Monday, July 24, 2006

The Reality of Hell

In a national poll conducted several years ago by USA Today “67% of American adults said they believe in a hell. But less than 25% believed that they would go there.

Strangely enough a newer poll conducted by US News and World Report (2000) reveals that more Americans today believe in Hell than they did in the 1950’s or even 10 years ago. But most now think of hell as “an anguished state of existence” rather than a real place.

I assure you that the Devil believes in a real Hell. You may not believe in hell or you may think that it is just a state of mind, but as the old revival preacher said to the skeptic, “You not believing in Hell don’t lower the temperature there one degree.”

We don’t like think about the reality of Hell and we often hear the statement, “I don’t believe that a good god will send anyone to Hell.” This statement is based on error and inconsistency. We never make the statement, “How could a good judge sentence a mass murderer to death for his crimes?” We don’t say that because the judge is not responsible for the man being sentenced to death, his actions are.

In the parable that Jesus tells in verses Luke 16:19-31 we see two men from two very different walks of life and find themselves in two very different eternities.

Before death the rich man lived in complete luxury not wanting anything and Lazarus the beggar lay at the gate to his house wishing that he could just eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.

Not only is Lazarus described as a beggar but he is also described as a man covered in sores. So much so that the wild dogs of the city would come to him and lick the open sores that covered his body.

Death changed everything for both of these men. The bible tells us that when Lazarus died he was carried by angels to Abraham’s side and when the rich man died he found himself in the torments of hell.

You can argue the existence of God, heaven and hell all you want but one thing that you cannot deny is the fact that we all face death. It’s a morbid and sobering thought but you and I are going to die at some point and at the funeral it will be just your physical shell lying in the casket. The real person, the soul/spirit, has already departed to either a place of torment or a place of comfort, depending on the person’s spiritual condition.

Why is the rich man in hell? Reading this story by itself without an understanding of the rest of the Gospel a person might think that the rich man is in hell for being rich. The real reason for his being in hell was his disregard of the word of God and his rejection of the Lord.

Some people have an image of Hell that is not based on reality. For instance Mark Twain said, “I’ll take heaven for the climate and Hell for the society.” Ted Turner once said “I’m looking forward to dying and going to hell because I know that’s where I’m headed.” People would not be so flippant about Hell if they understood the reality of it. Through the experiences of two men Jesus gives us a glimpse into Hell. It is brief but powerful enough to blow apart many of man’s misconceptions about Hell.

Misconception # 1
Hell is nothingness we will just cease to exist, hearing, seeing and feeling nothing.

Hell is a real place of continuous anguish. This man was not dreaming. His hell was not on earth. He was conscious and aware of his surroundings – he could feel, he could speak, experience thirst – and was in anguish. In verse twenty-four he pleads, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”

In fact, this is not the only place that the Bible uses vivid language to describe Hell. In Matthew 25:30, Jesus describes Hell as a place of “outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Hell is also described in the Bible as a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48). In the book of Revelation the Final Judgment is described as a “lake of fire.”

Every description of Hell is one of suffering, torment and agony. In this parable we see the word “torment” used four times, and it speaks of definite pain.

Misconception # 2
Not realizing that the choices we make in this life fix our destiny in the next.

There are no second chances after death and eternity is a long time to be wrong. The bible says that ultimately every knee will bow down to Jesus Christ. For some it will be in adoration and worship and for others out of disbelief and astonishment that they were wrong. One of the most fearful horrors of hell is the undying memory of what could have been.

Misconception # 3
After I spend sometime in Hell I will be able to get out.
“And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. Verse 26”

There is no purgatory, no reincarnation, no chance for relief, no way out, no end to the suffering in hell. In Hell it is too late to pray, it is too late to change your life and it is too late to repent. Hell is a place where hope is dead.

Life on earth is the opportunity to secure your eternity. Once a person passes beyond the boundaries of this world it will be too late to change anything.

Misconception # 4
Hell won’t be so bad, I’ll be there with my buddies.

"He answered, ’Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, (28) for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ (29) "Abraham replied, ’They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ (30) ’No, father Abraham,’ he said, ’but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ (31) "He said to him, ’If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ "

We don’t see the rich man reveling in fellowship with his friends, he is very much alone. He is not looking forward to his friends joining him there either. Rather he is desperate to find a way to warn them from coming there.

You can’t believe in God without believing in the devil. You can’t believe in heaven without hell. Why do you think they call it getting saved? You are being saved from the torment of a literal hell. The teachings of Jesus clearly tell us that there is an eternity. You have two choices as to where you are going to spend yours but the important thing to remember is that it is your choice.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Freedom Celebrated

Atop the hill in Washington, D.C. stands the Capitol Building of the United States of America. The cornerstone was laid in 1793, but the crowning touch, is the statue on top known as the “Freedom Lady” that was placed there in 1863. The Freedom Lady, stands nearly 20 feet tall. A crest of stars frames her face. A shield of Stars and Stripes is in her left hand.

Sculpted in Rome, “the Lady” was brought to America aboard a sailing ship. During the trip across the Atlantic Ocean, a fierce storm developed. The Captain ordered cargo thrown overboard to lighten the load. The sailors wanted to throw the heavy statue overboard, but the captain refused, shouting over the wind, “No! Never! We’ll sink before we throw ‘Freedom’ away.” And so, “Freedom” was saved, and the statue stands above the dome today, because one man stood for “Freedom.”

One word sums up America, freedom. America prides itself on her freedom. Yet many Americans have taken for granted their freedom and have forgotten the religious principles that our country was built upon.

As Christians who worship the God who granted our freedom and the many fighting men and women who have defended it there are three things we should do in celebration of freedom.

Rest in what God has done for you.

You can rest in what God has done for you, because of what Jesus has done to make us free. John writes in Revelation 1:5b, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

God is in control over all worldly leaders, and Jesus has set us free. Why worry? There is a lot of talk about the growing super power of China, or the nuclear threat of North Korea or even the latest developments in Iran, but guess what? God offers rests! He is in control.

People are trying more and more to deny the existence of God but the reality is that we wouldn’t have the United States of America if it were not for a group of people who believed in God. One reason why we confess our sins as we gather in worship is to experience this rest that God offers. Freedom is for resting in what God has done for you.

Respond with a life empowered by the Holy Spirit. Understanding freedom is a bit like understanding kite flying. If the wind is strong, the kite goes higher, and grows smaller and smaller as it tugs against the string. The harder the wind blows, the higher the kite rises. Then let’s say the string breaks! The kite is free, but no longer soars higher. It tumbles, and crashes to the ground or becomes tangled in the trees. What kept the kite airborne was the restraint of the string. When that was lost, the kite was unable to fly. We are never freed until we are restrained by something that pulls us higher and higher. It is not the absence of restraints that makes us free.

There is no freedom in life until one belongs to God. Every other form of it is an illusion. We find the freedom to achieve the greatest desires of our lives only when we live in that relationship. The loving life of freedom is lived out wisely as we follow the Holy Spirit in how we live. Paul offers us a life empowered by the Holy Spirit when he writes in Galatians 5:22-23a,

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

We have been freed for resting in what God has done for us and responding with a life empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Reach out by becoming a contagious Christian.

Leviticus 25:10b , proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.

God has the same purpose for our lives today to proclaim liberty throughout the world that is ours through Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us we have a common need for the free gift God gives in Jesus Christ.

Romans 3:22-24,
22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

In a land that is free millions of people are slaves under the burden of their own guilt. Freedom is celebrated because we live in the freest country in the world but everyone, world wide, needs to be able to celebrate their spiritual freedom as well. It’s something that we all need and is available so what are you waiting for?