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The Fine Art of Denying Reality (Life is Short and Eternity is Long) (published in The Tribune 6/09/12)

posted Sep 7, 2013, 1:17 PM by Fccea Webmaster
A trivia question for sports fans. What do Wilt Chamberlain, Mickey Mantle, Walter Payton and Payne Stewart have in common other than their status as professional athletes? Give up? Well, each was among the all-time greats in their respective sports basketball, baseball, football and golf. And, all had reasonable expectations of living well into the 21st century. None made it.

Stewart intrigues me. He won his second US Open in June, 1999 at Pinehurst in North Carolina. I can still see him in his black knickers and white socks watching his 15-foot par putt going in at the 18th hole to defeat Phil Michelson by one stroke. Six months later, he was gone at age 42, victim of the crash of a private plane that somehow lost cabin pressure, causing loss of consciousness for all aboard.

Who knew as he boarded the plane he was taking his last steps. Actuarial tables say he should have lived another 35 years. But neither the law of averages nor his good health and success could guarantee him another day. That's the fragility of life that we all live with.

But while we all know better, surveys suggest most of us live as though life will last forever. Little preparation is given to what comes next. We intentionally duck that reality in favor of life in Fantasyland.

Don't think so? Consider this. A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life advises that 82 percent of Americans believe in an afterlife. Eighty-two percent! But a study by Kosmin and Lachman from City University in New York published in Newsweek indicates that only 19 percent of adult Americans practice their faith. That suggests that 60 percent of Americans who believe in an afterlife live as though that fact were irrelevant, willfully avoiding a hard reality.

The truth is, the worldview of most people is informed by the old Coors commercial -- "You only go 'round once, so get all the gusto you can!"

Thomas Chalmers was a lazy Scottish minister in the early 1800s. He once wrote a pamphlet claiming that a pastor can easily complete his pastoral work in two days and then pursue other pleasures. The "Coors" philosophy before its time!

But in a four-month period in 1808 he faced in rapid succession the death of a beloved sister, a favorite uncle and his own severe illness. Eyeball-to-eyeball with his own mortality, he realized he was not ready to go. He began to reconsider the life, death and resurrection of Christ, eventually claiming by faith the eternal life offered on the basis of Christ's atoning death.

Years later a fellow-pastor, jealous of Chalmers hard-won ministry success, waved the old pamphlet at him and asked, "Did you write that?" Chalmers replied, "Yes sir, I did. But I wrote it when I was strangely blind. . . . I had forgotten the shortness of time and I had forgotten the length of eternity."

I'm happy that Payne Stewart didn't forget. Interviewed after his Open win he said, "First of all, I have to give thanks to the Lord. If it weren't for the faith that I have in him, I wouldn't have been able to have the faith that I had in myself on the golf course."

Family and friends testified unanimously to the dramatic change in Stewart the last couple of years of his life. He had accepted Christ, was studying the Bible and living his faith. His wife commented that peace reigned in the new Payne Stewart. She said, "Everyone close to Payne knew that his faith was real." I can't speak for Chamberlain, Mantle or Payton, but Payne Stewart was ready to go.

The question is, are we ready -- or are we denying reality? Moses prayed, "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). A heart of wisdom understands this most basic of facts: Life is short -- and eternity is long. It only makes sense to be prepared.

Dave McNeff is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Eaton/Ault