The Fiery Lake

“Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
‭Revelation‬ ‭20:14-15‬ ‭NLT

In John’s vision, the fiery lake seemed to have become a dumping ground for sin, evil and their consequences. There was no way to escape from it. And in some way, what ended up there wasn’t consumed. There was just a constant state of fire and torment. Again we may have mental images of what this lake was or will be like – if not just type “fiery lake images” into Google. 

Revelation chapter twenty ends with the sober fact that anyone whose name was not found in the Book of Life was going to join the devil and his minions in the lake of burning sulphur, for eternal torment. There would be no appeal. No mitigating factors. The “devil made me do it” excuse invalid. No parole. No new evidence available. A final end to those who chose to reject a relationship with Jesus, dismissing His offer of eternal life. It would have been bad enough to end up in eternal torment, but sharing that fate with the devil would have added to the distress.

The evangelists of previous years used to engage in the practice of dangling their hearers over the fires of hell through their preaching. Pointing out to their listeners the horrors of what hell would be like. We don’t hear many sermons on hell today. Not political correct any more? But many today, even Christians, have rejected the view of hell being a fiery lake, as being archaic and not applicable in our more sophisticated modern times. As I have said before, a man I know in the village where I live has publicly rejected all thoughts of salvation. Instead, he wants, as he put it, “to join the party downstairs”. The fiery lake, hell, will be no party. I told him so.

Others have decided, without any evidence to back their assumptions, that hell will be a benign state of sleep, or somewhere where their disembodied spirits can roam around, unbothered by human restraints. Still others have decided that hell doesn’t exist at all, rejecting the Biblical accounts, instead sincerely believing that our God of love would never consign anyone to such a place. But do we view the fiery lake images as being symbolic or a reality to be avoided at all costs? Is this place just a fairy tale conjured up in the Apostle John’s imagination? Unfortunately no one has returned to earth to let us know. But Jesus was horrified about hell, and most of the teaching about this place came from His lips. He likened it to Gehenna, the rubbish pit in a gorge located below Jerusalem, and where garbage and the bodies of dead criminals were piled up. It was constantly smouldering and was full of worms. The smell was appalling. Jesus also told the story of the rich man and the beggar called Lazarus. We can read what Jesus said in Luke 16:19-31, but one verse supports the fiery lake scenario. Luke 16:24 reads, “The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames“.

But we pilgrims have made our choice. We are God-followers, accepting His love and grace and looking forward to the day when we will join Him in Heaven. And while we still have time, we must, like the Apostle Paul, do our best to convince others of the dangers of the fiery lake. We read in Acts 19:8, “Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God.” Our synagogues will be our workplaces, our community centres, our churches, all places where we try and persuade others to embrace God and His love and grace, before it is too late. We must never distort the Gospel by omitting the finality of the Great White Throne judgement. Yes God is a God of love. He yearns to pour out His love and grace on His creation. But because of that love He has allowed mankind to make choices, and responding to His love is a choice we can make. But we also must never forget that one day there will be a Great White Throne. Where all of mankind who have rejected God will be judged for their deeds. As one evangelist succinctly put it, “Heaven is real, hell is hot, and Jesus saves”. Hmmm…

Dear God. We don’t know what the fiery lake will really be like, and I thank You that those who are assured of their salvation through Jesus will never find out. We continue to pray for our loved ones, that they too will find the true way to an eternal life with You. Amen.

The Fallen Star

“Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen to earth from the sky, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. When he opened it, smoke poured out as though from a huge furnace, and the sunlight and air turned dark from the smoke.”

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭9:1-2‬ ‭NLT

After the eagle’s proclamation of more terrors to come, another angel appears. I wonder what he was thinking? He had observed what had happened when his colleagues, his fellow angels, had blown their trumpets, and now it was his turn. Did the angels know in advance what would happen in response to their trumpet blasts? We don’t know, but the fifth angel would have had a good idea that something terrible was about to happen. But he didn’t shirk from his responsibilities; instead he took a deep breath and blew his trumpet. 

John immediately, in his vision, saw a “star that had fallen to earth from the sky”. What else could that have been other than a glimpse of satan? Isaiah prophesied, ”How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world.” (‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭14:12‬). Jesus also referred to satan’s eviction from Heaven in Luke 17:18, ““Yes,” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning!”” But whoever it was, “he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit”. 

Notice that satan was given the key to the abyss, the bottomless pit. He didn’t have the key on his own key ring. This is perhaps an indication that satan’s power is limited to only what God permits. But he was allowed to unlock the door to the abyss. And “smoke poured out as though from a huge furnace, and the sunlight and air turned dark from the smoke”. 

John saw in his vision what was most likely the door and shaft leading to hell. And it appears that there was a fire there – John referred to a “huge furnace”. So much smoke came up from the abyss that there was darkness from the smoke, and even the sun was blotted out. I wonder what was burning down there to cause so much smoke? Jesus used the picture of Jerusalem’s rubbish dump, referred to as Gehenna, where fire constantly burned. Some people claim that hell didn’t exist at this point in the end times judgement. Others say hell was created when satan and his fellow rebellious angels were kicked out of Heaven. But whichever it is I believe John received a glimpse of hell in his vision.

Hell is reality. Heaven is reality. We pilgrims have to be diligent in getting across the message about Heaven and hell to our families, our friends, our communities – remember the strap line “Hell is hot, Heaven is real, and Jesus saves”? That must be our message. Sadly these days (in my opinion) nothing much is preached from the pulpit about hell and God’s judgement. Perhaps our ministers and pastor are afraid of putting too much emphasis on hell because they might upset someone. But Jesus Himself spoke a lot about hell; in fact most of what we know about that place came from His lips. In Mark 9:48, Jesus quoted a verse from Isaiah 66 about hell being a place, “where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out“. In Matthew 13:49-50 we read, “That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth“. A graphic description of hell. To today’s sophisticated and cynical cultures, the concept of hell seems a bit medieval, so getting across the danger of going to hell to such people is a challenge. We pray for wisdom and the leading and support of the Holy Spirit before we engage in speaking about what many refer to as the “place downstairs”. The man in my village will find out, too late, that there will be no party in hell – just eternal maggots and fire, with the sound of weeping, wailing and the gnashing of teeth.

Father God. Thank You for the opportunities we get to share about Your love and righteous, but also about what will happen at the end of the age. Please help us in our conversations we pray. Amen.

Silence in Heaven

“When the Lamb broke the seventh seal on the scroll, there was silence throughout heaven for about half an hour. I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and they were given seven trumpets.
Revelation‬ ‭8:1-2‬ ‭NLT

We now come to the seventh seal in John’s vision. That number seven again, in this case denoting a complete set of judgements as written on the scroll. The seventh seal allows the final section of the scroll to be unrolled, and the last judgement read out. And silence followed. Two days ago we considered how noisy it will be in Heaven, with all the shouting and singing going on. But now there’s silence. Why?

Perhaps the writing on the scroll behind the seventh seal describes a judgement so severe that all of Heaven draws in breath, feeling tension in the air. And if we read on, we see that the seven trumpet judgements are about to be released. Or perhaps, the silence allows a time of reflection in Heaven, as the enormity of what is happening down on Planet Earth becomes known. But whatever the reason, there now follows the scene in John’s vision of seven angels collecting seven trumpets. 

This is the Time of the End, as far as the earth is concerned. The sin of mankind has finally come to the point where John was shown in his vision that it has to be judged and dealt with. This is a sobering time, even for blood-bought Christians. Jesus spoke much about judgement and hell when He was out and about in Palestine. He warned the people of His day what was to come. For example, we read what He said in John 12:47-48, “I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken“. One day there will be a day of reckoning.

What should we pilgrims do, knowing what we know? One thing for sure, we cannot just stand back and let our loved ones and neighbours face the terrible consequences of God’s judgement. Especially when God sent His Son Jesus to tell us what was to come and how we can be spared from such devastating consequences. Jesus also spoke much about hell, which he compared with a familiar place known to His people, the Jews. It was the valley of Hinnom, also referred to as Gehenna. It was here that the dead bodies, usually of criminals, and rubbish were continually burned on smouldering fires, that never went out. That was what He said hell would be like.

We cannot frighten people these days with a description of hell. I find that there can be a cynicism and flippancy permeating anything to do with Christianity amongst those who are not Christians. I can remember sharing about the judgement to come with a man who lives in my community. His response was that he would prefer to join, what he called, “the big party downstairs”, than to spend eternity with God. He has sadly heard about God’s love and grace and has rejected it. And unless he has a change of heart, he will find out what the “big party downstairs” will really be like. But we must still share all that God has done for us with those around us, in the prayerful hope that salvation will knock at the doors of their hearts.

Father God. We thank You that You sent Jesus to this world to save us. And in these difficult times I pray that You lead us to just the right people who You know are just waiting to be told about Your love and grace. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Obedient Faith

“And they sang a new song with these words: “You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For You were slaughtered, and Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And You have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.””
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭5:9-10‬ ‭NLT

We continue to spend another day looking at this wonderful new song. The lyrics, directed at Jesus, who was standing in the middle of the twenty four elders and four living beings, before the throne of God, included the line, “Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”. A few thoughts about this new song. 

Firstly, do these words indicate that Jesus died for everyone, implying that there will be no exclusions and everyone will get to Heaven? Of course not, but many would like to think so. Jesus paid the ultimate penalty when He died that day at Calvary, spilling His blood so that His sacrifice would redeem everyone who believes in Him from the consequences of their sins. By doing so He paid the ransom for our sin. But to be a “ransomed people“, we have to respond personally, accepting that His sacrifice was for each one of us individually. Universalism, a belief that everyone will be saved and end up in Heaven regardless, cannot be found in the Bible. We have to make a choice – we can either choose to accept God’s saving grace through His Son, Jesus, and in the process assure our future with God in Heaven, or we can choose to reject Him and instead be assured of a life in Hell. Jesus said in John 14:6, ” … I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me”. There is no other way.

Secondly, all human beings, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sex, hair colour and everything else, is eligible to be ransomed by Jesus’ sacrifice. If they want to be. The only exclusions are for people who make the wrong choice, or don’t make a choice at all.

Thirdly, once we have accepted in obedient faith, that Jesus died in exchange for our sins, we adopt a new role. We become fully paid up members of God’s Kingdom of priests. We read in 1 Peter 2:9, “… you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” When we adopt our new priestly roles, we can show others the way to become priests too. Being a priest conjures up images of old men dressed in a funny gown, perhaps wearing an odd-looking hat, officiating at church services. But to us pilgrim priests, our priestly duties are to show others the way to God, by sharing the Gospel with them. By being “salt and light” in our families and communities.

The verse today ends with the line, “And they will reign on the earth“. According to John’s vision recorded in the Book of Revelation, there will come a time when the Kingdom priests will reign on earth. Of course, this isn’t happening in 21st Century society. Western or otherwise. And as fas as I am aware, it hasn’t happened in history either. So there must be coming a time when we pilgrim priests will reign on earth. I’m sure we will find out more as we dig deeper into this fascinating and amazing Book.

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for the nuggets of revelation contained in these Scriptures. Please help us to understand what You want to reveal to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The God-Deniers

The wicked are windbags,
    the swindlers have foul breath.
The wicked snub God,
    their noses stuck high in the air.
Their graffiti are scrawled on the walls:
    “Catch us if you can!” “God is dead.”

Psalm 10:3-4 The Message

The Psalmist, presumed to be David, was having another rant about the “wicked”. We don’t know what wound him up, but, as the Message translation shows, he wrote very graphically about these unsavoury members of society. He was perplexed that, in spite of their behaviour, they seem to succeed in all that they got involved in. But in this Psalm he called upon God to punish them. No messing about in those days! 

To say that God is dead is first and foremost a challenge to God’s authority, and was very much behind the rationale presented to Eve by the serpent in Genesis 3. Not too many people would have the nerve to speak these three words out loud in a meaningful way – this would normally be the domain of liberal or radical theologians, or trendy philosophers and so called intellectuals. But at least the God-deniers have presumably assessed the implications of the thought that “God is not dead”. They will know that if God is alive, then they have some serious, life-changing, decisions to make, that is, if they don’t want to spend eternity in hell. And because a decision for God would seriously impact their whole lives they adopt an arrogant posture and choose instead to reject Him and deny that He exists, ignoring the evidence to the contrary. Those adopting a God-denying life style are very much behind the Psalmist’s rant in Psalm 10. It is a lifestyle that can be distilled down to selfishness, oppression, particularly of the less fortunate members of society, illegal acts and general wickedness. Sadly, most people choose not to consider what happens after we die, not realising that no choice is the same as the “God is dead” choice. They comfort themselves, if challenged, with the erroneous thought that “I’m a good person – God won’t reject me”, not understanding that God has a totally different expectation of what “Good” means. The Bible calls the God-deniers “foolish” (Psalm 14:1). One day they will find out how foolish they really have been.

But what about us, God’s people? We can’t just stand on the periphery, looking on as the “wicked” perpetrate their mayhem, choosing, as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day did, to keep our hands clean by not getting involved. At the very least we must pray, supporting organisations that stand up for those less fortunate than us. Organisations such as “Open Doors”, for example. And where we can we must volunteer to help in our communities – after all we are the “salt and light” that Jesus taught about in Matthew 5. And we can face down the “wicked” with God standing right there with us. Personally and individually, though, we must guard our hearts from complacency, from erosion of our spiritual lives and from the activities of the enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking who he can devour (1 Peter 5:8-9). Jesus presented a radical, counter-cultural Gospel which still resonates around the world today, through His radical, counter-cultural followers. Like you and me?

Helicopters

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3:8 NIV

Behind the trees this morning I heard the sound of a helicopter. First in the distance a popping noise and then, as it got closer, a swishing sound . It then appeared through a gap in the trees. So I looked it up on the “Flightradar24” App (if you are interested in flying then this is a great app to get and it’s free!) and was told that it was an “Airbus Helicopters AS355” but no information about where it had come from or where it was going was available. Of course, it must have started somewhere, and there will be a time when it has to land, if only to refuel. But the relevant data about its origin and destination was missing. 

The helicopter could be seen and heard but I couldn’t tell where it had come from or where it was going. In today’s Scripture, Jesus uses the analogy of wind. It can be heard but we don’t know where it came from or where it is going. It’s the same with our natural lives, we don’t plan either our origin or destination. That is, of course, unless we embrace the teaching of Jesus in John 3. But it is “sad but true” (to quote the title of the Metallica song) that most people seem unconcerned about their destination in life. They obviously cannot do much about their origins, but they can take steps to ensure the right destination.

In His discussion with Nicodemus, the Jewish leader who crept into Jesus’ presence after dark, Jesus explained the need for a spiritual birth. He said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5-7). So by being born again, we can determine our spiritual origins, and this starts us on the right journey through life. But how can we be sure that we are on our way to the right destination? We have a choice. We can either spend eternity with the devil and his demons in hell, or we can spend eternity with God and His angels in Heaven. A wrong choice and a right choice. A wrong destination and a right destination. And we can make the right choice by believing in Jesus, God’s only Son, to forgive us for our sins. On a cross at a place called Calvary He took upon Himself all our sins and gave us in exchange His righteousness. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21. And by being righteous in God’s sight we are assured of a future with Him in eternity.

So as Christians, we have an origin and a destination, and the spiritual App equivalent of Flightradar24 will record our journey between them. Not more “N/A” against the points of origin and destination. We have been born again through the Spirit of God, and assured a future in Heaven through our salvation. Our flight plan has been recorded in God’s Book of Life.

If you are unsure of where you are going and want to know more, please message me. It could be the most important decision you have ever made.

The Refuge

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalms‬ ‭46:1-3‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

These three verses have been a tremendous comfort and support for many people over the years. They are often quoted in times of stress. They are the go-to verses read and uttered by God’s people when facing into some calamity or other. Look at the words the Psalmist uses; “Refuge”, “Strength”, “Help”, “Fear” and the very descriptive picture of an apocalyptic scene as our planet’s infrastructure collapses. Look at the contrast between the security of being in God, and the potentially disastrous state of being away from Him.

The contrast is between two kingdoms – the spiritual and the physical. Two worlds that we can access but so often we ignore the one and only dwell in the other. Of course this is perfectly understandable because we are physical beings with our feet firmly located on the home where we were born – Planet Earth. And we therefore try and look at everything around us through physical eyes and discount the spiritual world because we can’t see it. But it is there nevertheless, as many people over the ages will testify. How else do God’s people sustain themselves when tortured, imprisoned, and ill treated, all because of their faith in a God who one day will welcome them into His Kingdom, His world?

The wonderful and amazing thing is that we have an opportunity to be present in both worlds. Now. At this very moment. We can draw on the resources of God’s spiritual Kingdom to help and support us in our earthly world. God is inviting us to be part of His Kingdom, not just when we are facing into a calamitous situation, but all the time. And the access door is open this very moment – through God’s Son Jesus. Message me if you want to know more.

Although we start our life in the natural environment around us we will transition one day into a totally different spiritual environment, which itself consists of two worlds – God’s world, and another place where He is not present. Far better to enjoy the benefits of being a part of both God’s spiritual world and the physical world where we live while we have the choice. Because one day that choice will be removed from us.

The picture of an impregnable place in God that not only protects us from all dangers, but also resources us and strengthens us to face into impossible situations seems too good to be true. But it’s too good not to be true. Join me there today.

Mud and Clay

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” Psalms‬ ‭40:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Imagine the scene. You have wandered over some fields and come to a bank, down which you accidentally slip. You find yourself stuck in a bog, mud up to your knees and you are starting to sink further. Your cries for help are unheeded because of the remoteness of the place and very quickly the enormity of your predicament floods over you leaving an acute feeling of fear and despair. So you cry out to God for help, waiting with patience for Him to answer, full of assurance that He will do just that. And then, out of nowhere, a rope falls in front of you. You grab it and find a stranger at the other end who manages to pull you out, back up the bank, to a place of firm ground. God hears your cries and prayers for help and sends someone to rescue you.

Imagine the scene. After several days of heavy rain, the local river has burst its banks and your house is being flooded. The ground floor is now under water but you have managed to get onto the roof. You look anxiously around at the water-filled devastation, watching trees, rubbish, even cars, float past. Despair and fear increase. There is no-one to help. But God hears your prayers and sends a rescue helicopter, that quickly lifts you to a place of safety where you can wait for the flood waters to recede.

Imagine the scene. You realise that you are heading for a lost eternity because of your many sins. You are filled with fear and despair. Your situation appears to be hopeless because you realise you can’t save yourself. You cry out to God for help. But God has a plan. He loves you so much that He sends His Son, Jesus, to rescue you. But it’s a costly exercise – to rescue you Jesus has to become a sacrifice for your sins. There is no other way. And through His death on a cross, Jesus takes upon Himself all your sins, leaving you without guilt and shame, in right standing before God and able to say with confidence that your future with God in Heaven is secure. You have found a place of security. Solid ground on which to stand. Paul wrote in his Roman epistle, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Three scenarios. Two of physical danger, one of spiritual danger. But all three a potential “pit of despair”. But after rescue what do you feel? Elation? Relief? Most probably an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to God for His rescue. A song you have never sung before comes from deep within you, as you sing grateful praises to God. A song that tells of God’s amazing works. A song that brings others into a trusting relationship with God too.

Far-fetched scenarios that don’t apply in real life today? God may, or may not, rescue us from all occasions of physical danger. It wouldn’t be danger if He always did. But we can have an assurance that God will always rescue a repentant sinner from spending eternity in that place Jesus called hell. How do I know? The Son of God, Jesus, told me. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” ‭‭John‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭NLT‬‬.