Reality Check…

Yesterday my daughter and I had the blessing of visiting with an elderly couple from our congregation.  They are some of my favorite people in the whole world, and I always leave their home feeling refreshed and confident in my spiritual life.  One of the topics of conversation that came about was discussing the possible themes for our upcoming summer Vacation Bible School.  One topic that had been suggested as our theme was that of Biblical Heroes.  With this theme, I told them,  we will be comparing modern day heroes (i.e., Batman, Spiderman, the Hulk, etc.) to the Biblical heroes we find in the pages of God’s Word.  Actually, we will be contrasting the two, explaining to the children that the Biblical “heroes” were real people.  They were not fictional characters like Batman and the others.  The stories we read about in the Bible actually happened.  It is not a book of fairy tales and make-believe; it is a history book.  It is an account of things that actually transpired and left a mark on this world we live in today.  My dear brother and sister in Christ loved this idea, and for a while, we elaborated on the idea, and they offered ideas we may consider, as well.

As all conversations do, one thing led to another, and the topic changed to the reality of Heaven and Hell.  I shared with them that the night before I decided to become a Christian by putting on Christ in baptism (see Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Galatians 3:27 for examples and commands of baptism in the New Testament) the topic of the preacher’s sermon had been on Hell and the duration of time a disobedient one spends there after judgment.  In case you were wondering, that duration of time is eternity.  The preacher gave a very thought-provoking illustration about an ant.  Yes, I said an ant.  He told us to picture an ant walking in a straight line around the equator.  He said, “Imagine how long it would take for an ant to walk along the equator at the center of the Earth until he had completely journeyed around the planet and made it back to his starting place.” I thought, “Yes, that would certainly take a long time.”  He went on to say, “Now, imagine that same ant taking the same path around the Earth again.  But he doesn’t stop at just one circle.  He circles the Earth ten times.” I thought to myself, “Okay, sure.  That would probably take a really long time.”  He continued, “Now, this same poor little ant has survived all those trips around our planet and is back at his same starting place.  But he’s not done yet.  Now imagine this ant making so many trips around the planet that his trail begins leaving a ditch.  And he walks on so long that the ditch becomes so deep that the Earth literally begins breaking in half.  That determined, exhausted little ant doesn’t stop there, though. No, sir.  He walks until the ditch becomes so deep that our good planet breaks right in half, throwing its upper half into the oblivion of outer space.”  I thought to myself, “Okay, so that’s like an eternity or something.”  I remember it was as if the preacher had read my very thoughts.  His next comment was this: “Let me tell you something, friends.  That ant may have taken millions and millions of years to accomplish such a feat.  But do you know, what?  Eternity has not even begun at that point.  Eternity never ends.”

I will admit, that dear preacher, with his booming voice that shook the rafters and enthusiasm enough to spark a fire, scared me to death.  There are few preachers brave enough now to preach about Hell to that degree, no pun intended.  He very vividly described an eternity of torment that the Bible teaches us is reserved for those who do not obey his commands.  From that point on, I have believed in my heart of hearts that Hell and Heaven are both very real places.

Matt. 25:41 says, “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Everlasting fire?  No, thank you.  I didn’t want any part of that.  But still, the invitation song came and went that night.  Once again, I did not respond to the gospel call.  I didn’t confess the fact that Jesus is the son of God in the midst of witnesses (Matt. 10: 32-33) and I didn’t put on Christ in baptism by being fully immersed under water for the remission of my sins (Acts 22:16). But I will tell you this: I did not sleep a wink that night.  You see,  that preacher would be preaching again the next night because he was holding our gospel meeting that week.  All day the next day, I prayed.  I prayed that God would be patient enough to let me make it to church that night.  I prayed that he would let me hear the whole sermon and that he would allow one more invitation to be extended, because I was going to accept it.  I was going to walk down that center aisle to the front of the building and confess that Jesus was the son of the true and living God.  And then, I was going to be baptized.  AND, I promised God that I would do my very best to remain faithful until death, or until Jesus came back to get me, whichever came first.  I was scared to death all day that Jesus would come before church services that night. Obviously, He didn’t return that night, and thankfully, God allowed me to live long enough for that last invitation song.  I was baptized at the ripe age of 11 years old, and I have never been so certain of anything in my life since that day.

After sharing that story with my elderly friends, I noticed that they were slightly amused by my story.  But then, as he always does, my sweet Christian brother wiped the smile off his face and said, “Mary Lauren, there’s no doubt you knew the Bible was real back then, is there?”  No, there was certainly no doubt in my mind that God, Jesus, Heaven and Hell were as real as you and me.  And I still feel that way to this day.  I truly believe that God says what he means and means what he says.  I believe that if I am not faithful until I die, that I won’t have the privilege of spending eternity in Heaven (Revelations 2:10).  In fact, I believe that God is insulted by anyone who says “As long as you believe in Him, you are okay.”  Ever read any part of the book of Leviticus? God was serious about the details of how the people of Israel were to offer sacrifices, and he was serious about how the priests were to dress and how the tabernacle was to be constructed.  Every intricate detail was explained painstakingly by God to them, and he expected them to obey his commands, down to the tiniest detail.  The punishment was death, in many cases, for disobedience.  Remember Lot’s wife? She was told not to look back, and when she did, she was instantly turned into a pillar of salt.  God means what he says.  Anyone who believes that we can take part of God’s Word (i.e., the parts we like) and neglect other parts are in for a rude awakening upon His return.

It must be true, then, that people don’t really believe it all.  If they did, they would try harder to understand His whole will.  They would try harder to adhere to His plan for worship.  They would ignore their human desires to be entertained, and they would find satisfaction in worshiping and living the way He prescribed.  Why is it that people are so willing to take someone else’s word for what the Bible says and less likely to read it for themselves? Because they don’t really believe there will be eternal consequences.  If one truly believed that the consequence of doing it wrong, or leaving something out, or being outright disobedient was Hell, they would be more inclined to try harder.  That’s why there is a sequence to the plan of salvation.  You must first hear the Word of God (Romans 1017).  Naturally, after you have heard it, you must believe it is true (Hebrews 11:6, James 2:24), otherwise nothing that follows belief matters.  Then, you must repent of your old way of life, turning from it and seeking to live for Him from that point forward (Acts 17:30, Luke 13:3).  After repenting of your old ways, realizing that you are a sinner and that you want to change, you must then confess that you believe Jesus is the son of God.  This is not an inward confession where you “accept Jesus as your savior”, it is an outward confession, just as we see done in the Bible (Acts 8:36-37, Matt. 10:32-33).  Lastly, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3-4).  But it’s not over yet.  Being baptized is not a free ticket into Heaven.  While it is necessary, you must also remain faithful until death, or until Jesus returns on Judgement Day (Revelations 2:10, 2 Tim. 4:7-8).  Becoming a Christian does not mean we will no longer sin.  It means we will be able to obtain forgiveness for those sins that we commit, and that we will do the best we can to be like Jesus, even though we know we can never be perfect.

I believe that Hell is real.  I also believe that Heaven is real.  I believe that if I am found faithful, that I will get to spend eternity with my Heavenly Father.  So that ant can just keep walking, because this girl’s going to be ready for eternity…

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