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Friday, 12 January 2018

Where Will You Spend Eternity?

The craziness of Christmas is over and we are already into a new year. Was Christmas everything you hoped it would be? Were the celebrations as exciting as you wanted? Did you enjoy the time with family and friends, and was it peaceful? How about the food, are you suffering still from the over-indulgence, or was it as good as you were expecting? Did the children’s wishes come true? What about the gifts, did you get everything you asked for? Did the presents satisfy you?

Do you feel tired as you head back to work? How will you make next Christmas better than the one before? Do you feel exhausted just thinking about it?

My Christmas was disrupted by a stark reminder of the frailty of human life; a member of my extended family was rushed to hospital where she remains in critical condition. Our plans for Christmas were swiftly changed as the lady’s direct family rushed to her bedside.

Suddenly, things were in perspective; a husband could lose his wife, a son his mother and small children their “Granny.” The material celebrations were pushed to one side as everyone rallied round. We made our way to church praying for God’s will but hoping for a miracle. Phones were constantly being checked and the bleep of a text message took on new significance.

This week, in the UK, we have seen news reports of an eighteen year old, with her whole life ahead of her, struck down and killed by the flu virus. Reports in The Daily Mail suggest that flu deaths have soared by 77% in a week.

The inquest into another eighteen year old girl’s death is also being reported. This young lady died after suffering a fatal reaction to a burger. She had known allergies and had told the waiter about them. The response from the restaurant to this investigation was interesting. When asked what ‘lessons they had learned’ and what they would be doing differently in future. They basically said that everything was already in place to prevent this type of tragedy and they didn’t plan to change anything…

I’m sure the restaurant will end up with findings against them and they likely have been negligent. However, the point to note is that regardless of the lessons learned or things that are put in place, needless and preventable deaths will continue to occur. The restaurant staff have just responded in a way that doesn’t sit comfortably with those who believe we should be able to make the UK 100% safe, by some unspecified date in the future.

Assuming that were even a vague possibility, what about the person who dies every 3 minutes from heart disease, the 5 people killed in road accidents every day, or the total of 1,500 people who die each day, in the UK alone? Can anyone legislate to prevent this or do anything else to stop it?

I’ve made the point before that it’s almost possible to overlook these morbid statistics until reality bites when someone we know is taken from us. Have you noticed how shell-shocked people seem when a violent crime or fire kills people in their village, or even their street? 

It’s the wake up call that it could happen to any one of us at any time. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Even if we take all of the precautions possible; never venture outside, never have contact with anyone else and live like a hermit. Death still comes eventually, and no one returns from the grave. The Bible tells us that: 

“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement,” (Hebrews 9 vs 27.)

Why am I offering you this gloomy reminder at a time of year usually reserved for renewed hope as the resolutions are sincerely made? 

Our church leaflet for the year has a three word headline:

STOP AND THINK!

We live in a world corrupted by our sin and under God’s curse. The earth is slowly dying and we see the evidence all around us in people’s suffering. We cannot prevent every accident. We cannot predict or vaccinate people against every disease. We cannot really control anything about our lives, and our claims to be able to do so are out of touch with the reality. God maintains and controls everything and we are entirely dependent on His grace and mercy to us.

I’ve just finished a book, Heaven and Hell by Edward Donnelly. It is a terrifying reminder of the reality of hell for non-believers, but offers hope (certainty) of heaven for all who will put their trust in Jesus:

“Imprinted on human consciences is the uneasy awareness that beyond this life is a place of punishment for those who do wrong. It is so often denied not because it is unreasonable but because it is extremely unwelcome….Suppose the Bible had told us nothing about hell, not a single word about future judgement and condemnation. Would that make it a more loving book? Is concealing unpleasant reality an evidence of true caring? Not at all, just the opposite. People complain about God’s warnings when they should fall down on their knees and give thanks for them. It is in love and mercy that he warns us about hell, so that we may be delivered from it.

The most foolish aspect of all is that your everlasting damnation is unnecessary. For the Lord Jesus is pleading with you at this very moment. He is calling you to himself, commanding you to turn from the sin that brings only destruction. He is infinitely kind and gracious. If you ask him to be your saviour, he will receive and forgive you. He will wash you clean and make you safe forever, and you will be holy and happy, looking forward to an eternity of joy and glory in heaven. 
                                                                                                    ‘Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’ (Hebrews 4 vs 7.)”