Seeing Beyond Ourselves

(This is a story I adapted from a version I found online. I could not find the original source.)

A man had a dream that he died and was standing before St. Peter at the pearly gates. “Welcome,” said St. Peter, “let me give you a tour of the facilities.”

They walked up to two huge doors that St. Peter opened for the man. “This banquet hallway is hell,” he said.

Inside was the largest, grandest hallway the man had ever seen. In this hallway was a table so long the man could not see where it ended. It seemed to stretch for miles and miles. This long table was set with the most mouth-watering and intoxicating spread of food the man had ever seen. It was all the man could do not to rush over to the table and begin sampling everything he saw.

Seated at this table were millions, if not billions, of people. And as he noticed the people, he finally became aware of the dull roar of this room. Everyone at this table was screaming in agony and in anger, swearing and cussing and banging their arms on the tables. As the man’s eyes adjusted, he came to realize that each man, woman, and child had iron casts on their arms, making it impossible to bend their arms at the elbow and get any food in their mouths.

Some people were throwing their arms against the table with all their might, trying to break the casts off. Others were gnawing at their casts with their teeth, desperate for some of the food. More than one was frothing at the mouth and looked half-mad.

“They will suffer like this for all of eternity,” explained St. Peter. “They are unable to physically die, and since they cannot eat they have a never-ending feeling of starving to death. It’s quite horrific. Now follow me quickly.” St. Peter opened the doors to his right, and the man gladly stepped out of hell.

At first glance this hallway looked identical to hell. Same long table, same amazing spread of foods, every seat occupied by a person with iron casts on their arms. But there was one difference that the man immediately noticed: this room was filled with entirely different sounds. Laughter, singing, and pleasant conversations were all the man could hear.

The man was confused by the happiness that was palpable in this room, until he finally noticed… the people in Heaven were using their locked arms to reach across the table and feed each other.

Have you ever served others?
What was the experience like?
Did you receive some kind of benefit in serving?
Were your eyes opened in any way as you served?

Dinner and A Lesson

Photo by dave.carswell

Once, a young man had the opportunity to go to lunch with a popular Christian leader he admired. The young man had anticipated the meeting for weeks leading up to the day, but as the meal progressed he found himself growing more and more disenfranchised by things the leader was saying and doing.

He was surprised to notice this Christian leader did not pray before eating and that some profanity was sprinkled into his conversation.

Finally, towards the end of the meal, he felt he must speak up and mention what was troubling him.

“Thank you for bringing those concerns to my attention,” the Christian leader said after a short pause. “But I must remind you that the things you find alarming are external and outward and not necessarily a reflection of the heart. Would you mind if I shared some observations I’ve made of you since we sat down, which by the way are commonly found in many good Christian people today?” he asked the young man.

“Certainly,” the young man said with a hint of nervousness.

“Since we sat down,” the Christian leader began, “you have not said one kind word to our waitress, not even smiled at her, or acknowledged in any way that she, too, is a person created in the image of God.

“Since we have sat down, you have mentioned story after story of how you serve God in your church, but you have not once acknowledged your personal need of Him, or expressed gratefulness for what He has done in your life, or praised Him for who He is.

“Since we have sat down, you have used all the current Christian buzz words, but you have not once mentioned concern for your neighbor, or the oppressed, or the poor. You have overtly shared how God has blessed you, but you have not cared to mention how you are in turn blessing those around you.

“You seem to understand quite well what it means to be a Christian, but I have not gotten the impression that you have spent much time with the Savior Himself.”

(Based on Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisee in Luke 11:37-44.)

Do you think we might have some things in common with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day?

Do you think we might care too much about some silly things while not caring enough about some of the most important things? What might those things be?

Why do we have a tendency to focus on the behaviors that come easily to us rather than opening ourselves up to God and allowing Him to perform “heart surgery” on us?