Thursday, August 20, 2015

How can it be?

If you’re a real-life friend of mine, you know that 14 days ago, my brothers and I found my dad, who’d been convinced he could sleep off his sickness the night before, was no longer alive. Since that horrific moment, what feels like 10 foot waves crash over me; waves of despair, disbelief, and unanswered questions. I steady myself a bit with comforting truth and joyous memories before another wave crushes me. Such is grief, I suppose. I’m new here.

While I’m waking up haunted by my wonderings of his last hours, one thing, I know for sure: he left this world and woke up to heaven. I knew it the moment I leaned, aghast, over his body in the funeral home. He wasn’t there. It was his body, yes, but he was absent from his body. 
Oh God! It stings even to write those words now.
Standing there, someone asked me if he was in heaven. 
Yes. Unequivocally, yes.
Because I believe what the Bible says is true, this I have as an anchor in a treacherous storm.

The temptation to believe he earned God’s favor through his devotion and godly living did not beset my dad. He trusted in God’s grace as a free gift, unearned.
“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
He famously claimed that God knew his heart. He relied on the work of Christ’s shed blood on the cross to make his heart pure before God.
“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” (Romans 3:22)
When we emptied his apartment, we found one of many notebooks, where, for as long as I can remember, he copied the Psalms and the words of Jesus in the gospels. He identified most with David, a man after God’s own heart, simultaneously plagued by oppression and guilt. We searched page-by-page of dad’s Bible, where he’d marked the tortured cries out to God for rescue & strength, and proclamations of God as his hope, his salvation.

We are familiar with his habit to come to church, hit up the altar, and leave (early!).
And because it was his only hope, he came “boldly to the throne of grace, that {he’d} obtain mercy, and find grace to help {him} in {his} time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16)

Throughout the Bible, it is their faith that saves the people Jesus encounters. In the final moments before His death on the cross, Jesus spoke to two criminals hanging on crosses beside Him. One challenged Him to prove he was the Messiah. He’d only believe if Jesus proved it to him, by enhancing his life, saving him from certain death.
The other criminal believed Jesus was as He proclaimed, his hope for eternity in heaven.
And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
 “If you openly declare that Jesus is the Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Does this free gift of grace serve as an excuse to reject godly living?
Paul writes: “By shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.” Roman 3:31 (MSG)

Before Jesus was crucified he told his disciples, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15)

We obey Jesus because we love him. We love him because He first loved us.

In Luke 15, Jesus uses a story of two sons to illustrate such undeserved grace. Perhaps, like my dad, you identify with the prodigal son, who was met with extraordinary compassion when he returned to his father after sinning against him. Maybe you identify with the other son, who resented such grace, because of his life-long devotion to his father. Jesus includes both in the story for a purpose. Whether it’s shame (how could he accept me?) or pride (I don’t need his grace), it threatens to keep us from the Father, in heaven.

I’m so grateful to know that my dad was convinced of his need for a Savior and believed Jesus to be that Savior.
While it doesn't change that I miss him so terribly it staggers me unexpectedly. When I can hardly settle on not seeing his grin or hearing his voice again, this assurance steadies my heart from spiraling. It provides comfort when I am desperately wishing I could have said good-bye. It gives me hope. Perhaps it will do so for you too.

Jesus said, before He went to heaven:
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home…And you know the way to where I am going…
(John 14:1 & 4)
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