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Points to Ponder: Last Exit Before Toll

Points to Ponder
Last Exit Before Toll

In 1988 I was the director of marketing for a chain of athletic clubs in the Baltimore area, west of the City. My parents supported my work by becoming members and coming out for workouts and racquetball.
My dad was regular with his workout, using a treadmill, stair-stepper, or exercise bike. One day he commented on his workout, saying, "I just can't get my wind..." I sensed within me a deeper issue. But because I knew the basics about physical fitness, I figured if he just kept at it, his lungs would improve. They should. But they never did. He forged on, not one to complain.
Time passed. I left the health and fitness business to go to seminary and become a pastor. I noted that whenever I saw Dad, he seemed to become easily winded after even the lightest of exertion.
Since I was serving churches 100 miles away from them, we didn't see my parents often. Then in 2000, the diagnosis came: pulmonary fibrosis. It's a disease in which scar tissue builds up in the lungs, robbing them of their oxygen-intake capability. The patient eventually suffocates.
In every other way, Dad was fit and strong. If he just had even one good lung, he could go on. He would not consider a lung transplant. What bothered him most, as his body became less able to carry out the simplest of tasks, was that he could not help anyone. He felt useless. Even watching him eat was like watching a marathon runner bent over at the finish line trying to catch his breath. Breathing was hard work for him.
In 2002, he was rushed to the E.R. at North Arundel Hospital after a particularly bad time. In one of the rooms, he was awake, breathing hard, and obviously in distress. But he was always polite to the nurses and would even kid around and smile as he could. Finally, through his oxygen mask, he said he was willing to consider a lung transplant. I thought I had gained a victory; breaking through that proud resolve that he had to whip this thing. But we soon learned he was too old. It was too late now. On October 12th, at 9:00 a.m., he was dead. The death certificate said that he had had pulmonary fibrosis for 16 years.
When I read that, I remembered as clear as if it was yesterday that moment in 1988 when Dad said, "I just can't get my wind." Deep inside I knew then that it meant something, but my education, experience, and reasoning quickly concluded he just needed to try harder. How could I have known or realized that he was dying in 1988. No matter how many exercise programs I devised, no matter how hard he worked at doing the right thing the right way, he would still die on October 12, 2002. It was not in his power to change that, without outside intervention. He needed something he didn't have - a good lung. He couldn't work hard enough to get his diseased lungs up to standard.
The sin condition is like that. For fourteen of those sixteen years, Dad was unaware that he was on a sort of toll road. It reminds me of I-95 as it approaches the Harbor Tunnel. There is a warning sign as you approach the tunnel: "Last exit before toll." If you don't take that option to get off and avoid paying the toll, you reach a point of no return; you will go through the tunnel and must pay that toll.
I think over the memories of conversations and gatherings with my parents during those fourteen years. Had he checked out his symptoms earlier, he would have had options, exits from this road toward death by pulmonary fibrosis.
There are photos of him at my ordination, laughing at our wedding, holding our firstborn daughter. All along his lungs were quietly deteriorating; he was dying. Who knew? Who expected it? Yet, no matter how it happens, it is the one sure thing in life - your death.
The old saying goes, "Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die." But on the road of life, there's an exit to consider now, before that tunnel comes up. One book in the New Testament gives a summary known as the "Roman Road to Salvation". Have you studied this road map? Do you know where your journey will ultimately end?
The Roman Road: Romans 3:23; 5:8; 6:23; (the exit before the toll) 10:9-10.
If you believe in Jesus Christ and that belief turns out to be wrong, you lose nothing. But if you refuse to believe, and the gospel is true (John 3:16-18), you have lost everything.
Go to our website to read the Roman Road passages and to contact us for resources, sermon tapes, or counsel.

Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, of Clear Spring, MD.

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