Extinguished

1-27-13, City on a Hill 2, ExtingsuishedToday we reach the salt and light verses, familiar in most religious circles but applied in all too few.

Matthew 5:13-15

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men. (just like the sewage)

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.

These words were spoken by Jesus to people who followed him, some by action others only by words. Obviously, Jesus is using the analogy of ‘salt’ and ‘light’ and their environmental impact to describe a real Christ follower and their cultural impact. Due to the explicit description of living a “Christian” life, these same words are recited at many baptisms (mine included), but in these modern times, are they anything more than just words?

Salt enhances flavor and preserves meats. It can also be used as a landscaping tool, destroying plants’ (or weeds’) ability to grow in dirt where it is mixed. Even the slightest pinch of the mineral cannot pass our taste buds unnoticed. The presence of salt is felt, seen, tasted, and smelt; not because it forces you to see but because it simply cannot be disguised. If you claim to follow Jesus, does your spiritual presence command such attention?

Light infiltrates every possible crevasse without putting forth any additional effort. Carry a burning candle into a dark room, no surface in the room can escape its touch. Any light source, regardless of intensity, is supremely dominant in darkness. Interesting thing is, the same principle does not work in reverse. Bring light into a dark room and the darkness flees, dark cannot overtake any space without first removing the source of the light.

Modern Christianity has experienced a spiritual devolution which is cutting off any cultural impact or even social relevance “being a Christian” once had at the knees. The statistics for divorce, debt slavery, and physical dependencies are hardly “set apart” by spiritual affiliations. Modern Christians are just as likely to succumb to any of these vices as the modern heathen. Yet these are all situations the Christian faith explicitly addresses and leads its followers to avoid. Has time stripped Christ of His power, resulting in His followers having no better leadership to live a better life? Absolutely not. Jesus has not changed, His followers have.

Around 500 years ago (by what I’ve been able to find), the “rules for becoming a Christian” changed from Jesus’ command to “Follow Me.” (which we discussed in the previous series) to a scripted prayer one must say, insipidusly dubbed “the sinner’s prayer”. The concept of having to pray as a precursor to embracing salvation cannot be located in any biblical text and, borrowing the words of C. S. Lewis, is “a great cataract of nonsense”. Christianity is a faith that results in a relationship and leads to action. As Paul described it, faith without action is dead. Mark Gungor, a lead pastor in Green Bay, WI and marriage guru, describes this largely American phenomenon better than I ever could.  He compares the “sinner’s prayer” to spiritual pixie dust. Just say these few magic words and the salvation fairy will sprinkle forgiveness dust on your head, then you’re in the club. A very comical, but unfortunately accurate depiction of what many claim as their “Christian faith”. This method of promoting “easy salvation”, which one can only assume was a numbers game, has survived long enough now that its shallow nature has trickled up to our church leaders. What if new Christ followers today aren’t searching any deeper than a few magic words because the very people set in place to lead them deeper have never gone deeper themselves? It’s up to the salt and light to lead.

Toady’s drawing is a literal depiction of the lamp, the bowl, and the salt Jesus speaks of. A shadowy winged creature retreats away from the smoldering lamp wick, having extinguished its flame in a trail of pixie dust.

 

Heaven

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As we finish our series called Afterlife, we end on the subject we’ve built up to over the last three weeks. In week one we talked about the guarantee of death, week two emphasized the reality of hell and the consequences of ignoring it. Two heavy messages that pushed us to the brink of depression. The last message in the Afterlife series changed our outlook like pulling up from the first drop on an electromagnetic roller coaster, the nature of heaven.

There is one explicit guarantee the Bible gives us about heaven, we can’t even conceive how wonderful it is (1 Corinthians 2:9). The wildest imaginations of the most creative people still wouldn’t touch it. My favorite description of heaven penned by William P Young in his novel The Shack. Young describes the main character’s observations of heaven as a rainbow of moving colors. Each soul in heaven generated light, as emotions grew stronger, so would the light emanating from the soul. For any Heroes fans out there, the Emma Coolidge character embodied what I imagine in The Shack’s description.

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Emma Coolidge was an extremely talented cellist. Adding to her amazing musical ability was the fact she

was also deaf. Instead of hearing sound, Emma’s supernatural ability was that she saw sound (scientifically referred to as synesthesia). The more intense and emotional the sound, the more vibrant the colors. As her character developed, she learned to control those colorful sound waves by focusing and directing them in the form of a weapon.

This is the same kind of imagery I pictured when I read The Shack, waves of colorful sound dancing together, reflected in today’s drawing.

I aim to pull your eye with the same centrifugal force as our topics of discussion took through this series. Accomplishing this, today’s is the first drawing since I began making spontaneous visual translations where I use color. I sketched the drawing lightly in graphite during the service, but I pulled out the old Prismacolors and finished the drawing this afternoon. The page is a rainbow of colors overlapping and blending with each other. The swirl of color on the bottom of the page forms the symbol of infinity, representing eternity. A hand reaches down from the top of the page holding a lush new earth. The hand itself is part of the colorful background, defined only by darker values on the edges. This is God’s hand, delivering a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-4). In the new earth, God dwells with His people (v.3) and life flourishes without mourning, crying, or pain.

This is heaven, God physically living with us for eternity.

A Glimpse Into Hell: Eternal Isolation

keyser-sozeThe greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world that he didn’t exist. – Kevin Spacey as Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects, 1995)

Last week, my drawing addressed the topics of death and judgement. The second week of delving into the afterlife proved equally heavy, focusing on hell’s reality.

 

Hell

Like your position on the afterlife, what you believe about hell is evident in how you live as well. Sadly, a great number of people who believe in heaven and call themselves Christians reject hell being a real place. “Christians” who do not believe in hell’s existence for unbelievers will not speak of their faith with the same tone of gratitude and urgency as those who understand its grave reality. These are the people Craig Groeschel refers to as Christian Atheists, people who claim Christ but live as if he doesn’t exist. I am not saying the only real Christians are those who get up on their soap box and condemn everyone in earshot. I believe many of those people will fall into the “goat” category,  referenced last week. The difference will be clear in how each person lives, one looks out for “the least of these” the other just looks out for themselves.

The same book that opens our minds to the concept of grace and redemption also warns us of justice and condemnation. How can this be? If you believe God is a god of love, how can any loving being let a single person experience hell? This perceived contradiction is what offends many people about the Christian faith, but the issue really boils down to semantics. While God is love, love is not God. God’s character is a perfect harmony of love, justice, wrath, and mercy. So…..God created everything. Why create a hell in the first place? The answer to that question lies in understanding who Satan is.

What’s the first image that pops into your head when you think of Satan? A muscular, bright crimson humanoid with a black cape, Satan imagehorns of a goat, carrying a pitch-fork? Do you think of him as hell’s equal to God?

I can’t say what Satan looks like, he manifests himself in many forms throughout the Bible. What I can promise, though he has seniority in hell, his place is not comparable to God by any stretch of the imagination. Leaving the comforts of heaven for the torment of hell was not a “grass is greener” situation gone bad. It was not a promotion, much less a voluntary move. Satan and his band of angels were cast into hell by God as punishment for attempting a coup.

OK, Satan’s not a god in his own right as leader of hell and arrived there for attempting to overthrow God (his own creator). So what? Still doesn’t justify God creating it for all unbelievers, does it? Couldn’t God have just vaporized Satan on the spot, along with the corrupted angels, and that be the end of it? Why the ongoing presence? Mercy.

Lucifer (Satan) craved maximum power, he wanted to be God, he chose to try to take the position he wanted by force. The angels he corrupted chose to follow Satan instead of God. Despite knowing the agony and torment that accompanies being separated from Him, God gave these beings what they wanted; out. God created hell, not as a grand scheme of ultimate torture and punishment to hang over our heads and keep us in line. Hell was created so beings who did not want to be in God’s presence wouldn’t have to be. In that sense, hell is a byproduct of God’s mercy.

God does not force anyone to stay in His presence, doing so would violate a crucial key to being created by a loving God; free will. Every soul has a choice, including you. You can choose to be with God (heaven) or you can choose not to be with God (hell). In Luke 16:19-31, we read about a rich man and Lazarus. The rich man chose to spend everything he made on himself, living a lavish lifestyle and being lord over his own life. Lazarus was the man he walked past every morning, the man starving on his doorstep (v.19-21). Both men died. Lazarus chose to spend eternity with God, the rich man (by his selfish decisions during life) chose otherwise, eternity in hell (V.22). What we can understand from this passage is that, while in hell, the rich man is able to see Lazarus in heaven (v.23). The rich man begs for mercy from God, asking if Lazarus can offer just a drop of water off the end of his finger to ease the rich man’s thirst. The response he received sends a chill down my spine, “between you and us, a great chasm has been set in place.” (v. 24-25). Realizing the permanence of his situation, the rich man changes his plea. Send Lazarus to my family so he can convince them to change their ways and not wind up like me. (v. 27-28) Finally, he gets it. Life is not about you, it’s about you helping everyone else. His revelation is too late, as Abraham explains, he had his chance and so does his family through the prophets that already told them to embrace God. The options are plainly out on the table, the decision is theirs to make. (v.29-31)

My drawing shows the state of the rich man. Not a state of active torture or perpetual incineration, total isolation. Consider these documented effects of temporary isolation in humans: severe anxiety, panic attacks, lethargy, insomnia, nightmares, dizziness, confusion, irrational anger, delusions, paranoia, “a dysfunctional state and inability ever to live normally outside confinement.” This alone is hell enough. But wait, not only is the rich man spending eternity experiencing this, he can see the paradise he rejected.

I used only charcoal on today’s drawing to make the image as dark a possible. The background is completely black, the presence of no color in the light spectrum, the color most children fear at bedtime, the color of complete isolation. The head at the bottom of the page looks up through this blackness, recognizing his lonely environment and looking to the paradise he could have enjoyed. The lightest parts of the drawing are outside the borders of the black space, the whites of the eyes of the figure (symbolizing his self-awareness, and the tear running down his cheek (symbolizing his eternal regret). My hope is you will feel the despair flowing from this face and choose to avoid it in your eternity.

To summarize, God created everything out of love, He then established order by His justice, He keeps that order by His wrath, then created hell out of mercy.