Sunday, January 30, 2011

Threatened by Hell.....

"The Lord just impressed on me that for someone in this service, it will be their last chance to come to an altar and pray."

Ever been in a church service where something like that was said? I have been - more than once. I was raised in a very conservative church - and still attend one - and have been in many revival services and camp meetings where the preachers thrived on telling horror stories to get people to the altar.

There is the one that was a favorite for a while about a man that stole some kind of chemical from his job that when it came into contact with water, would burst into flames. He was using it to impress some buddies and got careless. The chemical got all over him - and water. His body kept bursting into flames no matter what the doctors did - for his sweat kept triggering the chemical. They eventually had to peel his skin off to stop it. It made a lovely story to impress the horrors of Hell upon the listeners.

There were others. Stories of people who didn't go to the altar and were mowed down by a car when they stepped out of the church. OK, not that bad, but almost.

I am reading a book right now that a good friend of mine suggested I read - or more like it, bugged me until I bought it. :-) The book is He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobson. I have read three chapters so far, and it is definitely a book I need to read. The third chapter is where I got the title of this blog post: Threatened by Hell. Even before I read it, I was having similar thoughts as to what he wrote, and have made comments about it on my blog before.

Looking back over my life, all too many of my trips to the altar were because I was scared into going. Sure, I may have felt conviction and God's urging to go, but what would usually result in my going was a scary story told by the minister.

Sad to say, most of my life, I have tried to be a Christian to escape Hell - and to make my family happy. Never have I served God out of love for Him, or because He loved me. Is it any wonder I am so messed up?!

There are a lot of people who would say it doesn't matter how you get people to the altar, as long as they go - but is that really true? Can people truly have a relationship with God if they have been scared into it? Going back to the book I mentioned, the author used this illustration: of telling someone you know that you'd enjoy spending more time with them and becoming better friends. Then adding - "and if you don't, I will hunt you down and torture you." What kind of friendship would that be? Or to take it another direction, asking someone to marry you and tell them if they refuse, you will torture them beyond imagination. They might marry you, but what kind of marriage would that be? (That one was my idea!)

Sound absurd? Maybe, but is it any more absurd than scaring someone into a relationship with God? A relationship where you feel if you digress in the least that God is waiting to throw you into Hell? Is that really going to work? Maybe for some people.

I might be wrong, but I would wager a guess that a lot of the people who are scared into going to the altar and pray do not get a lasting relationship with God. And given some time, they have gone back to where they were in the first place. That happened to me. Over and over again.

How much better if people came to pray because they felt and believed that God loved them. No matter what they have done - or will do.

There are churches that tell you that you can live as you want, and go to Heaven. That its all covered. Their God is so loving that He overlooks all sins and welcomes you into Heaven.

I think there needs to be balance. Yes, God is a God of judgment, and maybe that needs to be pointed out occasionally, but He is also a God of love, and that is what will truly win people to Him. That is what needs to be the basis of any relationship, including the one with God.

The author of the book I mentioned made an interesting point in the same chapter about hell: If the only reason I'm even responding to Him is to serve my own self-interest and escape a fiery eternity in hell, am I really loving Him, or myself? Good question. And I would say it is the latter.

Jesus Himself told some scary stories - the rich man in hell wanting Lazarus to bring him a drop of water, the wedding guest without a wedding garment.... but He told many more that weren't like that.

So, any thoughts? Is it a bad thing to scare people to the altar? Should we have many messages on hell?


Kim M. said...

I think the key to winning souls is the sufficiency of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit.