I am writing this little message with a particular situation in mind.
Over many years I have cared for a number of people approaching the end of their lives, many have never understood what a wonderful saviour Jesus is.
Some have had a negative experience of church from childhood, (I certainly remember as a child, that church services felt prolonged, and tedious, and certainly not fun. But some I have spoken to have had much worse experiences than this). If finding God meant you had to turn up to a church and try to enjoy something you’ve avoided most of your life, it just wouldn’t sit right, I’m guessing.
But the great news is that God is not limited to a church building on a Sunday morning. To have peace with God, you don’t actually need “organized religion”, for want of a better term.
God loves us so much that he sent his son Jesus, so that anyone who believes in him can have everlasting life. It is really that simple.
Do you want peace in your heart? Do you want a clean slate? Do you want to have all your sins forgiven? Do you want to be with Jesus, in heaven, when you leave this earth?
The thief on the cross next to Jesus, realized that Jesus was Lord, and asked him, even as they both were dying, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom”.
Jesus heard him and responded.
What did he say to him?
Did he say, well you should have attended church and gone to confession, and prayed more, and read your bible more, and helped the poor, and devoted your life to goodness?
Did he say, you’re a criminal, you made your bed, so now lie in it?
Did he say, you’re a hypocrite if you expect me to listen to you; you never gave me a passing thought, and now that you know you are dying, you want me to overlook everything you’ve ever done, and welcome you with open arms like the father of the prodigal son?
No, Jesus did not say any of that, though some of us might think that would be appropriate.
Instead, he said, without hesitation, “Today you will be with me in paradise”.
Just like that Jesus accepted the faith of this man, who clearly was moved by the character of Jesus who was crucified, though innocent, and had prayed “Father forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing”.
As far as I can tell, that criminal died and went to heaven without ever setting foot in a church building. Jesus paid the price for all his sin, on the cross.
This is the Jesus I love. This is the Jesus I trust. I believe he forgives us this freely. There is no other way, no other name, no other saviour, only Jesus.
Yes, I do go to church, and I love it, and I probably contribute to the boredom for younger children, but I go to church because I believe Jesus has treated me the same as that criminal.
If you would like to have a relationship with Jesus, don’t put it off, ask him now. Pray to him now, privately, ask him to forgive you, to be with you, to care for you, just like the criminal on the cross and every other person who has needed a saviour over the centuries. He is good and trustworthy and full of love and mercy. He will answer your prayer, and you can have peace with God right now, and heaven with Jesus in the hereafter. This is the paradise that Jesus promised, and God keeps his promises.