When we cut hell out of the conversation

Over the last few years, some of the best-selling religious books have been about heaven.

Write one about how you died for a few minutes while experiencing a momentary jolt of nirvana beyond anything you ever imagined and publishers will line up outside your door ready to buy your story. They know the book-buying public is eager to get a glimpse through that scary curtain called death…so long as what’s on the other side meets with their preconceptions.

Ross Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times. A few years back he wrote a column titled “Hell’s grip on religious imagination weakens.”  He said, Even in our supposedly disenchanted age, large majorities of Americans believe in God and heaven, miracles and prayer. But belief in hell lags well behind, and the fear of damnation seems to have evaporated.

Douthat says near-death stores are quick to sell. “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” tells of a child’s return from paradise. However, “you’ll search in vain for ‘The Investment Banker Who Came Back From Hell.”

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God is making plans for you.

“…the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

We don’t begin to have a clue.

God is doing a zillion things He has not deigned to reveal to us mortals.

It’s not our business to know, for one thing.  Most of what goes on in the universe He is keeping to Himself.  “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…”  (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Everything we know about the operation of the created world is but a sliver of the full story. (And yes, isn’t it fun to make these discoveries. Scientists get to see what God has done before the rest of us!)

How can it be that before the world as we know it was formed, the Heavenly Father was already at work making plans for us to arrive and dwell with Him forever?

I do not know. Neither do you.

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Ten reasons I believe in Heaven

“Heaven is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.”  –Stephen Hawking

I’m afraid of the dark.

If we’re talking about the endless kind of darkness that offers no light anywhere, no hope ever, and nothing but nothingness, who among us would not panic at the thought of that?

I expect people like Mr. Hawking simply find the idea of Heaven too good to be true, and thus conclude that it must be a product of man’s delusional yearning for “pie in the sky by and by.”

And yet, there are solid reasons for reasonable people to believe in the concept of a Heavenly home after this earthly life.  Here are some that mean a lot to me.  By no means is this list exhaustive.  It’s simply my thinking on the subject.

I can hear someone protest that I am merely a Baptist preacher and no authority on anything.  You wonder by what right I do this.  Good question and it deserves a good answer.  Here is the one Jesus gave.  “Father, I thank Thee, Lord of Heaven and of earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes” (Matthew 11:25).  I’m a babe, spiritually speaking.  He shown them to me.

One.  Jesus believed in Heaven.   In fact, He claimed to be a native.

The Lord said to Nicodemus, “No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there, even the Son of Man.” (John 3:13).  No one knows a place like a native.

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God’s people: Always on duty

Paul to Timothy: “Be instant, in season and out of season.”  (2 Timothy 4:2) 

(I was in revival in the St. Louis area.  This was eight years ago.  Here is what I wrote….)

I met Sarah three mornings ago when she and three co-workers were having breakfast in the hotel where I was staying while in the St. Louis area for a revival.  The four of them were sharing a small table, obviously enjoying one another’s company. As they got up to leave, I called over to them. “Hey, do you guys have a minute?”

“I’m a cartoonist and I would love to draw you. It takes one minute and it’s free. Would you let me draw you?”

They mildly protested that they might be late for work, but they lingered and I sketched them, two guys and two girls. All in their early 20’s. All young and cool and looking good.

“We work at Buckle,” one said. I had no idea what that was.

“It’s a denim store in the mall. Right next to the food court. You ought to come by.”

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The difficult, precious business of HOPE

…because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel…. (Colossians 1:5)

…this hope we have as an anchor for our souls.  (Hebrews 6:19)

I’m eighty years old as I sit here at this laptop in my breakfast room, typing away.  I live in hope.  Hope for all that Christ has promised is a big, big thing with me.

I often seize upon Psalm 27:13 I would have despaired had I not believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Hope is not mentioned there, but that’s what it’s talking about.

Hope or despair.  Those are the two choices.

The only choices.

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Hubble, Pluto, and reasons to believe

“You have covered the heavens with your majesty…. When I observe the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You set in place, what is man that You remember him…? Lord, our Lord, how magnificent is Your name throughout the earth!” (Psalm 8)

After the New Horizons spacecraft did a fly-by in the area of Pluto traveling at a comfortable 30,800 mph, I jotted down a few thoughts, which follow.

The rocketship sent back snapshots for our enjoyment.

Pluto is handsome and a little small for his age, but still quite the character.  He’s definitely someone we wanted to know.

Pluto, we are told, is two-thirds the size of our moon.  Its gravity is about 7 percent of ours.  Its polar caps are made up of methane ice and nitrogen ice.  A year on Pluto–one orbit around the sun–equals 248 of our years.  (On Pluto, I would be not quite one-third of a year old!)  Each day there–the time needed to rotate once on its axis–is the equivalent of 6.4 of our days.  But that’s nothing….

On Pluto, the average temperature is a MINUS 365 degrees. Lordy!

Completely fascinating.  I sat there watching the televised news conferences and a one-hour history of New Horizons in awe and wonder.  I do love this.

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What “good music” teaches about the Christian life

Good music is written better than it can be played.  –Anonymous

I’m on a Turandot kick right now. I’ve loved this Puccini opera for three decades after discovering how different it is from all the others, but without knowing why. No, I’m not a musician or a singer.  Just a country boy who grew tired of all the music he knew and decided to check out classical and opera.  That’s how I came to love the works of composers like Vivaldi, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky, and the operas of Giacomo Puccini.

I like to think of opera as “classical with words.”  (Okay, they’re mostly Italian words, but still….)

I used to wonder why Turandot was not as well known as Puccini’s other more popular operas (La Boheme, Tosca, and Madame Butterfly). Why fewer people had even heard of it. And I found out why.

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People who sound like hell

“Cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

“In thy presence there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

If the atmosphere of heaven is joy and praise, then the noxious fumes of hell must be saturated with  equal parts anger, complaining, bitterness and blaming.

Scriptures keep telling us that the atmosphere around the throne of Heaven is praise and joy and gratitude. In other words, worship.

–There is Psalm 16:11 (above) which is as good as we could ask for.

–In John’s vision of Heaven which we call Revelation,  he tells us that near the throne stood “four living creatures, each having six wings…. Day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, The Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come’” (Revelation 4:8).  Around the throne, the praise is continuous.

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7 reasons Heaven requires new songs

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood…” (Revelation 5:9).

John was surely fascinated by the sights and the sounds of that heavenly vision.

First, a quartet…

At first, John was treated to a heavenly quartet. The four angelic beings–were they seraphim?–of Revelation 4:7-8 burst into song, calling out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty. Who was and is and is to come!”

Eat your heart out, Bill Gaither.  No quartet ever sounded so heavenly.

And then we read, “They do not rest day or night, saying (this)” (verse 8).

Imagine that. An endless song.

Either seraphim must be amazing singers or the Lord’s patience is boundless to enjoy the same song over and over, forever.

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For all who wonder and fret over death, judgement, and such

My friend Rebecca is the mother of a son, 8, and a daughter, 6.  Here’s what happened the other night.

I was asleep in the dead of night.  Suddenly, I became aware that Mia, my six-year-old, had crawled into our bed and was talking to me.

Mia: “Mom, how old is Jesus?”

Mom: “Honey, Jesus isn’t any age any more.”

Mia: “Mom, did you find Dad and make him marry you? or did Dad find you and make you marry him?”

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