We do not often let our thoughts travel to such realities. It is uncomfortable. Even chilling. But one person in Jesus' story had it envelop every fiber of his being: the man in hell. To such a degree that he experienced a remarkable change in priorities. As I once heard someone observe, five minutes in hell made the rich man a flaming evangelist. Why? Because suddenly he knew it was all for real. And once he knew this, nothing mattered more than warning those he cared about. He knew that hell was not a figment of someone's imagination. It was real, and real people go there for eternity. And the man in hell knew that it would take someone going to them, talking to them, making it clear to them. Hell has a way of making that evident. We must realize that our friends, our family members, that person in our neighborhood, the person we work with who does not know Christ is in real trouble.

We must not see the needs of the world solely in terms of food and clothing, justice and mercy, shelter and companionship. We must see those needs, to be sure, and meet them — but we must see beyond them to the fallen nature of a world and humanity that produced those needs. We must see eternity waiting to be written in their hearts. I know of a ministry to young male prostitutes working the streets of Chicago that offers food, shelter, counseling and an array of other social services to help men move out of that degrading lifestyle. Most of us would think that is more than enough, that the greatest issue had been addressed. But not John Green, the leader of Emmaus Ministries, who has said, "We do violence to the poor if we don't share Christ with them." And he's right. It is difficult to imagine passivity in regard to those who have yet to embrace the Christian faith. The Scriptures do not simply speak, they thunder:

We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation (Mark 16:15).

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20).

I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22).

One Saturday night, just as we were beginning the first of our weekend services, a tragic car accident happened in front of our church's main entrance. A 35-year-old man accidentally crossed the median line and ran into a car coming in the opposite direction. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from his car. He died on the scene. The "scene" being the side of the road by our front sign. Members and staff from our church were the first by his side. No one knew who he was.

It goes without saying that a death of any kind is unsettling. But a death in front of a church brings everything about our lives and mission into unique focus. That night, as I drove from our campus, I could only think: Was he a Christ follower? Did anyone ever reach out to him? What comfort is there in his family right now? I was told there was a child's safety seat in the back of his truck. Was he a father? I could not shake the depth of that human tragedy — and the consequences. Not just in regard to the immediate throes of grief that would descend upon all who knew him, but the consequences of his death for eternity. I took it upon myself to find out who he was. His name was John. He was 35 years old. He had a young wife and a 22-month-old daughter. I called the pastor of the church who was doing the funeral. It was a little Baptist church not far from our own. I learned that the entire church was in a state of shock, and that they took the following Sunday to try to process his death together, as a family of faith. Their one consolation? They knew he was a Christian. John was a Sunday school teacher and deeply committed to his faith. And while I was still aware of the enormous pain that surrounded his death, inside, I whispered a prayer of gratitude.