Monday, August 1, 2011

Come Church, Arise

I’d like to clarify one thing before you read this post: I wish I were a Universalist.  Everything in me wants to be able to write this blog and walk through life with the earnest and honest belief that every person on earth is saved and spends eternity with Jesus.  I want desperately to be able to go to sleep tonight in peace because everybody, no matter who they are, what they have chosen, will have the second chance to choose Christ if they don’t in this life.  But my friends, I can’t say any of that, not even close and here I am, broken and bruised and heart-shattered because the complete opposite is true.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that I can convince any one in a short blog post that hell exists or that it doesn’t, for many have tried and failed miserably (go read, study, and pray for yourself).  All that I intend on doing is very plainly putting into words what has haunted me this summer.  I desire nothing more than to clearly push all of us (including myself) to something that has become a myth in the Church today: action. 
At the beginning of the summer I picked up Rob Bell’s new book about hell.  I picked it up with the arrogant legalistic view that everything he had to say would be nothing but heresy and that the guy was a lunatic.  What I found was that I should never be so quick to judge.  Bell makes a beautiful argument; no matter how un-Biblical and post-modern it may be, to why the Bible doesn’t teach condemnation or anything about hell.  I’ve grown up in a very Conservative Christian home and have been taught since I was very young to believe in hell and until recent years, the concept of denying its’ existence had never even crossed my mind.  But after reading Bell’s book the thought of hell not existing lingered around on my mind like a sweet aroma that didn’t lose it’s initial excitement.  What if hell doesn’t actually exist?  What if everything I’ve ever been taught wasn’t true?  What if everyone is eventually saved?  Whether they believe in Jesus, or Buddha, or Muhammad?
And then as I walked the streets of Kampala, Uganda, one thought entered my brain that crushed me: if that were true, why would Jesus have come and died the way He did?  If the argument about hell not existing were true and God had chosen to save everyone, then why in the world would He have come and died such a horrible death Himself?  There is no need.  God can do whatever He pleases and if from the beginning of time He had planned that all roads lead to Heaven, then Jesus would not have had to come and He would not have had to die.  No matter what argument I hear about blood being the only way to cleanse sins, none can stand in my mind because if everyone is saved, no matter what people choose, then blood is obviously not the only way. 
A couple of weeks ago I picked up Francis Chan’s new book about hell and I was not prepared for what I read in those devastating 150 pages.  I respect and look up to Chan as more of a mentor than a writer, and I was eager to see what He had to say about this issue.  Even though I wasn’t going to take everything he said as truth, I was still praying he would give me some biblical reason to not believe in hell.  (and keep in mind, this whole time I never actually came close to believing that there was no hell, I was only searching and longing for any true reason)  And if hell did exist, at least maybe it was just for a short time?  Maybe after 1000 years or so God just decided to destroy everything except Heaven and then at least all of those souls in hell could truly rest in peace?   I was desperate for something to quiet my raging and warring heart but what I read did nothing but bring about more anguish.  By the end of chapter three I had been convinced, not by Francis Chan but by the Spirit of the Living God that hell not only existed but that it was also eternal and the fate of every human being was more real than this computer that I am typing on.  Chapter three ended with a word of warning that God is God and He does what He desires to do.  He has never asked us to figure His ways out and to decide whether His way of doing justice fits our moral standard.  Who am I to question?  How is the clay to question the Potter?  Then Chan simply said, “Don’t get so lost in deciphering that you forget to tremble.”  At that line, I was in hysterics on the floor in front of Jesus.  As I wept and wondered how in the world any of this could be true, images of all of my friends flashed through my mind and with each face I saw, it literally felt like a dagger was digging into my heart.  And with each face, deeper and deeper, went the blade until I literally couldn’t think straight anymore.  And what killed me more than anything is that I truly believe that by the blood of Jesus I am saved, but how I don’t deserve this grace more than anyone else.  The blood of Jesus was meant just as much for Hitler and for Osama bin Laden as it was for me.  Do I believe that?  Doesn’t the Bible say that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?  Doesn’t that put me in the same category as the most notorious sinners in history?  Shouldn’t I be rotting in the cell next to Nero and be enduring the same beatings and torture as Judas Iscariot?
I realize, understand, and know that each of us come to the place of having to accept the scandalous and violent grace of Jesus.  Although I will never fully see why or how any of it is possible, I believe with my whole heart that Jesus is real and that He came and died and He rose again and that He desires for every person on this planet to hear of His name and to be with Him forever.  I do not know why and will never know why God can allow people to not choose Him, but I do know He is merciful and His justice is perfect and that He is God and that I am not.  To put human limitations on God is the most arrogant thing any of us could ever do. 
To echo Paul from Romans 13, the time of our salvation is much nearer than we first believed.  My brothers and my sisters, time is running out.  I thank God every day for the past year and the small taste of Revival many of us got to see and for how many souls came face to face with Jesus in that month, but it is imperative that we do not settle.  Millions and millions of people die without ever hearing the name of Jesus and here we are, many of us completely content with playing patty-cake with each other on Sunday mornings while people burn all around us. If I believe with my whole being that Jesus is the only way, why would I ever keep that to myself?  How selfish of me to pretend the way people are living is okay, as long as they’re happy.  To compromise truth is one of the worst things we could ever do and Church, we must stop compromising.  Jesus gave us a command to fulfill the Great Commission and it’s about time we all got on the same page.  There are many believers around the world who are living and dying for that vision, who are giving everything to that the Nations are reached for Jesus.  We have to catch on, we must start living that vision as well.
Today 1.5 billion Muslims started to observe Ramadan.  Many of who have never met a follower of Christ.  Where are we going, if not to the world?  We have to live for Christ and proclaim to everyone His name.
I have only known and been following Jesus a very short time, so hear me when I say that this is more for my ears than anyone else’s.  I am so young and am only an infant believer.  I know without a doubt I have a long way to go and am not better than anyone else.  I only wish to run with the vision of fulfilling the Great Commission along side of every Christ-follower alive.
Richard Stearns says, “2000 years ago 12 men changed the world, and I believe it can happen again.”
One day we will sing Hallelujah and be in front of Glory.  May we all be able to say we ran the race well by the grace of God.  What if we all heard our Soul’s Desire say to us, “well done, my good and faithful servant”?  What if we all lived and breathed for Jesus?  What if we weren’t just called the Church, but acted as the Bride of Christ?
The time is now.  Come Church, arise.  

1 comment:

  1. have not read Chan's book, but I have read Bell's Love Wins. I don't know when I'll have the chance to read Chan, as my workload at seminary is pretty thick. Let me just say, as someone who was similarly raised to believe in hell and took years to figure out why I no longer did, Bell's book was not a great discussion of the topic at all. A) he devote only a single, tiny (Bell-esque) paragraph to discussing the history of hell, which doesn't cut it for me. B) I was disappointed with the "let's talk about hells now and let later be later" motif. I don't think that's a legitimate option- hell either doesnt exist, or it does in which case telling people how to avoid it trumps every other bad issue in the world.
    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic. Your posts carry a notable depth of sincerity that I like a lot. if you are ever interested in a study of the history of hell, I'm in the middle of an excellent book now by Dr. David Powys called "hell: a hard look at a hard question." Best academic history of the topic I've been able to find. It's been an interesting learning experience for me to see the trace of hell from the old testament (when there was only death and no hell) through the intertestamental era (where immortality picked up more steam) on up through varieties of early Christian thought on the matter until it became an official heresy to deny hell in the 6th century. It's been an interesting read.
    But I'm glad you posted this. I think it's terribly important to be clear of our beliefs- something I wish Bell would learn to do more