Thursday, 9 June 2011

Back to the Future

Have you ever experienced that numbing sense of loss that comes with the death of a loved one? Or perhaps the crushing sense of shame that results from being caught out doing something that you know you shouldn't have been doing, but thought you could get away with? You've just had the tiniest foretaste of Hell.

The problem is: Most Christians don't realise just how bad Hell is, so it's not surprising that, if they don't realise what they've been saved from, they're lukewarm about what they've been saved to. I've heard Christians say things like: "I don't want to go to Heaven without my family; I'd rather go to Hell and be with them". Bad choice.

Hell isn't some one-star version of Heaven: A bit tatty around the edges and you have to provide your own breakfast; neither is it a non-stop riotous party, whilst 'the redeemed' sit around on clouds, playing harps and getting bored out of their skulls, as you sometimes see it portrayed. Hell is the absolute opposite of Heaven. Where Heaven is light, Hell is darkness; where Heaven is peace, joy and security, Hell is strife, anger and insecurity; where, in Heaven, the love of God pervades everything and everyone, Hell has only that gut-wrenching regret and realisation that it could have been so different, but it's now finally and permanently too late to do anything about it. That'll be the real torment.

It used to be said: "If you find the perfect Church, don't join it". The point is, of course, that your imperfections will spoil it and make it less than perfect. And that's the problem God has with Heaven. If He were to let in anyone who was less than absolutely perfect, Heaven wouldn't be Heaven anymore. To quote a line from our musical 'Yeshua Messiah!':

"God is a God of love, so He wouldn't send anyone to Hell, would He? I mean, we'll all end up in Heaven eventually."

In reality, God doesn't have to send anyone to Hell. Ever since The Fall, Hell has been the default option, the place you end up unless you do something about it. And it's no good raging at God and claiming it's all His fault, because it isn't: It's entirely mankind's.

What people are really saying is: "Never mind how much of a mess we've made, it's Your responsibility to sort it out and let us in". Well, actually, He has. Sorted it out, that is. Jesus said of Himself:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16 NKJV)

Later He confirmed that, saying:

"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me". (John 14:6 NKJV)

The problem is, most people don't like the prescription: Repent i.e. turn around and see and do things God's way; believe the Good News that, in His death and resurrection, Jesus has done everything necessary to make you fit for Heaven; and be baptised, as an outward symbol of the inward change.

So, I'm not advocating a return to the old-fashioned 'Hell fire and damnation' style of preaching. We want people to run to God because of His love, not scare them into Heaven solely on account of the alternative. Sometimes, though, a bit of perspective helps.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Standing Next to Jaws.

I've never seen anything quite like it. Taking my daughter Naomi to London for a birthday visit to the Globe theatre for some Shakespeare, we decided to spend the time beforehand visiting Westminster Abbey. This required a walk down Whitehall and it was there the fun began. As we got nearer to Downing Street, the police presence increased dramatically: Motor bikes, vans, helicopter, it seemed everything was out. We realised that Mr Obama was in town.

Having arrived at a spot opposite Downing Street, I found myself next to the tallest policeman I have ever seen. He must have been seven foot at least and built like a tank; almost a double for the Bond villain 'Jaws', except this one had his own teeth and they were enamel and not steel! I suggested that Mr Obama was inside, but was told that he hadn't arrived yet. There was some confusion as to whether he would come in through Whitehall, or take the back entrance through St James' Park. 'Jaws' then cryptically remarked: "But I guess, sir, if you're the most powerful man in the world, you wouldn't come in through the back door". We moved on to the Abbey, but were told it was closed as the President had just laid a wreath.

We were about to cross the road in Parliament Square when abruptly, from our right, appeared a police motorcycle, which promptly held up the traffic. We could have easily crossed the road because no one was in front of us. Suddenly there was the sound of whistles going off from all directions. Subtle it wasn't! I turned to Naomi and said: "I think the big man is coming". Sure enough, the column appeared: 3 cars, then the President's car, then two more cars, then the dummy car, then three more cars, then an ambulance, and then finally a Range Rover, covered in SWAT teams, who looked like they would shoot first and ask questions afterwards. For his visit to Britain his entourage comprised a staff of 500 including: 200 secret service agents, 4 speech writers, 6 doctors, the White House chef and kitchen staff and 12 teleprompters. Each of the two armour-plated cars weighed 8 tons; each colloquially known as 'The Beast'. One got stuck on a hump in Ireland!

Last week we performed the musical 'Yeshua Messiah!' in the beautiful village of Herstmonceux. The modern hall was packed to capacity, as we shared the message of the Gospel: The message that, through the Blood of Christ, access to the Father in His name is unrestricted. No security; just you and Him. And no very tall policemen.

This week, as a Company, we celebrate the Feast of Weeks: The coming of the power of God through the Holy Spirit. Now there's real power!