This prompted many conversations and opportunities for me to share my faith. I was surprised and encouraged by the number of medical workers and students who seriously engaged in spiritual discussions with me. The last medical students who came in to interview me as a patient were refreshing. One of them, a young woman, said that she was a part of the campus ministry in the medical school and had just returned from a mission to South Texas. As they were getting ready to leave, she asked if we could pray together. Several others had done the same during my stay. She held both of my hands and led one of the most spiritual prayers I had heard in a long time.

In our short time together, we didn’t discuss doctrinal issues. This wasn’t the time nor the place. I did tell many people about my website, and many of them promised to look it up. Plenty of articles are found on it which cover both doctrinal and practical spiritual issues of all types. The probability is that most of the people whom I encountered in that setting have a different view of the conversion process than I do. What about them? How would God answer them if they asked the question posed by the title of my book? Therein lies my tension, how to view the combination of commitment to Christ and doctrinal accuracy.

One chapter of the book describes my tensions and gives three examples I have heard from three well respected leaders in our family of churches (left unnamed). I’m not the only one feeling those tensions. The next chapter in the book describes the tensions I would feel if I were on the other side of the issue. Knowing what I know and believing what I believe, I simply couldn’t be on the other side. But what of the examples used by those unnamed leaders who believe as I do about conversion? One referred to Jesus’ comment in Matthew 9:6, “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” We have our ways of explaining this context, but my friend asked the question of why we would think Jesus wouldn’t do the same from heaven? His forgiveness of the thief on the cross was about the same as what is called “deathbed forgiveness.” It is obvious from that thief’s comment that he knew enough about Jesus to know that he was innocent. He might have known a lot. Of course, Jesus knew everything about his life and we don’t, but the point is that Jesus can forgive whomever he wants to forgive. Period.

The second example I used from comments made by a leader came from a casual conversation the two of us had. In his profession, most of those in his professional setting were professed Christians, and many of them were serious about their commitment to Christ. My friend said that he felt more in common with many of them than with many of those with whom he attended church on Sundays. The latter ones may have shared his doctrinal beliefs, but their lives didn’t compare favorably to many of those in his professional association. Although a very conservative person doctrinally, he made the statement that he had hope for those whose doctrine regarding salvation differed from his, but he didn’t feel that he could give them hope. In other words, he couldn’t assure them that they were good with God. Yet, he believed that they most likely were. I have quoted him many times, for I feel the same. I will always teach exactly what I believe the Bible says on any matter, but only God is the Judge. He will do what is right and it might not be exactly what we expect.

The third example was offered by a dear friend whose level of Bible knowledge and spirituality are unquestioned. Here is his quote found in my book.

    “Just imagine such a person with this type of committed life coming before God in the end and hearing him say, ‘You had a heart for my kingdom. You lived out the Beatitudes. You went the way of the cross. But your theology of baptism was off. So, I’m sorry, you can’t be admitted to heaven.’” My friend could not believe such an interchange would ever happen.

PS – An Unusual Book Ending

Surely you can identify with his conclusion. Although I dedicated a chapter to the tensions I would feel if I were on the other side of the issue, the above quote led me to end my book with a section I termed a “Postscript.” A postscript is something you think of later and add, which is exactly what I did sometime after finishing the book. I will include some pertinent quotes and observations from that postscript.

Broadly speaking, sin is breaking God’s laws in our personal life and in holding and/or teaching erroneous doctrinal beliefs. Life and doctrine are both important, and they may be compared to the wings of an airplane. A plane cannot fly without two wings, and our lives cannot please God without life and doctrine aligned with what he commands. Are both equally important?

But here is my question in closing: is forgiveness of both types of sins (life and doctrine) available in equal measure? We know and teach that God’s grace toward our personal life sins is exceedingly broad. When you consider that through sins of commission, we sin by our words, our actions, our thoughts, our motives; and through sins of omission, by what we leave undone, it is simply overwhelming to contemplate. Yet, we teach and preach that God will forgive us through the blood of Christ for all of it if we claim Jesus as Lord and have strong intentions to please him, with the direction of our lives demonstrating those intentions.

Moving over to the sins of a doctrinal nature, are we now in a different arena, where God’s grace is no longer quite so amazing? We base our hope for heaven not on our performance, but on God’s grace, a grace that shapes our desires to please him and determines the direction of our lives. Thus, his mercy shows itself in our lives as desire and direction rather than as performance and perfection. Will his grace motivating that same desire and direction be sufficient to overcome sins of a theological doctrinal nature? If not, why not?

I closed the book by quoting 1 John 2:1-2 where we are assured that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world and then ended with these final comments.

Are those sins of the whole world only life sins and not theological sins? All I can say in closing is that I am a sinner and in need of abundant mercy, and am thus quite content to leave the ultimate judgment to God about who is right with him and who is not. I can do no more and no less than strive with all my heart to follow his teachings with both my life and my doctrine and urge others to do the same. Thankfully, God will take it from there.

When I meet and spend time with spiritually minded people, regardless of their doctrinal beliefs, I feel a real kinship with them. I focus on the fundamentals of what it means to be a Christ follower and rejoice in our shared commitment. If we are able spend enough time together, I will get around to discussing doctrines and doctrinal differences, but I don’t start there and don’t make that my major focus. I also will introduce them to my website and ask them to scan through the article titles, read some of them and communicate with me about that experience. But I am not their Judge and I’m not going to act like I am. I am thankful and encouraged to interact with anyone who loves my Jesus.

Eternity’s Brink–Episode 14–Our Dual Existence

Aside from those who supposedly have multiple personalities, all of us are two people in one. My favorite passage in the Bible, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 makes our dual nature clear and also what our focus should be in light of that nature. Look at verse 16: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Although the terminology of “wasting away” isn’t exactly pleasant to contemplate, over time its truth becomes more and more obvious. That said, the next part about daily inward renewal should motivate us to make sure we are doing just that. Spending quiet times with God isn’t just a nice idea; it should be seen as an absolute necessity.

We have an outward part and an inward part, the latter being made in the image of God. I recently told someone that I still felt like I was 35, although my body reminded me that I am 80. Why do we feel like that as we age, still young in spite of our aches and pains and wrinkles? Our inner person, our soul or spirit, doesn’t age. It doesn’t even sleep nor need sleep—that’s why you dream all night. The real you, the inner person, doesn’t need sleep and has been created for eternity. Death, biblically defined, is simply the departure of the spirit from the physical house it lived in, the body.

James recognizes this distinction in James 2:26. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” Peter continues with the tent analogy in 2 Peter 1:13-14 thusly: I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.” Tents are temporary dwelling places and thus an apt analogy to describe life in a physical body.

During the early part of my hospital stay, as mentioned, I was both hallucinatory and delusional at times. However, when people started talking to me, I somehow escaped that condition and reentered reality. And trust me, many people talked to me. Since I was in a teaching hospital, medical students came in frequently to interview me. Given my condition, I was shocked that that would even be allowed. But I gave it my best effort and answered their questions and added some advice. I was also shocked that I was able to engage in a coherent way and make sense in those conversations and many others with medical personnel.

The fact that I was able to do that, repeatedly, attests to the truth that we are in fact dual beings. My inner person was able to engage when my outer person was extremely sick. Quite an interesting experience, and a surprising one to me, but it shouldn’t have been. I am two people in one, and the part of me made in the image of my Father isn’t nearly as dependent on the other part as might be assumed. That was a cool discovery. While one part of me was deathly ill, the other part was capable of rising above that illness and carrying on as normal. Interesting—and impressive! We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made, as Psalm 139:14 says.

The biggest takeaway from this insight should be to help us make sure our main focus in life is clearly on the spiritual side of it. Spiritual trainwrecks are likely results when this is not the case. Usually, the older we become, the greater the challenges. I have seen too many older people lose their way spiritually by not being able to handle those challenges, but it doesn’t have to happen like that. Continuing to grow spiritually by nourishing our inner person is the antidote. Don’t let your focus shift to the temporary; keep it on the eternal. Paul said it best in 2 Corinthians 4:18 in these words: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”