ARE WE UNCOMFORTABLE SPEAKING ABOUT HELL?

It has been my practice to read at least one sermon from a great preacher of the past each week. I find my soul stirred by the many personalities and styles God uses in proclaiming the unchanging word of God. I just finished reading Charles Spurgeon’s sermon entitled “Heaven and Hell.” His text was Matt. 8:11-12 “And I say to you, that many shall come from the east and west and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
I was gripped with the candid directness of  Spurgeon’s  words and his unshakable conviction that the word of God must stand without adaptation. I like the way he approached his audience. He said simply “Weigh right and wrong this night; see whether what I say be the truth of God. If it be not, reject it utterly, and cast it away; but if it is, at your peril disregard it; for, as you shall answer before God, the great Judge of heaven and earth, it will go ill with you if the words of his servant and of his Scripture be despised.”
There was no political correctness in his wording but there was no lack of grace in his tone either. I loved the way he revealed the tension in his soul as he preached this very heavy subject. This is how he put it: “My text has two parts. The first is very agreeable to my mind and gives me pleasure; the second is terrible in the extreme; but, since they are both the truth, they must be preached.” The insight of his confession reflects what should be the thought of every preacher as he stands before his audience with the open word of God in his hand.
The first part of the sermon is extremely comforting. He jolted me when he observed that there will be more people in heaven than in hell. Before you throw the “narrow and wide gate” text at Spurgeon I encourage you to read how he came to this conclusion. You may not agree with him, but he does have a point. Then he moves to the last part of the text. You can sense his heaviness of heart as he preaches about the outer darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth. I don’t think I can ever speak on hell again without Spurgeon’s words ringing in my ears. Listen: “But, in hell, there is no hope. They have not even the hope of dying. They are forever-forever-forever lost! On every chain in hell, there is written ‘forever.’ In the fires, there blaze out the words ‘forever.’ Up above their heads, they read ‘forever.’ Their eyes are galled, and their hearts are pained with the thought that it is forever. Oh! If I could tell you tonight that hell would one day be burned out, and that those who were lost might be saved, there would be a jubilee in hell at the very thought of it. But it cannot be–it is ‘forever’ they are ‘cast into utter darkness.”
So why are we so reluctant to speak so clearly of hell? Do I really believe my neighbors in their nice houses will end up there? Am I that callous and preoccupied with life that I cannot bring myself to think long on the subject? Do I fear if I spoke or preached so candidly that such  messages would be unappreciated, unwelcomed? Are the words of Scripture to be taken at face value? Are the stakes that high? Think it thru

Do our best opportunities come as surprises?

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It was Doug Munton in his little book IMMERSED that talked about what he calls “midnight opportunities” that got me to thinking about those times of witness that pop up most unexpectedly.  He spoke of Paul & Silas, wrongly imprisoned…having a bad day…yet at the end of the day you find them worshiping God in singing and the text says that the prisoners were listening to them. Talk about a surprising opportunity.  Can you image the evangelistic planning meeting Paul’s team had before this? Do you think it went something like this?  Well, guys  when we go to Philippi, lets do something really radical,like healing a demon-possessed girl, ruin some wicked businessmen’s livelihood and then  get ourselves beaten up and thrown in jail. Then about midnight when we get our breath back, let’s have an evangelistic service and sing some special music to draw in the crowd of prisoners and then we will have a preaching service and share the Gospel.  Ludicrous thinking! We know that is not what happened.
But it was at midnight in jail after a rough day’s ministry they decided to talk to God in prayer and break out in spontaneous praise to God when the surprising opportunity happened.  There was an earthquake, the jailer became unglued and was about to commit suicide when Paul stopped him, and shared the good news about Christ and led he and his family to the Lord. I don’t want to minimize the difficulties these guys faced nor overlook the pain and frustration they no doubt felt. But they got their eyes open to where God had put them and what God decided to do right there in that tough, unfair circumstance.

Sometimes my “eyes” don’t see those surprising opportunities because I am too focused on the “jail” or the “mean people” who took advantage of me. Did you ever pray, Lord give me this so I can be a better witness? Then the surprising thing takes place: God takes something away so I can be an even better witness! So back to our question: Do the best opportunities come as surprises? Maybe so! Join me in asking God to keep our eyes open to those unexpected even surprising moments. Think it thru…

TELL THE TRUTH IN EVANGELISM…REALLY?

Just-tell-the-truth-600x448     I have been challenged lately by a book I am reading entitled: Tell the Truth by Will Metzger. It is a book about communicating truthfully and lovingly the Gospel.  It is a much needed call to the church regarding the practice of Biblical evangelism.  He observes [rightfully so I believe]  that a major shift continues to undermine absolute truth. He says: “Our culture has influenced Christians to look to their inner self and find their identity through self-actualization. Be true to your self-generated feelings, opinions, thoughts. Find  out what feels right for you and live by these “truths.” This is how many nominal Christians, and also a growing number who wear an evangelical nametag, live.” If this is becoming the accepted approach, it is no wonder that unbelievers find nothing of substance in our “Gospel.”

Somehow we have allowed ourselves to become intimidated into softening the truth of the Gospel.  This Gospel  declares that we are undone, helpless sinners and  that no amount of self-healing, introspection, or positive ouitlook can change hearts that are corrupt from birth.  The fact is that a commitment to Christ  “…is not a mere prayer and that’s it. Rather it is a CONVERSION in the true sense of the word; our whole lives are changed. Paul says we become new creations.” This truth must be lovingly yet firmly communicated, even if it repells some of our friends and family.  We have been counselled not to be negative, and not to bring sin up in our conversations.  But that is not telling the truth.  We can be loving and still tell the truth.  We are “message planters” and God does the saving.  Let’s ask God to help us lovingly tell the truth of the Gospel so sinners understand their plight and come to Christ for salvation from their sins. THINK IT THRU