When People you Love Seem Headed for Hell
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani
Iranian Christian,Youcef Nadarkhani, was arrested in 2009 for objecting to his children being taught Islamic doctrine in school and for attempting to establish a home-based church. He was sentenced to death last year. According to meager news feeds out of Iran it appears that his execution is imminent. The Iranian regime has resisted the international outcry calling for his release. Click on the source below the picture for Youcef's full story.
Here is a current example of what Jesus was talking about when he announced, "I have not come to bring peace but a sword." Matthew 10:34-39 Jesus went on to explain, "I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother...and a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."
There are Scriptures where the Word of God, particularly the good news of salvation through faith in Christ, is likened to a sword. In the awesome word picture of the risen and glorified Christ a sword comes from his mouth. The author of Hebrews compares the penetrating power of gospel to a two-edge sword. According to Paul, the Christian is armed with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
It is reasonable to expect that when the gospel captures the heart of any sinner it will necessarily separate that sinner from close friends and family who have not yet responded. Youcef Nadarkhani faces an extreme instance of this separation. But every true believer will suffer some form of rejection and isolation from those who have not yet believed. Paul wrote, "it has been granted to you that, for the sake of Christ, you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake." (Phil.1:29)
Experiencing the sword
We in the West don't yet encounter as violent a sword as Mr.Nadarkhani faces. But the time is coming when Christians around the world will be persecuted. As He always has, God will give us the grace to endure bravely. For now, here in America, the most painful sword-experience is the isolation and ridicule believers get from unbelieving family and friends.
Handlng these mild sword-experiences with grace prepares us for the more severe hostility that lies ahead. The key to being an effective follower of Christ in the midst of loved ones who disdain you is to go on the offensive, a love offensive. Jesus exclaimed from the cross, "into your hands I commit my spirit." Luke 23:46 So it must be with his followers.
The family gatherng
That's when we feel it the most. It's Christmas day, you'll join twenty others at the old homestead where Grandma still serves up a feast fit for royalty. You came to know the Lord a few months ago. You're heart still warms at the realization that the Almighty regards you as his friend because you have embraced his Son, Jesus Christ. You have literally entered a new world. Your loved ones aren't there yet. Awkward!
The conversations at the family gathering revolve around sports, fashion, latest aches and pains and who is going where and when! These things used to interest you, but now they seem banal. When you attempt to tell of your new found love of Jesus, you are met with polite but cold stares. But that doesn't bother you as much as the thought that these folks whom you love seem headed for hell. And they are clueless.
Yes, this is the big elephant in the room that no one cares to talk about. So here you are at the family Christmas gathering. Your heart aches over the eternal destiny that awaits people you hold dear.
This is where it's tempting to jettison this long held feature of the Christian faith. But the faithful believer can't. Like it or not, hell awaits those who reject or ignore God's grace. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't yet firgured out how a beleiver can be happy in heaven with the knowledge that some he loved on earth aren't there. But my inability to understand does not negate the truth so clearly found in Scripture. The best I can do is assume that the mind and heart of believers in heaven will be so consumed with the glories eternity that the past fades into oblivion.
Impact and Intimacy
For this insight I credit the good folks at the Barnabas Center in Charlotte, NC. This from their website.
Founded in 1989 by Palmer Trice, M.Div., The Barnabas Center is a nonprofit, nondenominational, Christ-centered counseling, training and teaching ministry. The Barnabas name, which means “son of encouragement,” communicates our desire to encourage people by coming alongside them, entering into their daily struggles and walking with them toward freedom.
What to do
First, avoid two extremes. Don't be a gospel salesman and don't pull a disappearing act. In the first your only interest in other family members is to get them saved. Usually that means sharing a three, four, or five point gospel presentation and then asking your hearer to trust Jesus. If he does, you've made a sale and you feel good. The opposite extreme is to disappear altogether, either physically by not attending at all, or emotionally by attending but withdrawing emotionally.
There's a better way. Remember that all hostility masks a deep soul need to have impact and to experience intimacy. Those needs are God-given and reveal that, in fact, we are created in his image. It's our strategies for meeting this dual need that are often misguided, self-destructive and sinful. Pray that God reassure you of his own love for you and then open your eyes to opportunities to love others. Listen carefully for how folks are meeting these two needs. Then play like Dr.Phil. "How's that working for you?" Or some variation on that. The idea is to forget about yourself (you're in good hands, God's) and show genuine interest in the other. Nothing communicates interest and love more than listening with your heart.
Go for the heart
As you listen carefully to other's concerns and battles and disappointments and anxieties you will find that people will begin to open up to you. They let down their guards and become vulnerable with you. How will you respond? If you jump in with umpteen Scriptures and all kinds of very pointed advice, you've abused the other. He's likely to shut down.
Remember, you are not a gospel salesman. You don't get points in the book of life for how many presentations you make and then double points for a click through to faith in Jesus. God does the saving. We witness to it, not so much with words but with attitudes and behaviors.
Books that enrich my meager thoughts
"But where's the urgency?"
If you have come to believe the gospel you know that hell awaits all who die in their unbelief. Since life is but a breath, many sincere Christians feel a great urgency to speak the gospel to any and all people they encounter before it's too late. The urgency is commendable but it also gets us into trouble. Remember that you are just one of many tools God uses to bring the sinner to himself. He never promised that you would see in this life the results of your witness.
Be urgent to live consistently in tune with the gospel. Then relax and enjoy those around you who are yet to believe. There is much about them to appreciate and affirm. Remember that we are all image bearers of the Creator. Often our obsession with "getting them saved" short-circuits our ability to recognize and to value the evidence of God's image in another. To the unbeliever that feels like disrespect, just the opposite of what you intend.