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

WAS CHRISTMAS REALLY A “SILENT NIGHT?”

I really like the Christmas hymn Silent Night.  But I have to wonder…was that night a silent night with  all being calm? Was the infant so tender and mild suggesting a comfortable setting for the babe?

From all I read Jesus was born into a chaotic, lawless and troubled world.The leaders of Israel were leading the people further and further from God. Their nation was in subjection to the Roman Empire and many in Israel were fuming and fighting under that condition. One king had it in mind to kill this child-king if he could get his hands on him. And when he could not, what did he do? He had all the children in and around Bethlehem under 2 years old killed. Silent Night? Holy Night?All is calm?  I really don’t think so. Jeremiah predicted that there would be a lot of crying and sorrow among Israel at that time.  The only thing holy about that night  was the Son of God Himself.

Out on the hillside the Shepherds had their hands full too with a frightening display of angel lights and sounds. It was not so silent a night as far as they were concerned.

Was it a calm night for the new Christmas parents? Joseph and Mary were not in a comfortable hostel but far from home, having to make a hard trip to comply with census laws.  They ended up  in a cave stable where she gave birth to Jesus.  This baby was laid in  a feeding trough for animals. Calm, quiet surroundings you think? With animals, really?

I know…we like our Christmases contemplative and quiet so we can think.  That image of a peaceful and peace-filled celebration appeals to us. But in reality Christ’s birth was never meant to be treated in Silent Mode.  The coming of Christ is something to shout about, talk about, sing about, and testify to.  We ought to be making a lot of noise as a church at Christmas. This is our time. This is our Savior. Mohamed has nothing to do with this. The angel Moroni can’t share in this. Buddha has to bow low to this one. Hinduism has no Savior. Man’s religion has to take a back seat to this Lord of Glory come to earth! They must all stand silent before this King Savior – Jesus the Christ. Those are the real “silent night” people. Jesus says we are people of the day (I Thess. 5:5). We are to carry news of him everywhere and shout it from the mountaintops.

No, my friend. Let’s have no silent nights around Christmas. Christ really did come. Now that is something to talk about! Who will you tell over the next few days?  Silent night?? No way!! Think it thru

 

 

 

DID YOU EVER PUT A PEBBLE IN SOMEONE’S SHOE?

I am reading a great book by  Gregory Koukl entitled “Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing your Christian Convictions.” Have you ever felt the guilt or pressure of trying to the share the Gospel immediately with a co-worker, friend, or acquaintance? I know I have.  I think our motives are right because we truly want people to come to know Christ.  After all there is no other solution to the problem of sin that plagues all of us is there?  Apart from salvation in Christ alone there is no answer. Hundreds of books have been written to help us apologetically defend or advance the claims of the one true Gospel. And yet it seems like we are missing  something. Maybe where we drop the ball is in simply learning how to use what we know so that we might  share the Gospel more effectively.

Gregory Koukl in his book made this insightful statement that has been extremely helpful to me in sharing the Gospel with others. He said “I try to put a pebble in someone’s shoe.”  Now that very idea really grabbed me. He went on to demonstrate how to put a pebble in someone’s shoe  by using the “Columbo Method” in gaining an audience. In our conversations with unbelievers we can introduce “the pebble” without introducing tension early on in the dialogue.

Some of you will remember the TV series about the bumbling-appearing detective named Columbo. With his rumpled coat and stubby cigar he would enter the crime scene looking for all the world like a fish out of water. He would appear hesitant, dumb, confused, inept, and just plain at a loss as to how to proceed.  He gave the appearance of not being able to think his way out of a wet paper bag. He would poke around the crime scene, scratch his head, hesitate, and then he would make his move with these words: “I’ve got a problem. There’s something about this thing that bothers me.  Maybe you could clear it up for me. DO YOU MIND IF I ASK YOU A QUESTION?”  And there it is. “The pebble in someone’s shoe.”  The question that lingers in the mind and disturbs the thought process.  You know how aggravating, how insistent a pebble in your shoe can be?  That first question is often innocent enough, but then it leads to another question and then another. And who can forget when Columbo is about to exit the scene he would turn and say something like this: ” I’m sorry, I know I am making a pest of myself. It’s because I keep asking these questions. I can’t help myself. It’s a habit.”  And then he would ask just one more question.  Author Koukl concludes this little tactic with these instructive words for us: “The key to the Columbo tactic is to go on the offensive in an inoffensive way by using carefully selected questions to productively advance the conversation. Simply put, never make a statement, at least at first, when a question will do the job.”

As I thought about this little principle I could not help but notice that Jesus did the same thing. Remember these questions Jesus asked?

He asked the lame man the question:“Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). He asked a certain crowd curious about John the Baptist: “What did you go out into the desert to see?” (Matthew 11:7). He asked a critical group of leaders who were bothered by his healing on the Sabbath day: “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?” (Matthew 12:11). When some confused Jesus with Satan and Satanic powers, Jesus asked: “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man?”  (Matthew 12:29). When Jesus wanted people to think about eternal matters he asked: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). After Jesus told the story of the Samartian man who helped the wounded man on the Jericho road, he turned to the lawyer & the crowd and asked this question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36)(for further reading on this topic check out Randy Newman’s book: Questioning Evangelism).

These are but the tip of the iceberg of all the questions Jesus asked. I wonder if we should not ask the Spirit of God to help us use more questions as pebbles in a person’s shoe.  Sooner or later the person we speak to is going to have to stop and try to get that pebble out of his shoe. Then is our chance to share lovingly the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Load up on pebbles! Think it thru