Relationship, Not Fire and Brimstone (Beyond Our Walls)

I did not grow up in a Christian home where my family went to church regularly or talked about having a relationship with God. I remember going to Vacation Bible School once or twice, but the God I heard about during those times remained distant and unapproachable.

When I was a teenager, I was invited to youth group at a church by some of my friends and was soon going regularly to not only youth group, but Sunday services as well.  One Sunday I heard a sermon on John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This unconditional love intrigued me, and it wasn’t long before I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I went home and told my family, but they weren’t quite as intrigued as I was. My mother did come to see me be baptized, but I quickly learned that discussing my new faith at home wasn’t welcome.

I continued to read and learn about my new faith from excellent teachers at my church. These adults took me under their wing and taught me about Jesus’ unconditional love. For a young woman on the verge of adulthood, having adults who truly cared about me taught me more about Jesus than anything else could.

There was one thing though that troubled me, and I had a hard time reconciling what I was hearing about Jesus’ unconditional love to other things I was hearing at church. A type of sermon that was preached regularly in the denomination I attended was what could be characterized as a fire and brimstone sermon. It was the kind of sermon that would tell people exactly where they would go if they didn’t accept Jesus as their Savior–to hell. And yes, that is where they are going. But, the way the sermon was delivered–in a loud voice with shouting and pointing fingers–was scary and reminded me more of things I was experiencing in my own home than of the unconditional love of Christ. In fact, if I had heard one of those sermons before I had heard one on John 3:16, I might not have accepted Christ. As a new believer though, I internalized those teachings and because I was hearing them on a regular basis, I thought that was how you told people about Christ. As you can imagine, that did not work well.

I speak of this today because the devotion from my church is entitled Bringing People to Heaven. The young man who wrote it gave some excellent Bible references which I read. I especially liked Hebrews 12:1-2 which says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

By reading these verses and other verses in Scripture, it’s clear that God wants us to tell people about Him and bring people to heaven with us. I struggled with how to do that for a long time though and still struggle today to an extent because I had unconsciously separated Jesus’ unconditional love and fire and brimstone sermons. I spent years in the church working and serving and years outside of the church when my community failed me not understanding one of the fundamental truths about Christianity. What is that truth, you ask? Jesus wants to have a relationship with us, pure and simple. And He wants us to have a relationship with Him and relationships with other people. Having a relationship of love and trust FIRST can go a long way towards what you might want to say to someone about God or about Jesus later on. That takes time though, time we might not want to spend, but time God CALLS us to spend. Time that will bring people to heaven with us if we are committed to spending that time. My prayer for all of us is for that truth to seep into our hearts today.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

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