On November 5, 2004, my nephew, Scott, moved to Heaven.
From a spiritual standpoint, Scott’s family and friends knew that he’d gotten the sweetest relocation package offered. From a human standpoint, we felt like we’d been demolished by a freight train. Scott’s death not only saddened people…
It scared them.
And with good reason. Pre-illness, Scott was a specimen for a strong, athletic young man. I didn’t know anyone who could run, bike and pump iron like Scott could. How could he have fallen so sick? How could he be dead?
Unknown to Scott, he had heart disease-and like a cold and cowardly predator, it didn’t show its face. It crept slowly and silently upon him, then delivered a sucker punch: a heart attack.
Doctors at Atlanta’s Saint Joseph’s Hospital, renowned for cardiac care, said they weren’t surprised-that they were seeing heart disease in younger and younger men all the time. I advised my husband and others: “See a cardiologist.”
My husband wasted no time, but some don’t like thinking about it.
“I had a physical a couple of months ago,” they might say, eager to change the subject. “Everything was normal. Hey, did you hear about…”
Everything was normal.
That’s what folks said before the Great Flood, before extreme fireworks set Sodom all a-blaze.
“People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.” (Luke 17: 27-29, NIV)
Jesus was teaching that everything would seem normal right up until His return. His teaching also brings to mind something we’re somberly aware of:
In the midst of normalcy, the bottom can drop out of our world.
It could be a car accident or a cat scan bearing bad news. Annually, for 1.1 million people in America alone, it’s a heart attack.1
Five months before his heart attack, Scott had a routine physical and everything was normal. While he was in the emergency room, HAVING a heart attack, his EKG was NORMAL. His lab work was NORMAL. Doctors didn’t initially suspect a cardiac event, but because they couldn’t ease Scott’s pain, they ordered in-depth testing that looked deeply into his heart-and that’s when the truth was discovered.
Scott’s experience proved two things:
1. The real condition of the heart isn’t always obvious.
2. Basic, routine testing doesn’t always tell the tale.
This is true of our physical hearts-that miraculous, fist-size organ that beats 100,000 times and pumps 2,000 gallons of blood through our circulatory systems every day we’re on earth.
It’s also true of our spiritual hearts, the one that lives, somewhere, for all eternity.
Recently, I heard the term “notional Christians,” defined by the Barna Research Group2 as those “who describe themselves as Christians, but do not believe that they will have eternal life because of their reliance upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the grace extended to people through a relationship with Christ. (A large majority of these individuals believe they will have eternal life, but not because of a grace-based relationship with Jesus Christ.)”
The description reminds me of a friend’s dad who had been raised in a Christian home, been baptized and professed belief in God. Personally and professionally, his life earned him the reputation of a good man who lived right. One day, though, he shocked his fellow church members by going forward during the alter call.
“I needed to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior,” he explained. “I just realized that Christ is what makes you a Christian.”
I know Christians, myself included, who were once notional, thinking we had Heaven in the bag because we believed in God and were good people. On the surface, our hearts appeared to be in good spiritual condition. We passed the basic tests by which the world judges Christians-living right and attending church. It wasn’t until we searched our hearts-underwent spiritual echocardiograms, so to speak-that we discovered our tickers weren’t in good shape.
They were missing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And according to the Bible, if you don’t believe you need Christ to get into Heaven…well, it doesn’t matter what else you believe.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NIV)
Believing in God isn’t enough. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder.” (James 2:19, NIV)
Being a good person isn’t enough. “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.” (Ephesians 2:8, NIV)
In 1 Corinthians 11:28, Paul says, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (NIV)
This would apply to notional Christians, but also to those who truly have a relationship with Christ.
When Scott died, it was because his physical heart failed him. He entered eternity, though, with a spiritual heart that was healthy. Scott was ready to meet Jesus face-to-face.
Am I? If I died right now? As far as salvation goes, yes, but only because of His blood. But boy, there are days when I’d hate for Him to give me a spiritual cardiac catherization. He’d find blockages, like worldly cares and unconfessed sin, crowding Him from His rightful place.
Anytime Jesus doesn’t hold the number one spot in our hearts…we’re suffering a spiritual heart attack. We need a clot buster. When our blockages are cleared, we “may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19, NIV)
There’s plenty of heart trouble going around. We try keeping our physical hearts healthy with diet, exercise and lifestyle. Our spiritual hearts need the same attention-prayer, Bible study, fellowship with believers and living as our Lord teaches. Above all, we need a personal relationship with Jesus, who said,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” (John 14:1, NIV)
What’s your spiritual echocardiogram got to say? If that heart is sluggish, here’s good news: the condition is curable. If we know the Lord, we need to put Him first.
IF, however, someone discovers their heart is notional… there’s still good news: God does transplants.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.” (Ezekiel 36:26, NIV)
With spiritual heart disease, every minute counts. Once we’ve hit eternity, there’s no CPR or 911 to give us a second chance, so let’s be ready to stand before God with “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy, 1:5, NIV)
In closing, I say to Scott: my heart yearns to see you. Praise God, we have the same cardiologist-Jesus.
And because of Him, we shall meet again.
1 Bayer Health Care, 2005
2 The Barna Research Group provides primary research services to organizations focused on enhancing people’s spiritual lives.
Donna Morton is a Christian writer from the Atlanta, Georgia. More about her and her writing can be found at FaithWriters.