Although it pains me to admit it, my wife was right about me: I fear death.
I am the oldest and only son of my parents’ three children. My Dad was talented at a lot of things: he was a machinist, and a musician and artist, and he was naturally athletic. My mother, who adored him, took care of us full-time. We were always moving, living in different neighborhoods of Milwaukee, and this gave me a lot of adventures in finding new friends and fishing spots. Although I hated the constant change of friends and scenery, I adapted. I don’t recall my parents ever attending a church; my mother always insisted that I go to Sunday school at a Methodist church with my younger sister, despite having been baptized as an infant in a Catholic church where my parents had been married.
As a young child, I thought about eternity. As I peered into the night skies of Milwaukee, I fearfully pondered the notion of eternity and the infinite. I remember lying in bed at night and becoming panic stricken at the thought of death and the beyond. I searched the limits of my mind, and the thought that I might never have a satisfying answer to this question was very unsettling. I don’t recall ever seeking answers from my parents, nor were my fears calmed by Sunday school lessons. All I could do was block out those thoughts, otherwise I would be overcome by anxiety.
When I was a middle school teenager, I received confirmation and baptism lessons from a pastor. The pastor seemed like a good role model for the youth, whom he led in social activities. He seemed well-liked in the church. Then, he had to suddenly leave the church; only afterwards did the youth hear that he was fired for having inappropriate relationships with married women in the church. I was shocked that the pastor did not live out the values that he taught. Also, I thought it was very curious that the church community ceased to acknowledge that he ever existed; no one spoke about him again. I questioned how the church people handled this situation, rather than questioning the bad behavior of the pastor, and then I soon ceased to attend church. I concluded that the adoption of religious ideals was somehow a bad idea for me and that I would be happier outside the influence of the church. This became my reason to begin living a life full of seeking pleasures of all kinds. By age 21, I was taunting God to send a lightning bolt from heaven to stop me and my emerging disbelief. When there was no reply, it sealed in my mind that God didn’t exist.
I became moderately successful in my professional life, without much effort. I got married, had children, bought and sold property, sought enlightenment through humanistic philosophies, and considered my prosperity as the result of good luck. Deep down, though, I knew that I didn’t feel right about having all of these good things, because I didn’t earn it. I knew that I wasn’t a good person. I was a fake, a fraud, and not worthy for easy success. I felt like I deserved much less, just like the prisoners whom I spent my professional life evaluating.
Ten years ago, I was involved in conservative politics, canvassing the neighborhoods of the San Fernando Valley for voter signatures. Through this activity, I met and admired politically active people who lived their Christian values. One year, one issue of Christian conservatives involved opposing the removal of a cross emblem on the Los Angeles County seal. I didn’t understand why this issue was of political significance, but nevertheless I enthusiastically proceeded to gather signatures. During that signature drive, I met an elderly Catholic lady in San Fernando. When she was signing the petition, she asked me, “What church do you go to?” I, of course, hadn’t been to a church in decades except when there were marriages and funerals of family members. I felt uneasy, as I hastily made up some answer citing a local church that I had never visited. I instantly felt ashamed of myself for having lied to her. I remember thinking, “I can’t go on living like this.”
At around this same time, my daughter and son-in-law had been attending a new church in Burbank and they seemed to be so inspired and focused. I was invited to my daughter’s baptism which was held at a church member’s backyard pool. I only remember how out of place I felt in my suit. Yet, I felt very touched by the simplicity and sincerity of these Christians! I had never experienced the sincerity of Christians like this before. It immediately struck me as the answer to the void in my life, and I then started attending services at their church.
I would sit in the front row each Sunday so that I wouldn’t miss a single word, look up to see the pastor teaching from the Holy Bible, and marvel at how the pastor was addressing his sermon directly to my issues. How could he know me so well when we had never had any in-depth conversations?
More often than not, I would doze off somewhere during the sermon as a result of the peace that I began to experience by the lifting of my heavy burden of anxiety, upon hearing, for the first time, the Word of God, the Holy Bible. My wife would prod me when I did drop my head.
On two successive Sundays at this church, while closing my eyes briefly, I had visions of an angelic being approaching me in my front row seat: the first time, the angel came to give me something, and the next time, the angel opened up a sack to receive something from me. These events did not reoccur although I wished them to, but I have partly understood the meaning of them as the beginning of my relationship with God: I received God’s gift of eternal life, and I, in turn, accepted the responsibility to serve my living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ with my life. In addition, it did get me to see that my good fortune in life was not from pure luck, but it was from God, since He knew me before I knew Him. These visions caused me to begin to listen for what the Word of God was saying to me or what God was telling me though my fellow Christians. Through listening to the pastor teach from the Bible, I now understood and accepted that God sent His son, Jesus, to die a horrible death on a cross for me, even though I didn’t deserve it, because He, without question, loved me. Instead of the cross being a despicable symbol of death, it had become a symbol of God’s great love for me. The next hard steps in this new life as a Christian were to give complete surrender of my life to Him and to serve Him in His every call to me.
Nowadays, I spend every other Sunday telling the story of God’s love to residents at a local retirement home. I figure, like myself, they need to reflect on the destruction which came out of their lives, and they, now more than ever, need to trust in the Lord Jesus, who gives peace, comfort, hope, and joy, in the face of eternity.
Recently, I felt prompted by God to take my mother into my home and care for her until the Lord takes her home. I now have a chance to share my faith with her and read the Bible to her. She is bedridden and unable to communicate, so I pray with her often and I note the great comfort it gives her. I thank the Lord for giving me this great blessing of long life for my mother and good health for me, which allows me to care for her both physically and spiritually.
As I recount the past ten years, I realize how difficult it is to always live out the Christian values that I believe in. Some troubling habits from my old way of living linger, and each day seems to be a battle. To me, following Jesus means daily surrendering my will to do His will. I have found, though, that God does not leave me to fight these battles by myself. From time to time, God surprises me by giving me a tactical victory over old habits. These victories are not something that I could have accomplished on my own; they are purely gifts from God, and I rest in the peace that they bring me.
Would you like to make Jesus the Lord of your life too?
If so, you can pray this prayer - Lord Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins and rising again. Please forgive my sins and give me the gift of eternal life. I ask you into my life and heart as my Lord and Savior. Please help me grow in you and live for you. Thank you for coming into my heart.
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