Joel 2:13 NLT
Don't tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead." Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.
Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many… (Hebrews 9:27-28 NIV)
My wife and I were talking about a celebrity who we learned had died recently. One of my first thoughts (as is customary) was “were they saved”? Did that person accept that Jesus died for their sins so that they could live forever in Heaven?
Look at this diagram below (taken from a previous publication by author Bruce Wilkinson). The size of the circle denotes the average life span of our present life on earth. The length of the line denotes the first .00001% of our eternal life (either in heaven or in hell).
It was with sadness that I read about the death of famed atheist Christopher Hitchens who died after a battle with cancer on Thursday December 15th. As a Christian and a very flawed one at that, my “natural” instinct was to muse about how Mr. Hitchens is now face to face with the test of his theory of atheism. However I find myself praying for him and what he actually did with his waning days than anything else.
Not many people are given an opportunity by God to basically know for some time that they are about to die before the actual moment of death. For most, death comes unexpectedly i.e. accidents, violence etc. rather than via protracted illness the latter stages of which are spent in Hospice care. According to the Bible, for those who die with minimal or little warning, a life lived apart from accepting salvation through Christ is followed in rapid fashion by death and then judgment from God on that life: …as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27 NIV).
Later in his life, Christopher Hitchens did not come across to me as an arrogant God-bashing atheist. Instead, he appeared to be an intellectually prideful, but thoughtful, God-bashing atheist – and that is meant as a relative compliment (as atheists go). My prayer however is that as God “sat him down” as it were, this gift of thoughtfulness when faced with the naked reality of death, unencumbered by having to keep up appearances for the unbelieving world, would have caused him to turn that intellectual capacity towards an honest evaluation of the offer presented by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, God does not appear to give most unsaved sinners this option. It is a loving God’s final act of mercy to one who has rejected him entirely in life. The Bible does indeed state, …the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9 NIV) The Lord absolutely wanted Christopher Hitchens to come to repentance. I pray that he did during the quiet time afforded to him by God’s mercy. It is interesting to note that the pure and absolute truth that is the Bible follows the merciful scripture listed previously with this next one: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. (2 Peter 3:10) The unexpected day of the Lord for virtually all human beings is death…the end of their natural life. Mr. Hitchens experienced the truth of that scripture yesterday. People may demean the Bible consistently, however this scripture is pure truth that is irrefutable. Death is appointed to all. No disbelief in God can change that reality.
This issue ultimately comes down to the question: is it better to live for Christ and find out when you die that you were wrong or to live against Christ and find out when you die that you were wrong? Is it worse to be considered a fool by man in this life or a fool by God in the next one?
It is ironic that on this day as I was contemplating the eventual outcome of Christopher Hitchens’ life, I was greeted with the following daily devotional from the Love Worth Finding Ministry in my email inbox:
Just Passing Through
BIBLE MEDITATION: “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” 1 John 2:17
DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT: The only thing that is going to last are the things of God. Period. The world is passing away. Our days are fleeting. One day we will all be gone from this earth as we know it. You see, we’re not citizens of earth trying to get to heaven. We are citizens of heaven sojourning here on earth. This earth is not our home. Are you living for the pleasures of the flesh? Or for the joy of the Spirit? Are you living for the praise of men? Or for the glory of God? Are you living for time? Or are you living for eternity? Are you living for the things that can be seen? Or for the things that cannot be seen? One of these days, this old world and all of its vaulted culture, proud philosophies, egocentric intellectualism, and godless materialism is going to be forgotten. But he that “doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
ACTION POINT: Take stock: What are you really living for?
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. (Isaiah 29:13 NIV)
This scripture from the "ancient" book of Isaiah was written at that time about "God's people" - the Jews. Though they professed love and obedience to God, this scripture clearly says otherwise! Oh they obviously went through with the outward appearance of religion. "…honor me with their lips", but the Lord knows who are his (2 Timothy 2:19 NIV).
Before us religious people of today read this and shake our heads at those hypocritical Jews of yesteryear, we should pause and examine our own behavior. It is not uncommon for Protestants (a label that likely would be applied to me) to turn up our noses at say the Catholics or other religions whose expression of worship appear to be built largely on "merely human rules they have been taught". Perhaps we may be right. But I will submit to you that the Catholics have nothing on us Protestants in this regard. I have sat in many a "worship service" and seen the lethargy or outright disinterest that appear to beset the so-called people of God as the ritual of worship is conducted in our so-called Houses of Worship!
For all of us lost and saved sinners alike, the key part of this scripture is the phrase "…their hearts are far from me". The reason why the Lord knows those who are His is because the Lord knows our hearts. The real Houses of Worship is our hearts and bodies. The Bible says that He will put his Spirit in our hearts (2 Corinthians 1:22).
Examine your heart. When you are worshipping God, are your lips moving (or hands clapping) but your thoughts are elsewhere i.e. what's for lunch? what time's the ballgame today? back to work tomorrow! etc. Does your heart stop you from responding harshly to your neighbor when they have ticked you off? How about stopping you at the edge of lying when doing so will get you out of a jam? Worship is not just for the church service on Sunday mornings. It is a 7-day a week activity often during the routine things of our lives. Let's examine ourselves indeed.
Remember: the Lord does know who are His!