Religion Ruins, Grace Restores: A Tribute to Our Beloved Son
Firehouse Chronicle #4
Richard and Deborah
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”
He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we have done, but because of His own compassion and mercy, by the cleansing of the new birth (spiritual transformation, regeneration) and renewing by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5 AMP).
At the beginning of 2019, we traveled to visit our son and his wife, who live in another state. We arrived in their city around lunchtime. We called and asked for their recommendation as to what we could pick up for all of us to eat. They recommended we pick up subs at Firehouse. They did not know anything about our history with Firehouse or any of the content of our writing. (This book was still a work in progress at that time.) My husband and I were excited about their recommendation of Firehouse. We wondered if we might have a fourth kind of encounter.
Our time in the restaurant was uneventful. However, just getting Firehouse had me on alert and asking for God to speak to us. Consequently, I feel like we were more sensitive to what the Lord might be doing, through the leading of His Holy Spirit. It even caused me to think back to that very morning’s conversation that I had with my husband.
My husband and I shared something with each other that we had never shared before. It was something we were each experiencing at the same time but without the other knowing about the depth of our respective experiences until we voiced them. We surprised each other. I don’t recall who shared first, however, the substance of our sharing was the fact we both were concerned about, and fragile regarding, our serious heart and health issues. We were both reflecting on the possibility of death. Neither of us knew what the other was experiencing, though. I felt we had both aged significantly because of our individual conditions. This was a significant part of our mindset as we met with our son and our daughter in law, at their home.
After we had eaten our subs, our son asked us to watch a movie with him called “Seven Pounds”. We had no idea what the movie was about, just that our son had seen it before and liked it and thought we would also. Our son did not know anything about the discussion that my husband and I had that very morning.
The movie began with the main character, Ben, narrating “How God created the world in seven days, and how he (Ben) managed to destroy his own in seven seconds”. From that point, the mystery was on. As we watched the movie, there was a definite connection for us with our morning conversation! The movie ended with “the giving of a heart for the life of another” (literally). It was a deep movie with lots of emotion and sadness. It was not a predictable movie at all. It took us most of the movie to really figure out what was happening. Ben had a dark secret in his past that compelled him to commit seven significant acts of “kindness”. He did this through self-sacrifices, to change the lives of seven people. Ben handpicked these seven as he felt they were both “worthy” and “good”. The theme of restitution and working to forgive oneself by trying to make up for the debt owed due to one’s actions and consequences, is an underlying, yet unspoken, foundational part of the movie.
After the movie, our son asked us how we liked it. My response was basically that I understood and identified with Ben. “I get it! I have lived that way to some degree myself. It is hard for a person to forgive themselves. It has been hard for me to forgive myself.” (I knew our son knew that the Gospel message but like me, I wondered how much we really received and lived it: the forgiveness of God is free to all who believe (John 3:16-17). Eternal forgiveness cost God His Son's death and was secured by Christ's resurrection.)
When it was all said and done, the movie brought the following to our minds, which we believe created the substance of God’s teaching us in Firehouse Chronicle #4:
1. Sometimes we get to the end of life (or the end of a hallway, see below) and the end result is not what we expect or thought it would be. The path we have taken has ended and it is a path we regret to have taken.
This reminded me of a serious blunder I made with this very son when he was still at an impressionable age, in about middle school. We attended a church play together. I should say, I pushed him to go with me. He did not want to go. (This was my first mistake— being a bully about religion.) Anyway, we got to the play, which was called “Heaven’s Gates or Hell’s Flames”. It was an evangelistic drama.
There was a long line to enter the Church to see the play, and my son did not want to wait. It was not like me to cut a line and I am ashamed to admit it but I said,“Let’s go this way!” I saw another hallway into the Church and there was no line at all. Guess what, there was a reason why there was no line down the hallway that I was taking us. Taking that hallway caused us to miss the entire play. You see, the line that we were in originally, was a line that passed through the church along a specific path. At various points in the church along that path, various scenes in the play were presented, with the ultimate scene being the Cross of Christ. The way that I took us, completely bypassed the entire play, most importantly the Cross of Christ! We got to the end of the play, without having experienced the Cross at all. I had cheated my son of really seeing and experiencing the Cross of Christ, the real way to Heaven’s Gates. I feel grief just thinking of the error and wrong path and modeling I lived to our son. I realize in hindsight I was living “my way,” down the wrong hallway, bypassing Christ and His Cross in my life at that time! I was determined to show our sons the way to Jesus but showed them the wrong way and missed Jesus at times!
This brings home the importance that as we witness to others, we do not want to guide them on a path that will bypass the cross of Christ. A life without Christ is meaningless and does not allow for the forgiveness of sins, thus it lacks any eternal value. Those taking a path that does not lead to the Cross may think they are doing just fine and avoiding problems, even paying their own debts, but it is a dead end path.
2. The sense of what is right and wrong is within all of us. We all know this instinctively. Further, when there is a wrong, our inner sense of justice demands that the wrong be made right. Since these senses were placed in our heart by our Heavenly Father, we should know that we need Him to be involved in every attempt to make a wrong, right. If our heart is misguided in these actions, by not seeking God’s will and direction, there is no eternal value no matter how good the actions may appear to the world. Without God, we, ourselves, become the god overseeing the actions and that can never be the best way. We want and need the One that is omniscient and omnipotent. Why would we seek to have anyone else as our Guide?
This movie gave us the awareness that the greatest wrong in our individual lives is the wrong we have committed against God. Ben in the movie recognized the wrong he had committed against his fellow man, and he was absolutely and completely driven to make it right. It would be our hope that we all see the truth about the wrong that we have committed against God and our fellowman by our disobedience and pride and then with that realization and conviction, be moved to restitution and seek restoration with the Father and then others as needed. However, no matter how much drive we have, the only way to the Father is through the Son, Jesus Christ. May our drive be to repent of our sin, accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and recognize what He did for us on the Cross. May we have the drive to follow that path and be used by God to help many others to join us.
It is evident to me that Ben did not understand God’s way of making people right with Himself: “For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law” Romans 10:3 NLT.
We can never pay back our sin debt to God. It is too great. Christ is the only One who can pay that debt and He did. If we try on our own and never receive what was fully given to us as a gift, we could die in vain without the true forgiveness and gift we were offered. The movie was grievous in that Ben did not know or rely on God’s forgiveness! It reminded me of myself in my past, going about doing good but missing the Good that was done for me and offered to me through Christ. Once we have received the payment for our debts and the forgiveness of our sins…we have the greatest gifts on earth through the greatest treasure on earth: Jesus Christ! The magnitude of God’s forgiveness is astounding! Such Good News! Our forgiveness has been (past tense) fully paid by Christ! We need not try to pay! We never could fully pay. Biblically, it is totally impossible to atone for our own sins through our actions! This is the Good News of Jesus! It inspired me to want to shout out Christ’s great gift of forgiveness. To warn people not to live like Ben but live forgiven because of Christ.
We learned so much from Firehouse Chronicle #4. A main goal in writing this book became to help people truly understand GRACE in CHRIST's death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins! We hope to encourage the reader to consider the magnitude of God's Love in dying on any whosoever who will believe and then truly reflect upon and seek guidance from his/her relationship with the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The richness that is available to all of us by way of this relationship, is boundless. We truly believe in Romans 8:28 that God can work good in all things in our life, if we love Him and are called according to His purpose. We can gain from every experience if we earnestly seek Him - every experience! We can then begin to be used by the Lord to witness and share with others. This witness must be founded on the truth of what Christ has done though. There are definitely many times when we can move forward in doing what may seem good and right, but if we do not do these things as unto the Lord, and to honor and glorify his wonderful Name, then our actions really have no eternal value.
Dear LORD, help us know Christ’s atonement is enough! Help us give up trying to self-atone. Help us recognize the futility of “trying to earn forgiveness”. Help us to look to You for direction as to how to go back and make amends to those we have harmed as You lead us. Help us recognize restitution is Biblical (Leviticus 24:17-21; Numbers 5:6-7; Luke 19:8-9 and other verses). Help us ask for forgiveness from You and others when needed. We want to open our hearts. Help us “give our hearts” if you lead, to be vessels for You, Lord, so others can live: not to attempt to earn salvation for ourselves but to show the salvation/gospel message in real time living! Real love sacrifices. Real love gives of self for the good of another. Real love is giving love for the other person’s good not for selfish reasons. Real love is Christ-like. Real love changes the world. Real love is God honoring and not self honoring. Let us be a world changer, please LORD! LORD help our lives SHOUT Your forgiveness and love all because of JESUS! In Jesus Name, Amen.