While in my mid-20s longer ago than I like to acknowledge I received a call from my father-in-law, a pastor, asking if I would be willing to head the summer daily vacation Bible school at his church.
How could I refuse? After all, this good man had given his beautiful daughter to me in marriage, mentored me in my early ministry and had provided me with my first opportunity to preach.
“We’ll have a special speaker next week,” he had announced to his congregation.
“Who’s the special speaker?” I asked later.
“You are,” he replied.
And that’s how it all began.
Now at a different church, he needed someone to head his week-long summer Bible school and offered me the opportunity, which I accepted.
While preparing for this responsibility of working with teachers and children, I found myself concerned about making everything so clear that not even one child could misunderstand what it meant for them to trust the Savior.
I went over my planned approach to explaining God’s love and his invitation to them again and again, fearful that I might fail to use just the right words to bring them to faith.
Frankly, I was worried.
Then this freeing thought arrived, delivering me from my fears: God loves them and will accept their response to his love, whether their words fit a prescribed expression of theological jargon or not. When people come to him just as they are, he accepts them with open arms. Young or old, he’ll not turn one away.
Had Jesus not called a little child to stand among the disciples and teach them that they needed to become as little children to enter the kingdom? Hadn’t this principle been demonstrated to be true for people of all ages and backgrounds?
Our Lord told of two men who went to the temple to pray one very religious and respected while the other was a dishonest tax collector. The self-righteous one made his prayer a parade of his religious accomplishments, while the tax collector, aware of his dishonesty, simply prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” but his prayer for mercy was answered and the prayer of the proud Pharisee was rejected as we read in Luke 18:10-14.
In his book, “God is my Delight,” Philip Keller, tells how the grace of God has met him in difficult days with forgiveness he didn’t deserve, writing: “It is his amazing acceptance, his generous grace, his unfailing love, his magnificent mercy that heal the breech.”
Dwight L. Moody, the world famous evangelist, chose the following Bible verse as one of his favorites because it assures forgiveness and acceptance to all who come to the Lord seeking it: “ The one who comes to me I will by no means cast out.” John 6:37
And, who can forget the prayer of the dying thief on the cross. Here was a man who, during the last painful moments of his life, cried out for eternal life.
Like all of us, he didn’t deserve forgiveness or heaven but received both. His prayer wasn’t flowery and wouldn’t pass muster with some today, but it was a prayer for forgiveness by a man at the end of himself: the prayer God always answers.
Roger Campbell is an author, radio broadcaster and newspaper columnist from Waterford, Mich. He has been a guest speaker in Alaska churches from Anchorage to Homer.
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