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Hellfire and Damnation

I’m sure, in my 6+ year history of blogging, I’ve mentioned the frustrating (and for a time, wounding) experience I had while in university, being accosted by a street preacher.  It was my non-Christian friend, of all people, who had to pull me away from the man with the megaphone who was shouting at me that I was a Jezebel who would burn in hell.  I tried to reason with the preacher and tell him I was a sister in Christ, but he would have none of it, and hollered at me — at point-blank range, still through the megaphone — that I was lying.  My friend, meanwhile, growled at the preacher that he had “got the wrong girl” as he dragged away my offended self.

Ah, memories.  😀

That event, oddly enough, really cemented my heart in commitment to the Vineyard church.  With its emphasis on much-more-subtle (and practical!  and never emotionally-damaging!) activities like servant evangelism, it just seemed much more in line with what Jesus would truly do (and this, my friend, was way before the WWJD phenomenon).

Recently, I have decided to read through the book of Acts.  My pastor very often uses passages from Acts in his weekly messages;  they’re very practical for the everyday life of a Christian, for he is nothing if not practical.  So, I feel like it’s a book with which I have a good acquaintance.  And I tend to concentrate my Scripture reading in portions of the Bible that are less-familiar to me.  Nevertheless, I decided to read Acts for myself…  to reacquaint myself with what the early Church was doing, and to re-prioritize it in my own life.

Most days, I only read a few verses, before cross-referencing, word study, and contemplation take over, not to mention little girls waking up early, wanting to snug.  Yesterday, however, I read the whole of chapter three.  In it is the account of Peter healing a man who was 40+ years old of a lifetime of being lame.  The thing that really struck me, though, was the tenor of Peter’s sermon on the matter, and its effect.

Consider:

Not exactly the world’s most touchy-feely sermon, eh?  But what was the fruit of it?  What was the result??

But many of those who had heard the message believed;  and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

Peter, the street preacher, with his megaphone, so to speak, delivered some really scorching words to the hearers.  And what happens?  Conviction!  Salvation!  Church growth!

His hellfire and damnation sermon WORKED.

Wow.

I suddenly have some compassion for my own street preacher — which I have never previously felt, in the twenty years or so since it happened!  Perhaps he was just trying to follow Peter’s lead, expecting the same result.

This morning, pondering it further, I was reminded of George Müller, whose amazing life is a profound testament to prayer, faithfulness, and God’s redeeming power, not to mention vast social change*.  If I am remembering correctly, when George first became a believer, he took his university Divinity education, and tried “pastoring” simple German farming folk** with high-falutin’ sermons, even copying, word-for-word, some of the most sophisticated ones he could find, in hopes of impressing those who heard.  The result was that he impressed them, all right, but he didn’t pastor them, nor bring any closer to knowing and loving Jesus, because they couldn’t understand what he was saying!

In other words, it may have been the right words, but it was at the wrong time, to the wrong audience.

The greater difference between Peter in Acts, and the megaphone-toting, hellfire and damnation New Orleans street preacher, though, may be this:

  1. Peter was filled with — and controlled by — the Holy Spirit.
  2. Peter’s words came after some serious manifestation of “signs and wonders“, which, in and of itself, made believers out of non-believers.

In Acts 4:23-31, directly after this event — Peter healing the lame man and being detained by the religious leaders of the day for it, and for preaching the resurrection of the dead in Jesus — the believers gathered to pray for further boldness!

I need that.  I need all of that:

  1. The right timing,
  2. being filled with the Holy Spirit,
  3. participating in the miraculous,
  4. and more boldness.

I really don’t want a bad experience with someone who had only one of those four in operation — the boldness part — to… well… I don’t know how to put it.  I think what I have done for the last twenty years, is mostly be afraid that anything I say or do out of boldness will have the same negative effect on others that my own experience had on me.  Until now, I really haven’t pieced it all together that it wasn’t the boldness, per se, that was wrong.  It was not having the REST of the package in concert with the boldness.

Having all of it together is the difference, I now believe, between wounding others and revealing the true heart of God to them.

As I re-read what I’ve written above, it sounds like a no-brainer.  “Duh.  Of course you need the Holy Spirit in order to be effectively bold.”  But, I guess that’s what a revelation is all about:  Really sealing things that you may have heard a million times before, and to which you can make a quick mental assent, into a true thing that goes deep in your heart of hearts, so that it’s really REAL, in a way that it never was before.

So.  Now.  Instead of tentatively praying for boldness, afraid of what would happen if God actually GRANTED that prayer to me, I will not just pray for boldness, in and of itself.  I will pray for His timing, His presence, and His power to accompany that boldness, continually in my life.

It’s a good recipe, I think.  And may it bear, oh God, the same fruit that Peter and the apostles did.***

———————-

*To my mind, no two men did more to change the way orphans were treated in Victorian England — and to this day — than Charles Dickens (who raised awareness in a socially-palatable way) and George Müller, who actually DID something about the horrid state of orphanages.

**George hadn’t moved to England yet.

***Might as well start now with the bold requests, eh??  😉

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