Thoughts about Heaven and Hell

I’m not caught between Heaven and Hell, thank goodness. As a Christian, I know where I’ll be going.

But I am caught between the teachings of my theologically moderate father and those of our very conservative church, a church I love so dearly otherwise that I tend not to share opinions there that people might take offense at.

One difference of opinion has to do with Creation. I DO believe God is the Creator of everything, and I believe He was quite capable of creating the world in seven twenty-four hour days. But I tend to believe they were seven periods of time. Fortunately, my salvation is not dependent on that belief.

I actually get upset at theology I consider too liberal. I recall a Sunday school lesson years ago in which the quarterly talked about an ax head (somewhere in the Old Testament; I have no idea where) that slipped off, fell in the water, and miraculously floated to the surface again. I felt like ripping up the quarterly for insisting that story had been symbolic, not literal.

I wouldn’t object to someone saying it might have been symbolic, but stating that it was as if the writer of the quarterly knew more about the Bible than God was too much. I would get equally upset about anyone who insists that the story of Jonah and the whale isn’t literal. That’s a failure to give God credit for being able to do the unbelievable.

And that brings me to Heaven and Hell. Everyone knows about Heaven–the pearly gates and the streets of gold. And everyone knows about Hell, too–the eternal lake of fire and the stink of bodies burning but never burning up.

Here’s where I have to tread carefully. The apostle John, who wrote the book of Revelation, from which we get most if not all of our description of Heaven, saw Heaven in a vision. I have no doubt of that or that he REALLY saw Heaven.

But I wonder whether his description of Heaven was simply the most accurate one he could make, being limited to the most descriptive words in his vocabulary. Words that could not possibly be adequate for describing the wonders of Heaven.

How could he have done it differently? I believe the materials–even the colors–found in Heaven are beyond our ability to comprehend. Or even to imagine. So I think John did the best he could to describe the indescribable. Golden streets and pearly gates give us a preview we could understand, but are not necessarily a real description of Heaven.

What probably makes me a moderate and not a liberal is the fact I express that as my opinion about Heaven. Not as a fact. I’m not going to be disappointed in Heaven, no matter what materials it’s made of or what it looks like. That’s all that really matters to me.

Hell is a lot harder for me to deal with. Could it be that there are no human words sufficiently horrible to describe eternal separation from God? And because Jerusalem had a garbage dump outside the city, a place where dead bodies were disposed of,  a place that stank of sulfur, a place where the fires never went out, wouldn’t it make sense to describe Hell in similar terms–terms the people of Jesus’s day could understand and relate to?

Interestingly, Jesus not only described Hell elsewhere as an eternal fire, he told a parable about a rich man who was burning in Hell. He saw the poor man he’d horribly mistreated while they were both still alive. But the poor man was living it up in Heaven while the rich man was eternally miserable in Hell. The rich man begged God to send a warning to his brothers so they wouldn’t suffer the same fate he was suffering.

The thing that really interests me about this story is that the rich man could see into Heaven and recognize what he was missing out on. Consequently his eternal hopelessness was made all the worse.

I’ve heard sermons that treat this parable as a literal story about Heaven and Hell. And it may well be. Once again, what right do I have to be dogmatic?

Either way, it suggests one idea about Hell that makes a lot of sense. If Hell means being eternally separated from God, what could be worse than being somewhere outside Heaven’s gates, able to see how perfect life inside is and perhaps even trying to break down the gates or climb the walls to get inside, but unable to unable to do so?

I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinions on the subjects of Heaven and Hell. As I’ve tried to make clear, I’m not in a position to insist that some parts of the Bible might be symbolic rather than literal. But one of the wonderful things about Christianity is that God loves each of His children just as much as if each of them understood the Bible perfectly from cover to cover.

Comments are welcome.

 

    

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Best regards,
Roger

Not Every Good Idea Is Mine

          

          

I’ll be seventy-one next month, and I hate to admit it, but I’m running out of fresh ideas regarding anything and everything. I not only don’t have any idea what my next book will be about, I’ve almost reached the point of not being too concerned about it. After all, I still have a number of unpublished manuscripts to get published one way or another.

I hope I’m not the only person in the world who grew up thinking that his ideas were the best. And resenting the fact that not everyone agreed with me. And wondering why. Like why my former agent saw the great value in all of those manuscripts he was never able to sell but publishers didn’t.

This blog post isn’t about writing or publishing, though. It’s about accepting the fact that other people have good–sometimes GREAT–ideas, too.

In particular, a couple of years ago our pastor shared with the congregation the idea of building a first-class picnic pavilion on our property across the road from the church building proper. Interesting idea, I thought at the time, but we don’t really need that, do we?

I didn’t express opposition to the idea, though. I’d matured enough by then to realize I could be wrong, no matter how much I thought I wasn’t.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think the pavilion project required anything from the church budget. Different people contributed time, talent, and materials to making the pavilion happen amazingly fast.

I opened my eyes one day, and there it was. Complete and ready for use. Not long after that, our choir director, who’s also in charge of Operation Christmas Child (OCC) at our church, held a church-wide meal to raise money for OCC. Although our members contribute enough items to fill around 2,000 shoe boxes a year, it costs thousands of dollars to pay for shipping them overseas.

The event was a huge success, and my wife and I won a fantastic gas grill we couldn’t use and gave to someone we thought could use it more. Maybe this pavilion wasn’t such a bad idea.

But this summer has really proven its success. Rather than have the normal evening worship services at 6:00 p.m. and then go home, the church held shortened evening services during the month of July, followed by a special event at the pavilion. One featured hot dogs, chips, and cookies. Another was watermelon. For a third, the church actually paid a snow cone vendor to bring his truck and provide free snow cones for everyone. And of course there was a homemade ice cream social!

The attendance at those evening services was amazing, and we were able to meet people who normally attended the opposite morning service from us. People who–by no fault of their own–we hadn’t even seen before because we weren’t normally in the same place at the same time. Quite a time of much-needed fellowship.

Yep, I think I may have been a little short-sighted about the picnic pavilion, and I don’t mind admitting it. I’m sure glad the world isn’t dependent on my good ideas alone and is willing to overlook my bad ones.

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

 

    

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Best regards,
Roger

The Death of a Mall

A friend and I have recently been discussing the condition of the mall I walk at most mornings. She asks if the smells from the Food Court aren’t distracting while I’m walking. What smells, I tell her? Even by 9:00 a.m. there might not be anyone manning places in the Food Court, much less cooking anything.

She can’t picture just how far down Virginia Center Commons has grown. Grown down? Strange way to describe something that “dead” or “dying” seems to describe better .

I wonder whether American Family Fitness knew how badly VCC was dying when they bought and totally redid the  property on the other side of this wall. It’s one of the few places that are thriving, but it’s not even owned by the mall.

I recall how much fun it was to go to VCC  back in the 1990s when it was new and thriving. After years of going to a mall that was further away, a two-story mall, how amazing it was to be in a single-story mall that was oh! so spread out. With skylighted hallways–one that reaches from the Food Court all the way to the back and a shorter one off to one side–and decorated with humongous (live) palm trees.

Even though I know now that I can walk from one end of it to the other in five minutes and make a complete circle in fifteen, it was so crowded back then that it would probably have taken two to three times that long to move through the crowd at a snail’s pace.

As if I had any reason to rush then.

The Food Court wasn’t humongous, but it had a good selection, and right beside the front door was a Ruby Tuesday’s. Along with the variety of kiosks and normal-sized shops–the best I can recall, there were no empty stores–the mall housed a J. C. Penney’s, a Sears, and several other larger “big name” places.

The mall still has Penney’s and Sears, although the future of both chains is–from what I understand–up in the air. Burlington occupies one of the big store sites, but a good-sized Macy’s closed down many months ago. Interestingly, it’s for sale, not for lease. But what wise businessman (or woman) would want to invest so much in a place too few people shop at anymore?

Probably the most successful place is American Family Fitness. No wonder. The mall doesn’t own it and its success isn’t dependent on mall customers.

My wife helped me do a survey a couple of days ago. It’s hard to count while walking, but we ticked off the numbers on a tablet as we went along, so I believe these figures are relatively accurate.

  • Stores and kiosks still open: 47  (includes one that’s about to open)
  • Stores closed in the side hallway: 21
    • Stores open in that hallway: 3
  • Stores closed in the main hallway (includes two in the process of closing): 17

I detest walking in the one hallway that has lost twenty-one stores. It’s depressing.

This problem seems to be at least partially a chicken-or-egg problem. Which happened first–stores closing because customers were no longer coming to the mall or too many stores closing for customers to find going there to be worthwhile? I’ve heard several people claim that groups of teens hanging around there made customers afraid.

While that might have happened sometime in the past, I’ve never seen dangerous looking teens there. I rarely see a crowd at all. This is what the Food Court area looked like around 6:00 p.m. a couple of days ago:

In all fairness, Monday evening seems to be the most consistently empty time of the whole week. But it never looks anywhere close to full.

This picture is of the hall that branches off just past the Food Court. This is the one that only has three businesses–a LensCrafters, an optometrist’s office that’s all but officially a part of LensCrafters, and an African hair braiding place.

 

Some months ago the mall was sold to someone who supposedly likes to fix up malls like this one. I hope he can. He hasn’t done much so far. The lines in the parking lot are so faded it’s hard to be sure I’m parking within the lines.

Virginia Center Commons is just a mile down the road from us, and we do shop there–to whatever extent we can find what we want or need. We want to see it rejuvenated. Do we ever!

Any comments?



    

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Best regards,
Roger

A Walk through Daily Life

I enjoy walking at the local mall, and I do that at least five days a week in the early morning. Early morning is either 8:15 or 8:30, depending on which security guard lets us walkers in. There doesn’t seem to be any agreement about which time is officially correct.

Although a number of my fellow walkers walk with other people, I prefer to walk by myself. The practical reason is that the echoes in those empty hallways make it very difficult for me to understand what other people are saying. But the real reason, other than the fact that I enjoy my own company at that time of day, is that I enjoy God’s company even more.

Yep, I like to pray while walking. Although I make it a practice to always pray about certain specific needs (usually not my own), I try to leave my prayer time open to whatever God lays on my heart to talk to Him about.

Several days ago my prayer time revealed something I’d never thought about before. Walking at the mall has many similarities to living my daily life.

In both cases, I’m at it before much of the day has a chance to get away from me. And I’m not necessarily all that alert yet at the beginning, even though I’m theoretically wide awake.

Each activity has a definite starting and ending point. My day goes from bedtime to bedtime, and my walks go from the Food Court entrance back to the Food Court entrance…and then back to the same car I came in…and to the same house I left forty or so minutes earlier.

Just as I expect to see a number of familiar fellow walkers, custodians, and early store employees, my daily life involves a number of familiar activities–a mid-morning snack, working a while on my WIP (work-in-progress), lunch, afternoon nap, putting away the clean breakfast dishes in preparation for suppertime dishwashing.

I could keep going, but there’s no need to belabor the point.

Occasionally my walk involves a surprise. Maybe I see someone I suddenly realize I haven’t seen in a while.  Or I end up walking a short distance with one of the walkers I know is a Christian, too. (I’m not really anti-social.) Or seeing that an interesting looking new store is about to open.

Of course, the surprise may not be the least pleasant. Like when the security guard is really late letting us in. Or when I have to break my stride to tie a shoelace keeps coming loose. Or when I notice one more store going out of business.

Good or bad, my walk still resembles my daily life to a certain extent. Sometimes I write more words in my WIP than I’d expected to. Sometimes fewer. Sometimes something special comes in the mail. Or something unexpected interferes with my routine. Like the tire pressure light coming on in the car and having to get the charger out of the trunk and deal with it.

I wish I could recall more of the similarities that came to me while praying that day. One thing is certain, though: I’m always glad to safely reach the end, whether that means I’ve completed my walk and can sit down for as long as I want to or that I’ve plopped into bed at the end of the day, satisfied that I’ve “run the good race” that day, accomplishing whatever I wanted to accomplish, and thankful to have had God leading me each step along the way.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

    

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Best regards,
Roger

Nature’s Truly Most Perfect Food

Since my wife and I don’t watch TV, I don’t know whether the dairy industry still touts milk as “Nature’s most perfect food.”

Nonetheless, I disagree. Not because I dislike milk. I don’t. I not only love it, I drink eight ounces of milk every morning. Skim, at that. And I have fond memories of drinking fresh milk at the dairy farm where I stayed many years ago on a mission trip to Wales.

No, maybe I’m exaggerating to say I disagree that milk is “Nature’s most perfect food.” I suppose it is.

But there is one food–and one only–that is “Nature’s truly most perfect food.” And that is PIZZA!

That’s me finishing up my half of the pizza we had for lunch last Sunday. Bacon on mine, pepperoni and mushrooms on hers.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t always crazy about pizza. Not because I disliked it at all, but because I never had any until I was in the tenth or eleventh grade. My mother didn’t cook pizza, and those were the days before every corner that didn’t have a church on it had a pizza place.

Not that it would’ve mattered. We wouldn’t have gone there, and since I didn’t know what I was missing, I wouldn’t have bugged my parents about it.

Not that I would’ve bugged them, anyhow. They were fine people, but not very bug-able.

But then came that magic Sunday night when we were invited to somebody’s house for an after-church social. There I had my first pizza, and I fell in love with it. Unfortunately, that was probably also my father’s first pizza, and it made him SO sick. He’d never reacted to other food that way.

I couldn’t convince my parents that the problem was probably something specific to THAT pizza, not pizza in general. Alas, we continued never having it.

I don’t know when the one-eighty came. But definitely while I was in college. I have fond memories of walking the snowy streets of Frostburg, Md.–named after a family of Frosts, not the frigid weather that typified that area in winter–from where I was living off-campus (Frostburg State) to a place downtown where I’d buy two or three slices and eat them out of the box trudging back to my room through the snow and trying to keep from falling down and getting my pizza wet.

Once I was totally out on my own, pizza became a staple. Both with my ex-wife and Kathleen. We don’t splurge as much as we might enjoy, though. “Nature’s truly most perfect” still comes with a calorie-laden price tag.  At our age and stage, we can’t ignore that.

I don’t know what foods will be served in Heaven, but I assume pizza will be available at every meal. And that–Heaven being Heaven, and Heaven being perfect–I’ll not only never grow fat there, I’ll also never get tired of pizza.

What do you think? How about leaving a comment.

 

    

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Best regards,
Roger

What Does a Guy like Me Do on Vacation?

Ah, we’re enjoying the midst of summer here in Virginia. The outside temperature right now is 94; it was 100 in the car before I turned on the A/C. That’s hotter than some days, cooler than others. But at least the sun is shining. What a perfect day to do…to do what?

That question is one I ask whenever my wife, Kathleen, starts talking about planning a vacation. And she understands. She knows that my vacations used to consist solely of visiting distant family members. And she understands that–no matter how much I love my family (I’m counting hers as mine since I have practically none of my own left)–that is NOT a vacation, even if we’re able to do one or two activities apart from family.

She understands something else. I have trouble thinking in terms of “vacation.” I can’t come up with activities that please me. Not vacation-worthy activities, anyhow.

Everything seems to have a drawback. Going on a cruise means endless eating…and having to diet for who knows how long afterwards to lose what I gained on the cruise. Going to a dude ranch would mean hours of horseback riding; a few months ago I learned that even an hour of riding caused enough pain to make that unappealing.

We could go to the beach, as we did recently with our daughters and their families–or by ourselves. But I’m not overly fond of the water. And walking the boardwalk time after time gets old after a while. I’ve avoided skin cancer so far, so I’m not tempted to lie out on the beach. I like certain kinds of seafood, but why go to the ocean just for seafood when I can enjoy it thawed and fixed at home?

Lest you think I’m just being picky and perhaps even a bit difficult–let me assure you you’re correct on both counts–let me point out that I am a better judge of what I dislike (or think I would dislike) than of what I actually like. And because I’m retired and sit around all day writing and/or piddling around, going somewhere just to sit around has no appeal. I can read my Kindle just as comfortably at home. However, I did enjoy a short time here by the pool while nobody else was around.

Going to see interesting and/or beautiful things might sound appealing, but I know me. I would spend my time taking pictures of them and then do hours of editing my photos with Affinity Photo software. I can’t wait till I get home to do that. I have to keep up with it as I go along. Go figure.

What vacation activities have I actually enjoyed? Two or three things really stand out from our recent beach week vacation. Although I hadn’t fished in years, being able to walk out the back door of our rented beach house and fish in the canal for catfish was really nice. I don’t think I could do it for endless hours, though. Especially in the hot Florida sun.

  

And a day trip to the Everglades was actually fun. I loved the wildlife we saw there–alligators galore, black buzzards, deer, a very tame wild racoon, and a good-sized grasshopper. And I’d always wanted to ride in one of those air boats. Nonetheless, I lived behind the camera, except when Kathleen was taking a picture of me holding a baby alligator, and then–not unexpectedly– I spent hours editing my pictures.

            

See? I couldn’t even write this blog post without “inpainting” the picture you see below to cover up the band that kept the alligator’s mouth shut so it couldn’t bite me. Don’t I look bold this way?

Hmm. But looking bold isn’t an exciting vacation activity.

I hasten to point out that I’ve been on numerous mission trips–to Nicaragua, England, Wales, Romania, and Australia. Mission trips are not vacations. If the host pastor has enough vision, he can work his team to death. But each mission trip also has times set aside for enjoying the locale. And I truly love that part. Who wouldn’t want to climb the steps to the Sydney Opera House?

Why can’t choosing a vacation be that simple?

I’m open to suggestions for inexpensive vacations that would suit a fuddy-duddy like me. Please comment.

 

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Guest Post: Key Car Driving Technologies to Assist with Seniors (conclusion)

I’d like to thank Craig Hammontree of Healthmax360.com for sharing this fascinating article, the first part of which appeared on this blog last Sunday.

Voice-activated driving help
While it’s great to have a map on your phone, it isn’t all that helpful when you’re driving. Looking down at a screen while behind the wheel is a very bad idea and not one that you should practice.

However, a GPS system can be a great help. Now, you can have the convenience of a digital map and some help avoiding traffic with a voice-activated navigation system.

These new systems are an extension of the basic map. They alert you to traffic snags to help you avoid them, give you options for alternative routes and find places based on what you already know.

Going to a new restaurant and not sure where it is? That’s okay – just say the name the system will do the rest.

Back-up Cameras


The United States Department of Transportation is a huge fan of these cameras and wants to see a lot more of them by 2018. According to the current data, this basic addition to help drivers back out of a parking space or driveway can make us up to 90 percent safer as we move around in cars. By being able to see what’s directly behind us with the help of some easy tech, we can avoid hitting animals and small children that happen to run into our paths.

The camera gives the driver a quick glance at what’s directly behind the car. The image is projected on a small screen just next to the driver, so no more twisting around to see what’s back there. Not having to guess what’s happening behind your large, heavy vehicle is a relief to any driver and can help us all move more safely on and off the road.

Swivel Seats
This technology is more basic and not as shiny and new as the others, but it deserves a mention because it solves the problem of getting in and out of a car.

The basic addition to your driver’s seat helps with stiff knees or longer legs as it swoops you over to the door side and lets you skip the difficult business of judging the distance between your leg and the car frame. The added handle can help with standing and sitting and just makes exiting a car much easier and smoother.

If you already have some great, slick tech in your car and just need a little boost for your mobility, this is the way to go.

A built-in helper
Automatic systems such as OnStar are made to help respond to crashes, assist in navigation or just make suggestions if you’re not quite sure which place to go for dinner. This quick connection to an actual human is the equivalent to having your phone on during the entire drive – if anything unsafe is taking place, your assistant jumps in and calls authorities, checks on you and keeps you calm. These are especially great if you live in a place where it can be difficult to get roadside assistance, or if you’re far away from law enforcement and want to be safe.

Other systems are 911Assist, BlueLink or SafetyConnect. While it can seem a little intimidating at first, these systems do work. If you get lost or disoriented, they can alert your family and let them know you need help, as well as where to find you. It may feel odd to have someone talking to you in your car, but that same person could save your life.

 


 

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger