My Grandpa was a country parson. Dad is a village pastor too. So it is something I understand and love. It is a part of my earliest memories. When I was a little boy we lived in a wonderful farmhouse, near Wayland, Michigan, which was loaned to the church for a parsonage. It was a big bungalow-style house surrounded by barns, a chicken-house and other outbuildings, a working windmill, and a lane trailing back to a mysterious wood. A huge coal furnace in the basement warmed the house. The massive furnace always fascinated me probably because Dad once used it to illustrate the horrors of eternity away from God. He opened the big door and said; “Can you imagine suffering in fire for all eternity?” Those kinds of things tend to stick in your mind. Not all my memories are so sobering.
We had some cats. One of them always jumped into the food when we fed them, which irritated my Dad. We had a hyperactive dog named Tippy who was black with a bit of white on the tip of one of his paws. He chased the school bus every morning and sat wagging his tail waiting for me to get off in the afternoon.
We had a tire swing hanging from a massive hardwood out toward the road. Dad played with us a lot and named the games like he names everything else. I loved “Tear the Giant Down” which usually cost Dad an old T-shirt. In the winter we would go to the basement with Dad and play “Bash your Head In” a simple game of catch with a playground ball so named because it usually resulted in mild head injuries. I say mild but the injuries must have been severe enough to knock the sense out of us because we continued to play it. Spring must have been a relief to my mother, when we would all finally take our games outdoors. We also had the four seasons in Michigan always unfolding a new adventure.
Once, if I remember right it was on a Saturday morning, I hitched a ride to town with my Dad. I was about six so he was about thirty. He may have been going to the church to run the bulletin. On the way he was distracted by a sign offering fresh eggs for sale. We followed the road to the lane and then drove back to a yellow farmhouse shaded by big trees. I waited in the car. Dad said he would be right back. He wasn’t. That is a part of the deal when you are the son of a country pastor. Conversations will spring up wherever you go and waiting is something you get good at. When finally Dad waved goodbye to the old couple there was a spring in his step as he bounded off their back porch and jogged to the car.
He described to me what happened in the house. While visiting with the couple the conversation turned to spiritual matters. Dad had asked them a question I have heard him ask hundreds of people; “Do you know for sure, if you died today, that you would go to heaven?”
The Apostle John, and close friend and a disciple of Jesus wrote; “These things have I written unto you that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). Dad always liked to ask people directly if they knew that they had eternal life. They were not sure so Dad sat at their table and showed them a series of verses from a little New Testament that he always carried in his back pocket. Dad usually used some verses from the book of Romans to show people four things:
1. Every man and woman on earth is a sinner. (Romans 3:10, 23)
2. The price on sin is eternal punishment in hell. (5:12, 6:23a;)
3. Jesus died to pay the death penalty for sinners. (6:23b, 5:8)
4. Eternal life is a gift to those who trust in Jesus death and life. (10:9,13)
When he finished explaining the Bible way of salvation to the dear old couple tears were running down their faces. He led them in a brief prayer for salvation and joy came to the old farmhouse. Dad left with eggs and left them with the assurance of eternal life.
While we drove down the country road to the church Dad told me something I have always remembered. He said when he the couple finished praying and dried their eyes he got up to leave, the old farmer stood up and pulled his wallet from his pocket. “Well, Reverend,” he said, “what do we owe you?”
Dad taught him his first lesson as a new Christian. He explained to him that salvation is a gift so priceless that no amount of money in the world could buy it. It was purchased with the blood of the Jesus God’s only Son. So paying for it would be impossible. That is a part of the joy of the Christian life. Eternal life is a gift bought and paid for by Jesus. We could never pay for it. But the gift of Salvation inspires a thousand giving acts in the hearts of his children.