birth certificate
My hospital birth record. Note that in an effort to minimize inconvenience to all involved, I made sure to be born in the afternoon, 1:37 pm, to be exact.

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 …

Church

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
Central Tabernacle (Image source)

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.

A Thief in the NightProduced 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?

At the zoo
My first fleeting brush with fame: being featured in the Edmonton Journal.

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?

What's So Confusing About GraceThis 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:

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?

2 thoughts on “Saved from birth?

  1. I’ve wracked my brain out over the years trying to pin this down.

    I think when I first became an evangelical, I was so excited about the notion that I could KNOW that I was going to heaven that I overlooked the inherent ambiguity in all of this.

    A few years back, a guy at a bible study said, “I was I could be saved by eating an apple.” I knew exactly what he meant! At least if you were brought from hell to heaven by eating an apple, you could know for sure that you had done such a thing!

    Confessing “Jesus is Lord” is fairly simple. I can be sure I did that. But it’s the 2nd fuzzy part, “believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” that is tricky. That’s akin to “accept Jesus into your heart” or “trusting in what God did for you on the cross” or “asking Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.” Kinda vague, no?

    From various Bible passages, I get the feeling that some aspect of salvation happens in an instant: The Thief on the Cross. Jesus declares to various people “Your sins are forgiven.” That seems to imply an instant transaction. But in each case, it is a little vague what the person actually does to warrant this forgiveness.

    My cousin was telling me a story of some new church she went to about a year ago with her boyfriend. Realizing they were new, after the service, they brought both of them to separate rooms to inquire/demand if they had accepted Jesus as their savior and were reluctant to let them leave until they had. As ridiculous as it sounds, depending on what is true, they could be justified in such an approach!

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    1. I saw the same end times film, A Thief in the Night, at my independent Evangelical church in the 70s !

      I soon learned things that added to my inner apprehension and increased my sense of evangelical urgency. After reading Hal Lindsey’s phenomenal bestseller (over eighteen million copies sold by 1984), The Late Great Planet Earth, I began seeing the pieces of biblical prophecy fitting into Lindsey’s picture puzzle. I heard God’s time bomb ticking in my ears. And I kept an eye on the sky, for I sensed my salvation “draweth nigh.”

      I attended end-time evangelistic crusades that featured Jack Van Impe (author of Revelation Revealed) and David Wilkerson (author of The Vision). They focused on the evil days ahead and scared the be-Jesus into you.

      At one prophecy conference I was given a piece of “lignin” (compressed wood) that one preacher said “could replace metal in the fashioning of weapons of war. Rifles, cannons, and tanks could be made out of it.”

      It felt hard, yet light. I did not question at the time whether it might not be as strong as metal, or how wood (even tightly compressed) could avoid being scorched or shattered by the force of gunpowder explosions. I simply took the preacher at his word. Why? Because the preacher swore that the existence of “lignin” demonstrated the “truth” of Ezekiel’s prophecy. “Israel shall go forth [following a ferocious end-time battle], and shall set on fire and burn the weapons [of her enemies] both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the handshakes, and the spears, and they shall burn them with fire seven years. So that they shall take no wood out of the field, neither cut down any out of the forests, for they shall burn the weapons with fire” [Ezek. 39.9-10, KJV]

      The preacher continued, “Could iron and steel burn for seven years? No. But weapons made of lignin could burn for seven years, if there were enough of them!” I took the piece of lignin with me to high school and told others of the prophecy and its “miraculous fulfillment”.

      But I couldn’t keep my engine idling at such an “end-times” peak indefinitely. I eventually stopped thriving on mental pictures of raptures, A-bombs, anti-christs, God turning seas to blood, and final judgments. I stopped trying to match up the latest news from the Middle East with verses from the Bible.

      NOTE: It never occurred to me, blinded by my faith in “miraculous-maybe” interpretations of Scripture, that perhaps Ezekiel was not speaking about the modern world at all. He depicted his “end-time” battle exactly as any ancient Near Easterner might, being fought with wooden shields, bucklers, bows, arrows, handstaves, and spears, instead of with today’s metallic arsenal. How much inspiration would it take for an ancient Near Easterner to prophesy the employment of such weapons? None.

      Furthermore, in the same prophecy Ezekiel mentioned “not needing to take wood out of the field, neither having to cut down any out of the forests; for they shall burn the weapons with fire.” Ezekiel took for granted the need to burn wood for cooking, heating, etc. But, like prophesying the use of spears and arrows, how much inspiration would it take for an ancient Near Easterner to speak prophetically about wood-burning fires, as opposed to today’s gas and electric? None.

      Looking back, I should have noticed how “literalists” only take a literal interpretation as far as they want, no further. For instance, Ezekiel’s “end-time battle” and “seven years burning of weapons” are interpreted literally, but his “shields, swords, spears and arrows” are not!

      What about Ezekiel’s end-time adversaries, “Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal”? Hal Lindsey and other prophecy-mongers insist that Rosh equals Russia, Meshech equals Moscow, and Tubal equals Tobolsk (Moscow and Tobolsk being cities in Russia). Thus they interpret Ezekiel’s prophecy to mean that present-day Russia will invade present-day Israel.

      Not so, according to Edwin M Yamauchi, professor of history at Miami University and author of Foes from the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Baker Book House, 1982). Yamauchi explained on the basis of documented archaeological evidence how Ezekiel was “inspired” by the precarious situation of his own era.

      In Ezekial’s day, invading hordes, like the Urartians, Manneans, Cimmerians, and Scythians, occupied parts of what are now Armenia, Turkey, and Iran, as well as the Russian steppes. These “invaders from the north” were the ones Ezekiel (and Jeremiah) feared, and prophesied against.

      “Meshech” and “Tubal” have been clearly identified as kingdoms/provinces that used to be in areas of ancient Anatolia (roughly equivalent to our present-day Turkey). They do not refer to Moscow and Tobolsk.

      Yamauchi also explained why “Rosh” could not possibly be related to “Russia,” and how archaeological evidence was being ignored by end-times preachers, who, apparently, only read each other’s books, thus perpetuating their collective blindness, passing it off on their listeners as the “God-breathed truth.”

      Take for instance, end-time preacher Hal Lindsey, who stated in The Late Great Planet Earth, “[I do not] believe that we have prophets today who are getting direct revelations from God, but we do have prophets today who are given special insight into the prophetic word.” Undoubtedly Lindsey considers himself one of these “prophets.” So, let’s see how “the special insight” he claims to have been granted by God stacks up with reality.

      In The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Zondervan Press, 1970), Lindsey specified “an extremely important time clue” in Scripture, namely, Jesus’ parable of the fig tree putting forth its leaves, letting you know that summer was near-after which, Jesus added, “when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (Matt. 24:32, 33). According to Lindsey, “This is the most important sign in Matthew”.

      “The figure of speech ‘fig tree’ has been a historic symbol of national Israel. When the Jewish people became a nation again on 14 May 1948 the ‘fig tree’ put forth its first leaves. Jesus said that this would indicate that He was ‘at the door,’ ready to return. Then Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (Matt 24.34) What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs-chief among them the rebirth of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948 [i.e., before 1988], all these things [including, according to Lindsey, the Temple being rebuilt, people fleeing to the mountains to escape the world’s final battles, and Christ’s return) could take place. Many scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so.”

      Well, it ain’t so. What is so, is that Lindsey must now admit that a “life” of conservative/inerrantist “Bible study” can lead to erroneous “beliefs”!

      Moreover, the extreme importance of this particular “sign” and “time clue” was reinforced by Lindsey in his later books. Note their titles: The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon and The Terminal Generation.

      In The Terminal Generation (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H Revell Company, 1976), Hal stated another of his “prophetic insights,” namely, “Based on biblical prophecy, I believe that there will continue to be an increase in major earthquakes. . . . In a recent book called The Jupiter Effect, written by two astronomers . amazing things are predicted to occur in 1982. . . The ‘Jupiter effect’ is a rare planetary lineup which occurs every 179 years. . . According to the authors, a result of the effect will be that great earthquakes will be triggered.”

      Again, it wasn’t so. In fact, even fellow fundamentalist Christians. like the folks at the Institute for Creation Research, have acknowledged that since 1990, data regarded the frequency and intensity of global earthquakes has followed no clear pattern of increase or decrease [Impact, no. 198, December 1989.].

      Not surprisingly, Lindsey’s enthusiasm inspired others to get into the “prophetic insight” business, including televangelist and presidential contender Pat Robertson, who stated just as unequivocally as Lindsey that, “If I am hearing Him right I believe in the next two years, I would put it at ’82, but the dates are risky, there is going to be a major war in the Middle East. . . The Soviet Union is going to make the move, and that’s what God is saying: we’ve got a couple of years . . . from now on its going to be bloodshed, war, revolution and trouble.” (Robertson speaking at a Christian Broadcasting Network staff meeting, January 1, 1980, as recorded by Gerard Straub, one of Robertson’s producers (Wayne King, “Robertson Looks at God and Politics,” New York Times, December 27, 1987]).

      Robertson also announced during a Christian Broadcasting Network broadcast, June 9, 1982, “I guarantee you by the fall of 1982 that there is going to be a judgment on the world, and the ultimate judgment is going to come on the Soviet Union. They are going to be the ones to make military adventures, and they are going to be hit . . . by the fall [1982] undoubtedly something like this will happen which will fulfill Ezekiel.”

      “1982” and “1988” are long past. Meanwhile, what Robertson and Lindsey’s “prophetic insight” told us to expect before then did not happen. Regardless of the fact that they approached Scripture with the utmost reverence, and prayed to receive wisdom from God to “interpret his word rightly,” it is now apparent that either God did not answer those prayers, or God did not speak clearly enough to be rightly understood. (What might this imply about the claim of some fundamentalists that “God does not hear or answer the prayers of unbelieving Jews”? Does this put Robertson and Lindsey in the same category?) How many other interpretations of the Bible by its most fervent believers might be equally lacking in God-given “insight”? This may only be the tip of the iceberg!

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