Hold my Reservation

A student of mine asked me a short while back, “if God has unconditional love for everyone, then how come He sends people to hell?”

A very fair question, indeed, and certainly one that can generate plenty of conversation and debate – as it did that day in class.

My response to the student and his peers came in true Socratic form, asking them in turn, “Ah, does God send people to hell?”

I was proud of myself for employing the tactic of answering a question with a question, but I was even more proud of my students for catching on and applying lessons from earlier in the semester with fine critical thinking demonstration.

You see, back in the fall, we had discussed at length one of the greatest gifts God could ever give His children – free will.

We talked extensively about how this entitles us to think, do and say anything we wish, and how we are in charge of our own lives.

Yet, we also learned how all of this comes with consequences – positive or negative, depending on what we choose to do with our free will.

Through class deliberation and examples shared, the students recognized how free will can – directly or indirectly – affect one’s reputation, self-esteem and success in life, as well as those of others. They came to realize how nothing happens without impact, either short- or long-term.

So when we discussed God’s unconditional love for His creation, we then applied free will to the notion of humanity’s welcome into God’s Kingdom in Heaven.

Does God send people to hell, or do people choose to go to hell based on their thoughts, words and actions on earth? (Luke 9:26)

Such questions as these can certainly compel us to examine our own living, helping us better identify if we are worthy of salvation or perdition.

As our conversation continued, I aimed to illustrate to my students a point Jesus once made when describing Heaven, reminding everyone there is a place in His Father’s house already prepared for each of us. (John 14:2)

Imagine a hotel nearby – let’s call it Heavenly Inn. This hotel has an infinite number of stories and rooms, and there is always vacancy.

Next to it is another place of lodging – we’ll call it Motel 666. This building, too, has rooms always available and no one is ever turned away.

heaven-hotelNow, Heavenly Inn’s concierge desk is welcoming and reassuring that one’s room is ready and in true likeness to a penthouse suite. Housekeeping is impeccable, room service is divine, and exercise equipment and décor are provided with state-of-the-art quality.

Oh, and the price for a room is extremely reasonable and more than competitive with marketplace rivals.

All told, one would be foolish not to stay in such a hotel.

In fact, management stands by its hotel’s reputation with both humility and confidence so much so that it never gives away a room to another tenant, should anyone be so insistent as to refuse their hospitality.

For instance, suppose I arrive at the front desk and, instead of checking in, I ask for a refund on my reservation. My assigned room will not be turned over to the next person in line, for that individual has a different, specific room already awaiting them.

Each person has the freedom to accept or reject the invitation of Heavenly Inn and all of its perfect amenities provided. Should anyone willingly elect to turn down the hotel and stay elsewhere (Motel 666, for example), their assigned room will be left vacant forever, since there remains an endless abundance of other rooms immaculate in quality and preparation.

In other words, as freely as Heaven is offered to us, we are equally free to decline it. Doing so, however, will come at a cost, as Jesus reminds us in the Parable of the Great Dinner. (Luke 14:15-24)

You see, come Judgment Day, God’s Kingdom in Heaven will be filled. Knowing God wants to include us and extends an open, unconditional offer with a standing invitation, the question remains – will we be with Him in Paradise?

I suppose that all depends on us and how we choose to live our lives here on earth, repenting and seeing Jesus in the face of everyone, or perishing through our own choosing.

Looking at the options for eternal accommodations, I know I want to confirm my reservation at the Heavenly Inn.

I just hope and pray I live my free will virtuously on earth so that my credit card payment is accepted and I’m blessed to meet the hotel’s management and CEO.

Who am I?

Driving home from school each day, I often find myself lost in thought, ruminating on various ideas or events.

Sometimes, I will play out conversations in my head, so as to better and more appropriately prepare for upcoming scenarios (such as a conference with a student’s concerned parent or a talk with my wife during a period of disagreement).

Other times, however, I will have random points enter my mind and then simply explore these tangents.

Such an occurrence happened the other day, as I was struck by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

At the conclusion of His teachings of the Beatitudes, you might recall how Jesus empowers us to stay true to our convictions despite any and all backlash we might receive from others. (Matthew 5:10-11)

While Jesus spoke these words about 2,000 years ago, it is becoming increasingly difficult to heed them today.

Frankly, in our modern and secular society, it is not altogether easy or popular to stay true to one’s faith. We are constantly bombarded with media messages and public pressures to follow a specific crowd, act a particular way or believe a certain idea or message – all of these often contrary to God’s commandments.

Failure to meet or comply with these social expectations can often lead to isolation, exclusion and rejection.

I suppose the question we must ask ourselves, then, is which path do we follow in our lives – that of God or society around us?

While thinking introspectively in my car on my way home, I couldn’t help but consider this exact point.

Do I overly concern myself with materialism or social status? Do I compare myself too much to others and their clothes, homes, relationships, cars, jobs, travels or other items?

Do I serve social standards or God’s desires for me?

As depressing as this might sound, I occasionally wonder what people would say at my funeral.

Like many others, I would hope they would share compliments about my thoughtful and kindhearted personality, my witty sense of humor, my love for my family and friends, and other common points of praise often spoken about the deceased.

But what would I really want them to say?

Well, I guess I would hope people would identify me without doubt as a man of God.

Sure, being nice to people and making them feel special is important. Sacrificing yourself for others is meaningful. Giving your best effort in everything you do is admirable. But if these practices and traits are not for a greater purpose or being, are they not all in vain?

Indeed, living as a faithful servant to the Lord, serving His will and not being a slave to earthly directions – isn’t this what I am called to be?

Aren’t we all?

sermon-on-the-mountIs our legacy supposed to be wealth passed to our next generation, or buildings named in our honor? Am I to attain a particular salary or social echelon prior to my death or a have a passport filled with country stamps?

Regardless of accomplishment, I believe our legacy is to be a shining example of God’s wonder and awesome love and presence for others to know and apply to their lives.

So, then, what do I want my legacy to be?

Well, while I have no intention of passing on anytime soon, what I want is for my wife and me to enjoy a happy, healthy and holy marriage until death.

I want for us to raise our children into faith-led adults that look to us as their earthly heroes and that make our world a better place by their example.

I want my students to know they are capable of more, always discovering their fullest God-given potential while being pleased with their efforts and achievements.

I want my friends and strangers alike to remember me by how they felt around me, feeling better about themselves after our time together.

In essence, I want to have lived as salt of the earth and light for the world. (Matthew 5:13-16) I want to have realized God’s work on earth, fulfilling His teachings and making Him proud.

Now, none of this is easy, of course. Living in accordance with God’s Holy Word is no small order and often requires going against the grain, culturally speaking. I know I fail at this challenge often in my life.

But despite our many flaws and failures, let us resolve to remain motivated to pursue a greater good and live our Heavenly calling.

Jesus tells us our reward for our loyalty to Him awaits us and will be more than we could ever imagine. Staying true to His Word and living His example will yield a prize and salvation that will put any earthly winnings to shame. (Matthew 5:12)

In the end, isn’t that what matters the most?

So, the next time you’re driving home and are lost in random thought, perhaps you’ll be reminded of Jesus’ Beatitudes and how we are called to live as God’s blessed children.

While it surely would be random, such a point would most certainly be worth it.