Church Forward is a new blog I’ve added to my reading list. A few days ago, that site published the results of a study that showed the attitudes of the unchurched to evangelism. All the stats are important (please consider them carefully), but one stood out in particular:

78% of the unchurched agree that “if someone wanted to tell me what he or she believed about Christianity, I would be willing to listen.

That’s an astonishing figure. Part of me wonders if the survey question was understood. Honestly. Because that figure is amazingly high.

Last week I wrote about a subset of people who seem to be completely aspiritual. They may be the missing 22 percent. I suspect that they are the group that is actually growing in number.

If so, then our window of opportunity on that 78 percent is as wide open as it will ever be.

Let’s put this in perspective. In the amount of time it takes to watch an episode of Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, 24, or Lost, 6,319 people worldwide will have died {source}.

The general consensus is that about a third of the world’s population is “Christian,” a loose definition that includes not only the genuinely born again, Exit, stage left...but also cult members who ascribe to deviant forms of Christian belief and people who may mentally assent to Christian morality. In other words, that one-third is quite generous.

Yet even if we assume that loosedefinition, applying the basic truths of mankind’s eternal destiny, of those 6,319 people, 4,212 are doomed to an eternity of torment in the flames of hell. 4,212. Every hour. Every day.

This is not a pain that goes away. No narcotic exists to extinguish that agony once it’s administered.

Leonard Ravenhill, the great British revivalist, put it this way in a true story:

Charlie Peace was a criminal. Laws of God or man curbed him not. Finally the law caught up with him, and he was condemned to death. On the fatal morning in Armley Jail, Leeds, England, he was taken on the death-walk. Before him went the prison chaplain, routinely and sleepily reading some Bible verses. The criminal touched the preacher and asked what he was reading. “The Consolations of Religion,” was the replay. Charlie Peace was shocked at the way he professionally read about hell. Could a man be so unmoved under the very shadow of the scaffold as to lead a fellow-human there and yet, dry-eyed, read of a pit that has no bottom into which this fellow must fall? Could this preacher believe the words that there is an eternal fire that never consumes its victims, and yet slide over the phrase with a tremor? Is a man human at all who can say with no tears, “You will be eternally dying and yet never know the relief that death brings”? All this was too much for Charlie Peace. So he preached. Listen to his on-the-eve-of-hell sermon:

“Sir,” addressing the preacher, “if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!

Hang around the Godblogosphere long enough and you’ll see plenty of fawning posts about the TV shows I mentioned above. Or about some lame movie. Or about some album by some derivative band. You’ll read plenty of talk about stuff that that will burn when the fire comes, but you’ll read next to nothing about what happens to the lost when that same fire comes for them.

If the American Church’s concern for the lost people of the world could be summed up in one phrase, I suspect that phrase would be “Let ’em burn!”

If we cared, we’d live differently. But we don’t really care, do we?

For most of us, the limit of our caring extends to the walls of our home and no further. A few of us may say we care about others beyond those walls, but our caring never gets around to asking another person, “Where do you stand with Jesus?”

I don’t like what our American culture has done to me. In fact, I despise it. Because when I look deep into my own soul, I see a nearly total lack of caring about the eternal state of other people. I may say I care, but I don’t care enough to make the changes needed to my life to ensure I’m living for Jesus. And living for Jesus means that I no longer live for myself.

The power of the American lie casts a spell over us, doesn’t it? That lie takes Christ off the throne and enthrones that pretender, self. It’s the lie of “God wants you happy!” instead of the truth that God wants you obedient to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Now we may say that we’re sold out to Christ, but we aren’t. We lie to ourselves and keep playing the happy card, that selfish, devil-filled mantra of self-fulfillment no matter at whose expense that happiness comes.

Because when we get right down to it, we’re so preoccupied with self-fulfillment that we’re willing to gamble the lives of two out of every three people to ensure it, 4,212 people each hour, so that we can keep on living for whatever pleases us, even if that pleasurable pursuit wracks the heart of God.

Can we imagine having to apologize to each person bound for hell who had the opportunity to hear the Gospel from our lips, but we were too busy caring about what Jack Bauer would do next?

Well, can we?

We should count ourselves lucky if we merit the tiniest cot in the broom closet of the mansion Christ is building in glory.

One Moment in Time—and Beyond


I believe it was an International Bible Society study that showed that nearly all people who become Christians do so by age nineteen. That figure stunned me at the time. We've got to get people young, folks. That's why bringing young people to Christ is so astonishingly important.

But another figure hidden in that survey speaks just as loudly. If the average American today lives to at least eighty, the IBS survey also tells us that the person who comes to Christ at age nineteen will spend sixty years or more in discipleship.

Think about that figure—sixty years of following Christ after conversion.Real life sliced and diced

The image at right puts this in perspective. The slice of pie that comprises a person's pagan life before Christ consumes about a quarter of life. Following after Christ takes up three-quarters. The moment of conversion, though crucial, is but a mere slice.

Yet you would think that conversion, that one moment in time, is all there is to the Christian life. Given how we Evangelicals devote so much time, energy, and angst to conversion, you'd think that the sixty years afterward are a drop in the bucket. In the Godblogosphere, the handwringing over conversion (and the theology behind it) weights it even more. Discipleship may seem an afterthought.

I'm saddened when I get e-mails from folks saying all their church ever talks about is getting people saved. Don't get me wrong; it's excellent that churches preach the salvation message. But most of the people in the church are already saved, so what help do they get in actually living out their conversion if they hear the same salvation message over and over again?

The Bible says this:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
—John 17:3 ESV

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
—2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV

I didn't know my wife the first time I met her. In many ways, I still didn't know her even on our honeymoon. Learning who she is will take me the rest of my life because the depth of her personhood will only be revealed in time.

The same goes for Jesus Christ. Most of us have barely scratched the surface of what it means to know Him. Yet the Bible says that knowing Him IS eternal life! It's not escaping hell, it's knowing the person of Jesus Christ. Deep calls to deep. If Jesus Christ and a hundred Jesus impersonators were put into a lineup, would we be able to pick the real Jesus out of the crowd of imposters? Think hard about that question.

Likewise, our conversion to Christ does not end our growth as Christians. Too often, though, our churches act like they have no more to tell us once we say yes to the Lord. "Just don't do bad things now" is the extent of the post-conversion advice.

But the Bible says that we're supposed to be changing from one degree of glory into another, a process that will take our entire lives. That is if we surrender to that process of Christ making Himself in us. For it's His glory that shapes us over those sixty years.

Too often, our discipleship is self-centered. Life becomes nothing more than the avoidance of pain and the accumulation of comfort. But we can't walk the narrow path staring into our navels; we'll wind up in a ditch.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:10 ESV

And as you go, proclaim, saying, "The kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. You have received freely, freely give.
—Matthew 10:7-8 MKJV

For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He shall reward each one according to his works.
—Matthew 16:27 MKJV 

If you're a Christian, you're a new creation. And what were you created for? Good works in Christ. The real disciple of Jesus Christ spends his or her sixty years after conversion walking out a discipleship that is other-centric. It's centered on the Lord and on the ones who are dying around us. Yes, we can read great treatises on theology, accumulate vast libraries of Christian thought, attend Christian conferences one after the other, but if we're not freely giving away what we freely received, then we'll spend sixty years wasting God's mercy. Instead, we must be focused on others to ensure that the reward we have in heaven is great.

We all know "Away in the Manger." There's not a three-year-old out there that doesn't learn this Christmas carol first. As a result, few think of it in terms of theological depth. The final stanza says it all:

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there.

Our sixty years of discipleship is meant for one thing: to fit us for Heaven to live with Christ eternally. What you and I are doing right now in this moment of time is shaping our eternity. Don't be deceived. Following Christ was never intended as fire insurance. Instead, it's meant to remake citizens of Earth into citizens of Heaven.

Are we giving away our life here so we can take on new life? Can we with all certainty pick Jesus out of the lineup? He may not look like an itinerant rabbi, but the homeless man drunk outside our office building. How then will we know Him unless we do the good works that encounter Him? Are we spending all our time looking at our conversion when we should be focused on our inheritance?

Sixty years is at once quite long, yet so very short in the eyes of eternity. In truth, our lives are not so much like a pie chart, but a never-ending timeline that began a breath ago. In a flash comes conversion, but then we live out the eternal consequences of our discipleship.

It's about learning to be a disciple, giving away freely what we were freely given: love, mercy, and grace. Let's not waste our sixty years.