The question echoed through my mind with a dull empty sound -- Are you telling me I've been serving the devil? But each time the words replayed, they tore at me like a leopard tearing the flesh of a fresh kill.
Kind eyes met mine. Softly Pastor Riggs asked, "Is it me that's been telling you anything?"
I sighed again. "No. No, it's not you. It's the Bible." I stood up abruptly and paced back and forth in front of the flower beds. "It's not you. Most of it I've studied at home by myself." I continued pacing ... back and forth ... back and forth. "I don't know, I said more to myself than to Pastor Riggs. "I just don't know."
After a long silence, Pastor Riggs said, "Learning more truth isn't always easy. I know. I struggled too. Man, did I struggle."
I stopped at the corner of the flower bed. "What difference does it make what I believe?"
Pastor Riggs inhaled deeply. "Christianity is not just a system of beliefs. It's a personal friendship with God." He looked out over the pasture next door. "Beliefs are like a foundation. If you're building a skyscraper and the foundation is tipped slightly, by the time you get to the fortieth floor, you have a major problem." He paused. "The problem with believing wrongly about God and basic truth is that it distorts the character of God."
A battle raged in my mind. "But ... does it really matter?"
"I think it does. At the basis, every true doctrine shows that God is love. False beliefs tempt us to think that God is not loving. If we believe that, we end up choosing Satan's principles. And when we live by Satan's principles, we share his unhappiness and, in the end, we'll share his death."
"I just don't know." I groaned. "It'd change everything!"
"Besides, if I've been serving the devil practically my whole adult life, God probably wouldn't even want me."
After another long silence, Pastor Riggs said, "There's a text we've talked about before -- 1.John 1:9, 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness' except stealing cars."
"No, it doesn't say that."
"All unrighteousness except murder?"
"All unrighteousness except following all the truth you knew?"
"No. There's no 'except.'"
"You're so right, Jay. All covers everything ... including whatever you've done in the last twenty years."
"I don't know. I just don't know." I glanced at my watch. "It's nearly midnight. I've got to go."
The ride home was a frustrating mental review of the evening. Next day, I worked longer than needed -- as long as I concentrated on work I didn't think about issues of eternity... at least not much. That evening news, sitcom, movie -- nothing -- kept my mind from the Bible.
"OK, OK," I finally groused. I clicked off the TV and grabbed Bible and study materials. I had to be overlooking something! I would find it!
Each evening I delved into my Bible. Even if I forgot about reincarnation, could so many Bible-believing Christians misunderstand what happens when a person dies? I prayed before I studied, as I studied, and at odd hours when thoughts of the subject interrupted sleep or work. I read entire chapters in the Bible, sometimes several chapters, around the texts listed in the study guide. I compared text with text. I scanned whole books of the Bible.
One evening the thought came again that Jesus, while human, was our example in everything. And what happened to Him? He lived, He died, He was buried, He was resurrected. He didn't go to heaven between His death and resurrection. He told Mary He hadn't.
After Lazarus died -- when Jesus told Martha, "Thy brother shall rise again," Martha responded, "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." [John 11:23, 24] She didn't say she'd meet him in heaven when she died. She fully believed in resurrection at the end of the world.
It had been easy to say I wanted truth when I agreed with what I learned. It hadn't been bad when I'd learned a few things where I needed to make slight adjustments. But now? When what I was learning was 180 degrees from the bedrock of my belief system?
One day while I was training a new salesperson, she spoke about her involvement with a psychic. As she spoke, I saw warning flags. Bits and pieces of my studying fit together. "You do know, don't you, that messages can come from either good or evil sources?"
"Hey, they work. Doesn't that prove they're OK?"
"No. The devil can give predictions and then make some things happen," I answered. "And when it's him, the end results aren't good."
"I don't care where they come from."
"But the devil doesn't care about you as a person," I persisted. "He wants to hurt God. He wants to cause you misery. He'll do good things for a while to get you hooked, then he'll turn on you."
"What makes you think that?"
"Well, for one thing, I used to use a pendulum. When I first started, it worked for me every time. Answer any question I'd ask it. After I started depending on it, though, it started telling me 'I don't know' or 'I won't tell you' most of the time. I also learned it would lie if its intelligence didn't think the person could handle the truth. That's the problem with the devil. You think he's on your side but, come to find out, he's a plant from the other team, working against you."
She waved me to silence. "Save your breath."
"Would you do just one thing?" I asked.
"Remember what I've said. You may need it someday."
She snickered. "Oh, yeah. Sure."
I couldn't believe her reaction. During the hour-long drive home that evening, I pondered our discussion and the things I'd been studying. When I walked in my living room, my eyes were drawn to the bookcase. I sensed a question: "What is the source of your books?"
The NewAge books. Theyiˇe NOT from God.
"Do you want something in your home that will deceive you?"
My mind went numb. My heart pounded in my chest. I struggled to breathe. Those books had shaped my thinking through the last twenty-plus years. They had guided my decisions. They had determined the way I lived. They had been a part of the way I treated people. They had helped me find friends. They were my friends.
Those books reminded me of the spiritual fellowship with the study group in Selma. They brought back all the love and respect I felt for Edgar Cayce. They drew me back to my friendship with Hugh Lynn Cayce and Gladys Davis.
"But do you want something in your home that will deceive you?"
A heavy weight settled over me. I clenched my fists and shook my head. "I can't throw them out! I can't do it!"
I picked up one foot like a huge, lead weight. Then the other foot. The twelve feet to the bookcase seemed like three miles.
I raised my hand to the highest shelf, plucked out a New Age book, turned it around, and slid it back into place with its spine facing: backwards. One by one I turned each NewAge book around. When I had finished, about three-fourths of the books in the bookcase showed bared page edges rather than the spines of book covers.
That night I prayed and tried to fit what I was learning about death, hell, resurrection, and Jesus' second coming together into one big picture.
When a person dies, they go to sleep. Their breath returns to God. Their body goes to the grave. They cease to exist. They receive new life when everyone is resurrected, as Jesus was.
After the final judgment, everyone, including those who have followed Satan's deceptions, will acknowledge that God's ways are right.
Satan and his followers will be destroyed in hell's fire. But even that shows love. Those who have chosen Satan's selfish ways would be miserable in a place where all is love and peace. But God does not torture sinners. Hell's fire burns hot and fast. So hot that sinners are burned up. Essentially, they're cremated. Their ashes have no thoughts, no feelings. The person simply ceases to exist.
The people in heaven will cry -- they'll miss those who chose not to accept God's gift of salvation. But God will wipe their tears away. Then they'll live joyfully with God and each other throughout eternity.
Sin and suffering will never happen again. Everyone spending eternity with God will know that sin causes pain and suffering. They'll remember, every time they see the scars in Jesus' hands, that sin cost God His life. They'll remember that separating oneself from God brings death. They'll know that God's ways bring peace and joy, freedom and life.
Slowly I realized that what God said in the Bible made even more sense than reincarnation. But I'd grown to love and respect the patient and loving god of reincarnation. How could I turn my back on him?
I longed for the ease of the philosophy of reincarnation that said time waited for me. That no choices would keep me away from God. That bad choices would just mean it would take more lifetimes to get to the heavenly plane. I could make my decision to follow God now or many lifetimes from now.
But the Bible didn't teach that. The Bible said I chose my destiny in one life.
"So why should I accept the Bible rather than New Age books?" I asked aloud. But I knew the answer before I finished the question. I'd been through that earlier. The Bible was clear, had proved itself over centuries, did not contradict itself. I'd been through the arguments for and against it. I knew it was God's Word.
I thought again about what I'd heard a television evangelist say years before. "A Christian minister and a New Age advocate were discussing their destiny. Finally, the New Age advocate asked, 'So, what if I'm right and you're wrong?' 'That wouldn't be a problem for me,' the Christian minister said. 'If reincarnation is right, I'll figure that our after I die and change my beliefs.' After a pause, he asked, 'But what happens if I am right?'"
Now, I whispered the answer, "It's the end. There is no second chance."
Suddenly a thought struck me with power. I heard no voice. I just knew with certainty, "What you have been studying is truth."
A sinking feeling washed over me. My head pounded. My hands turned cold and clammy.
"Try the spirits!" my mind quoted from the Bible. I won't listen to voices, to impressions, to anything unless it agrees with Scripture!
My heart raced.
"It does agree with Scripture," I whispered. "I've studied it. I've searched the whole Bible. When I put every Bible text and every Bible story together, there's no question. Death is a sleep. The alarm clock doesn't ring till the resurrection at the end of the world."
Shivering I stood, then paced the living room. I glanced at the backwards New Age books on the shelf as I paced by. I got a drink of water, washed dishes, and paced some more. I marched to the convenience store for fruit juice, then returned to wear a deeper track in the living room carpet.
"It is truth!" I finally shouted toward the ceiling. Then I collapsed into the love seat. "What am I going to do with it?"
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