My story begins on March 8, 1973 when I was born at Edmonton General Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
My parents tell me I was a contented baby. I hardly ever cried and I smiled a lot. I also took a long time to start crawling and walking. Other people might have worried that my stationary status was a troubling sign of a learning delay, but my mother insisted that I was just so content with the world, I had no interest in crawling.
… Yeah, that’s it …
I have a smattering of flashes of memory from the age of three or four: Saturday morning cartoons, riding a bike in the neighborhood, and attending Central Tabernacle, a large Pentecostal church in Edmonton.
Central Tabernacle was constructed in an iconic shingled pyramid shape, an impressive structure, it could seat over two thousand people. It’s so important that it even has its own Wikipedia page. And to this day, Central is still the only shingled pyramid shaped Pentecostal church I’ve ever seen. (Sadly, the structure no longer exists. The congregation now meets at another location in Edmonton under the name North Pointe Community Church.)
During those early years in the mid 1970s I can remember running down the halls of the cavernous interior of Central. The best part about that cavernous interior was that it offered an expansive interior world to explore and that’s much appreciated when the northern prairies were locked down in ice and snow for close to six months.
A Thief in the Night
I do have one other important memory from the formative four years I spent at Central Tabernacle: I speak of the film A Thief in the Night.
Produced decades before marketing films to an evangelical subculture became a respectable business enterprise, A Thief in the Night was a low budget 1972 movie based on a dispensationalist reading of the book of Revelation including the anti-Christ, the 666 mark on the hand, and the looming shadow of Armageddon. Throughout the 1970s it made the rounds playing at various churches … including Central.
Parents were warned that the picture was bleak and the themes too mature and intense for a young audience. So I dutifully played with my Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars on the church pew and berber carpet while my parents took in the spectacle of the end of the world.
But even if I didn’t watch the entire film, I did occasionally peak over the pew to catch a glimpse of the future. The mood in the room was somber. Keep in mind that the audience didn’t merely think they were watching a fictional film: on the contrary, A Thief in the Night was purporting to provide a reasonable facsimile of events soon to unfold in our own day.
One thing I got out of that evening was the unnerving message that Christ would return “like a thief in the night” when you least expect it. If you weren’t ready in that moment then you could be lost for eternity, shut out from the banquet like those foolish virgins who failed to keep their lamps prepped for the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-12). As Jesus concluded, “ “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (v. 13, KJV)
Are you Ready to Meet the Lord?
The message of the film raises unnerving questions. Were those parents watching A Thief in the Night ready for the return of Christ? And what about their children, playing with their Matchbox cars on the church carpet? Were they ready?
And what did it mean for a child to be ready to meet the Lord?
There are a million ways one might meet Jesus unexpectedly. Consider the time we visited the Edmonton Valley Zoo and I reached out to say hello to the swans. So intent was I on handing a bit of bread to one particular swan that I almost fell into the water. Good thing I was saved from a watery grave by some quick thinking girls. Even better, the moment was immortalized by an intrepid photographer from the Edmonton Journal.
Whether you’re talking about the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven or a surprise drowning in a pond at the zoo, the question is the same: are you ready to meet Jesus?
This is a question I return to time and again in What’s So Confusing About Grace? What do you need to believe if you’re going to be saved? What do you need to do? Growing up, I often heard reference made to Romans 10:9-10:
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
So is that it then? Do you just need to say Jesus is Lord and believe God raised him? Does it matter what else you believe? And does it matter how you live?
And let me be honest: when I was leaning into the pond trying to feed that swan, I’m not at all sure that I had as yet declared “Jesus is Lord” or believed God raised him from the dead. Does it follow that I would have been lost forever?