He was in his early 50s. I hardly knew him, but I had been asked to conduct his funeral. His parents had been devout Christians and he was going to be someday.
Years ago a youth leader pleaded with him to include God in his life. He replied, "There's so much to do and see. With all the school and social activities, I really don't have time. But when I get straightened out, I promise I'll come to youth meetings."
Later he moved away to attend college. Several campus ministries invited him to make God a part of his educational experience. But he was tasting independence for the first time. In subtle ways, he was told he didn't have to pay attention to his religious upbringing. Besides, there'll be plenty of time for that later ... when I get straightened out, he thought.
Soon he met a pretty girl and fell in love. She too came from a Christ-honoring home. They were married in a simple, yet beautiful ceremony. They promised the minister, "We're definitely going to attend church. With this wedding and everything it's been so hectic. But when we get straightened out......
God blessed their home with beautiful healthy twins. Although they had no church home, they asked for prayer at the hospital when there were complications. On subsequent visits to the home the minister encouraged them to bring their children to church. "The kids are such a handful right now. But pretty soon when we're straightened out...," he said.
At first it was difficult for them-really tough-and eventually their car was repossessed. One day as he walked to his job he said to himself, I've got to get straightened out. Then he did something he hadn't done in a while; he prayed: "God if You'll help me get a car, I'll take my family to church."
It didn't happen overnight, but soon he got another job. Things really started popping. Several promotions later they moved to the suburbs. On moving day a neighbor stopped by with freshly baked cookies and a brief, cordial invitation to attend the little church only a few blocks away. Surveying the moving day mess he said, "Maybe when we get straightened out......
However, by that time, life and pretty well set an agenda of business and social activities which greedily devoured his clock and calendar. He thought of God now and then, when he drove his luxury car past the little church.
"I'm no infidel, you know," he would often say. "I donate blood twice a year, buy Girl Scout cookies, coach Little League soccer, and I'm an American. I'll get started to church when I get straightened out."
But, today a steady stream of stylishly dressed people filed past his casket. Obviously, he was loved. Scores of people sobbed as they looked for the last time into his face-the pleasant expression forever sealed with cosmetic wax and formaldehyde. And I thought of the irony of it. There was a time he promised God he and his family would go to church if they only had a car. He had promised dozens of friends he was going to start to church someday.
Well, today a very expensive automobile hauled him to church. Another luxurious limousine brought his wife and children. And a half dozen of his friends carried him into the sanctuary ... all the way down to the front.
Another insight into the absurdity of it pierced my heart, causing yet another round of tears. Here was a man who finally made good on his word. he had promised scores of concerned people through the years, "I'm going to come to church when I get straightened out."
Today ... he's straightened out.
Larry Hatfield is pastor of Grand Avenue Assembly of God in Chickasha, Oklahoma.