Six-Pack (53)

Welcome to the latest Six-Pack! I am so grateful for every reader who stops by to check out the latest assortment of “best links”.

As regular readers already know, these pieces are generally centered on faith or ministry, though we leave sufficient license to include who-knows-what as we discover it!

If six ever feels overwhelming, start with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move out from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Strange Fire and Churches of Christ (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Jonathan Storment enters the “Strange Fire” discussion to consider how it links to our shared heritage. There’s some provocative stuff here, particularly comments made by historian Mark Noll.

2) Why the Psalms Matter, Even the Violent Ones
NT Wright was recently in Seattle to teach about the Psalms. A very brief summary of his material, along with a recording of over 60 minutes is provided here for anyone who thinks that might be too good to pass up.

3) Creating Excellence in Ministry on a Small  Budget
Every church I know is striving to do more with less. How do you effectively stretch your resources without snapping something or doing a second-rate job on a first-rate priority? This article has a number of practical suggestions.

4) C.S. Lewis Reviews “The Hobbit”, 1937 (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
In 1937, CS Lewis reviewed a freshly published novel by his friend Tolkien. He is what he said.

5) Big Promises Can Lead to Better Experiences
A $75 bottle of wine tastes better than a $14 bottle of wine, and it has little to do with the wine. Seth Godin explains.

6) Quotes and More Quotes
Last month, many marked the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death. C.S. Lewis died the same day. Here are Ten Quotes from JFK and Fifty More from Lewis.

May your week ahead be filled with life, as you seek the One from whom it flows!

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Which link above was today’s best-of-the-best?
  • Why that one?

Direct others to the best of the bunch with a quick comment.

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Hell: A Reality Worse than the Imagery

love-wins-setThe topic of hell has received an unusual amount of attention in Western theological discussion over the past decade.  Of course, the most popular strand of this discussion centered around Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”, with denser strands weaving through the academic realms of publication and discussion.

Much of the conversation is built around distaste for the concept of never-ending punishment, particularly as it is wrapped in imagery of fire and burning.  This leads to several valid questions:

  • What depiction of hell is truly biblical, and what has been developed through the art and literature of the ages?
  • How literally or metaphorically are we to take what Scripture does tell of the final judgment?
  • What do biblical words like “Gehenna” really mean?

These are just a sampling of the sub-topics that factor into the larger discussion of “What do you make of the concept of hell?”  Certainly, this discussion matters; to some, it appears to matter immensely.

I am not among that number.

Part of that is due to the following quote from Timothy Keller:keller3

“To say that Scripture’s image of hellfire isn’t wholly literal is no comfort whatsoever—the reality will be far worse than the image.”

We can hardly be blamed for our flesh-fettered views. Nerves and neurons, skin and sensation, these are the means by which we experience our world. And in that light, it is easy to see why heaven’s depiction is golden and lavish, while hell’s is dark and despairing.

But what if our senses misguide us?

sensesWhat if the imagery–as vivid as imagery and language can formulate–fails to capture the intensity?

What if the most intense scenes of suffering that a human imagination can generate are pitifully poor metaphors for communicating the reality of a creature cut off from its Creator?

It seems easy to convince people that heaven will actually surpass an experience revolving around golden streets and massive mansions.  We recognize that the extravagant physical depictions fail to express even a sliver of the spiritual reality. We acknowledge that the core of that experience will center upon the overwhelming and unmissable presence of God and upon the river of life-to-the-full that will flood-flow from Him to His companions.

Humanity’s heaven imagery is pale and poor to communicate the intensity of the reality.

Yet seldom is an equivalent argument applied to hell.  And if the case is made, then it’s made only halfway.  It is one step to recognize the limitations of imagery and vocabulary.  One can say that without saying much.

But it is a big-as-a-beast statement to suggest that the imagery of hell, the metaphors that make us squirm, even buck against the entire concept, are actually too weak to communicate the magnitude of the reality.

If heaven is actually better than jewel-encrusted architecture, then the counter-statement stands too.

Hell is worse than burning.

C.s.lewis3C.S. Lewis used to speak of “the unsmiling concentration upon Self, which is the mark of hell.”  Unchecked and freely reigning within a life, self-centeredness consumes in ways sparks never will.  It scars the soul and warps one’s world.  And it appears that anyone who desires this path can have it. So powerfully are we created that our choices in the present life ripple through eternity.

But we’d be wise to make our choices, aware that the imagery is not nearly so fierce as the reality.

Hell is worse than burning.

YOUR TURN: How do you handle the Bible’s imagery of the afterlife, in light of the thought that the imagery is actually light-weight when compared to the reality?

Become part of the conversation. Your voice makes this post better.

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page. As well, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) for 3-4 daily tweets daily of of insightful quotes or intriguing articles, sprinkled with occasional goofiness.]

Grace is What Works

There is a pragmatist within each of us.

Bent toward the rational and the results,this inner dweller unintentionally opposes some of God’s most profound movements in our lives.

This logic-loving, get-the-job done approach to life, a staple of the Western society in which I’ve grown up, struggles to grasp the life-Creator, who strangely–yet frequently–insists on operating in “obviously” impractical ways.

Grace is the finest of examples.

The careful reader of the New Testament will quickly observe the inadequacy of human efforts toward salvation. However, that doesn’t stop us from trying! Bent on saving ourselves, proving ourselves, and sustaining ourselves, responsibility and duty–praiseworthy qualities within themselves–kick into hyper-gear.  In the process, pride awakens and pressure builds, all the while we are unaware that we are building brick walls between God’s salvation and our souls.

Legalistic tendencies seem wired into the human hardware.

The hymn-writer called grace “amazing”. We call it “unbelievable”. We may never use the word, but we feel incapable of grasping the concept, and embracing it feels even less likely.  That is the pragmatist within us, speaking with conviction: “Grace is impractical.”  You hear it in the push back we feel obliged to offer against grace, particularly religious or responsible citizens: “What about discipline? Grace alone is too soft; it won’t take people where they need to be. It takes more than grace to transform a life.”

Grace is not practical enough for our liking.

Or perhaps we are not nearly practical enough.

The dynamic at work here is something like John Piper describes in “Desiring God”, a book carrying the subtitle of “Meditations of a Christian Hedonist”. Piper argues that hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure, is an attitude built into the very human nature. Other than spiraling our souls into self-destruction, this pleasure-seeking drive is what drives the soul toward God.  Paradoxically, Piper suggests that the reason we get lost along the way is that we are not nearly hedonistic enough!  Settling for watered down forms of satisfaction, our pursuit of pleasure is revealed as too weak, rather than too strong. We chase happiness like slackers, at the expense of our souls.

C.S. Lewis was developing the same thought when he famously observed:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

So back to where we began: We resist grace because it seems out-of-touch. “This won’t work in real life,” we critique.  Even more common might be the unspoken thought that Christ’s role in our lives is to provide a much-needed “reset” button. By his death and resurrection, he presses it and we sigh with relief.  We can take another kick at getting things right, in practical and reasonable ways, of course, powered by the fuel of self.

In this sense, we are part of a rich heritage of Christians who don’t get it.  Paul’s question to such folks:

Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? (Gal.3:1-3)

Beyond the Galatian goofballs, is anyone else’s “reset” button worn out from use?

“Seeking free-flowing forgiveness so we can take another futile kick at life on our terms”: Give me Impractical for $1000, Alex.

And there’s the rub.

Grace, in all its mystery and apparent irrationality, is the most practical of solutions to the human predicament.  The God we dismiss as idealistic or illogical actually, shock of shockers, knows what He’s doing, with His “power move” of offering freedom through surrender and victory through defeat.  Much to our surprise, perhaps chagrin, grace works.

In fact, it is only grace that works.

YOUR TURN: Why does humanity buck so hard against God’s grace?  What do you grasp about grace today that God has faithfully taught you over time?

Please leave your comment below, and enter the conversation.

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page. As well, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) for 3-4 daily tweets daily of of insightful quotes or intriguing articles, sprinkled with occasional goofiness.]