Rushing to Hell :: Readers’ Choice

I find this comforting. — Michelle

“(C.S.) Lewis depicts the damned as rushing insistently into their hells, despite the efforts of God to persuade them not to.” — Douglas Beyer.

Michelle is praying for the salvation of a family member. Join her today in prayer. — John

Readers’ Choice (Originally published May 24, 2017)

All Hell is smaller than one pebble of [the] earthly world.

―C.S. Lewis

Scripture: Psalm 78:11

They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.

Reflection: Rushing to Hell
By Steven Dilla

Hell is distance from God; heaven is intimacy with him. It is a mistake to talk about hell as a problem in need of a solution—as if each of us has been left alone to earn our own way out of such desolation and hopelessness. The reality, as unsettling as it may be, is that humanity finds itself rejecting the solution to hell which has already been provided—Christ himself.

“The doors of Hell are locked on the inside,” C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain“:

I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of Hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man ‘wishes’ to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.

In his work Seeing Hell through the Reason and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Douglas Beyer summarizes, “The saved go to a place prepared for them, while the damned go to a place never made for men at all. To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being in earth; to enter Hell, is to be banished from humanity.”

Yet because of our pride and brokenness we reject not only the place prepared, but the One who prepared it. Beyer sees this theme pervasively in Lewis’ work. He concludes, “Lewis depicts the damned as rushing insistently into their hells, despite the efforts of God to persuade them not to.”

Christ is God’s magnificent effort—not only to persuade, but to sufficiently meet every need, answer every longing, and fulfill every hope. It is in Christ that we find not merely the solution to our greatest problem, but also everything we need to thrive in life and flourish for eternity.

“The blessed,” Lewis concludes, “forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.”

A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it…”

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 4 (Listen – 3:57)
Acts 8 (Listen – 5:10)

This Weekend’s Readings
Judges 5 (Listen – 4:36) Acts 9 (Listen – 6:05)
Judges 6 (Listen – 6:15) Acts 10 (Listen – 5:49)

The Necessity of The Spirit

We pause Readers’ Choice today to take a closer look at a common thread in today’s readings in Judges and Acts. Readers’ Choice will resume tomorrow. — John

Scripture: Acts 7.55
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Reflection: The Necessity of The Spirit
By John Tillman

Many times in Judges, the Israelites rebelled over the course of one generation and from the next generation a Judge would rise up to save them. But not the first Judge, Othniel. He had been there the whole time.

Othniel was already a great hero of Israel. He had every advantage and privilege available to him at that time. He was wealthy from his military conquests. He was part of an influential family. He was a seasoned military leader. He even had a strong spiritual heritage, being from the family of Caleb, a mighty hero of faith. But despite this, Israel suffered and Othniel could not save them. Until God’s Spirit came on him.

Othniel may have been a great leader and a great warrior. But it was the Spirit of God, not Othniel or his skills that saved Israel. In Othniel’s day, the Spirit of The Lord coming on a leader was a miraculous event—something that rarely happened. But in our case the miracle has already occurred. The only thing keeping us from accessing the Holy Spirit is…us.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit and told the disciples that it is to our benefit that he leave and the Spirit come. But the benefit may not be something that looks like victory to the world. In Acts today we read of Stephen, who was filled with the Spirit and spoke with power and was stoned to death.

Othniel and Stephen are two men touched and led by the Spirit of God to very different outcomes from the world’s point of view—one a victor and one a victim. In many ways, the Kingdom perspective of their situations is the reverse of the worldly outcome.

Othniel seems to have won a great victory, until you read a few verses on and 40 years later, Israel is back in the same predicament. Stephen seems to have lost everything, until you read a few chapters and discover in 40 years that the church he died for was spread across the known world by one of the very men who helped put him to death.

We need the Spirit in our lives not because our skills, our wealth, and our influence cannot accomplish things of significance, but because what is truly significant is often hidden, like a treasure buried in a field, and we must follow the Spirit, forsaking all else to find it.

The Concluding Prayer of the Church
Renew in my heart, O God, the gift of your Holy Spirit, so that I may love you fully in all that I do and love others as Christ loves me. May all that I do proclaim the good news that you are God with me. Amen.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 3 (Listen – 4:30)
Acts 7 (Listen – 8:49)

Augustine on Political Leadership :: Readers’ Choice

I love this post. In our incredibly divisive political climate Augustine puts our focus where it needs to be. — Jason

Readers’ Choice (Originally published November 2, 2016)

By Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.)

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! — Psalm 123.1

We do not attribute the power of kingdoms and empires to anyone except the true God. It is He who gives happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven to the righteous. And it is He who gives kingly power on earth, both to the righteous and the unrighteous, as it pleases Him. His good pleasure is always just.

He is the one true God who never leaves the human race without justice and help. He gave a kingdom to the Romans, as He also did to the Assyrians—and even the Persians, who, as their own books testify, only worshiped two gods—to say nothing of the Hebrew people, who, as long as they were a kingdom, worshiped none save the true God.

The same One who gave to the Persians harvests gave power to Augustus and also to Nero. To avoid the necessity of going over all of those to whom He has enthroned: He who gave power to the Christian Constantine also gave it to the apostate Julian—whose gifted mind was deceived by a sacrilegious and detestable curiosity, stimulated by the love of power.

Are not all things ruled and governed by the one God as He pleases—and if His motives are hidden, are they therefore unjust?

For if you are awaiting an opportunity, not for liberty to speak the truth, but for license to revile, may you remember Cicero, who says concerning some, “Oh, wretched are those at liberty to sin!” Whoever deems himself happy because of license to revile, he would be far happier if that were not allowed at all.

The cause of the greatness of the Roman empire is neither fortuitous nor fatal. (Some call things fortuitous which have either no causes or causes which do not proceed from some intelligible order; others call that which happens independently of the will of God and man fatal.) In a word, human kingdoms are established by divine providence.

Now, against the sacrilegious and impious darings of reason, we assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it.

God is supreme and true—He can never be believed to have left the kingdoms of men, their dominations and servitudes, outside of the laws of His providence.

*Abridged and adapted from The City of God.

The Refrain
Our God is in heaven; whatever he wills to do, he does.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 2 (Listen – 3:19)
Acts 6 (Listen – 2:35)

When Suffering Lingers :: Readers’ Choice

We have been shown that God will get us through times of struggle. “Though we burn, we are not consumed” is a good reminder. — Lucy

Readers’ Choice (Originally published February 20, 2017)

Because the schooling of suffering is so dangerous, it is right to say that this school educates for eternity.
― Søren Kierkegaard

Scripture: Exodus 3.5

The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.

Reflection: When Suffering Lingers
By Steven Dilla

The burning bush appeared at the height of Israel’s suffering. Early rabbinic writings understood the bush to be a symbol of ancient Israel—persevering under the flame of Egypt’s brutality.

The Greek philosopher Philo expanded the rabbi’s imagery to include all of humanity. “For the burning bramble was a symbol of those who suffered wrong, as the flaming fire of those who did it,“ he explained in his work On the Life of Moses.

Philo was a contemporary of Christ, although the two never would have met (Philo was an aristocrat in Alexandria). The philosopher spent his life exploring the synergy and tension of Jewish scriptural study and Stoicism. His writings reveal through scripture what he could not find in philosophy—meaning in suffering.

“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful,” writes Timothy Keller In Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. “There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”

Though we burn, we are not consumed. This is the mere beginning of God’s grace. Endurance is the deposit guaranteeing great reward. God’s promise to those who suffer is not only that the flame will be extinguished, but that all it has burnt will be restored.

The prophets joyfully proclaim God as the one who will return the wasted years. The New Testament crescendos with no more tears, no more death, no more pain—all of it replaced by  new life.

It is the cross that is the enduring symbol of the Christian faith, not the burning bush. The bush reminds us that God always hears the cry of his people. The cross shows us that God stops at nothing—moving heaven and earth, even sacrificing his beloved—to bring them restoration.

The Greeting
Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation, O Hope of all the ends of the earth.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 1 (Listen – 5:08)
Acts 5 (Listen – 6:49)

God’s Power in Rejection :: Readers’ Choice

It is so often easy to fix our eyes on what we would like our lives to look like, who we would like to be, the kind of success we would like to achieve…and yet, Jesus, who achieved the most important thing in the history of the world, who was “the cure all creation longed for,” appeared to fail, was rejected by His Father. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness; His thoughts and plans are so far beyond our capability to think and plan! May we look to Him instead of ourselves for the victory. — Elisabeth

Readers’ Choice (Originally published October 24, 2016)
By Steven Dilla

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. — Psalm 118.22-23

Picture Joseph: his dreams rejected by his father; cast out by his brothers; thrown out by the Egyptian elite—and yet, cornerstone of Israel. Then David: neglected by his father when the prophet arrived to anoint a king; hated by Saul; hiding in caves—and yet, cornerstone of Israel. The great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon remarks:

Be not afraid, O ye persecuted ones, for you shall fulfill your destiny. It has happened again and again in history that those who have been destined to do great things for the Lord have first of all been compelled to pass through a trying ordeal of misunderstanding and rejection….

At this time, however, we shall confine our application of these verses to our blessed Lord himself, to whom they most evidently refer. Their meaning is focussed upon him, and in reference to him each word is emphatic.

Christ rejected: though he clamored for no earthly power; though he served the poor; though he was the cure all creation longed for. Spurgeon recalls that his was no ordinary rejection—it was unreasonably violent and indignant:

They were not content to say, “He is not the Messiah,” but they turned their hottest malice against him; they were furious at the sight of him. This precious stone was kicked against and rolled about with violence, and all manner of ridicule was poured upon it. Nothing would content them but the blood of the man who had disturbed their consciences and questioned their pretensions.

And yet, he is the cornerstone of Israel. He is exalted—and it is the Lord’s doing. The path of rejection reveals this. Spurgeon concludes:

If the Scribes and Pharisees had endorsed the claims of our Lord it might have been said that Christianity was grafted upon the old stock of Judaism. If Pilate, or Herod, or any of the great ones, especially if the Caesar of the day had accepted it, then the following ages would have said, “Oh yes, he derived his power, and was lifted to his place through the prestige of empire and the prowess of arms.” But it was not so. All the establishments on earth were against him: rank and station despised the carpenter’s son; superstition abhorred his simplicity and spirituality.

“My strength,” God says, “is made perfect in weakness,” and, as the Psalmist says, “it is marvelous in our eyes.”

The Concluding Prayer of the Church
…Preserve me with your mighty power, that I might not fall into sin, nor be overpowered by adversity…

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 24 (Listen – 5:49)
Acts 4 (Listen – 5:15)

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