The picture at right is the view over the rail into the open-air atrium in the office building where I work. We're on the ninth floor, and there is nothing but a short wall and a railing to separate anyone walking from their office to the restroom from falling over. So probably five or six times on an average day, I am two feet from doom. Meeting Jesus in person. Very scary!
Is it scary? Well, it was when I first started working here. I would go out into the atrium area and look down (feeling a little queasy), and then look up to the one upper floor and skylight and see the clouds (feeling a little inspired). I thought about how beautiful the atrium is, and how terrible it would be to experience nine stories' worth of open air on the way down (actually, the air wouldn't be the bad part... the floor would be the bad part!) It would always make me just a little bit nervous. You know why? Because I was conscious of the danger that is present in that situation. If someone wanted to do me in, they could do it easily (hopefully nobody does!) and if I lost equilibrium for some reason, I could tumble over that rail with no help whatsoever.
I don't worry about that any more. Why? Because the danger is less? No, of course not... it's because I just don't think about it any more. I've become used to the danger that is present there. It's not that I've lost my knowledge of the danger (or else I wouldn't be writing this) or my fear of falling to my death... it just doesn't occur to me now.
Let's think about something else. When was the last time you thought about Hell? The Bible describes flames burning people forever, worms eating them forever... it's pretty gruesome. If you are a believer in Jesus, that's not going to happen to you. We heard a pastor this week say that Christians are "disqualified" from going to Hell. You can't get in! You're not eligible to burn forever! :) Is Hell any less real or dangerous? No, of course not. It's VERY dangerous. But your fear of Hell is gone, and you probably don't think about it any more.
What if I was in the atrium and saw someone stumbling toward the rail? Would I remember the danger? Of COURSE I would! I would run to the person and try to steady them and save them from getting hurt or killed. Even though I don't think about the danger much, I'm aware that it's there. Let me ask you a question: when was the last time you thought about whether a person you met was in danger of going to Hell?
Quick break... check out this video from atheist Penn Jillette (from magic duo Penn & Teller)
Let's think of something else. Do you realize that every day, without the privilege of identifying with the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, you and I are lost? Every day we walk through our lives in the very shadow of Jesus' work on the Cross. So daily, we are two feet from Jesus' Salvation on one side, and two feet from the threat of Hell (which is no longer a danger to us as believers) on the other. We should be so thankful for the gift on the one hand, and so alarmed by the danger on the other hand to people around us, that we should be willing to do whatever it takes to live out our faith, in public, and with no reservations. If someone was tipping over the rail, I would run, I would yell, and I would jump in the way if I thought it would help. The threat of eternity without God is just as imminent, and is much more dangerous, than a mere fall of nine stories. If you were extremely lucky, you might actually somehow survive a 90-foot drop... but the drop into Hell is a lot longer than 90 feet, and nobody ever comes back.
Don't be afraid to hear the Holy Spirit today. Don't be afraid to share your faith. If you are a willing vessel, God will use you... you may be the reason someone meets Jesus.
One day an old man was walking along the beach. It was low tide, and the sand was littered with thousands of stranded starfish that the water had carried in and then left behind. The man began walking very carefully so as not to step on any of the beautiful creatures. Since the animals still seemed to be alive, he considered picking some of them up and putting them back in the water, where they could resume their lives.-"A Single Starfish" inspired "The Star Thrower" By Loren Eiseley... this version borrowed from all-creatures.org
The man knew the starfish would die if left on the beach's dry sand but he reasoned that he could not possibly help them all, so he chose to do nothing and continued walking.
Soon afterward, the man came upon a small child on the beach who was frantically throwing one starfish after another back into the sea. The old man stopped and asked the child, "What are you doing?"
"I'm saving the starfish," the child replied.
"Why waste your time?... There are so many you can't save them all so what does is matter?" argued the man.
Without hesitation, the child picked up another starfish and tossed the starfish back into the water... "It matters to this one," the child explained.
[UPDATE: a very interesting perspective on Hell by Pastor John Piper can be found here.]