Author Archives: Jan Hettinga

The Logic of Hell

Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany has become the 20th Century icon for hell.  Intelligent, educated people in a scientific age perpetrated horrible atrocities upon their fellow humans.  It was a slice of hell.  The concentration camps.  The death squads.  The gas chamber showers.  The sweet smoke of the ovens.  The mass graves.

Horror, nightmare, monstrous evil.  Hell!  It stalks us.  It breaks out again and again. Libya, Sudan, Palestine, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria; terrorism, genocide, murder, rape, preying on the innocent to make a political statement, like the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.  Like the silent screams of the dying infants in countless abortion clinics.

Let’s quit pretending.  Hell is already here.  It’s in us.  We create it with our choices.  All God has to do is place those who reject His Kingdom in a sealed location and the reality of hell will inevitably arrive.  Selfishness generates pain the way the HIV virus generates the breakdown of the immune system.  When injured people take their rage and revenge out on others, it always causes pain.  The Palestinian and ISIS suicide bombers may have suffered personal losses, but so have billions of others around the world.  The reality is that these fanatical young people have been groomed by their leaders.  Their adolescent minds have been callously programmed with hate and revenge so that they could be deployed as the ultimate “smart bombs.”  As a people group they see their “sacrifice” as necessary, even inevitable.  The logic of terrorism and the logic of hell are close companions.

Galatians 5 lists different categories of behavior within the “acts of the sinful nature.”  There is raunchy self-indulgence, demonic spirituality, and the abuse of addictive drugs.  But right in the middle of this list is the smoke and flame of hell.

Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy.

The coals of eternal fire smolder, right in our hearts!  We’ve already seen in Romans 1 that the wrath of God shows itself as the release to act out the desires of the sinful nature.  Hell then is profoundly logical.  Our out-from-under-God choices start the fires and then fan the flames.

Wiping Away God’s Fingerprints

The self-in-control nature of sin always does the same thing.  Whether you are not a Christ follower or if you have been a Christian for a long time, personal rejection of God’s leadership will take you down a very predictable path.

Exploring the forbidden is heady, adrenaline-pumping adventure.  It feels like freedom.  It always feels like “the answer”.  Sin is usually fun, at first.  The riskiness and the wrongness are like spice.  They stimulate the palate of the heart.

Cindy once had a husband and three children.  She went to a Bible-teaching church and claimed Christ as her Savior.  Her life was predictable, routine, and bland.  She wanted more.

One evening after the kids were in bed and her husband was watching a late-night sports event she discovered romantic chat rooms on the internet.  In short order she went from curiosity to full-blown obsession.  It was all so wild and racy.  Within a month she was spending hours every day talking about sex with men she had never met.

Finally, one day she found herself in a Lesbian chat room describing her sexual fantasies to another woman.  When the smoke of her passion finally cleared she had left her family and moved in with the woman she had connected with on her computer.

Now she misses her children, sometimes her husband, and occasionally her church.  She tells herself it’s too late to go back.  Things would never be the same anyway.  Her new sexual partners draw her ever deeper into their lifestyle of perverted sex, drugs, and alcohol and she sees no real option.  She’s lost.  Addicted.  Trapped.  She has completely lost control of being in control.

Cindy’s story is being lived by millions of people today.  They start out with disobedience to God and end up in a world that is totally upside-down.  What used to be darkness is now light.  What used to be light is now darkness.  God’s label for that mixed up condition is a depraved mind.

What Cindy now realizes is that the path she chose did not lead to freedom.  She is enslaved.  The bondage she has submitted herself to is far more confining and boring than her previous “picket-fence” life.

Perhaps you have assumed that because you prayed a prayer of faith and been baptized and involved in a church you were immune from the process that Romans 1 describes.  Please hear me.  Whoever chooses to begin a process of disobedience will descend the ladder of degrading behavior – no exceptions.

What God Told the Prophets

Bill is a Bible college graduate who has turned his back on all organized religion.  He exudes contempt and disdain for Christian leaders.  We were classmates and stay in touch.

“Hey, man, remember when we studied the biblical doctrine of sin in Theology class?”

“Yes, but they’re not all good memories,” I replied.

“We were told,” He continued, “that the best definition of sin was ‘to miss the mark’.  The mark was perfection, the holiness and righteous character of God!  Anything and everything that didn’t measure up to that ultimate benchmark was sin.  You want to know something strange?  I’ve never felt guilty about not meeting that standard of God’s perfection and I’ve never met anyone else who felt guilty about it either.”

What this frustrated Christian is trying to put his finger on is enormously important.  The Bible uses over fifty different words for sin.  These are not specific sins like lying, stealing, cheating, or murder.  Rather these words describe the underlying attitude of the heart from which symptomatic sins flow.

The prophets were given the job of spelling out the problem of sin.  They were amazingly creative but we must remember that they were being directly led by the Spirit of God to write exactly what they wrote.

Here is some of their vocabulary for sin:

Trespass, Transgress, Arrogance, Stubborn, Unrighteous, Wicked, To miss the mark, Defiance, Lawless, Disobedient, Ungodly, Blasphemy, Disdain for God, Iniquity, To act perversely, Rebellion, Rejection of authority, Refusal to comply, Independent self-sufficiency, Selfish pride, Evil, To twist or deviate, Self-centeredness

We must get our mental arms around this entire list.  It is always easier and simpler to just select one.  But let’s boil the whole list down.

What are all these words describing?  What is the issue that they all address?  May I suggest that this list points to an authority problem?  It is all about resistance to God’s leadership and the obsession human beings have with doing their own thing.  Perhaps rebellion would be the word with the broadest coverage of the whole subject of sin.

One thing is certain.  This ‘rejection of authority’ definition still sparks strong reaction today.  It strikes to the heart and stirs up either conviction or hostility or both.

Diagnostic Confusion

The first two sins in history are recorded in Genesis 3 and 4.  Adam and Eve were led by temptation to disobey God and go their own way.  The next three sins recorded in history were committed by their son, Cain.

First, Cain brought his best crops and offered them in violation of God’s requirement of an animal sacrifice.  Second, he became bitter and resentful toward God and his brother Abel when God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected his.  Third, he murdered his brother. In Cain’s behavior the nature of what sin is and how it behaves can be clearly seen.

It was exactly the same with his parents. When they chose to disobey God, the effects of their sin spontaneously appeared.  Eve blamed the serpent.  Adam blamed God and Eve.  Both hid from God and covered themselves because of their shame. This was a new experience for them.  Cain was full of self-pity and fear.  All the same behaviors have multiplied today.

We are free to choose to go our own way, but we are not free to determine the consequences.  We are able to exercise our free will. Then, without exception, we get stuck with what our choices produce. The vitally important purpose here is to arrive at clarity.  We must be right about what’s wrong with us or we will be wrong about how and where we apply the only cure.

What On Earth is Wrong With Us?

William Jefferson Clinton has become an icon in the modern world for self-indulgence and self-preservation.  His affair with Monica Lewinsky while serving as President of the United States, the subsequent cover-up, and then the deliberate deception under oath are history.  He was brilliant, talented, and unable to say no to himself.  His flawed presidency will be studied and analyzed for years to come.

What is most startling about the roaring 90’s and the Clinton White House is the reaction of the people to his escapades.  In spite of the feeding frenzy in the media and a Republican majority in both houses of Congress he was not impeached.  Why not?  Simply put, he was still too popular with the people of America.  His soap opera lifestyle was not considered sufficiently deviant to deserve serious censure.  Bill Clinton was let off because he was so much like the rest of us.  To condemn him we would have had to condemn ourselves.  He was a product of popular culture and the icon symbol of how we now think and live.

It would be a mistake to conclude that all this is something new.  The truth is Clintonization is just a new way of describing an ancient problem.  What God allowed to be played out in headlines before the entire watching world was a timeless parable.  It was the human race and the human heart on display.

The single word in English that best describes what is wrong with us is selfishness.  This chapter in “Follow Me” is crucial.  Everything Jesus taught and did was aimed at saving us from the powerful suction of the misplaced self.

James, the brother of Jesus, did an excellent job of putting words to this heart problem.  He describes it as envy and selfish ambition.  His verdict?  The fights and quarrels among us come from this inner source.  All the violence and hatred that challenges the possibilities of peace and healthy community can be traced to the door of our inward-focused selves.

God’s Winning Plan

The German Axis was imploding.  Italy had fallen to the Allied Army and its Fascist dictator Mussolini was imprisoned in an impregnable fortress high on the side of a mountain.  Hitler needed a sensational reversal of fortune in order to rally the sagging morale of the Third Reich.

He turned to the head of his elite Special Forces unit, Otto Skorzeny.  “Liberate Mussolini!” Do the impossible.  Demonstrate the superiority of the German military.”

And amazingly, that’s exactly what Skorzeny did.  In a stroke of daring and brilliant strategy he crash-landed gliders filled with his commandos into the mountain stronghold that held the Italian dictator.  The world was electrified by the news that Mussolini had been rescued by his German partners.

Jesus Christ was given a far more daunting job than Otto Skorzeny’s.  “Break into the stronghold of darkness and set the human race free,” ordered God the Father.  And Jesus did exactly that.

The surprise was in the way He carried out His mission.  He did the inconceivable.  He crash-landed Himself into the fortress of sin at the cross.  He sacrificed Himself to set all humans free from the bondage of their own choices.  He broke the stranglehold of our kingdoms of self-in-control with the radical tactic of self-denial and self-sacrifice.  In so doing He reinvented heroism.

God’s Lovable Humility

One of the most difficult jobs in the world is coaching an NBA team.  By the time the very elite of the basketball world reach pro status they have usually developed a world view which places them at the center.  Add to that the enormous amount of money they are paid and the adulation and applause of their fans.  What you get is the necessity for a coach to be an “ego-manager”…no easy task.

Wealth and celebrity status inevitably fuel egoism.  But strangely enough so does poverty and notoriety.  The human deformity of the self is just as common in the ghetto or the prison as it is in the Presidential Suite or the boardroom.

In Luke 12:35-44, Jesus talks about the necessary watchfulness of Kingdom servants who are waiting for their master to return.  Right in the middle is the surprise.  The most important, the smartest, the richest, the most powerful person in the universe will dress like a servant!  He will have his servants recline at the table and he will wait on them!  Jesus consistently reveals God as the leader with a servant’s heart.  We see glimpses of this behavior wired into our DNA.  Mothers instinctively serve the needs of their babies.  Fathers selflessly work long hours often at dangerous or dirty jobs to support their families.  We universally regard good parenting as goodness.  When we begin to understand that God is the source of all such goodness, we are being led toward repentance (Romans 1:4).

The Leader You Can Trust

Out of all the chapters in “Follow Me” this one has provoked the most comment.  It has become increasingly clear that most Christians have never thought about the crucifixion of Jesus as a leadership statement.

Perhaps this is because we so desperately need Christ’s substitutionary atonement at the cross for our individual and corporate guilt.  Understanding the vital importance of having our sins forgiven has caused us to focus on the benefits of God’s sacrifice. But we must also recognize the leadership implications of the cross of Christ.  What’s at stake is our voluntary followership.

I had a football coach in high school by the name of Win Brockmire.  He had an amazing record of winning seasons over a 25-year coaching career.  He never asked his players to do anything that he and his assistant coaches weren’t willing to do.  The coaching staff ate the way we were required to eat, slept the way were required to sleep, and exercised the way were asked to exercise.  They did not smoke or drink alcoholic beverages during football season.

What Win’s leadership genius did was provoke respect.  We wanted to follow him.  We admired and honored him for his willingness to put himself and his coaches through exactly the same sacrifices he was expecting from us as players.  The result was that he received a degree of loyalty that went far beyond what could be expected for mere sporting activities.  He became a formative influence in every area of his team members’ lives.

If leadership by example works well in sports, imagine how well it works when truly important issues are on the table.  This universe is built around superb government.  The leader of the whole cosmos is the most trustworthy leader of all.  He is the greatest giver, the greatest servant, and the very definition of goodness.

We follow Him because He has broken our rebellion with His love, not His power.  We follow Him because He has melted away our misplaced suspicions.  We judged Him by ourselves and we were dead wrong.  He is the only leader who will never betray our trust.

The Life Leader you meet at the cross is magnificently good because He is not a black hole of selfishness like the human leaders we’ve known.  He is an explosion of generosity, an endless flowing spring of loving-kindness and grace.

What If God Was Right About Us?

Have you ever tried to imagine what it would be like to be God? Sure, it’s a stretch, but that’s exactly what Jesus asked His hearers to do when He told them this story.

The landowner who rents his vineyard to some tenant farmers is unmistakably the Creator of the world.  The farmers are the human race given a wonderful opportunity to manage the earth under their Creator. What happens in the parable is literally the abuse of God.  First the owner’s servants are attacked and killed.  Then the landowner’s son is murdered.  The motive?  Selfishness.  Taking over the owner’s property by whatever means it took to get the job done.

In telling the story Jesus was predicting His own violent execution at the cross.  He was outlining human history and specifically, Israel’s history.  The servants who had been bullied and victimized by the greedy farmers were the prophets.  God sent them to ask for what was His by right of ownership…the kingdoms of their hearts.

Injustice is the theme of the story.  The violation of the owner’s rights to his vineyard and the criminal acts of violence perpetrated against his representatives illustrate that this is the way humans treat God.

If you think that Jesus might have been exaggerating to make a point, consider some common modern examples.

  • If you or I were to verbalize Biblical standards for sexual behavior on any secular high school or university campus in the country…we would provoke ridicule and scorn such as we had never experienced before. Today the prevailing attitude among the vast majority of adults is that their body (vineyard) is their own to do with as they please.  Nothing produces a more predictable hostile reaction than suggesting that God owns them and has the right to tell them what to do.
  • Another volatile subject is money. If God’s claim on our property and financial resources were to be pressed, all hell would break loose.  The idea that all we have belongs to God is reprehensible to most people.  They become violently angry at the suggestion that God has a right to even a portion of their income.
  • If you or I said there is only One True God and only one way to get into His heaven—-what would happen? Isn’t it true that the people of our world would immediately label us right-winged, religious fundamentalists and intolerant bigots? In today’s culture truth is not something that even God can declare with authority. Each person is their own authority with the right to select their own version of truth.

Perhaps Jesus wasn’t so radical in His assessment of our takeover of God’s ownership and leadership rights after all.

What If We Are Wrong About God?

As the 3rd Millennium begins, discrediting leaders is a primary pursuit of the media industry.  Some of the debunking is the result of leadership failure.  When moral, ethical, or legal meltdown occurs as it has in the highest offices in the world, the fallout shows up as suspicion and distrust. But suspicion of leadership has a much deeper source.

Something more is going on than the reporting of misconduct at the top.  The relentless attack of the media is indiscriminate.  All leaders are regarded with suspicion. Even the best leaders find their decisions and motives twisted into the worst possible interpretations.

What is happening is what can be expected to happen.  Reporters, news analysts, educators, and expert commentators of all varieties are playing out the nature of their hearts.  No leader can long avoid being targeted; even a perfect leader would provoke a feeding frenzy.  In fact, the better the leader the worse the attack would be.  A brief study of how Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill were treated by the media will demonstrate this reality.

There is an even more vivid example.  Jesus, the perfect leader ventured among us and we killed Him.  Rejection of leadership is just as predictable today. It’s at the center of what’s wrong with us.  We have new names for it today.  We call this aversion to authority “control issues” or “attitude problems.” The Bible has always called it sin…the rebellion that has created a deep distrust of God and His leadership, which began in the Garden of Eden.

(Excerpt taken from The Safe King book and study guide. Dig deeper and find out more by getting your copy of The Safe King book on Amazon).