Daddy, What If . . . ?
It was the year 1958.
"After we die, do we all really have to stand before God?"
"Yes, son. The Bible says all of us will have to stand before God and answer for all we have done."
My heart pounded. I was nearly twelve years old, the "age of accountability". At least that was what most people in my church believed. But we were often told it could be far younger.
I shuddered inside, staring straight ahead as my dad and I drove down the highway. As the telephone poles, the fields and trees whizzed past us at sixty miles per hour, I hardly noticed them.
I glanced at my dad. As he steered the pickup he seemed . . . cheerful? He was whistling again. It was one of his favorite gospel songs, "Victory in Jesus".
"What if we do something wrong and get killed all of a sudden before we can ask forgiveness?"
"The Lord has to send us to hell, son. For no sin will enter heaven."
"But what if we fall on our knees and beg and plead for mercy and tell Him were really sorry and well never do it again?"
"Nope. It wont work, son. After this life, if you arent ready for heaven, youll have to spend eternity in the lake of fire. God loves you, son. But he hates sin, and the only time for forgiveness is now."
My dad continued whistling and I stared at the highway rushing toward and beneath us.
"Is Jesus coming soon?"
"Oh yes, I really believe He is, son. Dont you remember that newspaper headline I showed you back at the cafe where we ate? It said in big bold print: PEACE AND SAFETY. The Bible says that when men begin to declare peace and safety, sudden destruction will come."
"I wish I had never been born."
"I said, Im afraid Jesus will leave me behind with the antichrist and . . ."
"Not if youre living right, son. Jesus loves you. He will only send you to hell if youre sinning."
As I rode the last one hundred miles home, I was too young to question why my father seemed so cheerful. My mind was in agony.
Again and again, a throne the size of a mountain, occupied by a gigantic blazing angry being, loomed before me. I was like a flea in his presence.
"Depart from Me! You must burn forever with your father, the devil! I can never forgive you. Not ever! I love you, but there is no hope for you, Charles. You know what you have done . . ."
As the huge being thundered and pointed at me from His throne, I felt all cold, empty, and tingly inside. Stark terror seized me. Then sorrow beyond words swept over me as I wept and convulsed.
Off to the right of the mountain-throne the blazing being sat upon, I saw a huge lake of fire. Black smoke broiled up and formed a huge rolling cloud over the inferno of horror I gazed upon. I heard agonizing screams. I saw writhing bodies and my heart raced wildly as I heard hollow groans and moans impossible to describe. A strange force was tugging me toward it . . . tugging . . . tugging . . .
"Please, please, PLEASE dear Heavenly Father, dont you love me enough to help me? Please, God! Just one more chance, please . . ."
Off and upward to the left of the throne, somehow I noticed the sky was filled with beautiful angels and singing saints rejoicing. All was bliss. None of them seemed to care. Or maybe they just didnt notice what was happening to all the rest of us. Some were playing harps. Off in the remote distance, I thought I saw the Gentle Shepherd in a beautiful meadow. It was Him! He was holding hands with a little child and surrounded by other children. They were picking daisies.
"JESUS! Please, Lord will you help me? Oh, please Jesusplease," I sobbed. "I didnt ask to be born. Why, why do I have to burn forever?"
He looked up and smiled. Hope welled up inside mefor a moment. Then I realized that He had not even seen me. It was my mother and my little brother, Tony He was welcoming. As they ran toward Him, He hugged them both. Then my beautiful mother and little brother turned around and looked straight through me, with radiant smiles. As they joined the group in gathering daisies, I realized with horror that they never even saw me. In fact, somehow I knew they had no memory of my ever existing . . . I felt so heartbroken, so useless and empty. So paralyzed with fear.
"When the roll is called up yonder, when the roll is called up yonder, what a day of rejoicing that will be . . ."
My dad was now whistling that other song.
"What is it son?"
"What if were only having bad thoughts when the Lord comes, but were not doing anything wrong?"
"Well, son, the Bible says its as bad to commit a sin in your heart as it is to be doing it with your body. Why are you asking?"
"Oh, I was just wondering . . . What if a person just jumped under a train and killed himself . . . I mean, at a time when he wasnt thinking or doing sinful things. Would he go to heaven then?"
My dad grinned and shook his head. He could never cease to be amazed by all my questions.
"Thats called suicide, Charles. Thats the sin of murdering yourself. Only God can give or take life. People who commit suicide have to spend eternity in hell because they know what theyre doingeven if they beg for forgiveness while theyre doing it. If they were really sorry they wouldnt do it."
"I dont think Im ever going to make it to heaven . . ."
"Oh, I was just thinking . . ."
My wonderful dad had no idea the impact that conversation made on my young heart. My father loved God. He was generous, good-hearted, industrious, sometimes a bit impatient and nervous (wonder why??) but I never doubted he loved me.
Not that I never got a lickin from him. (I probably deserved more than I got!) My dad was a good father so he corrected me. But he also bought me toy airplanes and trains at Christmas and never forgot my birthday. He often led me in bedtime prayers and tucked me in and kissed me goodnight. And he never held grudges. In fact, my dad was a classic "½ Sanguine, ½ Choleric" personality. Twenty minutes after he had "exploded", he wouldnt even remember having been angry. HA! He couldnt imagine why everyone else around him still seemed so grumpy and edgy and somber . . . And my father had a wonderful sense of humor. He was the life of any party.
How could he have believed the mystifying horrors he said he believed about our heavenly Father? I dont think he did, really. Not in his heart. My mother could say better than I, but I cant recall my dad ever expressing any great grief and despair about his sins or his imperfections. Not to say he didnt at times. But the point is that as a child, my impression was that my father didnt seem very worried about his heavenly destiny.
Interesting, isnt it? Only an hour after the most unspeakable horrors about God had been thundered from the pulpit in our church (all in love, of course) we would all be happily gossipingor else bickeringover a meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and peach cobbler.
Oh yes, I could do that (dismiss the dismal "God-thoughts"poof!) as well as other Pentecostal Christians. That is, until bedtime . . .
Then . . . all the demons would come out to haunt me. It was then I would blink tearfully many, many nights while I would try to remember every sin I had committed and beg that it be forgiven. Every single one. For God only forgives and cleanses the sins we confess, according to the Bible. "So I must remember all of them," I kept reminding myself, "or else Jesus may come and Ill be left behind." So . . .
While multiplied millions of other "worldly" children living on earth counted sheep to drift off to sleep, I was tearfully counting my sins . . . pleading for forgiveness . . . counting my sins . . . pleading . . .
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world,
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
They are precious in his sight? Yes they are precious, that is, until they turntwelve.
WHAT IS SPIRITUAL ABUSE?
Thats the point of this message. During my childhood, my family and I suffered intense spiritual abuse in our thirst to know the Lord Jesus Christ and experience His love and power. Well-meaning, but misguided, people applied Scripture in waysrepeatedlythat were warped, hope-destroying, cruel and horrifying. God was presented as "loving and kind" while at the same time wrathful, vengeful, and monstrous. We were told that He subjected the soft skin of His children to fiery torture forever and everwhile we were also toldthat He was beautiful, loving and good beyond all description. We were also told that we must love Him with all of our hearts, even though at any moment, He might turn us or our loved ones over to the devil forever! For unless we loved and trusted Him with all of our heart, our obedience was only hypocrisy. And we all know what happens to hypocrites.
Furthermore, we must observe the following rules to be ready for heaven:
And those were just some of the rules! Have you been abused by man-made rules? Or, in some fashion, have you been required to make a greater commitment toward God or the church than people have said that the Lord is willing or able to make toward you?
We can avoid spiritual abuse much of the time if were alert to how it operates. Spiritual abuse will always:
The message of the Good News of Christ is altogether different from all that appears above. The truth is, we go all the way for GodbecauseHe is forever committed to go all the way for us. We love because He first loved us.
Christ tells us that there is no greater love than this: that a Man lay down His life for His friends. Think about it! Even though our Lord knew we were His enemies, He prophesied us all to become His friends. Wow . . . isnt that beautiful? None of us chose Jesus Christ. He chose us! The Good Shepherd "came and found us" after the Holy Spirit prepared our circumstances and hearts so we would yearn for Him and receive Him as Lord and Savior. Sobottom lineChrist is the Alpha and Omega, the A and the Z, the Beginning and the End of our faith. We did nothing to deserve His coming, and we can do nothing to deserve His rejection or to provoke Him to abandon us. For God never starts a work and leaves it unfinished. Love always succeeds, and it never fails or abandons.
We all know, of course, that our Lord trains us. He also corrects us when we need it. And sometimes when He leads us into a season of intense training, we feel that He has left us. But Sovereign Holy Love Himself simply does not know how to give up or cease loving, caring, helping, and giving.
"Every sacrifice," our Lord assures us, "will be seasoned with fire." So when we find ourselves in the scorching desert of fiery testings, we need to remember that:
Is there anything that hurts worse than being kicked when youre already down? Thats what spiritual abuse (alias: "ministry" or "truth") always does. Spiritual abuse always points an accusing finger and keeps spouting off words when friendship and comfort are needed. Without fail, abusive spirituality always employs tactics of high pressure and shame. And such bogus spirituality can always trump up ten thousand handy Scripture texts to "justify" its condemning judgments. You can count on it. But our Good Shepherds burden is light. Its the burden of a warm blanket laid gently upon a frail body, shivering with cold. Christs burden always nurtures and heals. Religions burden always threatens, nags and harasses.
Perhaps today you are like I was as a twelve year old boy. Youve been doing everything in your power to please the Lord Jesus. Yet, nothing ever seems to be enough. Somehow, somewhere, the cruel lie was planted in your aching heart that God will give up on youunlessyou line up. Immediately! Unconsciously, you believe that Infinite Holy Love Himself has "limits" to His compassion.
So the more you scramble to pull yourself together the more disabled you become. And there seems to be no way out of the howling wilderness of weakness you are suffering in at present. Failure seems to hound your every step.
May I tell you a secret? You are in a good place. It is when we are weakest that Christs power comes through in greatest splendor. Why has He allowed you to fall into this pit? To feel so humiliated, so helpless? His agenda is to WIN YOUR TRUST. Thats why Hes allowed it. For He will soon show up in all of His colors and snatch you out, as a brand from the hearth. (And watch out, devil! When He does, youre in for it!)
When your Strong Deliverer does this workand only He can do ityour faith will be only in Him and not in yourself. And you will be a mighty healing liberator in His Kingdom!
The lie of conditional love must die, or we cannot live. The illusion that the works of the law can liberate us must shatter before we can find healing in Gods loving nurture. The "God loves you, but" message that dares call itself "the gospel" must bite the dust so our Lord can be the Good News to all of us that He is. Idolatry of human opinion and religious tradition must perish so Christ can be formed in us. Lets pray together, shall we?
Weve believed so many lies about You. Tradition has taught us that evil triumphs and love fails. Religion has brainwashed us cruelly. It has perverted and subverted Your Holy Word in such a way that we often lose sight of Your loving heart.
Lord, will you please forgive those who have abused us? And please forgive us for any lies weve believed or passed on to others in frustration or ignorance. From now on, we want You to show us Your heart and teach us Your ways. Visit us with dreams and visions in the night. Ravish us with your love, and flood our hearts with hope. Let your joy become our strengththis momentin the Name of Christ Jesus, our Strong Deliverer. Amen.
Back in the fifties and early sixties, we Pentecostals still observed the tradition of "testimony time". It usually happened on the heels of an exuberant "song service" on a Sunday or Wednesday night.
The pastor would say, "Does anyone here have a testimony of how the Lords blessed you this week?" Then various people in our small congregation would stand up and testify. Each time it was nearly always the same ones who rose to speak, and we teenagers all knew (nearly word for word!) what each of them was going to say.
My dad was always among the first three who stood up. Often he was the first one on his feet. My sisters and I felt a little embarrassed about it in those days. Sometimes we exchanged grins as we quietly repeated ahead of him each word we already knew he was going to speak.
I can still see Daddys face as I write these words. It is radiant, smiling, filled with joy and conviction. As usual, his eyes are moist. And, as usual, no one has any trouble hearing him either! And as usual, with no comment or introduction comes the announcement:
Then my father would continue to share from memory, sometimes all, sometimes his favorite verses, from Romans, chapter eight. These final words he nearly always spoke still ring in my ears with the sound of his voice:
Now I see it, so wonderfully see it. My dad left a legacy with us that transcended the shallow religious legalisms we all had learned. Every opportunity he got, Dow Slagle rose up and announced the "magna carta" of the Christian faith! His heart knew the truth. Daddys spirit knew the heart of God. And, somehow my dad had learned not to walk in the flesh. That is, not to focus on perfecting his flesh. He had learned, as the apostle Paul puts it, to "walk in the Spirit". In other words, he had come to rely on Gods Spirit to free him from his frailties as he simply lived and communed with the Lord.
In 1985 the Lord Jesus Christ, along with my dads mother and his youngest sister appeared at my fathers bedside in his hospital room.
"Your mother and your sister and I have come to take you home."
"Is it time, Lord?"
"It is if you would like for it to be. But if you prefer, we can wait, and we will come back for you in a few months. Son, all is ready when you are."
My youngest sister, Tish, was in the room watching as this conversation between my dad and his invisible visitors occurred.
Daddy was mumbling sounds she couldnt make out as he nodded and seemed to converse with someone he could see but she could not.
"Well, Lord, I am tired. If you dont mind, I think Ill just go home now."
The Lord smiled. Dads mom and little sister beamed with delight and hugged each other.
"Come!" The Lord reached out and Daddy rose up and grasped His hand and stood up and wept in the embrace of his three heavenly visitors. Then, they turned and ascended a glistening stairway that led them upward through the left ceiling corner of the room.
Is that how it really happened? To the best of my memory, it is. For by the Spirit, the Lord gave me a "sneak preview" of my dads departure a few months before it occurred. All that my sister beheld in our dads last moments coincides exactly with the vision that came to me earlier. First, his eyes were fixed on the upper left ceiling corner of the room. Then he was talking to someone at the left side of his bed. A few moments later Daddy rose up in a seizure, bending forward, and then fell backwards into his pillow andhe was gone.
In my earlier years, my father, on occasion, may have dutifully quoted the harsh legalisms our church was proclaiming. One reason he may have done it was in the hope that he could spare me the heartache that years of sin had caused him. But my dads faith-roots reached far more deeply into God than I knew. He was persuaded that God is love, and love means COMMITMENT. Are you?
Can you count on God when you cant count on yourself? Can you trust Him with your frailties, your weaknesses, your unforeseen willful and stubborn acts of stupidity, your failures? Your bad tomorrows as well as your good ones?
If you cannot, you have yet to understand the heart of God and the good news of the gospel. But you will. For all who seek shall find.