How To Live Forever
© Copyright 2011
How To Live Forever
Not too long ago an old friend of mine and I were fishing on Hayden Lake. Of course, as fishing buddies will do, we’d been swapping stories and laughing about dumb things we two old guys had done lately. We’d been out since early morning and had caught several nice rainbow trout. It was close to noon and Bill had just poured the last of the coffee from the thermos. I glanced at him and his face looked a little white. He sat the coffee down and held a hand to his chest.
“You okay, Bill?” I asked.
“It’ll pass,” he said. “It’s my old heart. Chest pains again. I‘m sure I’ll be all right as soon as I take a couple of my nitroglycerin tablets. I’ve wrestled with this angina for years. A little while and the pain will pass.”
“You’re sure, now? Maybe I should head back to the marina and take you to the hospital.”
“No, let me just relax here a few minutes and everything will be okay.”
After taking one nitro tablet every five minutes for twenty minutes, with no relief of his chest pains, Bill said, “I sure hate to spoil a great day’s fishing but the nitro isn’t helping me this time. The pain’s getting worse. Maybe you’d better head for shore and get me to the Emergency Room.”
I tied the boat at the dock, left the trailer in the marina parking lot, and made a quick trip over to highway 95, then down to Kootenai Medical Center. Bill was looking pretty drained of color by the time we got there. I stayed with him in the emergency room for the next two hours of tests and the doctors finally made the decision to admit him to the cardiac care unit on the third floor of the hospital.
A short time after we’d gone upstairs, I said, “Bill, I’m in the way here right now so I’m going to run back up to the marina, take the boat and trailer home, then come back a little later and spend the evening with you. How’s that sound?”
”Sounds good to me,” he said, then motioned for me to come closer. “Bring me some of those chocolate chip cookies from the cooler when you come back,” he whispered.
The nurse turned, glaring over her glasses like a Marine drill sergeant. “NO cookies!” she said, then smiled.
When I returned to the hospital Bill was awake and resting comfortably. I laid my Bible on the night stand, pulled a chair up close so Bill and I could talk, and settled in.
The nurse, who’d been adjusting an IV, left the room and I pulled out a Ziploc sandwich baggie holding four cookies. Bill grinned wide, then dug in, taking a bite of his first cookie.
I rattled on about my boat and the new fishing motor I wanted to buy. We talked about fishing equipment and lures and bait. We spoke of other lakes in northern Idaho we wanted to fish that summer, and we retold every fishing lie we could remember. But I noticed that Bill wasn’t really into the conversation like he would be normally.
“Bill, what’s eating you old friend? You act as though you’re off on a fishing trip tonight. Are you okay? Do I need to call the nurse?”
Bill took a long deep breath then sighed. “Carl,” he said, “you know I’ve had this heart condition for years and every time I have a problem, like today, I realize I’m not going to live forever. I could slip away any time. I could have gone today for that matter. Who knows how much time I have left? Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my sweetheart, June. I’m sure she’s in Heaven. She always talked about Heaven as though it was a real place, like Oregon or something. I’d sure like to see her again, and my brother, Al, too. Al seemed to know that he was going to Heaven, just like June did. Talked about it a lot before he passed away.
“But me? I’m not so sure about Heaven and all those things June and Al talked about. I guess I’m not sure about anything right now. Before they died, both Al and June urged me to ask Jesus to come into my heart. I didn’t know exactly what that meant and I never bothered to ask.
“Oh, I remember repeating some prayer once, back when I was about eight years old. It might have been in a Sunday school my mother took Al and my sister and me to when we were kids. About one Sunday a month the Sunday school teacher would read a prayer to the class, asking God to take us all to Heaven. She’d read her short prayer and all us kids in the class would repeat it after her. But it didn’t mean much to me back then. You know, I was just doing what everyone else did. You know what I mean?”
“I sure do, old friend,” I said. “Been there, done that myself.”
Bill continued. “I’d drive June to the services at her church every Sunday morning but I rarely went inside with her. Of course, I knew everyone there because most of them dealt with me at the hardware store but I just felt out of place in church. I did visit at Christmas and Easter though, when June would ask me. Her pastor, Tom Johnson, even came by the house from time to time to visit. He’d always ask me if he could tell me about being saved but I’d tell him that I felt I was okay with God and that he’d be wasting his time. I always told him I was too busy to go to church or some other excuse and then I’d tell him he should go help someone who really needed it.”
I hadn’t seen Bill this serious in a long time. I listened, letting him get everything that was bothering him off his chest.
“I’ve talked with different folks since June passed,” Bill continued. “That Preacher from the big church downtown, the one who wears his collar backwards. I think his name is Doctor Russell. He came in the hardware store last year and I asked him what he thought happens after we die and if he believed there was a real Heaven. He went on for thirty minutes about Heaven. He laughed about a place called Hell, though. Said he didn’t believe there was a Hell. And he also said that, to him, Heaven was what each person decided it was for them. Like the memories I have of my sweetheart, June. Doc Russell said that my memories of her could be her Heaven.
“And I’ve also talked to several other folks through the years. They all told me basically the same thing; “Bill,” they’d say, “You’re a good person. You’ve tried to live your life the best you could. You’ve never cheated people when you ran the hardware store. You never cheated on your sweet wife, June, all those years before she died. You’ve been a good neighbor, a good citizen in the community, a good husband, father and grandfather. We’ve known you to be a person that would give your last dollar to help someone in need. If anybody would go to Heaven, Bill, you sure would.”
“I’d have to agree with one part of that,” I told Bill.
“IF only ‘good people’ go to Heaven, you’d be one of them, old Friend.”
“But, Carl, the problem is, even after all their encouragement, telling me they thought I was okay and that Heaven was for good people and all that, I still have this uneasy feeling in my heart about the whole thing. I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m just not sure that I’ll go where June is when my time here on earth is finally up.
“We’ll talk about that in a minute or two, Bill. Go ahead with what you were saying.”
He chomped another cookie and went on as he chewed. “Carl, you and me, we’ve known each other a lot of years. Done a lot of hunting and fishing together, dug each other out of more than one snow drift. And I also know you’re a man who believes the Bible. I see you brought your Bible with you tonight. I figured you wanted to preach at me a little.”
I smiled. “No preaching tonight, Bill. Only a visit between two old friends.”
“I read that booklet, ‘Buzzard Bait,’ that you gave me once,” Bill said. “Laughed my fool head off over your description of that cantankerous old flea-bitten horse. That story was full of Bible verses too, and talked about going to Heaven, so I know you can tell me what’s going to happen to me after I die.
“Bill,” I said, “Let’s get right down to business. Those good folks who encouraged you told you that you were basically an honest, upright, good-hearted person and that was good enough to get you into Heaven, right?”
“That’s about it.” Bill said.
“Bill, I agree with those folks up to a point. You’re as good a person as anyone I ever knew, better than most. The problem is, God doesn’t let someone into His Heaven because they’re a ‘good’ person. Actually, how good we are in our own eyes, or even in the opinion of our friends and neighbors, has absolutely nothing to do with whether we go to Heaven or not when we die. And if we’re depending on our good life and good deeds to ‘buy’ our way into Heaven, we’re in deep trouble. In the Bible, in the book of Isaiah, chapter 64, verse 6 it says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags:””
“That’s pretty strong language. God must have been real serious to have old Isaiah write those words. Then, over in the New Testament, in the book of Titus, chapter 3, verse 5 the writer says, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy …”
“And then in the book of Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 and 9 we read, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Bill nodded. “Sounds pretty clear to me,” he said.
“So you see, Bill, God has a different attitude about this whole business than most people. He doesn’t look at how good we are when deciding whether to let us into His Heaven or not. He has a different plan.”
Bill wrinkled his brow and shook his head. “But why doesn’t God care about the good things we do? You’d sure think living a good life ought to be worth something.”
The nurse came back in just then and Bill grinned wide and asked her if she wanted a cookie. Cantankerous bugger!
She just shook her head.
“Okay, Bill,” I said, “the reason God won’t accept our good deeds or a good life as payment into His Heaven is this: He wants to give us eternal life as a free gift.”
“Wait a minute,” Bill said, “you mean, a gift, like that new fly rod you gave me for my birthday last month? God wants to give me eternal life as a gift?”
“That’s right, Bill. The last part of Romans chapter 6 and verse 23 says, ‘The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”
Bill nodded. “I remember, you told me about God’s gift once a couple years ago, but I thought you were joking. You’re serious aren’t you, Carl?”
“Yes, I am serious. That’s what the Bible teaches and I wouldn’t lie to you. Bill, there are four simple things a person needs to understand and believe so that he or she can be sure they’ll go to Heaven. I know I’ve told you this before but if you’re not too tired I’ll explain it again.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Bill said. “I have all night … if you have enough cookies and the creek don’t rise.”
FIRST – MAN IS A SINNER.
“OK,” I said, “the first thing a person has to understand and agree to is that we are all sinners in God’s eyes.”
Bill nibbled his cookie and nodded deep that he understood.
“In the book of Romans, chapter 3 and verse 23 it says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Only one human being has ever lived a perfect life. That was God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The rest of us have all done wrong, sometimes we’ve done things that were terribly wrong. And God has a record of our entire life, every single sin we ever committed.”
“I was afraid of that,” Bill said. “I‘ve done a lot of bad things in my lifetime and most of them were not mistakes. I did things that I knew beyond any doubt were sin against God … especially when I was a younger man. I didn’t care back then … I was even proud of some of the things I’d done … but those memories sure bother me now.”
I nodded and went on.
SECOND – THERE IS A PRICE ON SIN.
“We’re all in the same boat, Bill. But the problem is, our sin causes more problems than just giving us bad memories. The second thing we must understand and agree to is that there is a price tag on sin. In the first part of Romans chapter 6, verse 23, it says, “For the wages of sin is death …” That’s a pretty stiff penalty for our sin. But what makes it even worse is that the word death in that verse doesn’t mean just physical death. It also means spiritual death, which is eternal separation of our soul from God, in Hell. The verse explains that this death is the payment we receive for all the sin we commit during our lifetime.”
“Not a good picture,” Bill said. “I’ve sinned all my life so according to the Bible, it sounds like I’m going to Hell. I guess that answers my question. I sure won’t be going to Heaven. Let me eat my cookie and think about that for a while.”
“Bill, you’d be correct if the story ended right there. Yes, we’re all sinners and, yes, we all deserve punishment for our sin. And that punishment is eternal death, separated from God for ever. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. There’s more to tell.”
“Well, I’m not going anywhere,” Bill said. “You’ve got my attention now. You might as well be Paul Harvey and tell me ‘the rest of the story.’”
THIRD – JESUS PAID SIN’S PRICE FOR US ON THE CROSS.
“Bill, the third thing we must understand is the good news that someone else took the punishment for our sin. That is, He took the punishment we had coming. And He did that by dying in our place. You see, that’s the answer! Jesus died FOR us … IN OUR PLACE! He became our substitute, to save us from the consequences of our sin. He took the punishment for our sins. Punishment that we deserved.”
“Sooooo,” Bill said, “that’s why we can receive eternal life as a gift and go to Heaven.” He shook his head slowly. “It just doesn’t seem fair, though. As far as I’ve heard, Jesus never did anything wrong. Why would God, His father, send Him to die for me?”
“Love, Bill. God’s great love. God was too Holy to say, ‘Aw, let’s just forget your sin this time.’ No, God’s justice demanded that our sin had to be paid for. We earned the wages of our sin, we had to take what we had coming. But God’s heart had so much love for us that He came up with this amazing plan. He decided to send His perfect Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be our substitute. We didn’t deserve God’s mercy … and He didn’t have to give it … but His great love for us caused Him to send His only Son to die on a cross in our place. That’s when God’s perfect Holiness and justice, and His unlimited love and mercy, worked together to form the plan that offers us eternal life.
“And by the way, Jesus wasn’t forced to come to earth to die in our place. He did it gladly and willingly because He, too, loved us more than we could ever understand. Jesus paid the price for all our sin on the cross. All the punishment and the death that we deserved fell on Him that day 2000 years ago. In Romans chapter 5 and verse 8 it says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Let me read that again; “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while – we – were – still – sinners, Christ – died – for – us.”
“It still doesn’t seem fair to Jesus,” Bill said, “Him taking the punishment for my sins in my place. But … who am I to argue with God?”
“Bill, do you remember the old verse you learned in Sunday school years ago, John 3:16? It says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” There’s no better deal anywhere in the whole universe than that, Bill. And you can believe it!
LAST – WE CAN ONLY BE SAVED BY FAITH IN JESUS.
You see, Bill, faith … simple child-like faith … that’s the secret to eternal life. And that’s the final thing we must understand and lay hold of. In the book of Ephesians, chapter 2 and the second part of verse 8 we read, “For by grace are you saved THROUGH FAITH …”
“In the original language of the Bible, “to have faith” or “to believe on,” meant to completely rest on or rely on something or someone, like when we step into my fishing boat and let it carry us across the water. In other words you can’t swim alongside and say you were riding in the boat. No, you have to actually be in the boat, and let it do all the work of carrying you to the other shore. And the same with faith in Jesus.
“Think of it this way; suppose you were on a cruise ship out in the ocean and a fierce storm came up. In the howling wind and lightning the ship was being tossed around like a toy. In the middle of this whole picture, you were on the deck, holding on for dear life. Just then a huge wave washed across the deck, swept you up, and carried you over the side into the ocean.
“There you were, alone in the dark, struggling to stay afloat and watching the lights of the ship sailing away from you in the storm. You knew that all hope of you ever coming out of it alive was gone. It would only be a matter of minutes before you went under for the last time to face your eternal doom.
“But wait a minute. Something bumps into you. You turn to see a small lifeboat that had broken loose from some far distant shore. It was about the size of my fishing boat and it was offering you safety and salvation from a sure death in the cold waters.
“You grab hold of the side but you don’t even have enough strength left to pull yourself up into that boat. Just then the strong hands of the Captain reach down in the darkness, grab you and lift you up out of the water, gently setting you in the boat. You lay there, exhausted and helpless. You’ve been saved from what would have been a certain death. And that little lifeboat carries you to safety out of the storm.”
Bill sat there, tears trickling down his face. I reached over and patted his arm, then continued; “And, Bill … that lifeboat is a picture of Jesus, bumping into you to get your attention. He isn’t asking how good a life you’ve lived. No, He’s here right now, offering to give you a free ride to Heaven, out of the storm. Do you think you’re ready for God to take you into His lifeboat tonight, Bill?”
Bill nodded his head slowly. “I finally understand what you’ve been trying to tell me all these years. I think I’m ready. What do I have to do?”
“Like I said before, all you have to do is believe with all your heart that Jesus died on the cross in your place. Believe that He took the punishment for your sin that day on the cross, two thousand years ago. Do you believe that, Bill?”
“Yes, Carl, I do. I finally believe Jesus died in my place to pay for my sin.”
“Wonderful. Now since you believe in Jesus as your Savior … what I suggest you do next is to bow your head and just say a simple prayer. Thank the Lord that He died in your place to pay for your sin. Then , in your own way, ask Him to come into your life as your Lord and Savior. He can’t lie to you, old friend. He’ll do what He promised. Would you like to pray now?”
Bill nodded, then closed his eyes and bowed his head. I knelt at the side of his bed and held his hand.
“Jesus,” he prayed, “I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life … but you already knew that. I’m sorry for everything wrong I’ve done through the years. Would you forgive me for all of it? I believe now that you died in my place so I could go to Heaven. Would you come into my life from here on and then take me to Heaven with you when it comes my time to go?”
Bill opened his eyes and looked at me. “I don’t know what else to say.”
“Pardner,” I told him, “you don’t have to say another thing. You’re in God’s family now. You’re one of His children. Now you’ll see your June someday, and your brother Al, too. And I’ll be there to go fishing with you from time to time. But the best part of all is that you’ll live forever with God our Father and His Son, The Lord Jesus Christ.
A word to our friend who is reading this booklet or listening to it. If this story has helped you understand the good news that Jesus died for you, to pay for your sins, then our reason for it all has been a success. If you still have questions, read the booklet or listen to it again carefully, thinking about what I’ve said here. Then ask the person who gave you this booklet or CD to answer any questions you might have. They’ll be happy to help you.
Do you believe that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, died on the cross in your place to pay the penalty for your sins? If you feel that you understand the four steps to Heaven in this story, and that you’re ready to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior … say the prayer Bill said at the end of the story. If you mean those words, the Lord Jesus will come into your life and heart and will save you for eternity. Then you can know beyond doubt that you will be welcomed into God’s family and you will live forever in Heaven as Jesus promised.