Growing Kingdom People – Seven People I Would Like to See Go to Hell

Seven People I Would Like to See Go to Hell

In a downtown church in Lexington, Kentucky, my father once preached a sermon that had the whole city in a stir. The title of the sermon was, “Seven People I Would Like to See Go to Hell.” The church my dad served had grown considerably under his leadership, and because of his influence in the community news of the sermon title spread quickly.

I am told the story was picked up by a news service and shared nationally. Speakers were placed outside of the church building so the crowds that gathered outside of the packed sanctuary could hear who the seven people were.

From what I hear, there was lots of speculation. Maybe dad had an enemy or two he wanted to hurry along into Hell’s flames. Perhaps a notorious criminal would make the list.

Some of the facts are a little fuzzy, since I wasn’t born yet, and I have slowly pieced together what I know from some eye-witnesses. But as the list began to unfold that Sunday morning, some unexpected names appeared. One was the Chairman of the Elders at the church. Another was the Mayor of the city. I don’t remember the positions of the other five.

Then my dad revealed a point of clarification that left everyone feeling somewhat cheated: He never said he was going to preach about seven people he wanted to see to “into” Hell, but rather go “to” Hell. In other words, there were some influential people in the community who would benefit from seeing the horrors of Hell up close as it would inspire them to be even more fervent in their efforts to introduce others to Jesus.

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if anyone walked away at this point. I can only assume the message was a powerful one and that those who heard it left with their evangelistic spirit refueled.

Every now and then I think about my dad’s sermon. I wonder if it would be good for all of us to pay a visit to the gates of Hell. I know Hell isn’t a popular topic, and I am not one to scare people to death so they will accept Jesus. However, it would be irresponsible of me to dismiss the notion of Hell, since the Bible says it exists, or to fail to warn those who appear to be on their way there.

There are those who say, “I don’t need to see Hell! I have lived Hell here on earth!” I don’t doubt the fact many people have had some hellish experiences here on earth. It makes sense. The Prince of Darkness, Satan, flavors everything he touches with wickedness. It is as if he allows the flames of Hell to dance into the hearts and lives of those who open themselves up to any portion of his earthly ambition.

But if Satan’s footprint on earth is terrible, then the place God has prepared for his eternal punishment must be beyond any horror we can imagine. It is reality without the presence of God. Total darkness.

I am not suggesting non-believers go look into Hell, although it might benefit them for other reasons.  My dad’s message was to believers. We are the ones who lose our passion for the lost. We are also the ones who sometimes seem content to give up on the world because we believe people are too far gone.

A visit to Hell wouldn’t make us more judgmental or hateful. I think it would renew our vigor and fill us with compassion. Too much time has passed without an honest assessment of what the Bible says will happen to those outside of Christ and our role in rescuing them. No wonder Jesus lamented to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (Luke 10:2)

I’m thinking of planning a trip to Hell. Would you like to go with me? If I get twenty people to go, my way is paid!

“To” Hell. Not “into” Hell.

And I get a cool piece of luggage filled with rock and roll CDs, poker chips and whiskey.

Just kidding!!!

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Growing Kingdom People – Do You Have a Criminal Record?

Do You Have a Criminal Record?

Criminal records are a big deal in our culture. If you are self-employed, own your own business, or have a squeaky-clean record, you may be far-removed from the issue. But for many, it is an ever-present reality.

Last week I saw a news report from a nearby city about a serious lack of public transportation bus drivers. There were two major reasons given for the deficiency: an improving economy, which gives drivers other job options, and criminal records, which eliminate potential candidates.

The term “criminal” can be interpreted in one of two ways. Technically, anyone who commits a crime is a criminal. But, we don’t normally think of someone who runs a red-light, as serious as their violation might be, as a criminal. A criminal is someone who runs a red light while evading police, after a robbery at the local 7-11.

When it comes to God’s law, we have all been criminals in the first of these ways. The New Testament writer James reminds us, if we break God’s Law in one place, we have broken His Law in its entirety (James 2:10). Fortunately, our guilt can be washed away because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.  His blood erases our record and sets us free.  However, if we reject this grace we are criminals in the second sense as we have declared open rebellion against God. Jesus warned us it would not go well for those who choose this path. (Matthew 7:23).

Do we have a criminal record?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

If we are in Christ, we did have one at one time.

But not anymore.

Our criminal past has been removed.  I once heard someone use the word “justify” to say the removal of sin from our lives makes is “just-as-if” we have never sinned.  This doesn’t mean we should forget our past. However, it does mean we are now “sinners saved by grace.” This is the same as saying we are no longer criminals. We are no longer in rebellion against God because we have drawn near to His throne of mercy and accepted His gift of forgiveness.

We may still have limitations in this life due to our past crimes.  If you are carrying a load of moving violation points on your driving record, I am sorry.  The blood of Jesus doesn’t erase those.  The boundaries society imposes on us are a part of the price we pay for our past.

Yet, God removes the shackles that keep us from bearing fruit in His name. It might take a long time to prove to others we can be trusted, but God’s eternal grace is immediate. Some of the most incredible transformation stories we will ever hear come from behind prison bars, where redeemed sinners live out the love of God in their daily lives and show others the way to the cross.

Whether you have an official criminal record or not, if you have not accepted God’s mercy you are weighed down by guilt and are limiting the potential He put in you.  God wants to free you and use you for His glory. He will help you navigate the twists and turns of life as you give Him your past and step into His vision for your future.

And in the meantime, as you are recreated into the person God wants you to be, obey the law. Running a red light might not keep you out of heaven, but it could get you there a lot quicker.

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Growing Kingdom People – The Dumbest Thing I Ever Did

The Dumbest Thing I Ever Did

If you are my relative or childhood friend, you need to know this is my devotion. You don’t get to vote. I alone have identified “the dumbest thing I ever did.”

It isn’t the homemade coffee can bomb in the back yard.

Or the BB in my cousin’s gut that was accidentally introduced into a game of lightning bug laser tag.

You can forget about the ten-foot fall through the hayloft barn opening.

Or the fire in the middle of my grandparent’s living room.

As well, I was too young to be held responsible for my personal trek across a four-lane highway when I was five and my father forgot to pick me up from school.

To qualify as “dumb”, I believe it is necessary to have a thought process which totally ignores the laws of physics or reason. Most of my examples above are in this category, but there is only one “dumbest.”

It was a lazy summer afternoon and my grandmother was in the basement doing laundry when I decided I needed to toast a cracker.

Dumb factor #1: Crackers are already toasted.

I slipped a cracker in the toaster and pushed down the lever. When it popped, the cracker turned sideways, making it impossible to retrieve with my bare hands. So, I grabbed a knife.

Dumb factor #2: I could have turned the toaster upside down and the cracker would have fallen out.

I stuck the knife in the toaster and immediately felt a strong surge of electricity pulse through my body. It was as if my hand was glued to the knife. I tried to cry out for help but couldn’t. With one, last desperate tug, I found the strength to pull the knife out of the toaster. It flew over my head and into my grandmother’s metal kitchen cabinets.

I remember shaking for the rest of the afternoon. I also remember unplugging the toaster and sticking the knife back in to retrieve the cracker.

Dumb factor #3: I could still have turned the toaster upside down to remove the cracker.

I count this mistake as my “dumbest” because it is the closest I have ever come to killing myself.

God is too kind to call us “dumb”. Instead, he uses the word “fool.” Look it up in a Bible concordance. I just did and had 78 hits for the New International Version of the Bible. Many of the references are from the book of Proverbs. A few have to do with how people are perceived when they act unwisely.  Most have one thing in common: they refer to a bad choice over a good one, either as a result of poor values or the inability to see the connection between unwise actions and negative consequences.

It is hard to pick a “most foolish” (aka “dumbest”) decision from scripture. But I will venture a possibility. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14;1). I don’t mean to be unkind to those who have rejected God. I care deeply for these and hope they will reconsider their conclusions before it is too late.

However, it is important to consider the things one must ignore to proclaim “There is no God.” The list includes:

The unimaginable complexity and beauty of creation, from an expansive universe to the smallest particles of inner space yet to be discovered.

The creative genius and creativity of the human mind.

The relational nature of humanity, which allows people like you and me to process millions of pieces of data, spoken and unspoken, in our interaction with others.

The practical qualities of God’s Word. God’s Word works in our lives because He has supernatural insight into our inner beings. He knows all things and isn’t surprised by anything.

God’s intervention in our lives which demonstrates His faithfulness in times of trouble.

My personal list could go on and on. Are there things about God I don’t understand?

Absolutely!

Do I have doubts and questions?

Certainly!

But I am not going to let the smaller portion of things I cannot figure out about God keep me from trusting Him as a result of the considerably larger portion I know.

I would be a fool to reject Him.

And I ought to know.

I have been a fool before.

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Growing Kingdom People – Will You Make the Cut?

Will You Make the Cut?

The “Open Championship” begins this Thursday from Scotland. You may know it as “The Open” or “The British Open”. It is the grand-daddy of the four major professional golf tournaments, and the only one played outside of the United States.

And like all professional golf tournaments, there is a cut, identifying the players who go on to play the final two rounds for the championship.

But who makes it?

There was a time when anyone within 10 strokes of the leader made the cut. In 1993 Ernie Els struggled in the two opening rounds, but because he finished within 10 strokes of the leader, he made the cut. His final two rounds were much better and he finished in a tie for 7th place.

Then officials ended the 10-stroke rule. They were afraid, someday, so many golfers would make the cut they would have too many people playing in the final rounds. Now, the cut is set at 60, regardless of the scores.

Maybe you have watched second round play on TV and have seen golfers sweat out the cut. No one wants to rejoice when others fail, but that’s what it comes down to.

For the one who makes the cut.

Have you ever wondered where the cut is for heaven?  How good do we have to be to make it in?

100,000 sins or less?

10,000 prayers or more?

300 or more batches of macaroni and cheese for the church pot luck?

A tithe or more of our income?

Net or gross?

The list could go on and on.

But it doesn’t have to because none of these things have anything to do with our victory.

The cut is simple, really.

One night the Apostle Paul and Silas, beaten but not defeated, were in a prison in Philippi when an earthquake struck. Paul and Silas could have escaped, but they remained and used the opportunity to share their faith with a jailer. The jailer took them to his home and washed their wounds. While there, the jailer and his entire household listened to the good news of Jesus, came to faith, and were baptized (Acts 16:25-33).

How did the jailer and his household make the cut?

By grace, though faith in Jesus.

Jesus is “the cut.” With Him, we have eternal life. Without Him, we don’t.

This means we don’t have to wait for someone else to fail so we get in. We don’t have to pay any attention to the leader board. Fortunately, we don’t have to be “good enough.” We only need one thing.

Jesus.

Of course, my “Open” metaphor raises lots of other interesting questions.

Who is our caddy?

How do we make par? Birdie? Bogie?

Where is our “out of bounds”?

One good thing: We don’t get penalized for going in the water. In fact, Jesus commands us to do so!

I guess golf doesn’t align perfectly with the Christian walk, though the two do intersect at many points.

I know this because I have heard the Lord’s name spoken on a golf course on more than one occasion.

But that’s another lesson.

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Rescues That May Never Make the News

Growing Kingdom People – Rescues That May Never Make the News

Today the world rejoiced at the news that all 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach had been rescued from a cave in Thailand. I feel certain you have been following the story, so there is no need to repeat the details here. It was an amazing rescue, and those involved have every right to be proud of their accomplishment.

As you know, sadly, a retired Thai Navy Seal lost his life in the operation. You may also have heard a disaster was averted when Thai divers went in after the rescue to retrieve their equipment and the water pumps gave out.

Certainly, this rescue will be talked about for generations to come.

It’s wonderful!

A reason for celebration!

But, we know this: not all rescues become world-wide news stories. In fact, some don’t even make the local news. I thought this might be a good opportunity to reference those responsible as a way of thanking them for their sacrifice.

First Responders: Almost all of us know someone who was saved by a First Responder. Lists of First Responders vary, but they usually include firefighters, emergency medical teams, policemen and other law enforcement personnel. Anyone who responds immediately to an emergency is a First Responder, and those who do often risk their lives to save others in danger. So many people are saved by First Responders, their acts of courage and sacrifice often go unnoticed. But those who are saved do not forget.

Foster and Adoptive Parents: Parents who bring other people’s children into their homes are amazing. Not only do they pour love into children who need to know the world has not abandoned them, but they are willing to navigate a complicated and, at times, frustrating bureaucracy. I found some U.S. statistics from 2016 that record 467,435 children in foster care in September of that year and 57,208 children adopted for the entire year.  Great honor is due those who open their homes to children.

Substance Abuse Counselors: People who abuse alcohol and drugs risk destroying themselves and their loved ones. While it is true, their wounds are self-inflicted, they still need compassion. Those who are able to break the cycle of substance abuse can usually identify one or more people who stood by them when they had nowhere else to turn. Professional counselors and trained coaches save lives, as well as marriages and entire families.  We must pray for them as they carry a heavy emotional load.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Every time someone chooses not to have an abortion, at least one life is saved. Often, the key factor that moves frightened women to have their babies is a Christian ministry where they receive love, medical care, counseling, food and shelter. Throughout the years there have been clashes at abortion clinics between pro-life and pro-choice advocates. While I do not in any way wish to discredit those who choose to stand up for life in this way, it is also true the less visible work of coming alongside pregnant women and giving them hope takes place every day in crisis pregnancy centers across our land.

Gospel Messengers: I would be remiss if I did not include those who share the redeeming message of Jesus in my list. So many of those who are involved in the other rescue efforts I have listed here are motivated by a Savior who rescued them from sin and for eternity. People come to know Jesus every day, and He changes the trajectory of their lives. I know the results may be less tangible than when someone is pulled from a burning building, but they are no less real. More than one person who was introduced to Jesus has told me his live was saved, along with his soul.

I don’t in any way wish to diminish the importance of the rescue of the Wild Boars. I can only imagine how good it will feel for the boys to hug their parents and sleep in their own beds. I merely want us to remember the other rescues going on around us every day – in some cases every moment.

They will never make the news.

I’m not suggesting this is because newscasters don’t want to report them.  Many are reported.

There are just too many to count.

Perhaps this is why, when we can say 12 boys and a coach were rescued from a cave, we feel a sense of completion.

But make no mistake.

There are still a lot of people who need to rescued.

Maybe you know someone in peril.

Maybe you are the one being called to help.

Maybe I am.

Maybe we all are.

Maybe I should stop saying “maybe.”

 

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Growing Kingdom People – “Frankly My Dear…”

A highway billboard in my community has posted an ad from a beer company that says “Give a D**n”.  The ad is intended to discourage drunk driving.   I’ll have to admit that ads from beer companies that discourage people from drinking and driving always seem disingenuous to me.  It would be different if they didn’t distribute their products to places where people are almost certain to get in their vehicles after drinking.  

But that’s just my opinion and this isn’t just a devotion about excessive drinking.  It’s about caring.   

About anything.  

I believe the phrase in question is intended to suggest there is something about which someone cares so little they aren’t even willing to put it in the category of things that have meaning.  If there’s something about which I don’t “give a d**n”. it is considered to be so meaningless it’s not even worth thinking about.  

This means someone who doesn’t “give a d**n” about anything is someone who doesn’t have anything in his or her life worth caring about.  Their behavior demonstrates they don’t care about themselves or others.  

But I would suggest this claim is largely bogus.  

People who live as if they don’t care about anything usually do care about their own desires.  It isn’t that they don’t care about anything but rather that they only care about one thing. That one thing is whatever they want at the moment for themselves.    

Maybe the beer sign should say “give a d**n about somebody other than yourself.”  But then that would suggest the person reading it is selfish which would possibly lead them to reject the message.   The message intended is that the reader should “give a d**n” about the consequences of drinking and driving.   

Seriously I’m fine with that.  I don’t like seeing it conveyed on a billboard that children can read but I get it.  

I merely think it would be healthy to consider other areas of our lives that are impacted by selfish behavior.  I will use the billboard slogan as an example of how we compartmentalize our lives to justify our actions. 

Just so you know – I don’t believe drinking alcohol is a sin.  I think there may also be circumstances where alcohol might be the best remedy for a medical condition.   

I guess I just wish more people really did “give a d**n”. That they would think about the short and long-term effect their actions have on others as well as themselves.  In my line of work I see the devastation caused by addiction and the delusion of believing things are good as long as someone doesn’t turn a motor vehicle into an instrument of death.  But what if we broadened our scope a bit?

Why not “give a d**n” about the impact excessive drinking has on our children?

“Give a d**n” that our family’s resources are being used for six packs instead of college funds.  

“Give a d**n” that alcohol abuse lurks behind many marital infidelities and break ups.

And perhaps we could “give a d**n” about those in our lives who are struggling with chemical abuse or trying to rehabilitate and reenter society after their lives have been ruined by the same.

Every now and then I just get tired of seeing people suffer because someone else has determined a serious problem isn’t really that big of a deal.  Or they disregard a weakness others might have and tempt people they say they care about to do things that are harmful.  

Absolutely, don’t drink and drive!  Just don’t think drinking before you get behind the wheel of a car is the only way you can kill someone.  Sometimes death occurs slowly, such as with a relationship that slowly withers because we loved a chemical more than the important people in our lives. 

You can disagree with me if you want.  

But frankly my dear…

 

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Growing Kingdom People – “Just Looking” You Say?

On a recent trip my wife and I stopped along a small road to look at a Gullah cabin. The Gullah people group is composed of descendants of African slaves who live in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. They have their own dialect and have retained many traditions from their rich heritage.

The Gullah cabin was small. I have seen children’s playhouses that were almost as large. It had a tin roof, a small front porch, and wooden shutters. I snapped a few pictures as we circled the cabin.

Something I would soon regret.

An older woman with a big glass jar marched across an open field leading to the cabin. “Hey, that’s $50.00 for that picture!” As she came closer I could see the word “Donations” printed on the jar.

I thought she might be serious. So I told her there was an alligator behind her and when she turned to look my wife and I made a run for the car!

Just kidding! But I thought about it.

It turns out the woman was a part of the Gullah community. The cabin once belonged to her uncle. He never married, so his cabin remained small, but she said others with wives and children would continue to add rooms to their homes to accommodate their growing families.

We told her we were just passing by and she encouraged us to set up a time for a tour. The tour cost $20.00 a piece, and to tell the truth I couldn’t imagine it taking more than five seconds to walk through the house.

Therefore, we declined.

And she held out her glass jar.

Because, evidently, if you are ever in the Lowcountry, just looking at a Gullah house is going to cost you something.

Later it occurred to me our quick trip around the cabin really was worth something. Even if we didn’t go in, read a history plaque on a wall, or pick up an artifact. At the time, I was surprised by the donation jar because I have been conditioned to believe “just looking” at something isn’t worth nearly as much as getting to use it.  In fact, it might not be worth anything at all.

Which brings me to the subject of pretty much everything God has made. I wake up and walk outside to a glorious day and often fail to praise the omnipotent Creator who made it. A mountain stream and a rolling ocean are all expressions of His power.  But if I don’t use them, I don’t feel obligated to thank Him.

On the other hand, if the sun comes out when I’ve planned an outdoor activity, then I offer thanks. The same goes for the food I eat, and the circumstances God’s hand moves around in my life to help me along my way.

Yet, praise Him for just looking?

Hey, if I’m not using it, why does it matter?

Well…

It matters because seeing is how I know, by mere observation, there is a God. As Paul wrote in Romans, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

Seeing is how I am assured of the faithfulness of God. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

And seeing is what I do with my heart when I approach God humbly. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

Perhaps our culture’s conditioning isn’t such a good thing. Maybe there is more value in seeing than we think.

In beholding.

Why do we always have to be doing something?

Maybe “just looking” can even be…priceless!

Incidentally, how much do you think this post is worth?

You’re just looking, you say?

Um. Sure. I understand. Just a moment. I need to go grab my bucket.

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