After more than three decades of church ministry, I have come to one unsettling conclusion. Actually, I've come to more than one conclusion, but this one is the most depressing.
That conclusion is simply this: all who say they are going to Heaven are not actually on the right path, going in the right direction. Most, of course, have the best intentions, but good intentions don't make up for going in the wrong direction.
Our government insists advertisers adhere to what they call "truth in advertising." I would like to insist on something I call "truth in testimony." By that, I mean what people say about themselves should be the truth. If this could ever be enacted by Congress, some people will have to say, "I'm not a Christian, but I play one on Sunday."
I've always thought of it this way, if you're not a Christian on Saturday night, you're not a Christian on Sunday morning, which may be the ultimate test. Christianity is not a time-sensitive lifestyle turned on Sunday morning and expiring by nightfall.
Christianity is not like St. Patrick's Day, where for that one day everyone is Irish. Also, Christianity is not like a part-time job you take to make ends meet.
For example, take a guy who was in my office one day last month. I never saw him before and didn't know him from Adam. He saw our church, he said, as he was driving by and thought he would stop in and visit. "You have a real nice church here, reverend," he praised.
As soon as I saw him, I knew what he was after. His job was to see how much of my money and the church's money he could put into his pocket. My job, of course, was to make his job impossible.
I've played this game before and, not bragging, I've become rather good at it. Not that I have not lost my share of games, for I have. But after losing hundreds of dollars to scoundrels, I've learned how to play the game.
The key to winning is never letting your guard down, and more importantly, never allow your opponent to suck you into his sympathy scam. One man actually brought with him a little girl he pawned off as his daughter.
Looking into her big brown eyes my hand automatically went to my wallet. I'm sorry to say I lost that one and later found out the little girl was not his daughter.
This man in my office, let's call him "Ralph," had a different scheme. He was trying to impress me with how good a Christian he really was. Although he may not have been a good Christian, he sure knew how to tell a good line. All along, he was trying to impress me that he really knew God.
I could tell Ralph knew God about as well as I knew the President of the United States. It was then an idea hit me.
While he talked to me, I was trying to figure out how I could convince him that he really didn't know God. Sure, he knew a lot of things about God and could quote a bushel full of Bible verses as though that would impress me. Entrance into heaven is not contingent upon impressing some preacher.
I knew Ralph really did not know God personally. My problem was to persuade him of that fact.
It's almost like someone who smokes cigarettes trying to convince someone who doesn't smoke that they don't smoke. The smoker does not smell the smoke but the non-smoker smells it right away. Similarly, I can readily tell when someone doesn't know God personally.
As we were talking, an idea came to mind. Ralph was sitting across my desk from me and between us was my telephone. So I said to Ralph, "Do you know the President of the United States?"
Ralph looked at me a little perplexed with this question out of the blue and said, "Sure, I do. It's George W. Bush."
"Great," I said pushing the telephone towards him, "use my telephone and call him for me."
He laughed and pushed the telephone back.
Thrusting the phone back toward him I said, "You do know the President of the United States, don't you?"
He laughed a nervous little chuckle. "The president of the United States is George W. Bush." Then he shoved the phone back toward me.
"You know him?" I persisted. As he nodded in the affirmative, a worried look embraced his face. I could see he didn't quite understand what I was getting at.
"Ralph," I explained, "you may know who the President of the United States is and you may know a lot about him. But you don't know George W. Bush enough to call him on the phone."
People who say they know God only know things about God. People who say they know Jesus Christ only know things about him. If you don't know God enough to reach Him when you need Him, you don't know Him at all.
I like the Apostle Paul's testimony. He said, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;" (Philippians 3:10 KJV.)
A friend of mine has a favorite saying that he likes to quote; "Either Jesus is Lord of all or he is not Lord at all." That about sums up the whole matter.