Hell is not waiting for you to say yes

I don’t know about you, but hell is not one of my favorite things to discuss. There are far more appealing things that I would like to concentrate my head and heart on. Hell is sobering, at the very least, and absolutely terrifying, at the worst. I have spent considerable time in residence on either side of the spectrum. The one is definitely more pleasant than the other. That’s why I’m curious to know where you might be on that spectrum.

Hell is something that easily haunts us in our quieter moments–when this world and all its feverish activities are suddenly eclipsed by thoughts that revolve around a reality beyond what we know or can test. This wears down our confidence in what we think we know and makes us feel insecure in a world that does not offer us permanent residence.

Though it is not natural to have peace about hell, we do not need to forever be cowed by its implications for us. Hell does not have to be our destiny. We are truly all born with this as the default setting for our ultimate destination, but it is possible for this to be changed. Even though hell is not waiting for us to say “yes” to it, we can be free of this looming prospect if we will say “yes” to heaven.

You may think this sounds too simple for a solution to such a momentous predicament. But, though it is simple on our side, there is another side on which it was not so simple. You see, God is the One who has secured this solution for us. To do so, He put Himself at the mercy of what is our destiny apart from Him. He faced hell so we no longer have to. And He welcomes us to become a part of the victory that came from His suffering.

This involves recognizing God (Christ) as our all-important Savior. We admit that all our hopes and dreams are nothing if they are not fastened upon Him. We begin to see our hearts as tethers that must be tightly affixed to Him. When He is the One to whom we are secured, we need have no fear of ending up in any place but where He is. Because He rests in heaven, He will one day raise us to be with Him when our time on the earth is over.

Now, I have a question for you: When you think about life after earth, what is the primary thing you think about? Is it fear of hell or peace about heaven?

What’s your “widow-maker”-beating strategy?

Yeah, sometimes that question can leave you with a blank slate. Which, if you’re the rational being like I think you are, may cause you to end up with a slate that’s not so blank after all:

#&*(@$&)(*!&$*(#&%*#&%*(&*(^&*&*@$&*&%*#@&%*#&%*(&%(@^&(^&@#^!@%^&%$#^%($&^(*&^)^^&*#%^&*#$*#&*%(%*_)^*)&%#*(&(#@%&*(@#)%@#*&%(*@%^)$@#^)@#%^@%(*%&*(@$^&!^$%_@%&@(*ty(*t@y$t&%@%&(#ty*b(^#$b)*) b!*($(#!%b @*&HFF!N&)#&%@&!)$$*)%*(%*!)*%!_% *%YR)* VC*JG

I don’t know about you, but I don’t do so well without answers–especially answers that I consider to be crucial to life. Maybe you don’t consider the title question above to be that big of a deal; maybe it’s not crucial to your life as you see it. But, what if it could be? What if it’s one of those realities about life that isn’t always blatantly obvious; perhaps it’s one of those problems that sneak up on you–like heart-attacks that you thought came only at the brink of old age.

I’m not trying to scare you; but I do want to sober you if you’re taking this too lightly. In fact, I’d rather you were scared now than scared later. Maybe you’d prefer the opposite. But really, if you face now what there is to fear about later and you could get the matter dealt with in someway that brought last alteration and peace, wouldn’t that be a deeper promise of peace than you had originally?

That’s what I want for you. That’s what I believe God wants for you. So the only problem you would have at this point is deciding where this is what you want? Is peace all that necessary–that assured knowledge and confidence in where you are going, and thus, in where you are now? Or is peace something you prefer to create on your own out of your aspirations and temporary accumulations?

What is asked of you is not that you become less than a man, less of a human. The question is: Will you begin to truly act like a human and come back to your Maker? Will you remember Whose you are before you try demonstrating who you are? They’re simple questions–they only take a yes or no. I hope you’ll choose the “yes” that comes with the promise, rather than the “no” which is not any less wrong because it challenges you to try to survive on your whits alone.

A reason for living that goes deeper than I thought life could go

Have you ever been taken out of the game? Put on bed-rest? Prescribed a slower schedule and denied access to your super-man/super-woman cape and commitments? I have. Yes, in the grip of God’s loving ways, I’ve been “put on a shelf,” to a certain degree.

I have fought the idea that I can live without the world revolving around my activities. I have wrestled with the pressure to stop pretending that my assumptions do not need to change. I quietly begun to admit that others do not lose their reason for living because I am not beside them for all of their challenges and victories. I have lost my old sense of self and in its absence I look for a replacement. I feel uneasy in this new space. I cry out for help: “God, You got me here, now what are You going to do?”

While I am still in the process of accepting where I am and what God’s doing with me, I still have hope because God is yet doing something with me. He is changing–yes, renewing–my mind and it’s a gift. In all the confusion and frustration there has been deeper meaning; not everything has been lost. The wrestling has helped me discover something: Something I would never have applied to myself if God had not restrained my steps and severely limited my wanderings. Something that gives life even though it is so shamelessly tinged with death.

I did not know Christ

to any spectacular degree

before I found myself here.

But, now that quietness

has stole over me

and I have learned

to live out-of-the-way–

I hold a gift, a gift of

greater worth than what I’ve lost.

I have missed out;

I’ve been forgotten

but one thing I’ve gained:

Christ has become my peace.

He has come and sat with me;

made the emptiness a treat.

Overflowed my parched soul

with joy

and touch my weak points

with grace.

Christ is is known most dearly here.

And so I don’t fail to relax.

Instead, I give thanks.

My understanding is slow,

but one thing I know

He is true

and alone with Him

I still grow.

The wonder is that

I am not always (out) there

that I might remember

that I am not the One who’s needed;

only He makes this life

we live

a truly pleasant affair.


Romance sustained on a shoe-string

In the beginning there was mystery and romance and plenty to fill my thoughts and hold my interest. Any trial can present intrigue to a person who would like to grow and sees the spiritual value to be gained. Whether it is large or small doesn’t matter; you could face the trouble every week, or day-in-and-day-out, yet learn to revel in the gifts God has for you there — even if your only comfort is a bit of His presence to book end each of your weighty days.

But, there comes a point, as with anything when your own personal strength gives out. You didn’t ask it to, it just did. You enthusiasm runs off to revive underground until you come out of this lonesome wilderness. And your spirit begins to shows the wear and tear of life in the desert. This is not your home and it is often unpleasant. You now that the Lord has more for you, but “when, O Lord?” is you cry of despair.

I am living at this point right now. I feel as if I have sucked the bones of romance till my death have hurt enough to stop. I want to quit and allow myself to forget that it exists, and sink into disgust at what God has chosen for me in this window of time. I want to relax, to lower myself to the lowest level of expectation. I don’t want to put all my efforts toward a cause I wish I no longer had to fight.

I struggle to take every thought that seeks to defeat the purpose for my suffering, but I am weak and it would be easier to take down the ship than it would be to continue patching it up and hoping-against-hope that despite every new stormy gale, I will arrive with God at our destination.

I must admit that though the mystery is still there, it now seems cruel without the romance that once came packaged with it to my door. Living with mystery is more work now. It is faith on a shoe-string that’s about to break, rather than a steel girder that has passed every ship-yard test.

I don’t want to go where the shoe-string leads me. Faith is most truly faith in the dark, and just before the dawn when it waits with great anticipation for what it has never seen before. The thought is full of imagery — and pure romance, if I was still willing to see it — but by this time, I’m just not sure I have enough of that anticipation left to see me through.

I want more, but the wait is not over. I want redemption, but it only becomes real for me when I am looking for its evidence not in grand scale productions, but in the infinite number of daily opportunities for beauty from On High to be revealed. When I’m wrapped up in God, He renews my vision for another day and the dailies of my life can be seen for what they are little, unsolicited pieces of His puzzle falling silently into place before my eyes.

Yes, even on the lonely days, when I wake up already feeling in league with traitorous heart attitudes of bitterness and discontentment, a choice lies before me. I have the opportunity to make my day or ruin it. I could be like the woman in Proverbs 9:13 who is described as

brazen, empty-headed, frivolous

or I could be like the lady described in Proverbs 14:1 who for herself

builds a lovely home

and does not behave like the one who

comes along and tears it down brick by brick.

Both choices are open to me. And it is at times when I feel most akin to Mrs. Fool (or Madame Whore as the Message Bible calls her) that these life-giving words are most sobering. And for that moment, that is their power; to wake me up and insist that I climb back up on the Rock, even if I scrape my hands and make a bloody mess of my knees. It is worth it. It is essential. My house, no matter what, must stand.

So, for today I will rise up again and call my Lord blessed. I will live in gratitude for the gift He has given to me in the opportunity to be His every day, all day. I will come to Him and let Him be my Refuge and Strength. I will let myself remember and experience once more that nothing can compare with knowing and being loved by Him. And isn’t this the substance of the romance that I am looking for?

Rest is lost on the racetrack

If you are struggling because you seem to be missing God, do me a favor: Sit down, be quiet for a few minutes, and don’t move. Don’t be rigid, but rest.

God Himself has been watching your every move, ready to meet you, but unable to get your attention long enough for you to consciously slow down and move in to hear what He has to say to you.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes God can feel far away even when we have been peaceful in our anticipation of His revelation.  But, if that’s where you are, and you’re growing impatient, know that the story isn’t over. You can’t write up your disappointment report until God moves, speaks or reaches out to you.

The question is not, will God respond? but will I like how He responds? God never fails to return the attention we give Him, but we must learn how to interpret the aspects of that return.

If God takes longer than we think He should to answer us, is He wrong? If He says no, when every happiness in the world pointed to yes, has He deprived us unfairly? If He says yes when we were desperate for Him to relieve us with a calm no, has He lost His compassion; can we no longer trust Him to do good on our behalf?

Before you try to make those judgments, I wonder if you have realized that God never said that any of those things were not good. And if I may now go one step further, I am curious if you know that He is adamant that they are good so long as He has chosen to give you this response to prayer. This is true because everything that God does is good — absolutely every time.

Now consider that God grants half of your wish: you ask for peace and happiness and He gives you peace. Do you judge His response as soon as it comes, or do you turn to the Lord in a spirit of humble submission and offer the Lord your worship even in your momentary ignorance of the beauty in His plans?

Let me tell you that God wants the latter, but not just for His own sake. Take this into account:

More than anything else, our prayers teach us what we value and show us where we need to grow. He is working to make clear to us, in every instance that we seek Him, just how we are missing the heart of God. But He does this not for the purpose of finding fault with us. He does everything with the intent of bringing us closer to Him, and bringing our character into greater conformity with His.

This is not a punishment, but an opportunity in everything we do to be like God and full of God. There could be no greater gift: God, when He is known for who He truly is, proves in us, that He is nothing short of everything we live to know and experience.

Do we vaunt pride more than patience; do we value power over persistence; do we seek prestige to the neglect of persecution? Then we are missing the point of living, the object of seeking God.

No matter what He says, I want to be able to show off God’s answers to my prayer, especially the ones that show His glory in contrast to my sin. For, how can He appear more faithful, more purposeful, more compassionate and merciful if I deny that I need all these things? And if I do not realize and proclaim that I am in debt to Him in all these ways, I will absolutely revert to believing that I am deserving of everything that comes to me from Him — and then, even more than that.

So, the keys to hearing, and more importantly relating, to God are resting and waiting. And the way we rest and wait is summed up perfectly in James 1:4:

But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Recognize that God’s ways are above your own. Rather than grumbling, use your responsive efforts to praise Him for that — knowing that the end will make clear His wisdom that is mysteriously in play now. Let us not meet that end and be grieved that God’s only offering from  us was anxiety and displeasure.

It is impossible to have regrets with God when we trust Him. When we rely on Him with our whole being, we will neither look back with disappointment at His behavior toward us, nor remorse for our behavior toward Him.

I obey, and this is what I get!

So, what’s the worst thing that could come from obeying God? Think of the most awful thing He could ask You to do, and then write it down.

Okay, now that we’ve taken a deep breath, we are ready to invite God into this little exercise. What, Father, is the harm in following You?

Yes, believe it or not, we can be this open with God. He would rather hear these thoughts that possess our hearts, than be forced to wrestle with silence that keeps us apart.

You see, He knows what it is you and I spend our time thinking and fearing and trying to pretend doesn’t exist. We think that if we let God in, He will either condemn us for our lack of faith or prove our ignorance by making our worst nightmare come true.

But, we must consider: Are there really any nightmares with Christ? Hasn’t He come to overpower the darkness and make void the lies that hold us in captivity?

If this is true, then can we really curse Him for accomplishing this in ways that we do not understand? Isn’t it the light that scares us more than the darkness, and the truth more than the lies?

Let’s be honest here, it’s not that anything that God could ask us to do would be so unexpectedly wretched, but that everything would be intentionally set up to be redeemed.

Walking with Christ, there can be no limits to what He asks of us, where He chooses to lead. Because we know Him, we have no excuse for disbelief and resistance.

No, He is perfect; He is pure; His knowledge cannot be searched out; and His purposes are absolute. Where do we have to run from that? To maintain our trifling control, we must beg to remain ignorant and purposely uninvolved. If we don’t, He will woo us, and every part of us will strain to respond to the One who brought us into being and filled us with the breath of His life.

And would this One who first conceived us, then rescued us from the curse of our rebellion against Him, turn against us, to destroy us in the end? No, this would undermine His marvelous character, His great plan. We are His worshipers, whom He has gathered and regenerated to rejoice in His holiness and boast in His mercies.

And from this our obedience springs — not from grudging duty, but from unrestrained love. When we know the Son, and get close enough to glimpse the ways of the Father working from the throne of heaven, we long to be connected; this is where we belong, and these activities of His are what we were meant to do with Him.

So we do God’s acts because we join God’s plan. We see His objectives, and are schooled in His motives until all doubt in us has lost its place to the love that wells up within us. This is the worst that can happen in obeying God — we would lose the doubt and fear that we have always known and still so comfortably believe. Oh, WHAT a loss!