Standing in a worship program, I started looking at the people in the seats that surrounded me. Through the years I have stood with several different people together in the Church auditorium. I have watched people come and go from the community of faith.
Three stories I see played out regularly.
1. People who start strong in their faith and finish poorly.
All of us know that kid who seemed to be bound for gospel greatness. They appeared to be the next great preacher, worship leader or missionary. They seemed to have a fire for God that none of the other young people had in their faith. Then one day something happened. High school became difficult, their friends left the Church, or a member of the opposite sex led them away from religion. There is a long list of possibilities, but now they are no longer a part of anything that resembles faith. It happens not only to kids but believers of all ages. At one point they would do anything for Jesus, now they have no faith at all.
2. People who start poorly and finish strong.
Next, there is that kid who everyone thought would end up in jail. They grew up resistant to all discussions of faith and Jesus. Their life looked from the outside like a downward spiral into the abyss. Then something happened, and suddenly their life took a dramatic turn. A midlife crisis sent them searching for something meaningful, and they found Jesus. Not only did they attend Church, but they served and became a leader. The second half of their life looked nothing like the first. They finished life on earth with an ironclad faith that ushered them into eternity.
3. People who start strong, become weak but finish strong.
These people also come in various forms, but the one I most often see is this. There is a child who grows up with their parents taking them to Church. Somewhere along the line, they attend a camp or a conference that leads them to place their faith in Jesus. Unsure of their new faith they try to walk a line that is dedicated to God but not enough to seem fanatical. Eventually, their parents allow them to choose their own path and they walk away from the faith they once professed. The years that follow are a sordid mess of good times and bad. They fall in love get married and start a family. Not having a unified center for their new life, it quickly falls apart. Divorce and separation are terms that become real. They struggle with loneliness, and they search for joy. One day someone invites them to Church and a fire is reignited in their soul. They step back into faith with hesitancy but slowly grow into a devoted follower of Jesus.
As a pastor, I see these stories played out again and again in the life of the Church. People come and go. The first story breaks my heart. Unfortunately, I have seen it happen dozens of times. I pray for those people and hope their story will have a different ending.
The second two narratives are why I stay in ministry. Watching people change their lives from darkness to light is a story I can enjoy a hundred times. The good news I want to share with you today is that no matter what chapter of your life book you are currently writing. There is still time to alter the ending. You can compose a new future with God in the center. Forgiveness is possible, and a new conclusion can be secured.
Honestly, I do not care how your life started. How you end your story is what is significant.