June 7, 2001: During Dan's funeral, we sang "The Old Rugged Cross." The words scrolled across two large screens in the huge church that was filled to overflowing with family, friends, community members, and, because his accident happened when he was on duty as Acting Chief with his police department, police officers from all over Colorado. Dan's pastor, friends, and family spoke about Dan's faith. There was no talk of "hope" that he would be in Heaven. Dan knew where he was going to go when he died. Therefore everyone who knew Dan also knew where he was going when he died. He was in Heaven. He is in Heaven. This was a foreign concept to me. How can someone know they were going to go to Heaven?
Summer 2001: I began reading the Bible in earnest. I was reading two books during the same time period: Genesis and Romans. I would read 2 or 3 chapters in Genesis, then 2 or 3 chapters in Romans. Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that those two books, written thousands of years apart and penned by different men, were saying the exact same thing. Different men physically wrote the words but they were written by the same Author. I knew at that moment that everything, every single word, in the entire Bible was from God and was therefore true. I don't remember the date but I remember where I was sitting. It was within about five feet of where I am sitting right now, actually. I don't remember the verse or verses, but I am almost positive the commonality was sin. The fact that we are consumed with sin is a common theme in Genesis and Romans. And because we sin, we need a Savior. Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, beginning the perpetual relationship between humans and sin. In the garden on that very day, God promised them He would send a Savior. (Genesis 3:15) That Savior is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I had always known that Jesus died for the sins of the world, it wasn't until that summer that I knew he died for me.
Here are a couple of verses that talk about that blessed assurance that I will see Jesus in Heaven.
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:9-10
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:15-17
When I die, I will go to Heaven. Will you? This is something far too important, critical even, to leave to chance. You can have that assurance. But when you die it is too late. There is no purgatory. Purgatory, the word or the concept, does not exist in the Bible. Purgatory does not exist. When Jesus died on that cross 2,000 years ago, His last words were, "It is finished." That was it. He won't do it again. It is your choice whether or not to believe. Believe that when he suffered, it was in your place. When he took the wrath of God, it was the wrath intended for you. When he felt utterly abandoned by God, that was because God did look away. He cannot abide sin. Remember? He is Holy. He was rejecting your sin when Jesus felt rejected by Him.
Sometime later that summer: My mom and I went to the new Catholic church in our town. It was a beautiful building with grey bricks, unusual architecture, stained glass behind the altar and light throughout. After Mass we were sitting in Mom's car and we agreed that this was not the church for us. I think we might have discussed how warm the building looked but how it left us cold, figuratively speaking. Mom meant that she liked our downtown Catholic church better, but I meant Catholicism altogether. I told her then, "I don't think I'm a Catholic anymore." I know it made her sad. And in many ways it still makes me sad. I liked being a Catholic. I liked the cathedrals. I like the way the priest would chant. I liked the pomp and circumstance. I miss the incense. I miss Midnight Mass. I miss the culture. But I choose Jesus. I realize that He alone is my salvation. I choose the Bible. I realize that it alone contains the words of God.
When I die, I am, obviously, most looking forward to worshiping God. I am looking forward to asking Him questions and expressing to Him, however feebly and certainly unworthily, how incredibly grateful I am that 1)He gave me life, and 2)He gave His Son's life to save me. Something else I am looking forward to, though, is continuing the discussion with my brother-in-law that we started eleven years ago on Easter. I can't help but smile when I think of how differently it will go this next time around.