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Popular in Heaven Famous in Hell: Finding Out What Pleases God & Terrifies Satan

Popular in Heaven Famous in Hell: Finding Out What Pleases God & Terrifies Satan

by R Kendall

Learn More | Meet R Kendall



    And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
      —HEBREWS 11:6

Chapter 1

Being Well Connected

    When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
      —ACTS 4:13

Would you like to be famous? If honest, most of us would. But famous where? What if you walked into a party in Buckingham Palace and as you entered, you overheard the queen whisper to the person she was speaking to: “Oh look it’s...”? Or perhaps you imagine listening in on a conversation in the Oval Office and hear the president mention your name: “Oh yes, I know... He/She is quite something!” Would that make you feel good? Or how about this: imagine there is a meeting in hell—millions of demons are present and the devil himself is working the room. Suddenly you hear him mention a name—your name. At first you are surprised—even a little afraid. But then you remember that some other names are known there too. The demon said to the imposter in Acts 19:15: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” And suddenly you realize something that at last convinces you that your life has made a difference in the battle between good and evil. You are one of a select group: you are famous in hell.

Being famous in hell is quite something. But on its own it’s not enough. John Paul Jackson was best known for his prophetic gift. He and I became close friends. One day I phoned him to say, “I have a sermon for a church this Sunday, but I don’t think it will be very popular with them.”

He replied: “Will it be popular in heaven? If it will be popular in heaven, that’s the only thing that matters.”

My dear reader, life is short. The things that grasp our attention now will one day seem like mere trinkets. Every day we breathe in and out—in and out—thousands of times a day. There is a day fixed, that unless Jesus comes first, you and I will only breathe out. No amount of money, power, or prestige can alter the date that we each have with death. And at that moment the only thing that will matter is whether we have known Christ and served Him well—that our lives have made a difference. In short: that we are popular in heaven—and famous in hell.

Recently an old classmate of 1953 from Ashland High School in Kentucky loaned me his copy of the annual, which contains photographs of all the students of that year and write-ups and photos of the more popular students at the time. It was both fun and sobering. Fun to see what I looked like then as well as old friends I have not seen in many years. Sobering because these photos brought me right back to those days when I was conscious of being not very popular. My former church teaching prohibited me from attending cinemas and school dances. I was never “in” with the popular students. My photo is found only when I was in a group such as with the high school band.

Popularity in school was of paramount importance—then. Oh yes. Peer pressure dominated how one felt. You dressed not to be criticized. You dressed in a manner that might bring compliments. You spoke when it would be accepted by those who heard you. You did not always consciously think about it, but you wanted to be liked. You wanted to be “in.” There was a time when I cared more about what my parents thought. But at some stage their views and approval were pretty much eclipsed by what my classmates in school thought. What fellow students thought became more important than what my parents thought, what my pastor thought, or what any authority figure thought. What mattered was what those of my age thought. It was totally embarrassing not to go to the cinema or the school dances. Even buying a class ring was out of the question; it was regarded as “worldly” by my church. But peer relationships were what seemed so important.

If only I could have realized then how little these things would mean one day! When I preach to young people nowadays I try to make this point. I’m not sure whether many take it in. The influence of peer pressure on young people is so great. It controls so many decisions they make, who they go out with, who they are seen with. One day these influences will mean nothing.

Not only that, it was very revealing when I discovered where those most popular students are today—who succeeded in life, how many had happy marriages, where they lived, and what their values are today. The funny thing is, with few exceptions, those who were most popular then are almost entirely forgotten now—even if still alive. The ones who were regarded as most likely to succeed became virtually unknown. And then I think how important they seemed then!

An Even More Sobering Truth

These things said, I blush to admit that I have not changed much in the past seventy years! My initial reaction in my life and ministry is still based upon “what they think.” I am ashamed to say that I still think of the same things—what my friends and foes might think or say, whether what I preach or write will be applauded; will it make new enemies or will it endear me to those who already accept me?

During my twenty-five years at Westminster Chapel—the “best of times, the worst of times” to quote Charles Dickens (1812–1870)—I was conscious that all I said publicly was being tape recorded to go around the world. There were those in the congregation with their notepads—waiting with glee for any unguarded comment they might quote and, hopefully, regard as heresy. It was hard not to think of people like that when preparing a sermon.

Here is my consolation when I contemplate my embarrassing weakness after these seventy years: there is a difference between temptation and sin. I thank God for this distinction. I am embarrassed by what tempts me—to be popular on this earth—but I remember that Jesus was tempted as we are. He did not sin (Heb. 4:15). The question is: Do we accept the grim reality of what tempts us and reject this temptation? Or do we give in to it?

We do not outgrow temptation in this life, no matter how spiritual, godly, experienced, or seasoned we become. Neither will we be perfectly like Jesus on this earth. Paul admitted that he wasn’t perfect yet (Phil. 3:13). That is what glorification is for!

Jesus never outgrew temptation. He was tested to the hilt right up to the final moment of His death on the cross. Partly what kept Him focused was that the reward was worth waiting for. “For the joy set before him” Jesus “endured the cross” and scorned “its shame” (Heb. 12:2).

Therefore we must learn to resist temptation. That includes the temptation for someone like me to write or preach what will please the readers or hearers.

You may not be a writer or a preacher. But keep reading. Do you not have the temptation to be well received here on earth? Do you not hope what you wear, say, or do will be acceptable to your friends? Do you make spiritual decisions based upon what people will think of you?

I would hate to think that God was at work right under my nose and yet I might miss it because I value my reputation.

Rolfe Barnard loved to quote Jonathan Edwards’ (1703–1758) conviction that the task of every generation is to discover in which direction the Sovereign Redeemer is moving, then move in that direction.

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