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A Hellish Problem

For every difficult problem, there’s a simple answer that’s wrong. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way people understand hell. Most Christians speak far too glibly about hell. Their simplistic answers to this tough philosophical issue probably turn more people off to God than on. It can even affect their own spiritual growth.

 Years ago a Christian woman attended my Personal Growth Retreat because she wanted her friend to attend. The first woman’s life was revolutionized. She told me that when she was converted, she merely said the ‘sinner’s prayer’ so she could escape hell and go to heaven. Sadly, most people are evangelized this way. Many speak as if Jesus came to offer us little more than cheap fire insurance.

 When this woman came to our retreat, she encountered God in a very powerful way. As she explored the simple breakfast exercises that reconnect people to their family of origin, she soon realized how much healing she needed. Once she experienced it for herself, she saw that her work-addicted lifestyle left little room for real spiritual growth, let alone to heal the things that made her so driven and compulsive. She had never realized that eternal life starts in this life. She probably never before had a life-changing encounter with the Holy Spirit.

 She recently wrote me to tell me how grateful she is for the wonderful transformation she has experienced since then. She now travels across Europe sharing God’s wonderful message of healing, practicing many of the techniques she learned at our retreats.

  “Turn or burn” evangelism is unbiblical. Did Jesus ever once demand that a rank sinner repent to avoid the fires of hell? Did He ever ask anyone, “If you got hit by a chariot and died today, do you know where you’d spend eternity”? He didn’t warn the woman caught in adultery about Hell, or Zacheus the shady business man, or soldiers who killed people in wars, or the ‘wine bibbers’ and prostitutes who liked to hang out with Him. The only people Jesus warned about Hell were the hypocrites who eventually crucified Him. To Him, the hyper religious were in greater danger of eternal damnation than garden-variety sinners.  

 Before I became a Christian, I believed that you make your life either heaven or hell on earth. Many people today share those sentiments. Tract wielding born again Christians, flaky TV evangelists, and religious zealots who proselytize in their neighborhood have turned them off. They find rude questions about eternity particularly offensive, especially coming from those who may not be as caring and upright as they are.

 They have every right to be offended. I believe God is too.

 Sure, the Bible says some are saved through fear, but it doesn’t say all or even most. It certainly doesn’t say that the fear of eternal damnation is their biggest anxiety. Very few people believe they could possibly have done anything so wrong as to deserve hell. They are probably right!

 Part of the problem is the English language. The original Greek language has four words for love while English has one. We use the same word to describe our affinity for peanut butter and our affection for our wife. Similarly, we use Hell to translate four different words. Hades means “the unseen world,” Sheol means “the unseen state,” Gehenna means “place of torment,” and “Tartarus, “the infernal region.” The Bible clearly teaches that some will be cast into a “lake of fire”, but these people have violated biblical absolutes and never repented of their sins (Revelations 21:8). Interestingly, included along with those really bad sins like adultery, murder and sorcery are another category of seemingly innocuous offenses. Among these are cowardice, unbelieving, idolatry and lying. Other passages include gossips and backbiters.

 I’m betting most churches have plenty of these unwitting future tenants of an infernal afterlife. Cruel tongues have caused more suffering in churches than wayward genitals. In all likelihood, the busy bodies are feasting on the immoral people. One preacher says that the cowardly are the first thrown into the lake of fire because they wanted to do the more fun sins but were too afraid!

 Look, Jesus came to give us an abundant life (John 10:10), not just pluck us from an overheated eternity. Sure, He promised us eternal life, but even this phrase is pregnant with a meaning that far transcends the boundaries of heaven. Eternal life is the lifestyle of eternity - “participation in the life of Jesus, endless in duration and divine in quality.” It begins when a person is born again, filled with God’s Spirit. It “reaches its fruition in the life to come.”

 I attend a thriving mega church with about 4,000 members in an affluent part of Los Angeles County. A friend recently commented that, though an evangelistic invitation is extended almost weekly, probably most who attend are not born again. This stunned me, but it’s probably true. So many people have been encouraged to think that if they just believe the right thing and say the sinner’s prayer they will go to heaven. They have been taught to disregards feelings, and depend totally on so-called faith.

 I’ve long believed the adage that Jesus came to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. If I were invited to preach there, I would be inclined to stir things up.

 What would happen if someone gave a sermon on the rebirth? One that highlighted the fact that the experience of a born child is unquestionably different from that of a fetus? What if 4,000 people grasped the fact that eternal, abundant life begins here and now? Then what if they all became born again?

 Let’s go a step further. What if they all began to obey the great commission? The great commission isn’t to make decisions, it’s to make disciples. It has little to do with sending missionaries to foreign lands. The great commission is for every believer to teach all people to do all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). In God’s harvest, the least believer reproduces himself 30 times over.

 What does all this have to do with healing and spiritual growth? I am convinced that even many believers who claim to be born again are virtually stillborn. Because we have not made disciples, most of God’s people are more religious than righteous. The key to changing this lies in getting people, like the woman at the retreat, to discover what real eternal, abundant life entails.

 Years ago I led a Liberating the Wounded seminar in Arkansas. The pastor invited me because he had dozens of needy people who he didn’t know how to help. Former drug addicts, streetwalkers, alcoholics and other unsavory sorts were drawn to his church because they reached out to broken people, but once they came he didn’t know how to heal their brokenness.

 As his church began to share the healing they found at the seminar with friends and neighbors, the church doubled in less than a year. He said it changed the whole atmosphere of their city. But the thing I remember most was a former preacher who attended the church. He told me that for over 15 years he preached that Jesus would heal the brokenhearted but my seminar was the first time he had ever seen it happen. “For decades,” he said, “I’ve talked about saving souls. For the first time in my life I’ve seen souls saved.”

 He got it! He discovered that the soul isn’t just the part of us that lives forever. It’s that part of us that includes our intellect, emotions and will. He realized that churches try hard to impact the intellect and will but do nothing to heal damaged emotions. At the seminar, incredible things happened when God healed wounded emotions. He saw women break free from food addiction, men loosed from illicit sexual desires, and victims and perpetrators of violent sexual abuse embracing one another across a crowded auditorium. All discovered a newfound freedom to love their neighbors and even their enemies.

 This is the fruit of emotional healing and true spiritual growth. It’s what happens when the Holy Spirit “heals the brokenhearted, liberates the wounded, and sets the captives free”. These are powerful solutions to the dilemmas of modern life. This how the Spirit takes people out of a living hell and offers them a foretaste of heaven on earth. It’s the very genesis of eternal life.

 Want in on it? I am doing a Quantum LEAP Healing retreat in LA at the end of June. It’s the last one I expect to do for a long time. I am also available to lead seminars and retreats in your area. For a better understanding of the events I can offer you please consult my website,                     , then email me me. I’d love to help your church, organization or business benefit from the profound benefits of spiritual growth and healing.

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