Many of you, like me, grew up in the old-time Baptist church, the one that made much ado about Heaven and Hell. Any pastor worth his salt could paint a picture of Hell that gave you nightmares for a month. Sunday after Sunday, we were reminded that Jesus talked more about Hell than He did about Heaven. I guess that gave preachers permission to do the same.
I always knew a good Hell sermon awaited when I heard the reminder that Hell was a place “where the worm dieth not.” Of course, any sermon that mentioned worms caught a small boy’s attention, and any sermon on Hell sounded better from the King James Version.
I believe in a literal Heaven and a literal Hell. I think in those terms when I talk to people about who Jesus is and what He has done. But another hell has crept into our society. We are seeing an entire generation turn from “we” to “me.”
When I was growing up, we didn’t have our own rooms or even our own clothes. We wore hand-me-downs from our siblings or hand-me-overs from our cousins, and we were glad to get them. We were not the center of our families; our families were our center. We grew up with a greater picture in mind than . . . ourselves.
Over the years, a shift has taken place in our society and our churches. We focus more on what we can get than how can we give. As I was thinking about this, I came upon this ancient story:
“A young believer was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said, ‘Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.’ The Lord led him to two doors, opened one of them, and the young man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of soup. It smelled delicious and made the young man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin, sickly and appeared to be famished. They all held long-handled spoons. They could reach into the pot of soup and take a spoonful, but because the spoon handles were longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.
“The believer shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. The Lord said, ‘You have seen Hell.’ They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table and the large pot of soup which again made the young believer’s mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well-nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The believer said, ‘I don’t understand.’ “‘It is simple,’ said the Lord. ‘It requires but one skill. You see, in this room, the people have learned to feed each other. But the greedy think only of themselves.’”
I have worked with students for more than 37 years. I have witnessed this gradual shift which began in the 1960s. Self-centeredness leads to a spirit of entitlement where the children think everyone owes them something. Their parents owe them a cell phone, a car, a plasma screen television or a college education. The government owes them, and even the church owes them.
The nature of the Fall means that children grow up with a desire to be the center of everything. As parents, our role is to guide them out of this self-entanglement and into a higher understanding of God’s design. One of the evidences of self-centeredness is the amount of money we spend to make the church “relevant” for our young people. But Jesus never came to build Disneyland. He came to build the Kingdom. One is self-centered; the other is God-centered.
Jesus had one minimum requirement for His followers: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). He understood that self-centeredness and following Christ are at opposite ends of the spectrum. To begin the process of following Jesus, I must decrease, and He must increase (John 3:30).
But I see hope on the horizon. This generation is becoming fed up with self-centeredness. Young people realize it has left them . . . empty. That’s why so many want to go on short-term mission trips. Missions helps them experience the “deny” part of Jesus’ calling and lets them know how to “take up His cross.”
If we don’t help these young people move out of their self-centeredness, our society will experience an earthly hell. And that, my friends, is a place where “the worm dieth not.”
Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827.