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Hell  

I just put the finishing touches on a sermon focused entirely on hell.

Not exactly my idea of fun.  But as I have complained about the paltry attention hell is given in today’s pulpits, I felt compelled to “search the Scriptures” and focus on this awful eternal destiny.

It didn’t take long to arrive at what may be the most disturbing story in the entire Bible.  Luke 16 takes us to the gates of hell itself where a formerly rich man is now doomed to unending agony.   What we encounter in this passage is the closest thing we have to a video clip of hell.

Scripture notes discomforting details about the man’s experience.   Verse 23 records, “In Hades he lifted up his eyes….”  So the man was fully conscious and able to see.

He was also able to feel.  Verse 23 goes on to describe him as “being in torment.”  In verse 24 he virtually screams, “I am in agony in this flame.”

In verse 28 this terrified man begs, “I have five brothers…warn them so that they will not come to this place of torment.”

Some try to minimize the literal eternal flames and the literal eternal agony of hell by saying this story of Jesus is a parable, not an actual historical account.  And it may well have been a parable. But that doesn’t mean hell is somehow different than what we read about in Luke 16.

At no point before or after this parable does Jesus say anything that would contradict the details of this story.  The many scriptures that speak of Hell consistently support the personal eternal agony of the Luke 16 passage.

Which takes me to a comment I heard from 99-year-old Art Rorheim.  Standing before a crowd, this venerable soul-winner paused, drew a breath and checked his emotion as he boldly asserted, “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are headed for heaven, and those who are headed for hell.”

Where will you go?

 

If you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God was raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  –Romans 10:9

 
Sound and Fury  

Smoke….flash…bang! 

The impact rattled in my chest as much as it rumbled on the field. I’m speaking of the Cantigny Revolutionary War Reenactment we witnessed, courtesy of the North West Territory Alliance.

Envision more than 400 Revolutionary War actors in full costume.  Mix in cannons, muskets and rifles blasting away and history definitely came alive.  Period blacksmiths and shopkeepers offered wares of all kinds, including leather goods, wooden ladles, pewter mugs, knives and bonnets.

Of particular interest to me was a writing desk where you could scratch out letters with a period quill and ink.  The guide even provided hot wax and a stamp to seal your letter. 

But the biggest and loudest event, of course, was the mock battle staged in the open field.  Redcoats and American patriots recreated war at the time of Washington as hundreds of spectators looked on.

One take-away for me: the gap between opposing forces was shockingly small—a colonial musket being accurate only up to 50 yards.  To describe the sound as merely intense would not do justice to the afternoon.

Through the lens of my camera, I saw flashes of fire and smoke, the monstrosity of war spewing shock and awe over the entire field.   And because this reenactment was about truly sensing the impact of combat, there were “casualties” in the form of simulated deaths.  Before long, a number of “corpses” lie still on the green lawn. I was entranced.

And then it was over.  

The smoke cleared.  The conflict done, the crowd began to leave. Soldiers who appeared stone dead a moment previous stood up and began walking and talking and laughing.  Honestly, it was a bit of a mind bender.

In the sound and fury, I think I may have encountered a portrayal of the end of days.  When the last battle has finally been fought and the smoke clears, our God will raise His children back to life! 

We shall see then that fatal accidents, cancers, heart attacks, old age and wars were only a pause. In the splendor of heaven, where war will never enter, we will pick up conversations and laugh with our believing brothers and sisters as if the death that separated us was nothing more than a short drama played out on a grassy field one Saturday afternoon.

Come, Lord Jesus!

 
A Beautiful Thing   

 

 

Would you accept a dinner invitation from folks living at the home of “Simon the leper?”  Having personally visited a leprosy clinic and seen feet without toes and stumps without hands, I’m not sure I’d even show up.

 

But Jesus did.

 

There at the home of Simon the leper, He sat down to eat.  Matthew 26 records that at some point during the meal, a woman approached him carrying an alabaster vial of very pricey perfume.  She promptly poured it on his head as he lay reclining at the table.  Not some of it.  All of it. 

 

In a culture where bathing was difficult, the heat often oppressive and deodorant essentially non-existent, a normal dining experience must have required a measure of self-distraction to get past the stink of street life.

 

So imagine the power of that fragrance, drizzling beauty over every musty molecule in the room.  Stench supplanted by sweet.

 

A wreckless gift? A kindness borne of brashness? Perhaps.  At least that was the disciples’ assessment: “Why this waste?  For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor!”

 

Jesus shot right back at them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”

 

I had scarcely “heard” these words out of Jesus’ mouth when they pierced me like an arrow.  Winded and emotionally gasping, I could not escape the razor edge of such thought.  

 

Have I ever—even once—in my entire life done something for Christ which He would describe as “a beautiful thing done to me”?  Have I done just one small task, made one small sacrifice, done one small kindness exclusively for the person and pleasure of Jesus? 

 

I can’t speak for you, but I know that even the best of my “pure” motives are often not very pure.  There’s a little of self in there somewhere. 

 

The purity of this woman’s gift—a beautiful thing to Jesus—is a fragrance we still enjoy today.  Her story—and her gift—have been celebrated for two millennia.  So…

 

What’s my gift?      

What’s yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 
Be Like Baby Ava  

Confession: On Sunday mornings, I often sing the worship songs without actively giving God true praise.  I mouth the words…but fail to process them.  I sing the tunes, but don’t engage them.  Is this a lack of gratitude on my part?  Perhaps.  I suspect it's more an issue of distraction (I can’t imagine God is somehow okay with that).

Nine-month old Ava showed me up last Sunday.  Attending church service on the grounds of King Camp we sang hymns and choruses—typical Sunday morning fare.   I was once again…well, distracted.

Part of the distraction this time was Ava herself.  This blue-eyed baby has a mesmerizing effect on any who would glance her direction.  Her little smiles, patty- cake smacks and other antics are beyond charming—even for an adult in a place of worship, at a time of worship.

That’s when I saw Ava.  She was patting the hymn book with her open palm.  Over and over she gently tapped the thing.  Then I noticed her mouth.  It was wide open and she was definitely offering a vocal praise of her own.  Though I freely admit to being partial to this little baby, I’m absolutely certain she shows early potential as a musician.

Consider—baby Ava was singing.  Not because she had to.  Not because it was printed in a bulletin.  Not because some guitar-clad, facial-haired worship leader told her to.  She was making a joyful noise because she couldn’t NOT do so. 

For the skeptic suggesting I’m ascribing a bit too much to Ava’s gesture, check out Psalm 8: “From the lips of children and infants He has ordained praise….”    

Ava has something to teach me—and maybe you, too.  It’s true we don’t wear onesies anymore.  No more footies in our jammies. So more than ever, it’s time to pursue worship as grownups. Not because we have to, but out of a sense that we can’t NOT worship.  When we get to the place where our worship is the unstoppable overflow of a full heart, we will cease being pretenders and become more like Ava: bubbling over with a simple joy that has its beginning and end in Jesus.  

 
Rotten to the Elbow  

Imagine a tree five-feet in diameter whose massive trunk stands poised to pummel the ground.  (I was actually there and took pictures!). The word, “thud,” doesn’t begin to describe what happened when the last of the chainsaw’s work was done.

Our kids spent a surprising amount of their summers under that massive Oak which was almost a family friend. For shade, beauty and protection (you could sit by your campfire under its thick boughs and scarcely feel a drop of rain) this tree was in a class of its own. 

So why did it have to be taken down?  I was told the tree became rotten.  Yet it still bore some green leaves I noted, a bit unconvinced, even skeptical.

This weekend, I stood on the stump of the grand old tree and observed a dark hole as wide as a hand span, a cavity of nothing but rot. The hole went down into the earth below the stump.  More evidence of rottenness.

While driving past the campground’s wood pile, I then found the overturned chunk of trunk that once connected to the stump. Get this—that same hole of rotten nothingness had eaten through this segment as well.  It was large enough that I could shove my entire arm inside—so I did! 

The rottenness went past my elbow—ran the full length of the section.  In other words, the tree exhibited some signs of life on the outside, but was thoroughly rotten inside.  I was shocked to study the tunneled void that bore no water, no nutrients at all to the limbs and branches.

It all got me to thinking.  I wonder how many of us who’ve claimed the name of Christ are in some measure like that rotten tree.  We look reasonably good to the world and—more critically—to our church family and Christian friends.  Our exterior conduct might hint at some minor problems, but hardly anybody knows that deep inside, there’s a deadly spiritual void where obedience and holiness ought to be.  We are rotten—”up to the elbow.” 

Personally, I'm amazed at the rot that creeps into my own life. There’s the rottenness of a critical spirit, a careless word, a haughty spirit. There’s the rottenness of chronic anxiety, prayerlessness, exaggerated speech and self-focus. 

The good news is that unlike the tree I’ve described, there’s hope for you and me.  God can actually restore years of rot. The bad news is if we continue in our self-deception, the spiritual rot will eventually kill us. In the end, whether we rot—or not—is ultimately a question of choice.  Let’s choose wisely!

“Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”   —Ephesians 4:24

 

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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Thursday, September 21, 2017
Hell
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