Chapter 1 – Meet John

Meet John

 

Face to face with evil; surrounded by faceless strangers; John makes his stand, a life-defining moment where fear is not an option. John is on the ground; holding the injured ice biker; cars scattered in every direction as the spectators look on. Blasphemies bellow from the stranger. John looks calmly into his eyes and says. “In the name of Jesus Christ, come out of this man.”

The stranger faces the sky and lets out a blood-curdling shriek. “Evil spirits always come out this way,” John said. “Just like Mike said they would.”

The stranger awoke bewildered; “who are you, you look familiar?”

“I’m John, and you are?”

“I’m Jack the stranger answered; I’m not sure how I got here, but thank you. I know you don’t I? You’re the Preacher on the Sunday morning show, The Hour of Grace?”

John helped Jack to his feet; the crowd that gathered in the freezing rain applauded. Emergency lights approach in the distance; “I think this is your ride Jack, are you going to be okay?”

“I believe so John; I haven’t felt this good in years.” Jack scanned the scene; his ice bike was ok. “You lost traction climbing the hill, and we scattered to avoid hitting you,” John said.

“What happened after that,” Jack said?

“A disembodied spirit,” John said. “It possessed you, and I cast it out, it dared me too.”

A demon slayer was born that day.

John returned to his car and continued his commute to work. John was more than a believer; his life was so full of the supernatural he wondered how anyone could ever doubt. John and his best friend Mike had been through more than one exorcism together; however, this was John’s first solo excursion. Two years have passed since John and Mike were last together. Just one more work day before vacation with Mike, this brought a smile to John’s face.

John’s Father, Austin did a fantastic job growing the Glass Cathedral Church. The Church started in a suburb of the twin cities called Saint Louis Park. The Church began with a couple of hundred members. Today that number is closer to eight thousand members. And the national viewing audience that tunes in every Sunday, three-quarters of a million people.

The smile escapes John’s face as he pulls into the Glass Cathedral parking lot. “How many starving people could we have fed with the millions of dollars it cost to build and maintain this Church,” John said? John always thought about things like this but kept these feelings close. John collected his belongings to head inside.

Once inside, John met Janet, the Church office manager. “How are you today Janet,” John said?

“I’m fine and you John?”

“I’m fine, a little shaken from a close accident.”

Janet put on her glasses to have a closer look at John. “It is slick outside, you look fine. You have a meeting with your dad and Matthew at four o’ clock today”.

“I know, do you have any idea what the meeting is about Janet?”

“No, I don’t John, but your father told me it was important.”

“Thank you, Janet. I’ll be in my office if you need me.”

Why was Dad back to work so quickly after returning from the hospital? He spent the last three weeks recovering from a life-threatening case of pneumonia. During his illness, John led the three Sunday morning services for him including the nationally syndicated TV show, the Hour of Grace, which is broadcast live every Sunday morning.

John couldn’t help but wonder what the meeting was about; He often met with his Father. But Matthew is not usually involved.

John opened the door to his office and walked in, closing the door quietly behind him. John set his backpack down and assembled his laptop and accessories from the contents.

On the wall hangs a Master of Divinity degree from Columbia International University presented to John Smith. John wondered if his Dad knew how hard he had to work to achieve that in three years instead of four. John also wondered how his Dad would react knowing he could cast out spirits. Just like the old days of the Bible.

In college, John tried to share the news of Mike’s Mother and the exorcism with his Dad. But he never took John seriously. Now, John keeps the spiritual knowledge to himself, to avoid conflict. That’s why John left the accident earlier today. He just wanted to help the stranger; he didn’t want to have to explain it to anyone. He just wanted to live his life.

John spent the rest of the morning planning for the Christmas Service; until the phone rang. It was Janet; informing John, his appointment had moved to three o’ clock with Austin and Matthew. “Janet, surely you have some information about the meeting?”

“I know it has something to do with your preaching over the last three weeks,” Janet said.

Great, now John was nervous, and Janet knew how to play it. “Thanks, Janet,” John said. He was attempting to end the phone call.

“John, hello, are you still there?”

“Yes, Janet.”

“Emily is holding on line number three for you.”

Thank you, Janet, please tell Emily that I will call her back in a few minutes.”

John hung up the phone to contemplate his fate at the meeting. Unable to collect his thoughts, John grabbed his coat and left briefly to grab lunch. On the walk, his mind drifted back to helping Jack this morning. The event played over and over again in John’s memory.

John went to his usual hangout for lunch at the mall. However, lunch had come and gone, and John was still searching for answers. Why does Matthew want to meet with me? What did I do wrong? Not having an answer John reached for his cell phone and dialed Emily, the one person John knew could bring clarity to all of this.

“Hello”

“Hi, it’s John.”

“Hi, honey, how is your day going today,” Emily said?

“Pretty good; Honey, what do you know about the meeting this afternoon with our fathers?”

Emily was quiet for a moment and then started speaking after an uncomfortable silence. “Well, my Father told me it was important. But that’s about all I know.”

“It’s just a little odd,” John said. “I am nervous.”

“Don’t worry honey, I love you very much, and I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”

“I hope your right. Honey, I need to go for now and finish the details for the Christmas service. Can I call you back a little later?”

“That’s fine. I love you very much, John.”

“I love you too honey; I’ll pick you up at eight o’ clock, bye.”

The walk back through the mall to Church went too quickly. Emily and John met soon after John moved back from Columbia South Carolina two years ago. Fresh from the south she found John’s acquired southern accent very charming. John finds everything about Emily beautiful. She is everything a man would ever look for in a wife, and to top it off; she’s a believer.

The rest of the afternoon was spent arranging the Sunday morning Christmas service. Christmas is the second busiest day of the year at the Glass Cathedral, right after Easter. John’s phone rang. “Hello, John, its Dad. Matthew and I are waiting for you in my office.”

“Is it three o’clock already,” John said? “I’ll be right there.”

John hung up the phone and packed his things. Why can you get more done the day before vacation? The day isn’t any longer. But there is something about knowing you will have some time off that helps pull everything together.

John second-guessed the three lessons he delivered for Austin. While walking the long hallway towards the office, his mind flitted. Why is Matthew going to be there? What did I do wrong?

John rapped on the open office door as he entered. John’s excitement peaked as he closed the door behind him. Austin and Matthew were seated in the corner by the fireplace. The corner area overlooks a private lake and wooded area.

Austin’s office is elaborate; built on the backs of hard-working Christians from all over the world. Sure, the Institutional Church does many good things with the money entrusted to it. But with an average of fifty percent of offerings going to salaries for established Churches, and up to ninety percent for new startups, who does the money help?

John crossed the room; listening, trying to remain focused and grasping for clues. What was the meeting about anyway? The fireplace by the couch was warm, the flames hypnotic. The fire helped put John at ease. Austin and Matthew were bickering about unimportant shit as far as John was concerned.

They were discussing something that seemed to threaten the Church. John sat down quietly while they finished their conversation. His eyes roamed around the office while he listened to the discussion. “Austin,” Matthew said. “We need to gain control over this liberal faction within the Church before they split us in half. Everyone is taking sides in the Church. And I do not see any good coming from it.”

Matthew is an interesting fellow. He looks straight into your eyes, but it feels like he’s looking right through you. Matthew’s head was tilted to the right a little bit, and he had his usual uneven smile. Something is just not right with him John thought.

Matthew is tall, not near as tall as John or Austin though. The circles under Matthew’s eyes paint a picture of someone under apparent stress. He always wore a red tie and rings on his middle fingers. Matthew was sweating as usual, and he seemed tormented.

“Not much has changed at the Church since we started growing,” Austin said. “I feel confident that we can find a way to work this out for everyone’s benefit.”

Austin is a happy man. John glanced over to a photo of his parents on the desk. His Dad’s arm locked firmly with Mom’s, and they looked as happy as John can remember. John chuckled when he noticed how long Austin’s tie was in this picture. You could not even see the zipper on his pants because of his long tie. It is undeniable from the look on their faces; they are still very much in love.

John’s mind drifts back to the roadside yesterday when he held Jack in his arms. Jack was ice biking at the time and climbing a steep hill after the traffic light turned green. The spikes on his tires were no match for the layer of ice freezing on the bridge. His rear tire slid to the left, throwing Jack into traffic.

Cars scattered in all directions on the bridge; it was a miracle that no one was hurt. John ran from his car to help. He pulled Jack out of traffic and safely to the sidewalk. John sat on the street with Jack’s head resting in his lap. A crowd was gathering; someone brought a blanket, while another stranger called emergency services.

Jack opened his eyes, peering at John. At that moment Jack transformed from a quiet stranger into an evil madman; cursing John with every breath. Imprisoned by John’s presence, this abomination lay there before him. Jack tried to attack; several people rushed to help, but John asked everyone to stand back. He told Jack to shut up. Jack locked eyes with John, and he knew what he had to do.

“John, time to join the conversation,” Matthew said.

“How are you doing Son,” Austin said?

Clearing his throat, John joined the conversation. “I’m doing well thank you. I’ve finished the arrangements for Christmas Sunday. I’m planning on eight thousand members and visitors that day.”

“Our new welcome booth is in place for visitors. As you know our biggest days are Easter and Christmas. We’re going to have coffee and doughnuts for visitors this year John added.”

Matthew turned to Austin; “this is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about sir. These kinds of things split a Church and cause people to take sides in a matter.”

“These things happen as a Church grows,” Austin said. “But I fail to see how coffee and doughnuts could be a division issue?”

“Austin, anything new or different makes the conservative base nervous; you know that. It makes some want to seek shelter from change either at a new Church or by starting their own.”

“Excuse me for interrupting,” John said. We can get rid of the coffee and doughnuts if it’s such a big deal. I hoped to make people feel at home, and welcome here.”

John wondered if any conversation like this could be productive at all. John imagined Jesus sitting in the room with us; and how He would likely have something compelling to tell us all, about a great many things.

“Enough of the small talk,” Matthew said. “We invited you here to share some great news with you, John.” John’s eyes rose with interest. He was relieved to not be in trouble.

“John, I have to tell you that the sermons you delivered during Austin’s absence were fantastic. We have some numbers we would like to share with you. Let’s all walk for a moment over to the solarium.”

John stood and offered his hand to his dad. John helped Austin to his feet. On the way to the solarium, Matthew’s cell phone rang. “Please excuse me for a moment; it appears I have urgent Church business to attend to.” As Matthew walked off, John took this opportunity to find out what was going on in his father’s head.

“Dad, you look fantastic, you must have lost twenty pounds in the hospital over the last three weeks, but your hair is a little grayer.”

“Johnny, walk with me a minute. Matthew can meet us at the solarium when he’s finished.” John and Austin strolled together. Austin placed his arm around John’s back; “I’m very proud of you, Son.”

“So what is this about,” John said?

“You’ll find out soon enough Son; Thing’s aren’t always as they appear though, always remember that John.”

“Matthew has an idea on how to grow this Church into one of the largest non-denominational Churches in the United States.”

“Why the solarium,” John said?

“Knowing Matthew, it’s probably more for effect than anything. Don’t ever forget this Johnny; Matthew has an agenda. When you hear what’s going on in a moment things will never be the same between you two. Always watch your back John, and never turn it on, Matthew. The day you do, you’ll find a dagger in your back. Not a real blade mind you, but it hurts just the same.”

The solarium is usually reserved for the Elders when they meet. John had never attended a meeting here. Austin placed his arm around John as they neared the entrance. “Just be yourself, John,” Austin said. Austin knocked out of respect and swung open the massive doors to the solarium. The solarium was breathtaking.

John had caught a peek before when the room was open for cleaning. “I’ve never been in here before,” John said. Austin smiled, “it’s beautiful isn’t it, I’ve been here a few times, but not under good circumstances.” John gazed in wonder, the fourteen-foot glass and aluminum walls were stunning. Religious artwork from all over the world ordained the walls.

“Welcome John,” Matthew said while entering the solarium with Tim. Tim is one of many elders at the Church and an ordained minister. Tim is known for working with the poor, and teaching in prisons and hospitals. Tim runs the free Bible program as well. John stepped forward to shake Tim’s hand. “Nice to see you again my friend,” John said.

“Nice to see you as well Johnny, it’s been a long time.” Matthew interrupted by clearing his throat in an obvious way. “I have to take care of some business right now John, but I hope to see you again very soon. If you will excuse me gentleman”, Tim said.

Austin was staring silently at one of the paintings of Jesus on the Cross. It’s very unusual; John thought to himself, that Dad is so quiet.

Matthew set the mood for the meeting after Tim closed the doors. “John, your father and I have been talking about growing the Church since his return from the hospital.” Matthew pulled out a leather binder and opened it up. “Let’s all have a seat here at the table,” Matthew said.

“John, you may be wondering why we are all here. I want to get straight to the point because I know you have a date with Emily tonight. While Austin was in the hospital, a miracle happened here at the Church. Do you know what that was?”

“No,” John said.

“That miracle is you John; I hold in my hands the TV ratings for last month. And to tell you the truth I am not at all surprised.”

Matthew set the rating sheet in front of us and continued. “Our ratings, the viewers that tune in every Sunday, have been fairly steady over the past five years with your father leading the morning worship and television show. As you can see from the chart, the rating stays very close to a million viewers every Sunday up until your father got sick”. Matthew pointed to a line on the chart.

“John, this is the first of your father’s prepared lessons that you delivered. As you can see your first week was average. But look here. The next week it grows by almost two hundred and fifty thousand viewers, and the week after that we have a total of one and a half million viewers”.

John was relieved to not be in trouble. And it’s nice being appreciated for your work. “Matthew that is great news,” John said, “I’m glad I could help while Dad was out. But you know I didn’t write those lessons, Dad did”. Austin looked over at John with a tired smile. Austin didn’t seem to be himself. He kept staring off into the distance allowing Matthew to continue the meeting. “Your Dad didn’t write those sermons, John, I did.”

“John, let me be very blunt with you. It is my job to see that this Church continues to grow. And frankly, to continue our expansion plans, we need the extra revenue”. Matthew encroached on John’s personal space. He closed in and looked John straight in the eyes.

“John, I have talked with the Elders. Most all agree that it is in the best interest of this Church for you to take over as Senior Pastor. Your father still has a five-year contract that we will honor. If you take the Senior Pastor role, we will allow him to retire early. He can use the remaining time mentoring you as you grow in your new position.”

John could not believe what he was hearing. His dad was personally responsible for growing most of this ministry. “Dad, what do you have to say about all of this,” John said?

“John, I haven’t been feeling well since I got back from the hospital. If you are ready for this, I think it’s your time now. You have trained for this your whole life. And you are as ready as you will ever be. Just look at those ratings. The odds of bringing the gospel to more people are off of the charts. I talked with the producer of our show. The only way to see ratings increase like this is by word of mouth. People are talking about you, John. And these people are telling their friends and total strangers about you and our ministry”.

“John, excuse me for interrupting,” Matthew said. “We’re not asking you to do this for free. The senior Pastor position pays two hundred thousand dollars a year plus benefits”.

“Excuse me,” John said as he stood up. “I will be right back.”

John walked quickly out of the room and down the hall to the restroom. Once inside John ran the cold water and splashed it on his face. John could not believe the deal offered to him. The deal sounded fantastic, but what about Dad? And won’t Emily will be surprised? Is this the right thing to do?

“You don’t have to take the position, John,” Tim said.

“What are you doing hear my friend,” John said?

“John, I was moved to talk with you today.”

“What about, Tim?”

”Matthew asked you to take over the senior Pastor role didn’t he?”

“Yes”

“What was your exposure to Greek in college John?”

“A bare minimum, I rushed through the degree in three years instead of four and had to cut corners.

“Have you ever heard of the Greek word Ekklesia, John?”

“Yes, that means Church.”

Tim put his hand on John’s shoulder and continued. “The Greek word Ekklesia is translated into the English word Church. But that is not what it means. Research that when you get a chance, and whatever you do, follow your heart when you get back in there with your dad and Matthew. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. My advice would be to think about it first”.

“Thank you, Tim.”

“I will talk to you soon my friend,” John said as he walked back to the meeting.

Halfway to the solarium John’s phone rings, it’s Emily.

“Hello, Emily.”

“Hi John, How is your meeting going?”

“We’re not quite through yet. Can I call you back when I leave?”

“Yes,” Emily said.

“I will talk to you soon.” John hung up the phone and walked through the doors. Matthew and Austin were waiting for him.

“Are you okay John,” Austin said?

“Yes I am fine; this just caught me off guard.”

“John I need a decision,” Matthew said. Just do what is in your heart; Tim’s words kept going through John’s head. It did not feel like the right thing to do.

“Yes,” John said. “I will take the position.”

Matthew smiled; “go get ready for your date with Emily, John.”

“Congratulations Son,” Austin said. He smiled and shook John’s hand. “Your Mother will be so proud of you.”

As John was turning to leave Matthew said one last thing that made him feel even less comfortable than he did already.

“Be prepared to give the last of your father’s lessons on Sunday. And John, you may want to start thinking seriously about a wedding date. People expect a senior Pastor to be married”.

John pushed open the doors and walked to the exit and left the building, all the while having the strangest feeling that he had done something wrong.

Thoughts on Punishment of the wicked

Thoughts on Punishment of the wicked.

 

This is a labor of love and not done because I relish being marked for promoting some so- called heresy. Our present traditional view of hell, borrowed from Catholicism, Platonism and paganism, is no more biblical than the doctrine of limbo.

Scriptures must be twisted to say the opposite of what they actually teach in order to keep promoting the idea that God is a loving Creator who will keep souls alive forever just to torment and torture them, souls he knew would not accept him when he created them. This is not the God of the Bible I see. Consider.

Rhetorical Questions:

Why does Jesus’ reference to those in danger of the fire of hell not mention that it will be “eternal” tormenting (Matthew 5:22)? And why do we make words such as “destroy” mean different things, unless it is to support a preconceived doctrine (Matthew 10:28)?

If Satan is not to be feared because he can only destroy our bodies, then why are we told to fear HIM who can “destroy” both soul and body in hell, especially if we won’t be “destroyed?”

(Matthew 10:28)? Why do we assume the word “destroy” in this verse means the exact opposite of its normal meaning? Why do we assume “destroy” here means to live on and on eternally and yet not be destroyed?

Why does not the translation of words meaning grave (Sheol & Hades) and garbage pit (Gehenna) into the same word “hell” not signify the deliberate tampering of Scriptures by translators? What if they had done that with other completely separate words with different meanings and translated them into the same word?

Gehenna

For example, what if our Bible translators took the Greek words for “marriage, wine, spirit, and house” and translated them into the single noun sandal? Why would translators take a Greek noun (Gehenna) referring to a specific place and translate it into another noun, the same noun used for the grave and death and Tartarus (Tartaroo)? Is anyone as baffled by this as I am?

Tartarus

Why can we not see that the fire of Gehenna (hell) that was unquenchable and where the worm (maggot) thrived describes the valley of Hinnom that Jesus alluded to when he said being lost would be like being tossed into that consuming garbage dump outside Jerusalem’s walls (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48)?

Why cannot believers understand that “unquenchable” fire meant fire that would not go out until that which is consuming or “destroying” is gone?

Why do so many of us perpetuate the notion that Gehenna is a symbol of “torture” rather than a place of punishment and destruction? How can we escape the idea that maggots consume the dead?

How can serious Bible students make the Greek word for “maggot” mean some part of human beings that lives on and on eternally?

Why does the traditional teaching on hell refute the clear teaching of Peter that everything we know will be “burned up” and “destroyed” (2 Peter 3:10-12)? Why does Malachi refer to the evil ones as “stubble to be burned up” with nothing left if evil ones are to somehow be tortured unendingly by a loving God (Malachi 4:1)?

If Paul clearly teaches that those who do not know God will suffer “everlasting destruction,” why do traditionalists teach that it won’t actually be destruction but will be never-ending, eternal “destroying” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)?

Why can’t intelligent people differentiate between “destruction” and “eternal life in a state of perpetual torture and destruction”? How is it possible for thinking and studious minds to refute the very teaching of the apostle Peter who writes of the “destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7)?

Isn’t it clear that even in his parabolic teachings Christ presents what represents the “evil unbelievers” (the chaff & tares) being burned up by unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12; 13:40)? Is it not clear that fire is never used by God to depict continual torment and torture of so- called eternal souls?

Why won’t thinking minds admit that the “eternal fire” that burned up Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 7) is not now burning but only burned until that which it was destroying was ultimately consumed? Isn’t this one of many examples where the word “eternal” does not mean “never ending”?

And why on earth does the writer of Hebrews describe God as a “consuming fire” rather than a “torturing/tormenting fire” (Hebrews 12:29)?

Why cannot clear thinking minds see that the story of the rich man and Lazarus cannot successfully be appealed to as grounds to teach eternal torment, for it is a parable with people still living on earth that need to be taught the gospel (Luke 16:19ff)? Hell isn’t even mentioned in this parable.

Does not Paul teach that the “destiny” of the enemies of the cross is “destruction” (Philippians 3:19)? Why do some force “destruction” into “eternal life” in a state of torture?

Have some of us been brainwashed so thoroughly that we miss these evident and clear truths? Is it possible to be taught something so long by those we trust that we accept it without personal study to see if it is true?

Does not Peter clearly teach that undiscerning blasphemers will be destroyed just like the beasts that perish (2 Peter 2:12)? Why does the traditional position on hell (Gehenna), a word referring to an open and continually burning city garbage dump, continue to mislead and diametrically change the meaning of clear passages that teach God will ultimately consume his enemies?

Is it not because Satan, from the beginning in the garden of Eden, told Eve that she would “not surely die” and we have been perpetuating this doctrine of the devil ever since?

Why are we so afraid to accept Scripture’s clear teaching that eternal life is conditional (1 Corinthians 15:54) and “immortality” is not a given but rather a gift? Why are we eager to keep spewing the very false doctrine that goes against the very nature of God as one who is just and will do right?

If God is going to torture the very ones he created in his image and loved so dearly that he allowed his only begotten son to die in their places and knew beforehand would not accept his grace, surely the Bible would teach such, would it not?

Is there one single Scripture that teaches humans are “immortal souls” unconditionally, souls that will live on forever and forever either in the blissfulness of heaven or the torturing torment of a Gehenna fire that will never go out and will not consume what is put into it?

Isn’t it strange that God would refer to the lake of fire as the “second death”? Why did he not know to call it the “eternal burning of those created in his image”? Isn’t it because such false teaching cannot be found in all of Holy Writ?

In summation, isn’t it strange indeed that most believers have taken a “real place” (Gehenna) referred to by Jesus himself as a metaphor of destruction and have changed in into another made up/fabricated “real place” (hell) where souls (spirits, living beings, whatever) will be tortured unendingly by a loving heavenly Father?

If Gehenna is a metaphor of “hell” as it is traditionally taught, isn’t it a poor one, for Gehenna (the Jerusalem city dump of Jesus’ era) was a real place of destruction and consummation with no torment and no torture involved, while “hell” is a made up place of torment and torture with no destruction at all?

Is this twisted thinking the height of misguided thinking? By the way, the garbage dump in the Valley of Hinnom is no longer burning and consuming its refuse, is it?

Is Satan pleased with all of this? Surely it isn’t wrong to ask; is it? Hell, You Say? The traditional concept of hell originated in the minds of pagan philosophers and has been assimilated into the church at large, along with purgatory, prayers to saints, and other like doctrines, via Roman Catholicism. The vestiges of Catholicism still exist within much of Protestantism and can be seen in the perpetuation of this false teaching as well as in our liturgies and many other practices. The false teaching that hell is a place where eternal souls are tormented and tortured forever and ever, unendingly, by a just God, was opposed by Protestant reformers such as Luther and Tyndale as well as Restoration leaders, such as Moses Lard.

Hell and other pagan teachings were introduced into our Bibles by scholars mistranslating four words some 57 times in the King James Version: Hades, Sheol, Gehenna, Tartarus.

The mere “translation” of four different words into one single word alone should cause red flags to go up in discerning minds. No wonder we have such outlandish misconceptions regarding the state of the wicked and unbelieving dead after judgment.

Lest someone suppose I have a hidden agenda or wish to change the unchangeable, allow me to say here and now that I am a believer in heaven as well as hell.

I just don’t believe what has been falsely taught regarding hell all these centuries since the New Testament was penned. I am not saying those who have taught this and those who have believed it did so with evil intent. I can’t possibly know that. I know as I believed this misguided view of hell much of my life.

I certainly didn’t entertain the thought with malice or evil intent. I simply trusted those who taught me and believed they must surely have known more about it than I did.

Jesus warned against holding to the traditions of men (Mark 7:8). We are not compelled to believe what men say the Bible says regarding hell (Gehenna) or any other biblical subject, but only what the Bible actually teaches. Some of the catch phrases that we often hear when dealing with this matter are surprisingly unbiblical. The terms “eternal hell” and “endless punishment” and “immortal soul” cannot be found in Scripture. These are constructs of human minds. Jesus spoke of “eternal punishment” but he never hinted of continual eternal torture of souls that live on and on in some state of anguish and torment.

There is a great deal of difference between “punishing” someone and “torturing” someone. If we punished a child for disobedience we might spank him or take away some privileges or even ground him for days or weeks.

Under the Old Law, children were stoned for disobeying their parents. They were never tortured, however. If we held fire to a child’s hands that was caught stealing and kept the fire there until blisters were present, someone might suggest that we had stepped out of the realm of punishing into the realm of torture.

We would immediately be arrested for child endangerment. Yet we have believed and perpetuate the notion that our God will do far worse with us-keep us alive just to burn and torture us unendingly with no remedial purpose in mind.

There are four words in our Bible translated into a single English word, “hell.” These are:

1) Sheol

2) Hades

3) Gehenna

4) Tartarus

Tartarus (found only in 2 Peter 2:4 in reference to the abode of “the angels that sinned”). Most scholars realize that the Hebrew “Sheol” and the Greek “Hades” refer to the grave or the abode of the dead. It is the word “Gehenna” that has us ensnared in a cloud of misunderstanding.

Gehenna was the place outside Jerusalem that was the city dump. It was located in the valley of [the sons of] Hinnom and was continually burning up the trash, garbage, and even corpses of criminals and animals. It was a place of filth and consumption.

The flames and smoke were continually belching up their destruction of the refuse tossed into it. Along with the flames, at the outer edges, were maggots that were ever gnawing at the carcasses, thus the expression from Mark 9:48 “the worm that does not die.” Someone along the way, someone with a vivid imagination, decided that the Greek word for worm somehow meant the soul of a human being. A maggot became a soul.

Jesus, in describing the future of those who were disobedient and wicked, chose to use the most horrifying of descriptions to paint a picture of the awfulness of it. When heaven is described in Scripture, or the Holy City, words are used that convey preciousness to us: gold, pearl, living water.

When speaking of the ugliness of being cast out from God’s presence forever, the most frightening words to human ears and eyes are used to describe it: outer darkness, lake of fire and brimstone, bottomless pit, burning chaff, et al. What scares us the most? Being burnt alive; being alone in total darkness, falling. So our Lord chose words to convey the horror of being lost and cut off from God. I am grateful for this word imagery, for it helps scare the “hell” out of me. I want to avoid hell at all costs.

When Satan began his lying to us in the Garden, he began with a promise that flew in the face of what God had spoken. God said that if our original parents ate of the forbidden tree they would “surely die.” Satan came along and altered the word of God by inserting a single word of his own. “You will NOT surely die.”

And in our traditional view of hell we have been parroting Satan’s lie once again. We tell people the exact opposite of what God has said. God calls the state of the ungodly the “second death.” But we presume to edit God and tell people they will not really die, but that they will live on in constant agony and torture.

Jesus clearly taught us to “not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can DESTROY BOTH SOUL AND BODY IN HELL” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus uses the word “destroy.” We correct him, as well as God and the Holy Spirit, and substitute the words “live on and on and on.” Whom shall students of God’s word believe?

God’s word even makes a distinction between the soul and the body and hints that we need to fear the God who can “destroy” both. He didn’t say to “fear him who can torment and torture the soul and/or body.” He didn’t say to “fear him who can inflict pain to the soul and/or body unendingly without mercy.”

Jesus teaches that God will destroy both soul and body in hell, but we mimic Satan and say, “Oh, no!” We have been teaching that God will keep us alive forever unconditionally and heat up the flames and darken the darkness and keep the pit open so that we will be tormented and tortured forever. There is not one Scripture that teaches such! Find it. It is a doctrine that found its origin in Paganism, Phariseeism, and Catholicism and adopted by most of Protestantism, but not one taught by our Savior.

No, this teaching that I am presenting goes back to the Bible itself. Then how have we been duped all these years? Glad you asked. We have taken as literal, figurative expressions. And we have made figurative language into literal expressions. The fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was said to be “eternal,” but it is no longer burning. The result of the fire was eternal, not the burning itself. The fire of Gehenna, from which Jesus made his point of destruction, is no longer burning in Jerusalem, in spite of the fact that it was called everlasting (aion). The “results” are forever, not the consumption itself.

“Eternal” and “everlasting” do not always mean “never ending.” For example, it was spoken of the Passover (Exodus 12:24), the Aaronic priesthood (Exodus 29:9), Caleb’s inheritance (Joshua 14:9), Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:12, 13), and Gehazi’s leprosy (2 Kings 5:27), to name just a few, but these are all completed. Why do we understand the accommodation of words in some contexts but ignore them in others? The punishment of the wicked will be directly commensurate with their level of disobedience and administered without partiality by a just and merciful God, of this we may be sure.

In Matthew 25:46, Jesus has the goats cast away in to “eternal punishment” not “eternal punishing.” Big difference! Solomon wrote, “Will he not repay such person according to what he has done” (Proverbs 24:12b).

Peter wrote, “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (2 Peter 2:21). God is the one who will punish the wicked and evildoer. He doesn’t need our help.

Satan tells us to tell others they “will not surely die.” But consider what God has to say about those who are disobedient. “The way of the wicked shall PERISH” (Psalm 1:6). “God’s fire will CONSUME the wicked” (Psalm 21:9). David said of those who lacked understanding that they are “like the beasts that PERISH” (Psalm 49:20). David calls death the “land of OBLIVION” (Psalm 88:12). “God will DESTROY them for their wickedness” (Psalm 94:23). Solomon wrote, “When the storm has SWEPT AWAY, the wicked are GONE” (Proverbs 10:25) and “…the lamp of the wicked is SNUFFED OUT” (Proverbs 13:9; 24:20).

God is never pictured in Scripture as an eternal tormentor. He is not a God who “tortures” those he loves. That is not good news. But he has promised to punish and “destroy” those who are not in his grace. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26,27).

This familiar verse reminds us again to look more closely at what we think we understand. There are nuggets of truth hidden from us because of our preconceptions. This verse has been used to beat up people with concerning attendance at assemblies. We have practically ignored the details of what God will do with those who turn from him. God is not a torturer of his own creation, but rather “our God is a CONSUMING fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

Satan and the church perpetuate the idea that we will live on and on and on in spite of the truth that Christians “put on” immortality at the resurrection. Our immortality isn’t like God’s; it’s conditional. Only God is immortal in the true sense of that word (1st Timothy 1:17; 6:16). Human are mortals. We haven’t always been as God has. We are created beings. We will not always be, unless God so wills it.

Consider the wise man’s words: “I also thought, ‘As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.

Everything is meaningless. All go to the SAME PLACE; all come from the dust, and to DUST ALL RETURN. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth” (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21). Shall we edit Solomon while we are at it? Satan told our ancestors they would not surely die. We continue to tell the ungodly that they will live on in some bizarre eternal state of excruciatingly painful dying process and that God will thusly torture them without end.

Scripture teaches us “this will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish (not torture) those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction (not everlasting destroying) and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

Satan, the Catholic church, and many of us continue to teach, “There will be no actual destruction. There will be no second death. There will only be never-ending horrendous torture and torment by our loving Father in heaven.” Absurd! John the baptizer taught that Jesus would “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). Who is represented by the chaff? The wicked are, of course. Peter makes it extremely clear, unless we are wearing prejudicial glasses and have closed minds, that “by the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7).

It is not God’s will that we perish. He desires to save us. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Even the golden text of the Bible reminds us of our possible perishing if we do not obey the gospel of Christ. Jesus said, “…should not perish” (John 3:16). How much plainer can it be than in the words of Peter again when he writes that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be” (2 Peter 3:10 12).

Hard-line traditionalists point out that eternal life for the godly will last forever. So, too, the consummation and destruction of the ungodly will last forever. But nowhere is it taught in Scripture that “destruction will not be destruction” but rather “continual destroying and torture and agony and pain without end.” The Greek word “aionios” which is translated “eternal” refers to the end result of a process rather than the destroying process or agent itself. It means the unsaved perish, yes perish, and the result is forever. Jude 7 has Sodom destroyed by “eternal fire” yet we realize there is no fire at the site of Sodom presently. The “destruction” of the twin cities was eternal, not the “destroying.” They are not now being destroyed, are they?

Isaiah wrote: “And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night or day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever…” (Isaiah 34:9). In this text the prophet is discussing the DESTRUCTION of Edom. Edom is now DESTROYED. No smoke ascends at that particular locale today. Why? We know why, because the “result” of the smoke going up is forever, not the smoke and burning itself.

Jeremiah speaks of Judah’s coming destruction. “Then shall I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched” (Jeremiah 17:27). If one visits Jerusalem today, they do not find a fire that is still burning (unless we spiritualize this text to suggest the continual conflict between those Semitic cousins who are still throwing rocks at each other after all these centuries). Unquenchable fire simply means fire that will not be put out until that which it is destroying is utterly consumed.

Does God teach in his word that evil people will be punished? Yes. Does the Bible tell us of those who have lived ungodly lives being held accountable for their disobedience and willful sin? Of course there is; Scripture even hints of degrees of reward and punishment. We trust that God will punish in exact correctness and fairness those who are not among the redeemed.

Will not the God of all heaven and earth do right by his creation? He will reward those who are found in his marvelous grace just as his holy and divine will decides. And I realize that these truths will mess up a lot of sermon outlines. So be it. I threw my old erroneous sermons on hell in the fire. They were consumed. Good riddance.

Can any caring person think of a scenario where it would be okay to hold a blowtorch to the eyes of another person (say a Saddam Hussien, Adolf Hitler, Richard Speck, Jeffrey Dahmer, Nero, Stalin, Osama Bin Laden) for as long as strength allowed?

Bin Laden was mercifully killed rather than tortured. We shudder at the thought of torture. Certainly this would be looked upon as a heinous and barbaric act. Yet we paint a picture of God who will do far worse than that to billions and billions of individuals and never stop doing it.

When we sit across the table from some poor soul who has just been taught of Jesus’ redeeming love and now knows how to receive God’s forgiveness, is it good news to tell him, when he asks, and he often does, where his beloved grandmother will be, or his child, or his wife who has passed on? “It doesn’t sound like the God I have been describing to you, does it?

But, believe me, it is part of the good news of Christ. Your grandmother and everyone in your family who has not done what I’ve told you to do will burn forever and ever in a fire that will never cease.” Readers, this is simply incredible.

It is a satanic distortion of clear truth and an unnecessary stumbling block put in the paths of the very ones we attempt to convert. How cunning the devil still is. And we are his pawns when we teach such ungodliness. Someone suggests that we can’t back off scaring people with hell fire or they will not obey the gospel. Hmmm. Is the world rushing to obey the gospel of Christ with the traditional view still ensconced? Hardly.

It’s difficult to accept new truth, especially when we have presumed to pretty well know it all the first time we figured things out for ourselves or borrowed our belief systems from our instructors. It is even harder to admit that we have been wrong about matters we must admit we have not thoroughly studied and worked out for ourselves. This truth did not come easily to me. I swallowed unquestionably what was taught to me by those whom I thought loved me. They did love me. They only taught what they had been taught. We presume often, don’t we, that we are above being fooled. But are we?

What shall we do with this newfound knowledge? Shall we hide with is in a closet like I did for years? Shall we fear repercussions from those in seats of authority? Yes. For a while some of us will do this. But eventually we shall have to deal with the reality that our Holy Father in heaven is not some maniacal torturer of his own precious creation. What good news this is!

Free to be just a Christian

Free to be just a Christian

 

All over the world today, there is a vast renewal of interest in studying the Bible. Thousands of people are reading the Bible to find the answers as to where they come from, why they are here on earth, and where they are going after this life is over. Searching the Scriptures with an open and honest heart toward God will enable you to gain knowledge of God’s total plan for all of His people.

The Bible is divided into two major parts – the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament tells of the beginnings of the earth, of man, of sin, and of God’s way of salvation in Christ. Abraham was selected to become the father of the Hebrew nation and these people, when they were about seventy in number; they went into Egypt to live. There they grew, prospered, and became great in numbers.

The Egyptians made slaves out of them, but God led them out of Egypt through Moses, and after a while into the land of Canaan, which we know better as Palestine. God gave them His laws, including the “Ten Commandments”, and they became the chosen nation through whom Jesus Christ, the Son of God was born into human flesh, came into the world.

The Old Testament also gives us the many words of men called “prophets”, who foretold of the coming of Christ and of His spiritual kingdom on this earth.

The New Testament tells of the birth, life, death for our sins, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the fifth book of the New Testament, we read of the beginning of Christ’s kingdom or spiritual body. This book is called the “Acts of the Apostles “and shows us how men and women became Christians, or members of His body.

This means that when a person becomes a Christian, God adds that person to his “church” or assembly: thus, he does not have to look for a church to join, for the very same gospel obedience that made him a Christian makes him a “church “member.

The rest of the New Testament is made up of letters written to help show people how to live the lives that God would have them live. God would have everyone study the Bible to learn of Him and His Son, Jesus Christ, and to come to know Him in a personal way, as a friend and a savior.

Welcome to this study of the Bible. Remember that God speaks to each of us through the Bible. This makes it possible for each of us to know Him if we will but study and live what we learn.

My prayer for each of you is that you will be guided by the Bible and not by men. May God bless you richly with wisdom and understanding?

Are you a Christian? Are you saved? Do you have a close relationship with God? Are you willing to give up for Him the life of sin you now lead?

Questions

Someone is always asking us questions. The questions above are usually grouped with others, such as:

“What church do you attend? “

“Have you been baptized? “

“What kind of baptism did you have? “

“Are you willing to join a church in order to be saved? “

It is my hope that the material presented here will take some of the pressure off and allow you to deepen your relationship with God. Or, if you don’t know Him, free you to begin to know Him as your Father.

At any rate, I hope you will give this information a fair hearing and if you find yourself agreeing with it, use it to teach others and free them from bondage. You will find these teachings quite a bit different from those you’ve seen in the past. I pray that they help everyone to be free in Christ.

Are You Free?

This question is not asked very often, especially by church leaders. However, there are several references to freedom in the Scriptures. Let’s look at a few of them:

(Luke 4:17-21) 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

(John 8:31-36) 31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

(2 Corinthians 3:17) Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

(Galatians 5:1) It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Note that Jesus sets us free; period. Sometimes real freedom is scary and men, afraid of this freedom, tend to make limits for themselves and others in order to regulate this freedom. God put only one limit on our freedom in Christ:

(1 Corinthians 8:9) Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.

(Galatians 5:13) You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

(1 Peter 2:16) Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.

See? We are not to use our freedom for evil purposes that would hurt others. In many religions today, men tell us what to do or not to do in order to be pleasing to God. God Himself tells us what is acceptable religion in James 1:27.

(James 1:27) Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

It would seem that God wanted to keep the concept of religion simple so that all people everywhere could understand it at once, without a lot of teaching.

Are you a Christian?

To be a Christian is to be “of Christ “or to be a follower of Jesus. The word Christian is all inclusive. It needs no other word added to it for explanation or definition. Men have created denominations (churches) in order to separate and regulate those who profess to believe alike.

In reality, all faith is individual. No person believes exactly like another person. We all have a unifying point of faith and brotherhood: the Lord Jesus. He calls us to love and respect each other, but never to believe exactly alike. A person who has accepted Jesus as his or her personal Savior has done so just like all other Christians throughout history.

1. They have heard of Him.

2. They have come to believe He is who he says.

3. They have obeyed the condition he set down.

(Mark 16:15-16) He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

(Matthew 28:19-20) 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

See how simple? As you go through this world, teach others what you have been taught. Those who believe baptize (immerse) them making them disciples. Then help each other to live a life pleasing to God.

What Church do you attend?

Is this question important? Is there scripture that supports one church over all others, or does Scripture only speak of one church of which all believers are part? Is there any such thing as a “church? “ To answer the last question, it will require a short lesson in Greek.

In the original Greek in which the New Testament was written the word ekklesia has been translated church. However, this word never had the meaning that is meant by the word church as used today. Note the accepted definition as laid down by all leading Greek scholars:

EKKLESIA – A calling out, i.e. a popular meeting, especi. a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth, or saints in heaven, or both): – assembly, church

Notice that the most accurate definitions are – congregation and assembly. The least is church. The concept of the church today is that of a power structure with its leaders and rulers. This also means that there are those who are ruled. In the New Testament there are 114 passages that contain the word church. They are listed here to make it easy for you to find them. Read each one in its context then read them again, this time using the word assembly instead of church. Decide for yourself which you think is most accurate.

(Matthew 16:18) And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

(Matthew 18:17) And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

(Acts 2:47) Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

(Acts 5:11) And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

(Acts 7:38) This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:

(Acts 8:1) And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

(Acts 8:3) As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

(Acts 9:31) Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.

(Acts 11:22) Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.

(Acts 11:26) And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

(Acts 12:1) Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.

(Acts 12:5) Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.

(Acts 13:1) Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

(Acts 14:23) And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

(Acts 14:27) And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.

(Acts 15:3) And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.

(Acts 15:4) And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.

(Acts 15:22) Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:

(Acts 15:41) And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

(Acts 16:5) And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

(Acts 18:22) And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he went down to Antioch.

(Acts 19:37) For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess.

(Acts 20:17) And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

(Acts 20:28) Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

(Romans 16:1) I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:

(Romans 16:4) Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.

(Romans 16:5) Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.

(Romans 16:16) Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.

(Romans 16:23) Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother.

(1 Corinthians 1:2) Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

(1 Corinthians 4:17) For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.

(1 Corinthians 6:4) If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.

(1 Corinthians 7:17) But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.

(1 Corinthians 10:32) Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:

(1 Corinthians 11:16) But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

(1 Corinthians 11:18) For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.

(1 Corinthians 11:22) What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

(1 Corinthians 12:28) And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

(1 Corinthians 14:4) He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

(1 Corinthians 14:5) I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.

(1 Corinthians 14:12) Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.

(1 Corinthians 14:19) Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

(1 Corinthians 14:23) If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?

(1 Corinthians 14:28) But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

(1 Corinthians 14:33) For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

(1 Corinthians 14:34) Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

(1 Corinthians 14:35) And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

(1 Corinthians 15:9) For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

(1 Corinthians 16:1) Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.

(1 Corinthians 16:19) The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

(2 Corinthians 1:1) Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:

(2 Corinthians 8:1) Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;

(2 Corinthians 8:18) And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches;

(2 Corinthians 8:19) And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind:

(2 Corinthians 8:23) Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow helper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ.

(2 Corinthians 8:24) Wherefore shew ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf.

(2 Corinthians 11:8) I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.

(2 Corinthians 11:28) Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.

(2 Corinthians 12:13) For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.

(Galatians 1:2) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:

(Galatians 1:13) For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:

(Galatians 1:22) And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:

(Ephesians 1:22) And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,

(Ephesians 3:10) To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,

(Ephesians 3:21) Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

(Ephesians 5:23) For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

(Ephesians 5:24) Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

(Ephesians 5:25) Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

(Ephesians 5:27) That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

(Ephesians 5:29) For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

(Ephesians 5:32) This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

(Philippians 3:6) Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

(Philippians 4:15) Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.

(Colossians 1:18) And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

(Colossians 1:24) Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:

(Colossians 4:15) Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.

(Colossians 4:16) And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.

(1 Thessalonians 1:1) Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Thessalonians 2:14) For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:

(2 Thessalonians 1:1) Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

(2 Thessalonians 1:4) So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:

(1 Timothy 3:5) (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

(1 Timothy 3:15) But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

(1 Timothy 5:16) If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.

(Philemon 1:2) And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house:

(Hebrews 2:12) Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

(Hebrews 12:23) To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

(James 5:14) Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

(1 Peter 5:13) The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.

(3 John 1:6) Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well:

(3 John 1:9) I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.

(3 John 1:10) Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.

(Revelation 1:4) John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;

(Revelation 1:11) Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

(Revelation 1:20) The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

(Revelation 2:1) Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

(Revelation 2:7) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

(Revelation 2:8) And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;

(Revelation 2:11) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

(Revelation 2:12) And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;

(Revelation 2:17) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

(Revelation 2:18) And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;

(Revelation 2:23) And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

(Revelation 2:29) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

(Revelation 3:1) And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.

(Revelation 3:6) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

(Revelation 3:7) And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;

(Revelation 3:13) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

(Revelation 3:14) And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

(Revelation 3:22) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

(Revelation 22:16) I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

There are practices which almost all churches have in common – from the largest to the smallest. Hers is a list. Search your Bible and see if they are tradition or if they are found in Scripture.

1. Worship Services

2. The Collection

3. Placing of Membership

4. Sermons

5. Men only as Deacons

6. Deacon as an office

There are others to be sure, but I think this list will keep you busy for a while.

What do I do with my contribution?

I suppose that this will trouble most people at first. We are so used to placing money in the plate that we hardly know what to do with it otherwise.

The Bible calls for us to help those in need. We are commanded to help the orphan and the widow. (James 1:27). This can be done on an individual basis. To “set aside” originally meant to “keep by ones side, usually at home. Nowhere in the New Testament is the concept found of Christians placing money in a church treasury.

(1 Corinthians 16:2) On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.

Money, like all things, was given to us, as Christians, to enjoy:

(1 Timothy 6:17) Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

However, like all things, it was meant for our sole pleasure. God gives generously and gets much pleasure from it.

(Malachi 3:10) Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

In concept and example we are taught that more pleasure is derived from giving than from receiving.

(Acts 20:35) In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “

In 1 Corinthians, the collection being made was to help the poor and needy in Jerusalem. It was not to be used for the pleasure of those saving the money. It was also not to be used for a building or for salaries.

When you use the money you earn (by God’s grace), spend it well. Get your money’s worth and remember that you are just God’s caretaker for all that you possess.

What works will I do?

Jesus listed one work when he was asked this question:

(John 6:29) Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Other “works “that we do today will not be considered work if we follow this teaching. We will give to the poor, we will meet with other Christians often, we will teach, we will love the brothers and sisters.

All this will be what we are – not what we do. Can you see the difference?

Salvation, God’s gift to mankind

Spiritually, to be saved is the single most important thing that a person can desire. To be with Christ for all eternity: to be with loved ones forever: to be in a place of never ending love; is something that we have all dreamed of.

God made this possible when he chose to live and die in the person of Jesus Christ on a Roman cross. By being lifted up, He drew all those to Him who are willing to surrender their lives to His direction.

Those who willingly devote their lives to Him find that they are doing more than just following His directions; they find themselves developing a loving relationship with Him. They call upon Him as a friend in times of need and times of joy. He is their constant companion.

Now, if you have felt that God has abandoned you and that probably everyone else is enjoying this relationship but not you – don’t despair. God has promised never to leave you.

(Hebrews 13:5) Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

He is as good as his promise. We may not be aware of Him all the time, but He is there. I hope that this lesson has helped you to grow closer to Him.

This closing section tries to simplify our understanding of faith. It is intended to show you that you are not alone; and possibly (hopefully) to strengthen your belief in God.

The gift is accepted through Faith

The Bible tells us more about the gift of eternal life in Ephesians 2:8-9

“You have been saved by God’s gracious love through faith. Salvation does not come from you: it is God’s gift. It does not come from human effort. If that were true, someone could brag about earning it.”

Notice that this scripture does not say that we are saved by grace alone but that we are saved by grace through faith. We must have enough faith in Jesus Christ to obey Him or God will not save us by His grace (Unmerited favor.)

Salvation by grace does not exclude obedience.

To help us understand that being saved by God’s grace does not exclude the necessity of obedience – the Bible declares in Hebrews 5:9 that:

“After Jesus was made perfect, he became the Source of eternal salvation for everyone who will obey him”

What is saving faith?

Faith is your first step. If someone doesn’t believe in God, he cannot please God, because the person who comes to God must believe that he lives. That person must believe that God will give rewards to the people who are searching for Him.

(Hebrews 11:9) By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

Many people feel they have faith, without really knowing what faith is. It is not a mere intellectual believing, for the devils do that. James 2:19 declares:

“You say that you believe there is one God? That’s fine. The demons also believe this and shake with fear.”

Faith is trust and trust is faith. Webster defines faith this way:

1. Confidence or trust in another person or thing: faith in another’s ability.

2. Belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.

3. Belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.

4. Belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: To be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.

5. A system of religious belief: the Christian faith, the Jewish faith.

6. The obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: failure to appear would be breaking faith.

7. The observance of this obligation; fidelity to one’s promise, oath allegiance, etc: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.

8. Christian Theology – the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved.

9. In faith, in truth; indeed: In faith, he is a fine lad.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, let’s see just how a simple definition of faith we can come up with. The major points of Webster’s definition are: confidence, trust, and belief.

Confidence: 1. full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness or reliability of a person or thing.

Trust: 1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.

Belief: 2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof.

It would seem that to have faith in God would be to trust Him and believe what he says.

Learning to trust or have faith in something or someone always takes time. God called you to Him and He wants you to take the time to know Him, as a friend. Talk to Him about everything that happens to you.

You will find that He is very interested in your daily struggles and triumphs. He gives you strength to live for Him everyday if you but ask. He delights in your close walk with him (Psalms 149:4, Isaiah 65:19, Zephaniah 3:17.) Think about it: don’t you enjoy the company of those who you love? Aren’t you happiest when with them?

To have saving faith ask God, then believe that he is concerned enough about you to guide you in this walk of faith. He wants you to be saved (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9). He will work harder in your behalf than you can ever imagine, if you but give Him a chance.

This does not mean that you will never have hard times. There will come the trials that are a part of living in an imperfect world. God will teach you to act during any crisis in a way that will bring Him the glory. Because it is from Him that your strength comes. He will shoulder the cares of living if we will learn to have faith in Him.

If we remember that without God, we would be nothing (Acts 17:28) then we will let Him take the foremost place in our lives.