We bought a new-to-you car for my daughter recently. It's a little less than a decade old, (practically new if you consider the fact that my daughter is a very new driver). However, it does have 150,000 miles on it. Is it new? Is it old? Depends on what you are measuring.
I have a few friends whose loved ones had “deathbed conversions.” To me there has always been something a little bit shady in this. I’m judging, I know. There is this part of me that wrestles with the idea that only when you are about to die does someone’s faith become "real". There is just this human and petty part of me that feels like the person is using this conversion as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. To my mind, the lack of years and mileage do not seem fair when compared to lives lived in service of Jesus.
For instance, take a lifelong missionary living in impoverished and dangerous parts of the world spreading the Good News. That missionary is allowed into the same heaven along with a robbing, murdering crackhead who professes faith just before they flip the switch? Something just feels wrong about that. It does not feel fair. (Please pause a moment for my righteous indignation).
That's it, though, isn't it. Right under the surface, and not too far under it, is the idea that I can earn my way into heaven. Years or mileage, either measure is what I want God to use as the measure of who gets into heaven or not. Neither years or mileage are what God measures when welcoming us into heaven. The story of the vineyard owner who pays workers who work all day the exact same wage as those who he sends out at the end of the day. (Matthew 20:1-16) Jesus promises the same to us- we can accept him anywhere and when on our journey of life. Which also means that the mileage for Jesus is not important either. Start working in his field at dawn or sunset and the wage is the same.
I like the picture of God as the one who sets the rate and the value of the work. The work in this example is repenting and declaring Jesus as Lord. In the last few days or moments of life, the person who converts by repenting and declaring has done what the master has asked and is paid the wage that was promised.
Recently, as a part of my preparation for discipleship study, I did an inventory. You probably know the core of it- "Tell me about your faith walk." I have told this story a bunch of times. I have it down pat. Once you have been asked a question a lot, the mind captures the facts and it is less of a narrative and more of a chronology. This time, however, I got the idea that I should break down the question into smaller parts. How many years and in what ways had I been walking AWAY from Jesus? How many years had I been WANDERING AROUND as I was coming back to Jesus? How many years have I been walking WITH Jesus?
The inventory of the years and what I was doing - walking away, wandering around, walking with Jesus - shows that I have a lot more of the first two types of years than the third. I think I spent my first 20 +/- years wandering around. I spent 20+/- years walking away from Jesus. I spent 3-4 years walking toward, but not with, Jesus. Now I have more than a decade walking with Jesus. Measure my almost 55 years as if they were the hours of a laborer. For me, it's about dusk that I am showing up to work the fields. I showed up at about dusk and yet he is going to pay me the full wage as all of those who have worked longer and harder than me. That's God. He's not measuring years or mileage- It's not easy because of my judgmental nature, but if God's not measuring my years or mileage then I have to let that go when I see other people's conversions, no matter how late in the day they come to the fields.