This is not the post that I originally wrote for today. I wrote one, but felt compelled - I have no other word - to write another instead.
This weekend, at least fifty people died in Florida in two shootings, one in a nightclub (the majority) one a single shooting somewhere else - a young singer with a promising career gunned down. (No, I am not going to discuss the whys and wherefores - that is for other sites and other discussions.)
My topic this morning is eternity.
I am willing to bet that every one of those people woke up on the morning of their death with not a thought in their mind that this day was going to be their last. They more than likely got up and went about their day as they did every day, with perhaps (like so many) a thought of the coming week or coming summer on their mind.
For them, eternity came all too soon.
I am burdened as I write tonight by the real sense that world is becoming far more chaotic, far more destruction oriented, than it has ever been my in my lifetime. Certainly some will say I am overreacting, that people have always said such things. And (I must concede the point) they are true.
But for fifty people, chaos and destruction engulfed them in a horrible moment.
Eternity is closer than we think. Seldom does one arise thinking "Today, tonight - perhaps at 7 PM - I will die". Seldom do we dwell on the awesome thought of what is after this life - or if we do, we think of it in generic terms we learned long ago or our ideas of what it should be like.
I am a Christian. I have (I hope) never made any claims otherwise or persuaded you who read and do not believe that I am either overly zealous or practice a false righteous. I am a flawed man - badly flawed - and have my own share of struggles and sins.
But I plead with you friends: be saved.
The best description of the Gospel I ever heard or read was from a book by Ben Patterson called Waiting: Finding Hope When God Remains Silent in which a friend of his, asked to explain the Gospel in 10 words or less said "We're all b_stards but God loves us anyway."
Harsh language (for me at least) but I do not, in this one instance, apologize for it. That is what a sinner is: a terrible, terrible bearer of evil who simply cannot, ultimately, do enough good for their salvation. We can try. We can pretend that we can earn our way into God's good graces (after all, is that not how the rest of life works?) or even pretend that He accepts our best efforts. But are sinners - dead, as it were, a corpse, unable to give ourselves (or anyone around us) life.
We cannot. But we do not have to.
The second part of the sentence states the miracle: but God loved us anyway. Loved us even though we as His creation rejected Him. Loved us so much that He paid the price - the sinless sacrifice - that we could not pay for ourselves.
"For God so loved the world that He sent is only Son into the world that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe in him is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Begotten Son of God." John 3: 16-17
"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles "Men and brothers, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them "Repent, every one of you, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." - Acts 2:37-38.
It is simple and yet so profound: Repent - turn away from both the sins (and every one of us has them, not only the ones common to all but the ones we love best) and your hope that you can, by your good deeds, earn your salvation. And believe - believe that Christ paid the price of your sins and that He is the Son Of God, The Lord and Saviour of the world.
I have no special knowledge, friends, and am hardly anything to bear such news. I am a broken man, a coward that too often hides behind a passive silence, a man who constantly struggles against his own sin and so often fails.
But there is a Heaven and Hell, a fate that awaits all of us. And Hell is not the picture of the fantasies that we have allowed ourselves to make it, merely a hot place where "Well, I'll at least be with all my buddies". It is a place of unending - eternal - torment, a place that humanity was never originally designed to go. (I would be remiss in the regard if I did not refer you to Jonathan Edwards sermon Sinners In The Hand Of An Angry God.)
My friends, you may think me simple in posting this, or over-reactionary. You may think me a religious kook or a simpleton believing fairy tales.
Life goes quickly. Even if you are young and feel that death and old age is a long way off, I can assure you that it is not. Time flies faster than the fleetest bird, running quicker than the antelope with the cheetah pursuing.
And ultimately, as 50 people found out this weekend, death finds us all and finds most of us unexpectedly and most likely unprepared. As I mentioned above, most of us do not rise from bed in the morning thinking that today will be our last day.
But today or 70 years hence, death will find us. There is no safe space from it, nowhere we can go to outrun it or hide from it. Eternity is closer for most of us than we think.
I pray you, friends, give heed to the eternal destination of your souls. Tomorrow is vouchsafed for none.