Aw… Hell!

hellThis is a blog post about Hell.  First, let me start by saying that no one likes to discuss Hell.  It isn’t some great fantasy of Christians to talk fire and brimstone.  It’s hard for me as a Christian to think about Hell and what it really means.  However, I write this post because I think it’s important to understand the Bible, every part of the Bible. To not talk about this part of the Bible is to misrepresent Jesus and the scripture.

Now, not a week goes by that I don’t hear about how evil Christians are.  I hear them called bigots, narrow-minded, extreme, and borderline fanatical.  I recently heard someone say that they were worried about any faith that excluded people.  I hear that Christians are negative and selling a message of hate and fear. Then you hear people say that if Christians loved their neighbors they would just leave them alone.  Now that one really blows my mind.

First, you must understand that Christians believe in the Bible.  They just don’t think it’s a good book.  They believe it is the infallible Word of God.  Christians believe that in His love and mercy God revealed himself to men.  Those revelations were recorded in the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Christians believe that the Bible is a gift, a means for understanding God’s will and His plan for salvation.  Christians believe that plan was culminated on a cross when Jesus Christ was voluntarily sacrificed to pay for the sins of all mankind.  Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the finest of God’s revelations, because He told us exactly what was necessary for us to be saved.  God spoke directly to us, and left nothing more to chance.

Jesus gave us many messages while He was preaching.  He talked to us about the Kingdom of Heaven.  He spoke to us of love, God’s love (John3:16) and the love we should have for each other (Mark 12:31).  He told us to the love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Luke 10:27) and to pursue the Kingdom of Heaven first and foremost (Matthew 6:33).  He taught us to be merciful and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32).  Among all of these teachings, He also taught things that no one likes to talk about.  He taught another message that people like to forget, Hell.  We never see a painting on that topic hanging on the wall of the Christian bookstore.

Jesus taught us about Hell and the consequences for sin.  He taught us that none of us is righteous (Romans 3:10).  He taught us that the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23), which means that if we got what we deserved we would be punished.  He told us what Hell would be like.  He told us that there would be those that would be cast away from God.  He even told us that there would be those that thought they were saved, and their false sense of worship would be revealed in the worst way, as they were also sent away from God (Matthew 7:21-23).  Now, I type that in a nice way, but Hell is not just being sent away.  There is nothing nice about it.  When you read what the Bible, what God says about Hell, it sends chills down your spine.

This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. – Matthew 13:49-50

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ” ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ – Mark 9:47-48

…he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever… – Revelation 14:10-11

When you really spend time thinking about these parts of scripture, you feel conflicted.  You think of all the people you love and care about and then you wonder where they will spend eternity.  I think about all the people I work with, play with, and just wave to as I go about my day.  Then I realize that if I really loved and cared about them I wouldn’t want them to have that kind of a future.  If I really loved those people, or even if I just liked them, I wouldn’t want them to have an eternity of torture.  Personally I think being called a few names is a small price to pay to prevent that from happening.

When you think about the long-term consequences of this decision, every other decision made in this lifetime seems to fade into the background.  Every other portion of this life seems to pale in comparison and seem inconsequential.  I mean, does it really matter how much you weigh?  All the mundane matters of this world suddenly seem so silly when you think of God’s plan for the world, and the salvation of your neighbors.  Jesus told us that He wanted His message spread to the four corners of the world (Matthew 28:19-20).  Don’t you think that means here in our community?

I’m not writing today’s post to frighten or scare you.  Although when you think about Hell, it is frightening and Narrow gatescary.  I am writing this post because I want everyone to remember what is really at stake.  When you wake up tomorrow what is the most important thing you could do?  What is the most important investment you could make with your time?  Find a neighbor, friend or co-worker and tell them the Good News.  Let them know that God has a better plan for them, a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  Take a pause from the busyness of your day and have a conversation with someone you care about.  This conversation could mean more than a moment, it could mean an eternity.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. – Matthew 7:13-14

The Dragon

Once upon a time I was a dragon.  I was a sinner outside the grace of God.  I did what was best for me with little regard to eternal or immediate consequences.  I served and worshiped myself.  I lived a life based on here and now.  I would roar and breathe fire at any who dared defy me.  I was without humility, remorse, or regard. If I were to list all the sins I was culpable for it would be a long and shocking list. 

Then something happened.  I was driving along the I-40 freeway in Arizona, listening to the New Testament on cassette tape.  I was only listening to it because I had a long drive, and one can only listen to so much music and it was free.  I had been listening to it since I left Oklahoma the day before.  Suddenly, with absolute certainty, I knew that God was in the car with me.  I could feel His arms around me in a way I never had before.  At that moment I knew God was real, I was a sinner, and I absolutely wanted Him in my life. I can remember that exact moment and that exact stretch of road with precise detail to this very day.
After that I got off the road at the next exit and bought a cross at the gas station.  I finished my drive, but now I had a hunger for the Lord.  When I got home I went to the store and bought a Bible.  I started on page 1, and started my pursuit of God.  Despite many hiccups and mistakes, I was on my way.  I was now in fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and I was beginning the process of sanctification.
In the years that have followed, I have continued to study the Bible, attend church, was baptized, and have even found places to serve within ministry.  I see myself being changed and renewed in the Word.  I see myself growing in Christ, and I marvel that God would take such a profound personal interest in someone like me.  I am reminded of the novel by C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Eustace, the dragon, slowly has all of his scales pealed away revealing a boy.  I am reminded of how he described the experience…
“The very first tear he made was so deep and I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.” (7.41-42)
Like Eustace we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and as we renew our mind in the Word of God, we continue to change and grow.  Our past scales are slowly removed and we are made new in Christ. However, the consequences of our past sins do not depart from us.  Even though we are forgiven our transgressions and reconciled with God, we cannot forget our past or our debts.  The people we hurt are still hurt.  The wrongs we have committed are still wrong.
Recently I encountered one of those people who I wronged before I accepted God’s grace and mercy.  I ran into someone who didn’t know me as a child of God, but had only been burned by the dragon. I couldn’t really contend with the anger and hurt I had to face from that individual.  Despite the fact that they had also been wrong, I could not hide from the conviction of my own sins.  I saw my own past reflection, the dragon I had been, and I felt broken by it. 
I could only sit silently as I was told that I was not really a Christian.  That my actions were not Christian, and that I did not reflect the teachings of God.  They were absolutely right.  My actions were not Christian.  I had not acted in a way that would have brought glory to the kingdom.  Despite all that had happened since that sin had been committed, and despite my new walk with the Lord, I had sinned against this person.
 
When you reach that point there is really only one thing that you can do, seek forgiveness for your sins and try to make amends.  It didn’t really matter to me at that point what the other person had done, all that mattered was my own sin, and how I needed to make it right.  I wanted to act in a way that is pleasing to God. I confessed my own sin and accepted my blame.  I offered forgiveness to them silently, and asked them for my own.

Beyond that, I realize that no matter what I have done, or how I believe, I remain a sinner.  Daily, despite my best intentions, I sin against the Lord. Any righteousness is bestowed on me through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, and not by any work of mine.  There are mornings when I look in the mirror and still see a dragon.  There are days when I feel like roaring or breathing fire.

So today, I looked at the dragon I once was and I asked for forgiveness.  I asked for that person’s forgiveness and I asked for God’s forgiveness. I accepted the scathing remarks against my walk with faith, trusting that God would make all things right.  I trust that even if I am not a Christian that reflects the glory of God, that He has begun a good work in me, and I eventually will be with Him in Heaven…scales and all.
Philippians 1:6
He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Mission: Possible

Recently I watched Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and I was reminded of God. This isn’t remarkable, because once you start thinking about God, you start to see Him everywhere. There’s even a popular song on Christian radio that says, “You open my eyes, and I can see you all around me..”

The point is, I was watching this movie and it got to the scene where Agent Hunt goes up to a phone, and a message states, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” followed by a list of directions. I heard that and I was reminded of Abraham. I imagined Abraham standing under the clouds as a voice spoke out, “Abraham, your mission, should you choose to accept it…” Then I thought of all the other biblical heroes called to serve in a mission that seemed impossible.

God called upon these men and women to serve the kingdom of God. He asked them to do things that seemed impossible, and just like the movie; He gave them all the tools they needed to accomplish it. The only thing they had to do was accept the mission. The term goes, “should you choose to accept it…”

Not one of the people in the Bible, apart from Jesus, was qualified to accomplish the mission before the call arrived. None of our biblical heroes had to accept God’s will in their lives. All of them could have passed and let someone else serve. Esther didn’t have to approach the king; she could have lived as Queen without risk. Moses didn’t have to return to Egypt and confront the Pharaoh. David didn’t have to face a giant.

The same is true for you and me. We stand here in a phone booth watching a message that could self-destruct in five seconds. We are being presented with God’s will for our lives. Do we choose to accept it? The mission won’t be easy, it will seem impossible. We will be facing a powerful enemy. We aren’t being forced to do anything, God is giving us a choice.

However, should we choose to accept, we won’t be alone. In the movie, the computer tells Ethan that should he be caught or captured the agency will disavow any knowledge of him. That is where our story is different. There is absolutely no chance that should we be caught that God will abandon us. He will be right there with you every step of the way, guiding, supporting, and strengthening you. The only part required of you is to accept the mission.

This week I have struggled with some strong emotions related to personal areas in my life. I see the direction I wanted to go in and the plans I had for my life on the wide path. I can only see glimpses of what the future holds on His narrow path. God is asking me to serve Him, and to die to myself. He is asking me to take up His mission. It might mean sacrifice. It might mean suffering. It certainly means glory for the kingdom of God. So, this week, I am choosing to say yes, to God’s mission, and all that He can make possible.

Mark 10:27 NIV
Jesus looked at them and said, “with man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”