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August 30, 2012

Lord save us from hell

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 Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?

-Matthew 25:44

Some Christians believe that all non-Christians will go to hell for eternity after they die. Most of them realize that eternity is a pretty long time to suffer, especially for a person who maybe never heard of Jesus or never witnessed an authentic Christian life. So they feel compelled to share their faith and to go and make disciples of all nations.

Sharing faith with others can be awkward, expensive, and downright inconvenient. But if you don't share it and a non Christian dies, they're going to hell. So what does the cost matter if the blood of countless others is on your hands?

I'm usually a bit skeptical of this. Does salvation not come from God alone, with every individual soul laid bare before his and her Maker? Does the eternal fate of some poor widow on the other side of the earth really depend on something that I do or don't do out of my abundance (like supporting missions trips)? Isn't that an awfully self-centered way to see things?

Jesus had some things to say about hell. He told challenging parables that specifically mentioned, among other things, dividing sheep from goats and eternal torment and weeping and gnashing of teeth. It seems that he thought and taught that hell is real and some but not others would be going there.

Who will be going to hell?

I doubt that "nobody comes to the father but through me" is an indication that all non Christians will be going to hell. And I suspect that the intention of the Great Commission was more than simply telling people about Jesus so they could have a say in their eternal destiny.

So while it seems uncertain whether or not all outsiders are going to hell, Jesus reserved some of his harshest criticism for the religious insiders, Pharisee types who speak falsely in the name of God, the zealots who claim one thing and do another; the faithful who say "Lord, Lord," but fail to do the will of God. It is recorded in few instances that Jesus talked about weighty eternal judgments being made based on one thing alone: what we do for orphans and widows and strangers and the poor.

And to claim to be a follower of Jesus and ignore all the needs near and far is an awfully self centered way to live.

August 01, 2012

eye of the needle - so you're saying there's a chance

"The rich are at a serious disadvantage spiritually." 

I sat in Sunday school listening to the pastor comment on the brief account of Jesus and the rich young ruler. I though about the rich, most of us sitting there, how we find security, independence, and yes, some degree of happiness, in our possessions. In our labor. In our wealth.

I though about a particular rich young ruler. Well, he's not a ruler, but a friend who came to mind. Only a few weeks ago he said "I just don't see the need in it, this belief. I haven't really thought deeply about God because I never needed to."

I wanted to simultaneously applaud his honesty and consistency (in comparison to those who use god to promote their own agenda) and laugh at his naivety (in the fact that at some point life tends to kick your ass). Conflicted over which way to respond, I said nothing.

Whatever our beliefs, the fact of the matter is that many of us who happen to have been born into this society, in this day and age, with one much less two committed, nurturing, able minded parents, have won the lottery of lotteries. Of all people through the ages, we're rich beyond measure. Some would concede that it's beyond reasonable probability, but I would call it blessed.

I really can't argue with a skeptic. After all, we work hard and live responsibly. We simply act on the opportunities before us. We save ourselves, at least for a while. And we don't need this idea of God to justify helping others with the time and talent and resources that...fortune (?) has bestowed on us.

[Which is a statement no more or less consistent than saying that our lives are blessed.]

Of course this all would be different if father fortune randomly pointed his unknowing finger in another direction. If we woke up wondering whether or not we would eat today. If we befell a tragedy that removed our talents and our multiplied false sense of security. History shows that people are driven to God or to hopelessness.

How can you blame the rich?  We work and play our days away in need of nothing. And genuinely seeking God necessarily costs you at some point. There are things to let go, including the illusion of control. The more you have going for yourself, the more difficult it is to notice divine provision and to loosen the grip. It's legitimately hard, like fitting a camel through the eye of a needle.

With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.

-Mark 10.27

I imagine a small crowd standing in quiet contemplation, chewing on the words of Jesus, when it hits one of his disciples, probably Peter. He looks up and shouts, "So you're saying there's a chance!"

I'm thankful for the blessings, relationships, freedom and joy of being small before God. For choosing hope over skepticism. And for Gods grace, the chance, the small passageway to true life both now and in the future.