Ascending to Heaven

The story is told of a preacher in a small European village. He was greatly loved by the people, and they believed he had an especially close relationship with God. He disappeared every Friday and could not be found for several hours. The villagers boasted that during those hours he ascended to heaven and talked with God.

There was a newcomer to that village. He was a skeptic who made fun of the faith of all the other people. He got increasingly irritated by all the claims about the minister, and so he determined to find out where he really spent Fridays. So he hid near the preacher's house. He watched as the preacher rose early, spent time in prayer, and left his house in the clothes of a peasant.

The young skeptic followed the old man from a safe distance. He watched him cut down a tree and chop up a large stack of firewood. He continued to watch as he made his way to a shack in the poorest part of the village and stacked the wood. It was the home of an old woman and her sick husband. After leaving the couple enough wood to last them a week, the preacher quietly returned to his own home.

The villagers were startled the next Sunday when the young newcomer was in church. They were even more surprised when he became a Christian shortly thereafter. He thought highly of the church's godly minister and -- upon his death -- he became his successor. For the rest of his own life, whenever he heard one of the villagers speak of his predecessor and say, "On Fridays he would ascend to heaven," he would add softly, "If not higher."

Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).

We seem inclined at times to try to prove our discipleship by church membership and doctrinal correctness. While those things are important, the real proof that we know God is loving and serving unselfishly. Food for the hungry, shelter for the cold, companionship for the lonely -- that's the way of Christ. It's also the best way to answer skepticism and unbelief.

We should never do our righteous acts to be seen by others, but we know that our upright deeds -- even the ones done in secret -- are being watched. If you actually know God and walk with him, someone who is watching will discover it. That person may want to learn the secret of such a life and may come to know Christ as a result. The best answer to skepticism is often not argument but demonstration.

Alan Smith

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