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Our Masks

Beep – Beep – Beep!

The alarm clock went off at 6:00 AM Monday morning.  It was time for John to get up.  He stayed up quite late the night before and was struggling to find the off button.  After slapping the clock several times, the beeping stops and there is quiet.  He rolls over as if to go back to sleep, however, he had a busy morning ahead of him and needed to get ready.

He had spent the previous evening at the local bar with several of his friends.  He told himself he would only have one drink, however by 2:00 AM, after finishing his eighth, decided to go home.  Fortunately, his apartment was only a block away, which allowed him to walk home, choosing to pick up his car the next morning.  Sitting up in his bed, John rubs his eyes and tries to focus on the bathroom door in from of him.  Groaning, he stands up and drags himself to the shower.   After drying himself, he selects a light gray suit from his closet.  He dresses, insuring he looks just right, then heads off to the bar to pick up his car.  He then begins his thirty minute drive to the office, trying to remember the missing moments of the previous night.  As his mind clears, he remembers his friends laughing as he runs into an older man who was walking toward the door.  Almost falling to the ground, he cursed out the man, shoving a chair at him as he left the bar.  Troy, one of his companions, helps him back to his seat as he continued shouting obscenities.  Moreover, he remembered a cute young lady who was sitting at the table next to his.  She was probably around twenty years old, half his age, but he now wished he had introduced himself and invited her to his apartment for the night.  Maybe he shall see her there again, this time more sober.

Suddenly,  the car in front slows down as traffic picks up.  John was running late and he did not have time for this delay.  He joins a myriad of others in pounding on his horn, then he opens the windows and begins yelling at the driver in from of him.  Like the night before, obscenities rolled effortlessly from his lips, as if they were his primary language.  When the lady tells him what she thinks of his tirade, he tells her where she should spend eternity.  Of course, this did not help the traffic slowdown, but it did help him feel better.  After a quarter mile, the congestion ended and he was finally able to make it to work.

Pulling in to the parking lot, John finds an open spot close to the front door, which surprised him, and then turns off the car.  After composing himself, he exits the vehicle and walks into the building, going directly to his office.  After settling in, he goes through his mail and then listens to his phone messages.  There was only one, and he sat back in his chair to listen.  “John, this is Ann from marketing.  Could you stop by this morning when you get in?  I have a new idea on how we can make a difference with the Main Street Church account.  It could help them with their ministry in the downtown homeless shelter.”  The message ended, and John hung up the phone.  Speaking aloud yet softly, “Well, let me get some coffee and get this over with.  I have so many more important things to deal with than a pathetic homeless shelter.”

Ann was a very devout Christian, and because of this, all ministry accounts were assigned to her.  She was very successful, and had steadily moved up the ladder till she became Director of Non Profit Ministries in the company.  Her passion for Christ and His Gospel made her very successful in all her endeavors.  Her bosses, and the Board of Directors, loved her work and were impressed with the dedication she had for her clients.  She was a very pleasant person to deal with, which also increased her ability to meet the needs of those she worked with.

When John arrived at her office, he first stood there, making sure his tie was just right and that he was smiling before knocking on her door.  She ushered him in and invited him to sit at the table located in the front part of her office.  “John, thank you for coming by.  As head of the Real Estate acquisition department, you will be a great help to me and Main Street Church.”  John sat back and crossed his legs.  “I hope I can be of assistance, Ann.  What can I do for you?”  He accentuated his smile, insuring she saw how pleased he looked to be there.  “The homeless shelter that is run by my client is running out of space.”  She said.  “With the downturn in the economy, and the resulting business closures in the community, more people are losing their homes and ending up on the streets.  They really need additional space.”  He could see the genuine concern in her face.  She really had compassion for these people.  He switched his facial expression to match hers. “I hate to hear that.  I will look at what is available in the area that may work for them.”  As he spoke, John was thinking, “When I get around to it.  Not a priority in my book.”  Ann then began to smile.  “You do not have to, there is an abandoned warehouse next door to the shelter I hear is coming on the market.  It is a bit pricey, however, I know you can talk them into selling at a reasonable price.  I would really appreciate your help in this.”  He returned the smile.  “Let me get back to you after I talk with the owners.  I will do what I can.”  She then thanked John as he left the office.  Once out, he let out a big sigh of relief.  He would check into it, but not right away.  He had to make several calls regarding more lucrative ventures, lucrative meaning for himself.

The rest of his day went well.  As the end approached, he began thinking about what he would do that evening.  He remembered again the cute young lady at the bar.  Maybe he would go there in hopes of meeting her and seeing what happens.  She was quite stunning.  Then he remembered he had a meeting at his church after work regarding outreach to the community.  Why did he ever join that committee?  He only started going to church because a former girl friend wanted him to.  When they broke up, he kept going because there were other single ladies there, and they appeared to be attracted to those who were involved in ministry.  Therefore, when an opening came up in the outreach team, he signed up and made sure others in the church knew he was a member.  However, as time went on, he found there were no real advantages to him being involved so he was going to resign under the guise that his work was taking up more time than he had.  Besides, he had prayed the salvation prayer, so he figured he was in good shape.  He would find some other way that he could impress the people with his service, something that would not infringe on his real life.  God would understand.  He knew my schedule and how much I could do.

That night at the meeting, John conducted himself well.  He interjected comments at opportune times, and agreed with the ‘right’ people.  He never committed to anything, but showed just enough passion for the projects that were discussed.  When the meeting was over, he felt really good about what was accomplished.  “Well, we did a lot for God tonight.”  He thought.  “I hope those in the church see that.  This was two hours that I could have spent having fun.  However, it was still early.  Maybe I can salvage the rest of the evening.”

John decided to head back to the bar.  Who knows, maybe he would get lucky and see that girl again.   While he was driving, he prayed that she would be there.  He did not mention in his prayers what his intentions were.  He tried convincing himself, and ultimately God. that he just wanted to introduce himself and have a nice talk.  “That is all I want, I just want to be a friend.”  He began smiling, God would not deprive him of friendship.  Besides, if she did not go to church, he would invite her to come to his.  “That is what God wants me to do, right?” he thought.  “He wants people to go to church, so if I can get her to go, that would be a win for both of us.”

As he was pondering this, suddenly he saw a young man running across the road, and John immediately turned his car sharply to the right to avoid hitting him.  While he missed the young man,  he hit a tree head on, throwing him through the windshield and breaking his neck in the process. Everything went dark as he faded into unconsciousness.  The next thing John remembers was walking toward a man standing in the middle of a road.  He did not recognize the place, however, He was more focused on the man rather than the setting.  When John finally reached him, the man raised both hands in front of him, signaling him to come no closer.  John was staring at him, however, he turned his eyes away as he began to feel uncomfortable.  A few moments later, the stranger started speaking.  “Hello, John.  Welcome to reality.”  John was puzzled by that statement, so he asked him what he meant.  “Do you remember when you were driving to the local bar near your home?” the stranger asked.   “You know, when someone ran in front of your car and you swerved off the road hitting a tree?  Well, you never survived that accident.”

“What was he talking about?” John thought.  “This makes no sense.  I am standing here, alive.”

The stranger nodded his head.  “I know what you are thinking, you are standing here, so how can you be dead?  Everyone thinks the same thing.”  John then asked this strange man who he was and how he knew his name.  “That is not important.” he said.  “Suffice it to say that I am here to welcome you to eternity.”

Well, this seems like a nice place.  “So, since I died, this must be heaven, am I right?  Is this heaven?  A little different that I imagined”

“Not exactly,” the man replied.  “Your eternal home is somewhere else.”

John was confused.  “I thought all Christians went to heaven when they died?”

“Oh they do, John.  Christians go to be with Christ in Heaven.”

“Then why is my eternal home somewhere else since I died a Christian?”  John asked.  “I am a Christian.  I prayed the sinners prayer.  I went to church.  I helped the poor and the needy.”

“Yes,” the man replied.  “You went to church.”

“And I prayed the prayer to become a Christian.”  he interjected.

“Yes, you said those words.”

“Then, what is the issue?”  What do you mean my eternal home is not heaven?  Is there another place we Christian’s go?”

“No, sorry.  All Christians go to heaven to be with Christ until the end of this age, then they inherit the new heaven and new earth where Christ will rule and reign forever.  All others go to another place.”

“But I am a Christian!”  John cried out.

“Nope, I checked the records.  I even checked them twice.  Did not see your name on the roll of the redeemed.”

John was appalled.  “What do you mean I am not a Christian?  Is there no record of what I did for God?”

The man looked at John with a piercing gaze.  “Oh, there is a record of your entire life.  But I see no record of what you did for God, but there is an tremendously long list of what you did for yourself.  ”

John was incredulous.  “What are you talking about?”

The man increased his intensity as he spoke.  “Silence, you insolent fool.  I will explain to you your folly, and then you will know where your allegiances really were.”

John found himself incapable of speaking.  It was now very obvious that this was not going well for him.

The man that stood before him began to explain to John the reason for this unexpected turn of events.  “While you were a child, your parents brought you to church every opportunity they had.  They would pray with you at every meal and before you went to sleep every night.  They read to you God’s word from the moment you turned six years of age.  You always pretended to be interested, however, your mind was always somewhere else.”

John sat there and listened.  Every word spoken by this stranger brought fond memories of his past to his remembrance, eventually however, searing his conscious as the truth of his former life became painfully clear. Continuing,  “When you left home for college, you abandoned the life your family tried to instill in you.  You stopped going to church, as well as praying before your meal and bedtime.  In fact, you ignored everything to do with God and the Bible.”  John wanted to stop him and tell him he was wrong, but he still was unable to speak.  He continued.  “Oh, I know what you are thinking, when you went home to visit, you would pray and listen to your father read the scriptures.  However, were you really listening or just pretending in order to please your dad?”

John knew the truth, and it cut through him like a knife through butter.  He had simply been placating his father.  He had never really believed in God, however, he never wanted his parents to know.  He never thought anyone knew, however, this man seemed to know everything about him.  All his secrets and intentions.  Everything he ever harbored deep within his being was now open for all to see.

“Eventually, you did start going to church.  But only for your own self interests.  You knew your girl friend would leave you if you did not join her.  So you went to church, even though your heart was not in it.  God did not matter to you, you simply used the idea of god to get what you wanted.  And even after you two broke up, you continued going to church because you hoped you could seduce another young lady to become your girlfriend, or worse.  You did not care for these women.  You cared for what you could get out of them.  The only person you loved was you.”

Now, this really hurt.  Not because it was a baseless accusation, but because it was entirely true.  He had never seen this before in himself, but somehow, this man’s words cut him to the very core.  Other’s have levied the same basic accusation, but he was always able to refute it; both to the one making the accusation and to himself, the accused.  He lived a life of self deception.  Was there any part of his life that was real?  He was now beginning to wonder.

“I can see that you are becoming enlightened,” said the stranger.  “However, there is more.”

John did not think he could take much more.  But there was no way to stop this man who stood before him.

“Even women you did not know were not safe from you.  The lust you exhibited knew no bounds.  You were looking to take a young lady, half your age, that you just saw at the bar, and use her for your sexual pleasure.”  Then his voice changed, a more hushed and soft tone.  “Do you know who this woman was?  Of course not, because you were not interested in her as a person, only as an tool to be used.  Her name is Sylvia and she is a young woman who came to the bar in order to pick up a friend who was struggling with a serious illness.  She is a loving and caring person who would give anything to help those in need.  She is unselfish and looks to the needs of others before her own.  She is a child of God, John, a true Christian, not anything like you were.”

John started to weep.  However, this man was ruthless.  He continued.  “If you would have taken the time to truly get to know her, you would have seen the most loving person you could ever have met.  However, what you saw was a simple hookup.  How dare you treat God’s creation with such disdain.”

There was nothing John could do or say, even if he could speak.  He knew that everything this man said was absolutely true.  He was a user, and there was no way he could convince anyone otherwise.

The man continued once more.  “You, sir, were a fake.  You speak of love and doing good, but if anyone crosses you, you spit out such vile filth, showing how little you respect them.  From the very depths of your black heart comes words that causes more damage than you can imagine.  Remember that man at the bar you ran into?  Yes, the one you cursed out as he was walking out.  He was suffering great anguish over the loss of his family by a drunk driver.  You did a great job comforting him, John.  Bet you are quite proud of yourself.”  That was exactly what he needed.

“Why are you doing this?”  John cried.  “I cannot take anymore.”

Oh, but am not finished yet.  You said some words, in the form of a prayer, inviting Jesus into your heart.  However, it is not the saying of the words that matter.  You must believe them, and mean every word.  You looked at God as a means to an end, not as the all knowing and all powerful God that He is.”  Then his tone turned more sarcastic.  “True salvation involves making Jesus Christ Lord of your life, believing that God raised Him from the dead.”  He was in no way your Lord.  You simply put on a mask anytime it was necessary to ‘look’ like a Christian, and when you were finished and the mask was not necessary, you took it off and went back to your real self.  You used God and His goodness for your selfish desires.  You acted like a Christian, however, it was just an act.  You may have had everyone you knew fooled, but there was one person you did not know and did not fool, and that was God.  He saw through your façade, and protected His children from your deception.  Sylvia met her friend there at the bar and was able to minister to her and help her through the difficult situation she found herself in.  God answered their prayers, and thus she did not need to return to the bar and become entangled with your evil ways.  And Ann?  She received a call from the Pastor of Main Street church informing her that the property next to their shelter was available, and the owner heard about their situation and agreed to donate the building to the church.  You never intended to call the owners of the warehouse.  But it turns out you were not needed at all.”  In fact, I would venture to say you never truly have been needed.

John cried out with a loud voice, weeping and in despair.  “Stop, please stop.  Is there anything I can do to make this right?”

“You had many opportunities to get right with God.  You were in church every week, sometimes several times a week.  The gospel was presented every time you were there.  You simply ignored it, not caring about the truth presented.  There was no advantage to you.  You never believed, you only played a game.  Now, the game is over, and you have lost.  And what did you lose?  Your life, and now your eternal soul.  You missed heaven because of your foolishness, therefore, you only have one place to go.  You lived a lie all your life.  Now, you will face the truth of who you are for all eternity, a person who wanted nothing to do with God while pretending to care, now you will spend all eternity separated from God in eternal torment.  You wanted nothing to do with God while alive on the earth, so God will give you what you always wanted, eternity without Him.”

He looks over to his left and declares, “Take him away to be with others of his kind, to where he deserves.”  Suddenly, two huge angels appear, bind him up, and take him to his new home.

 

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