I’ve said it many times, but it’s worth saying again. One of the great things about Southern culture is its wonderful Christian heritage. Many who worship Jesus every Sunday morning do so because of the tenacious, loving prayer and devotion of Momma, Daddy, Mee-maw (grandmother) and Pee-paw (grandfather). In fact, many of us choose our denominational affiliations (or lack of) because of our heritage. I cannot count how many times someone has proudly proclaimed, “My daddy was a Christian, my grand-daddy was a Christian, and his daddy was a (insert favorite denomination here) minister”. We should be thankful that our parents and their parents loved us enough to raise us with an appreciation and love for God and His church. However, like with most good things, there is a potential pitfall, a spiritual cliff-edge.
Let me describe what I mean. I remember having a conversation with a fella at work one day about “church”. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but once I told him that I was getting ready to go to Bible college to prepare for ministry, a twinkle came in his eye and he began to tell me of his grand-daddy who was a popular evangelist who traveled all over the south preaching at revivals and youth meetings. I could tell that he was enormously proud of his grand-daddy, and that he probably learned a lot about “living right” from him.
However, as we continued to talk he eventually told me that he does not go to church anywhere regularly. I pressed to learn how, apart from church, he nurtured his personal relationship with God. As we talked, I began to see a disturbing picture that really broke my heart. He had come to think that his relationship with his grand-daddy somehow flowed over him. He thought that because his grand-daddy was a fine Christian, and that his momma and daddy raised him right, that he himself was a Christian. He came to believe that his Christian heritage assured him a place at God banqueting table in Heaven.
It was a good conversation, very friendly, and I didn’t change his mind on the matter right at that point. But over time, as my relationship with him grew, I prompted him with questions and discussion designed to make him evaluate his personal situation with Jesus, apart from his heritage. Despite hearing the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” hundreds of times throughout his life, he never really stopped to consider what it meant. He was never mentored through the process of nurturing and maturing a personal relationship with Jesus. I left for Bible college before seeing how things turned out, but I believe that the concept of relationship (rather than heritage) was beginning to take hold.
There is a dangerous cliff-edge that we southerners skirt. That cliff edge is this: the temptation to let our heritage – our fine Christian heritage – take the place of our own personal journey with Christ. We look fondly upon great memories of Sunday school and church picnics. We thumb through picture albums complete with photos of us dressed as a shepherd through countless children’s Christmas plays. We look around and see Southern hospitality at work in most of our neighbors. We hear, “thank you, ma’am,” and “Yes, sir,” and “After you, ma’am” as a fine young man holds the door open for a mother with her arms full of babies and baby things. We take pride in the fact that we can openly say, “Thank you, Jesus” without odd looks thrown our way.
But, I want to ask you something. Let’s assume that at the end of time, you are in a line of people making their way through the Pearly Gates. As you near those gates – considering the state of your relationship with Jesus at this very moment – would you and He be able to look back upon your life and see deep personal conversations with one another? Would you be able to recall a memory of a deep conversation with Him during the good times? Would you be able to recall a memory of deep conversation with Him through a bad time? I am not talking about superficial prayers that we are all guilty of – like 5 second “grace” before meals or the obligatory prayers in church (that we typically listen to rather than participate with). I am talking about conversations – conversations where you and Jesus get to know each other on increasingly more intimate levels – conversations that nurture and mature a connection – a very real and intimate personal connection – with God – the lover of our souls.
As I’m typing, I’m reminded of the debate over whether or not the doctrine of eternal security (once-saved, always-saved) is correct or not. Frankly, I think the very presence of that debate misses the point. Before we could ever address the “longevity” or “tenacity” of “salvation” we had better address the depth of our relationship with God, which is, after all, the universal indicator of salvation.
Matthew 25:11-12, the conclusion to the parable of the ten virgins, talks about some who will be knocking on Heaven’s doors. “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’” Some of us carry around our lamps – great lamps, passed down from our fathers’ fathers. But, we try to keep the lamp burning using the fuel that was already in the lamp as it was passed on. We need to bring our own fuel to keep that flame burning bright. Your grand-daddy’s relationship with Jesus is not your relationship with Jesus.