Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Greetings

Isabel and I are now on the prayer list that is distributed from the church where we currently fellowship.  The first one arrived by email the other day, and I got to thinking .......

There are so many Christians who are regularly praying that God will save all the people in the world, and yet these same people laugh at you (or worse) when you tell them that HE WILL. Isn't that strange?

Thank you for your support and encouragement through the year.  It's been a most interesting one and I've learned a lot.  The first book is well on the way and you have been seeing bits of it coming through the posts on the blogsite.  I am hoping to have it ready to publish by midyear 2011.

I know very few comments have come in re the posts, but ........ if anyone would like to critically review the chapters of the book as each draft is completed, please let me know and I will get them to you. 

There is a preface and an introduction, 6 chapters and 3 appendices - a total of 11 sections.  The drafts should appear about 2 per month starting in January.

But please don't put up your hand to do this if you already have a full plate.  I don't ever want to be a burden or to be putting pressure on you for your comments and review. But if you have the time and the interest to serve me this way, I would be really pleased to hear from you as I would appreciate some peer review by those I know love me.

Trust you have a great Christmas with your families, as we are planning to do here.

Love Barry

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

God's Determination to Save the World

Have you ever thought about how determined God is to save the world?

Jesus made an amazing statement while talking about his upcoming death.
He said, "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
And John, the gospel writer who recorded what Jesus said in John 12 : 32, explained, "He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die."

So Jesus was predicting that he would die on a cross, and in doing so, would draw all people to Himself.

Let's examine the word "draw" in Jesus' statement.
It is translated from the Greek word "helkuo", which appears several times in the original (Greek) New Testament of the Bible.
But just look how it is translated in some of the other verses where it appears.

John 21 : 11 describes the last stage of the miraculous catch of fish after the resurrection of Jesus.
"Simon Peter went aboard and dragged (helkuo) the net ashore full of big fish, a hundred and fifty-three in all; even though there were so many, still the net did not tear."

Acts 16 : 19 describes Paul and Silas being brought before the magistrates in Philippi.
"When her owners realized that their chance of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged (helkuo) them to the authorities in the public square. "

Acts 21 : 30 describes the arrest of Paul in Jerusalem.
"Confusion spread through the whole city, and the people all ran together, grabbed Paul, and dragged (helkuo) him out of the Temple. At once the Temple doors were closed."

I think you will agree that translating "helkuo" as "drawing" would be far too timid in these verses.  The much better translation of "helkuo" is definitely "drag".

So let's put it into our original Jesus verse.
"But I, when I am lifted up from the earth (crucified), will drag (helkuo) all people to myself." 

Jesus sounds pretty determined to me.  I can't imagine He won't succeed with that sort of determination.  How about you?

Justice, Mercy and Grace

There are 3 levels on which judgements can be administered.

Justice - the lowest level
All judgements should be just, at the very least.  Anything less would not be fair, not right.  Justice is achieved when the punishment fits the crime.  This is what our civil laws and their penalties are meant to achieve, which is perfectly understandable since they were originally based on the Ten Commandments a long, long time ago.

For example, suppose I am driving on the highway and, being late for an appointment, exceed the clearly advertised speed limit and am apprehended by a police officer.
"Do you realise you are driving 25 kmh above the speed limit?"
"Sorry, but I'm late for an appointment."
"That may be so, but you are breaking the law nevertheless."
The police officer remains unmoved by my plea and issues me with a penalty notice. 
It is justice that requires me to pay the prescribed penalty.   The relationship between me and the officer is an impersonal, legal one.  I am the guilty offender and he is the judge.

Even the most ungodly of us have an inbuilt sense of justice and are quick to complain if we feel we have not been treated justly.  If we are not exceeding the speed limit, but accused and penalised as if we were, we would be rightly outraged.  "That is unjust, not right, not fair!" we exclaim.  On the other hand, we don't always allow justice to motivate our thoughts and actions, which is why the Bible calls us "sinners".

But God is a just God.  He requires us to live by His laws and has prescribed the death penalty for those who break them.  When we sin and break His laws, He is offended and we deserve to die - to be separated from Him, to be out of fellowship with Him.  That is justice, a just application of God's law.  In these circumstances, the relationship between us and God is an impersonal, legal one.  We are the guilty offenders and He is the just judge.

Mercy - the middle level
When we voluntarily forgo the application of a just punishment, but choose to forgive and not require full restitution or payment of the prescribed penalty, we have moved beyond being just to being merciful.

Using our driving example from above, if on exceeding the speed limit the police officer is moved by my plea and gives me a warning rather than impose the prescribed penalty, then I would have received mercy rather than justice. 

Even though I didn't deserve it, the officer would have been merciful toward me.  And the relationship between me and the officer would have become a bit more personal.  I would be having good, kind thoughts about him and even consider him a friend, and he might also be feeling good about helping someone under pressure, rather than making their situation worse.  If we met again, casually, not because I broke the law again, the meeting would be quite friendly and the way might even be open for a friendship to develop, if that was desired.

Not many of us operate at this level.  We hold grudges, demand payment and restitution, want justice at all costs.  Although refusing to be merciful is not breaking the law, it is certainly not following the way of Christ, who showed mercy at every turn.

God is indeed a merciful God.  He does not require us to pay the penalty for our sin.  He paid the penalty for us by coming to earth as a man to die for our sins in our place.  Although we don't deserve it, the sins of everyone have been paid for - no-one has to pay for them any longer.  God, in Jesus Christ, is the Saviour of the world.  We have all been shown mercy.

Grace - the highest level
When justice is forgone and mercy is extended all obstacles to a relationship between the offender and the offended have been removed.  The doorway for relationship has been opened.

But there is more!!!  What if the offended person takes the first step towards creating that friendship!  That'd be something really special and unexpected!  That would be grace in operation.

Again using our driving example, what if the officer instead of imposing a penalty (justice) and instead of issuing a warning (mercy), offered to provide a high-speed escort to our destination so that we could arrive at our appointment on time?  That would be grace in operation - overlooking the offence and giving an undeserved, unexpected favour in its place.

The offended one freely offers something above and beyond anything that can be deserved or earned or even hoped for.  Grace is undeserved favour or blessing, and, when offered to those who offend, is extremely God-like.

Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" is a well-known novel that has been performed on stage and in movies many times.  The story centres around Jean Valjean, a destitute ex-prisoner who is taken in by a kind bishop, from whom Valjean steals expensive silverware.  When apprehended, the bishop does not press charges saying that he gave the silverware to Valjean (shows mercy) and then gives him his silver candlesticks as well (extends grace).  These acts of mercy and grace change Valjean's life forever.

The following story is told about New York City mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia.  
In the middle of the Great Depression, LaGuardia went out of his way to identify with his people. It was not unusual for him to ride with the firefighters, go on raids with the police, or take orphans for outings.

On a bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. A tattered old woman was brought before him and charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told the mayor that her daughter's husband had left home, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving.

However, the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honour," the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson."

LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail."
But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He took out a $10 note and tossed it into his famous hat, saying, "Here is the ten dollar fine which has now been paid; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, take my hat and collect the fines and give them to the defendant."

The following day, New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was given to a bewildered woman who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. Fifty cents of that amount was contributed by the grocery store owner himself, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

Here LaGuardia showed justice (required the penalty to be paid) and mercy (paid the penalty on the woman's behalf). He then used his authority to enable grace to be shown to this poor woman.  She was guilty and therefore required to pay the fine.  She left the court without paying the fine and with more money in her pocket than she had probably ever seen.

If God's creatures can operate in this way, even occasionally, surely it is not too difficult to believe that the Creator, in whose image we are made, operates this way consistently.

God is a God of grace. 
God is not only just (requires a penalty for breaking His laws), and merciful (pays the penalty for us), but is gracious (invites us into a relationship with Him).  And this relationship is undeserved and free, and will include all of God's creation eventually.  
How gracious is that!

So here's the difference.
Justice occurs when offenders get what they deserve. 
Mercy occurs when offenders don't get what they deserve.
Grace occurs when offenders get what they don't deserve.

Let's learn to be people of grace.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Joseph Story

The story of Joseph, like that of Jonah, shows how uninformed we are about God's workings on this planet, how little we understand how resolutely He works at fulfilling His plans.  We think we make all the decisions in our lives by our "free" will, but really we have no idea that God is orchestrating the whole symphony from behind the scenes.

Joseph's brothers hated him because he was their father's favourite.  They hated him all the more when he told them of his dreams which predicted that one day they would be his servants.

Because of their hatred and jealousy, the brothers threw Joseph into a pit intending to kill him, but sold him to passing traders instead.  These traders were on their way to Egypt and, on their arrival there, sold Joseph to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's guard.

Through extraordinary circumstances, Joseph became Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.  In this position he saved Egypt from ruin during the seven year famine that Joseph himself had previously predicted.

Because the famine also affected Canaan, where Joseph's family lived, his brothers came to Egypt to buy food from the stockpiles Joseph had created during the good years before the famine hit.  After several dealings with Joseph, who they did not recognise, the brothers finally discovered they were doing business with Joseph, their youngest brother, when he revealed his identity to them.

"I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!  And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you."  [Genesis 45 : 4 - 5  NIV]

Later, all the rest of Joseph's family moved to Egypt where Jacob, their father, subsequently died.  Fearing revenge from Joseph after their father's death, Joseph reassured them that their mischief-making and evil intentions were used by God to execute His plans to save Jacob (Israel) and his family.

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."  [Genesis 50 : 20  NIV]

Sounds a bit like what Jesus might have said to those who put him on the cross, doesn't it?

Jonah, Joseph, Jesus ...... God is really running the show, even when we don't recognise it.  However, the wise King Solomon did.

"People may plan all kinds of things, but the LORD's will is going to be done."  [Proverbs 19 : 21  GNB]  and "You may make your plans, but God directs your actions. "  [Proverbs 16 : 9  GNB] were two of his thoughts on the subject.


Friday, December 3, 2010

The Jonah Story

The story of Jonah contains lots of illustrations of the way God acts towards us in general, not just to Jonah and the city of Nineveh.

Have you noticed how much God is in control and is orchestrating the events in this story? 
The word of the Lord came to Jonah .... 
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea ....
But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah ....
And the Lord commanded the fish ....
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time ....
God had compassion and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened .....
Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow ....
God provided a worm ....
God provided a scorching east wind ....

This definitely sounds like the God who Isaiah quotes in Isaiah 45 : 5 - 7
"I am the Lord, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me,
so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting
men may know there is no other.
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things."

God's sovereignty is clear, but what about man's free will, which is proudly proclaimed in the world, indeed in most mainstream churches?

The Jonah story is a great example that shows the difference between God's sovereignty and man's so-called "free" will, which I prefer to call man's will. 

God had a plan for Jonah's life which involved him going to the people of Nineveh and warning them of God's displeasure with their behaviour and His coming judgement on them unless they repented. 

Jonah chose to disobey and run from God's presence.  (Fancy thinking he could do that?  He obviously had lost his copy of  Psalm 139.)  Well that was his choice and he exercised his will in catching a ship to Tarshish and heading in the opposite direction.

But God sent a great wind that threatened the safety of all on board and Jonah was thrown overboard to reduce the risk.  God then sent a great fish to swallow Jonah.  

The storm, the potential shipwreck and the fish attack eventually got Jonah's attention and he quickly learnt to pray.   When God asked him to go to Nineveh again, he readily agreed to go.

Jonah certainly had the ability to make choices and exercise his will, but in the end, God had His way.

God has a plan for all of us.  To live in fellowship and harmony with Him forever.  We have the authority to exercise our wills and make all the choices we want, but these will only determine the quality of the journey - make the journey wonderful or dangerous. 

God has no hesitation in providing trouble, persecutions, even disasters, to get our attention and get us back on track.  Even Jonah in the middle of his troubles and deep sea crisis recognised this fact. 

In his prayer he revealed his understanding of God's grace and the futility of relegating God and His plans to last place in his life.  He said, "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs." 

Paul says we can experience God's kindness/grace or His sternness/correction on the journey, the choice is ours.  But the final destination has already been chosen for us by the Sovereign God, who loves us and wants the best for us.

Indeed, in one way or another, in this age or another, through the lake of fire if need be, God will get us to where He wants us to go.  Just ask Jonah.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Grieving the Holy Spirit

Hi Barry

Just heard a sermon preached on Grieving the Holy Spirit, and I want to start some discussion with you and your blog community about the following questions if I may. I am guessing the the below questions cover much scope - but here goes anyhow.

1. What exactly is the "Unforgivable Sin"?
2. Is the Holy Spirit grieved by those who are unsaved (when they sin) in the same way that He is grieved by us who call ourselves Christians (when we sin)?
3. And if 2 is yes then can we say the Holy Spirit indwells in as ALL, and salvation (or the sinner prayer) is an acknowledgement of his indwelling.

It is my hunch that 3 is true and has been true since Christ resurrection.

4. and finally, it is also my hunch that this "grieving" is the thing that Jesus most dreaded on the mount of olives when He asked His Father to take His cup if possible. The torture and crucifixion was horrendous, but spiritually living within 9 billion sinning people until they are pure sounds even worse for HIM.

what do you think?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Timetable for the Book

Hi Guys and Gals
Since my aborted church-sitting exercise I have spent many hours in Bible study and seeking guidance for the future.  As a result, I have made some adjustments to my plans and, as I reported in a recent post, I will become more focused on getting "the book" done in a much shorter time-frame.

Indeed I have now decided to write three books.
The Really Good News, Book 1, God Plans to Save the World.  This describes how and when God will restore everything and have all His creation move into eternity with Him.
The Really Good News, Book 2, Government Secrets Revealed.  This describes the Bible and how to read it so that God's purpose and plans can be correctly understood.
The Really Good News, Book 3, Government Positions Available.  This describes the qualifications and job description of those who will govern with Christ in the kingdom age.

Book 1 has almost two chapters written since my journey north.  I have become very determined to get this done.

The website I was planning will be developed in a different way and in a different order than first thought.  I am writing the books in an informal style for the average reader, with little theology included.  A 'Notes and References' section at the back of each book will include links to web-pages on the website which will develop the ideas in the books more formally/theologically, explain contentious points, explain opposing views and their deficiencies, etc. for those who want to study at a deeper level.

I am setting target dates for one book (and its corresponding web-pages) to be completed per year  On this basis, the trilogy should be completed during 2012.

To lighten up the books for general readership, I want to include cartoons throughout and have plenty of white space on each page.  I feel I have "seen" the final result.

As always any feedback is most welcome.  Barry

Everything must work towards God's Purpose

Many verses that people declare as being incompatible with the G.R.A.C.E. view are really compatible with and supportive of that view, as long as people keep God's overall purpose for the world in mind.

Not keeping that purpose in mind leaves one thinking that each verse on its own serves its own purpose or tells its own story, and this process usually leads to a cocktail of contradictory purposes, plans and outcomes, rather than a more detailed view of God's ultimate purpose for the ages.

So what is God's purpose for the ages?
To head up the universe under His Son, Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1 : 10).
To reconcile the universe to Himself, through Christ, making peace through the blood of Christ’s cross (Colossians 1 : 20).
To become "All in all" at the end of the ages (1 Corinthians 15 : 22 - 28).

For any verse that we study, or that is thrown up to challenge us, we should always ask the question, "How might this fit into God's purpose?" or "What extra detail or understanding of God's purpose is this verse providing us?" before being satisfied that we have its correct or full meaning.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What is Judgement?

One verse that is often thrown up to show me that God will not achieve his purpose of eventually restoring all to himself is Hebrews 9 : 27 which states that people are to die once, and after that to face judgement.  In these people's minds judgement obviously equates to eternal torment in hell or total destruction.

Judgement is only a process - a process for deciding between right and wrong or between guilt and innocence - which then determines what the next course of action will be. 

Some judgements are to free or acquit an innocent person, others are to penalise a guilty person in some way.  In the latter case, the penalty is administered for the purpose of improving the guilty person's behaviour or character so that he/she will eventually be different and as free as the person who was acquitted.

So whatever the result, judgement is a good thing, not a bad thing, as all results of judgement eventually bring freedom.

Believers, who live in the Spirit, are judged daily by the Spirit.  We are judged, convicted of our sin and restored to fellowship with God due to the on-going sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives.  This results in us becoming Christ-like and being made ready to rule with Him in the kingdom age.

Non-believers are judged at the Great White Throne and are purified by the lake of fire.  This also results in God-likeness, but they completely miss out on ruling with Christ in the kingdom, as it is only the believers, the first-born, who have the double portion - reigning with Christ in the kingdom age and residency in the New Jerusalem.

Let's be careful we don't allow people to confuse the process (judgement) with the result of the process as a reason for not considering the eventual good outcome of every one of God's judgements.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How do we come to see truth?

After the pastor of the church I was supposed to look after returned, we had a very nice conversation over the events that had taken place in his absence.  He is a lovely man with a lovely heart for God who now has the task of "restoring order" in the church.

In our two hour conversation we touched on many things, including my "offending" view that all would eventually be restored to the Father.  Our discussion has prompted some topics for a few more posts on the blog.

Here's the first.
Although people might readily agree that God's purpose for the world is "to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ"  [Eph 1 : 10], it is not always easy for them to get to the next step and agree that this means that all of humankind must be reconciled to the Father for that unity to be possible.

They cannot see that unity cannot be achieved if God is enjoying the sweet fellowship of some whilst overseeing the eternal torment of others at the same time.

What is the mental block here? 
Or is it nothing to do with logic, but everything to do with revelation?

We only become believers as a result of God giving us faith, so maybe the only way we see God's truth on this issue (or on any issue) is when God opens our eyes to it.

What do you think?
What's the relationship between logic and revelation?
Or is there no relationship at all?


Friday, October 8, 2010

The kingdom as yeast

It's amazing to discover that when we keep God's ultimate purpose for the world in mind, we begin to see so many bits of Scripture that are aligned with that purpose.

Take the little one verse parable in Matthew 13 : 33.  He told them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened."  [ESV]

If you've done any bread-making you would have seen for yourself how the small amount of yeast you add to the mixture eventually spreads through the whole batch of flour. 

And Jesus says that this is a picture of the kingdom of heaven. 

What other purpose could he have possibly had in mind for telling this one-sentence parable?  None that I can see.

He was telling us that the kingdom eventually spreads through the whole world, through everything, and God will be all in all in the end, just as he purposed. [see 1 Cor 15 : 28]

Let me rattle on.  I have no basis for this next bit other than an imaginative mind.
Why 3 measures of flour, and not another number??

There are three "occasions" for the kingdom (the rulership of God) to be seen.
1.  Jesus' life, ministry and resurrection on the earth.
2.  Us, the firstfruits of the crop, ruling and reigning with Christ in the kingdom age after the first resurrection.
3.  The main harvest, the vast multitudes at the Great White Throne who are to be judged and cleaned up after the second resurrection being made ready to step into eternity.

The kingdom (leaven) will have eventually worked its way through the whole lot of us by the end of the ages.

Isn't that really good news from a little one-liner?  Barry

The Importance of Knowing God

As you probably know by now, my favourite parable is the one of the two lost sons in Luke 15.

I often spend time just thinking about the main characters in the story and this morning I was thinking about the elder brother, especially in regard to the elders in the church where I was church-sitting for a couple of days.

And in my devotions this morning, the author of the daily thought said, "Without a true and proper knowledge of God, we are doomed to failure and condemnation, being sentenced to the bondage of the traditions and doctrines of men."

So the following thoughts began rolling out .....

The elder brother didn't really know the father at all, even though he had been living with him and working for him for years and years. He was surprised and offended that the father would even take the younger son back at all (give him a second chance) let alone celebrate his return in such an extravagant fashion.

The elders at the church were also offended to hear that this might be the case - people who had ignored or offended God might be eventually received into God's eternal family.  They were so offended that they didn't want their congregation to hear such stuff and so banned me from talking further to them, even though I quoted Jesus, Peter, Paul and John to verify what I was saying.

Without knowing God and his ultimate purpose and plans for his offspring we are indeed "sentenced to the bondage of the traditions and doctrines of men".

I am not saying the elders don't know God .... but they certainly don't know his ultimate purpose, the purpose that his unconditional love, his sovereign power and his extravagant grace will achieve.

The only definition of eternal life (life in the ages) I can find in the Bible is what John records as the words of Jesus in John 17 : 3 - "eternal life (Gk. life in the ages) means to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, whom you sent."  [GNB]

Knowing God and Jesus is therefore essential if we wish to have life in the ages, to live and reign with Christ in the 1000 years kingdom age. 

Jesus said that just knowing his name and working for him (an elder brother activity) is not enough.   We need to know him, to be known by him and to be doing what GOD wants us to be doing.  (Matthew 7 : 21 - 23)

Let us determine to know God and Jesus Christ, doing whatever it takes to achieve this, that we might live!  Barry

Monday, October 4, 2010

God's Grand Plan

God's grand plan for the ages is a great starting point for discussions on God's amazing grace.

In Ephesians 1 : 8 - 10, Paul says this about God's plan, which had been a mystery up until then,
"In all his wisdom and insight God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head."  [GNB]

In Colossians 1 :  19 - 20,  Paul describes the plan this way...
"For it was by God's own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God. Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son's blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven."  [GNB]

Once God's purpose of the ages is clear in our minds, it is then an easy walk through the New Testament to discover how God will accomplish this.  Paul summarises the "how" in Romans 11 : 32 and Philippians 2 : 9 - 11 ....
"For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all."  [TNIV]

"Then God gave Christ the highest place and honored his name above all others.
So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.
And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, 'Jesus Christ is Lord!' "  [CEV]

You'll find some other verses on the same theme in the "Elders Meeting Scriptures" post last month.

By the way, God has other mysteries that he reveals through the Apostle Paul and it's an exciting ride to find these and to meditate upon them.  Most of them involve us, so start looking.  If you get stuck and can't find any, just ask.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Church-sitting lessons

I have been thinking a lot about what I have learned from my recent "botched" church-sitting exercise - botched only in the sense that what the pastor and I planned to happen was not achieved, not that God didn't have and fulfil His own plans. 

Although I have not come to any fixed-in-concrete resolutions yet, I feel I am coming to the following positions....

1.  I will not be a guest preacher for a church again, unless the leadership of that church already believes in God's ultimate plan for the world, as declared in the Bible, or is specifically wanting the church to be taught along those lines.

I see little value in allowing myself to be hauled over the coals and accused of teaching unBiblical stuff by the leadership of churches that worship a God of conditional love whose attempt at salvation at Calvary was too weak to overcome Adam's sin for most of His creation.

2.  I will be more focused and more purposeful in my efforts to spread the good news about the God of unconditional love and sovereign power, who is the Saviour of the whole world, that the Bible reveals.

I am getting too old (have too few productive years left) to think this can just happen whatever/whenever and I need to deliberately set time aside each week to write for the web and the printed publications I had just been hoping would eventuate some day.

3.  I am also wondering if my focus needs to be on the "world" rather than the organised church for sharing this message as the world and fringe church-goers seem to be more ready to embrace these Biblical truths than those who have been unthinkingly saturated by the theology of mainstream christianity, whose leaders don't want their flocks to be exposed to anything or anyone that might enlarge or challenge their thinking, even if it is Biblically supported.

It is so ironic that a "wonderful" church which preaches grace so often, and where God began to stretch my own understanding of His grace several years ago, axed me for preaching how extravagant and powerful God's grace really is.

As always, your thoughts and feedback are most welcome.
But please give them as comments below the post, rather than as reply emails to me (unless you have something private to share), so we can all benefit from the ideas and discussion.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Lake of Fire

So what happens next?  What happens to these new 'pagan' believers as they are placed in the lake of fire? 

I'll be writing in more detail about the lake of fire in future posts, but for the purpose of following up the last post, I'll just share a story which has appeared on the internet over the years in various forms which gives some insight into this question.

I love this story as it helps me appreciate one of God's methods of making us Christ-like in our process of sanctification (sorry for the big word) and also helps me understand the references to  fire and brimstone and God's purpose in using these cleansing agents.

While reading Malachi 3, a group of women in a Bible Study were struck by the reference to God sitting as a refiner and purifier of silver.  To gain a better understanding of this verse, one of the women offered to visit a silversmith, watch him at work, and report back to the group on her observations the following week.

She called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him work, but didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up.  He explained that in refining silver, he needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest in order to burn away all the impurities.

She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.  The man answered that yes, not only must he sit there holding the silver, but he also had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire.  If the silver was left in the fire a moment too long, it would be injured in some way.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot sometimes, and began to see the purifying purpose in these experiences under the watchful eye of the Master Silversmith. 

The woman remained silent while she let these thoughts run their course, then asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?”  He smiled at her and answered, ‘Oh, that’s easy — it is fully refined when I can see my image in it.

We were made in His image originally, and we need to be remade in that image for fellowship with Him in eternity.  He does this through the work of His Holy Spirit now, and through his judgements at the Great White Throne.

I think this story perfectly describes the purpose of the lake of fire during the last age - the age of the new heavens and earth.  It is for purifying the new believers.

Most mainstream Christians think that the lake of fire is the hell of eternal torment that they have been taught about in their churches for many years and is the final place of unending punishment for all those who do not become believers by the time they are called to leave this planet at the end of their physical lives here.

I would rather see the fire and sulphur as pictures of the cleansing and purifying processes which God undertakes to make these new believers ready for life in eternity with him. 

Actually, the lake is also called the second death, the death of all that offends God and needs to be removed from those who have not had the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit involved in their lives as we've had.

Different pieces of silver will obviously take different amounts of time in the flame to be purified, depending on how 'unpurified' they were when they were placed there, but when the lake of fire (the second death) has finally finished its work it will no longer be needed and will be destroyed as Paul promises in 1 Cor 15 : 26.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Instant Belief at the Great White Throne

Since getting the sack from my church-sitting assignment, I have spent a large slab of time each day reading, studying and praying.  What a wonderful opportunity God has given me!

God has been showing me so much more about His plan for the ages, His plan to restore everything to Himself and to become "all in all" eventually, and I am sure all of this will filter through my writings in the future.

But right now I just wanted to share one new insight I had this afternoon.  Reading the story of doubting Thomas in John 20 : 24 - 29 gave me a fresh view of the inevitability of everyone becoming believers.

Can you imagine, as an unbeliever - an atheist, agnostic, humanist, nominal church-goer or whatever - being raised in the second resurrection and being ushered in for your judgement before Jesus at the Great White Throne? 

Your eyes would pop out as you were presented to the One you were sure did not exist or who had no serious claim on your life.  I am certain belief would come instantly, just as it did for Thomas when Jesus came through the walls of that room and for Saul on the road to Damascus.

So what do you think?  Do you think belief would come instantly for all unbelievers at the GWT?

Those of us in the physical world are given faith to believe what we cannot see; but those in the spiritual dimension believe because of what they can see.

To continue my imagining, I am now considering that all those placed in the lake of fire will be placed there as believers, having come straight from the GWT.  Has that idea crossed your mind before?

Boy, I'm having fun.  Barry

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Elders' Meeting Scriptures (see previous post)

The Scriptures that I shared with the elders were from those quoted below (can't remember exactly which ones we read in full on the night)  in the hope that they might see that a Biblical basis for my view is at least possible.  
(Indeed, I mentioned that I can find many more verses to support this view than I can find to support many other mainstream Christian doctrines which seem to be held as non-negotiables, like the Trinity, the rapture, the millenium, etc.)

From Jesus .....
But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.  John 12 : 32

From Peter .....
He (Jesus) must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.  Acts 3 : 21

From Paul .....
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  Romans 3 : 23 - 24
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.  Romans 5 : 18
And so all Israel will be saved, ....  Romans 11 : 26
For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.  Romans 11 : 32
For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Romans 11 : 36
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  1 Cor 15 : 22
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. .....  2 Cor 5 : 19
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment - to bring all things  in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.  Ephesians 1 :  9 - 10
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2 : 10 - 11 with 1 Cor 12 : 3
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Colossians 1 : 19 - 20
We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.  1 Timothy 4 : 10

From the author of Hebrews .....
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  Hebrews 2 : 9

From John .....
The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.  John 1 : 9
He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.  1 John 2 : 2

The New Testament has other relevant verses, but those listed above are the only ones we visited at the elders meeting.

I believe it is very difficult to read these verses with an open mind and not admit that a Biblical basis for the view that Jesus is the Saviour of the world and that all will eventually, one way or another, be reconciled to the Father, to the glory of God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, is at least possible.  Peter said that we should always be ready to give a reason for the hope we have, and I have shared these Scriptures to show why I hold to this wider hope of Jesus drawing all to himself eventually.

As a result of questions I was asked we also touched on .........
1.  The Biblical evidence for salvation beyond life on this planet.  We visited Peter's report that showed the population of the earth prior to the flood were judged and "executed" physically at the time, but were subsequently made alive spiritually after Jesus preached to them before his ascension. 1 Peter 3 : 18 - 20 and 1 Peter 4 : 5 - 6
One elder suggested this may also have some connection with the ascending captives in Ephesians 4 :  8.

2.  Death was the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor 15 : 26) and so when death disappears, there can only be life remaining.

3.  Two "opposing" Scriptures were raised by one elder - the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 , and Matthew 25 : 46.
Although I was accused of ignoring or dismissing a part of the Bible, I tried to explain that the Luke 16 parable is a perfect example of the gulf between the righteous and unrighteous in the Old Covenant era before Jesus provided the means to bridge that gulf, and should not be used to form our post-Jesus' death and resurrection theological views.
I also mentioned there were translation-to-English difficulties and inconsistencies associated with Matthew 25 : 46 and suggested it was better to allow verses that were clear and undisputed to form our theological views, rather than problem ones.  Even so, I believe the Greek of this verse does not introduce the difficulties that are caused in the English, and therefore this verse is not such a strong "opposing" verse at all.

I trust this is an accurate record of the study we did.  I didn't have any notes, nor did I take any during the meeting.  We just skipped through the NT quickly as I did not wish to waste any of the time I had been allotted.

In trying to sum up our different views in the simplest way, I suggested that while the elders believed that punishment in hell was forever, I believed it was not, and was for the purpose of restoring the Father's wayward children, as all loving parental discipline should be. One elder openly agreed that this was the bottom line difference between us.  In any case, the length of time God's wayward children might spend in hell is hardly a core belief-issue for Christians, so whether we agree on this issue or not must not become the cause of any lack of love, respect or fellowship between us.  Barry

Shoot the Messenger

Here I am, back writing sooner than I thought I would be.

As you know I am interstate looking after a church while its pastors are away on holidays. I had four sermons to preach and I planned to use the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost sons from Luke 15 as their underlying theme.  The four messages were to focus on (1) the loving and forgiving father, (2) the behaviour and fate of the two sons, (3) a more appropriate response from the elder brother (personal mission) and (4) the mission of the local church.

In my first message I aimed to paint the biggest picture of God I could and to invite the church to paint their own personal biggest picture.
I preached about the correct meaning of "prodigal" and how the father was so prodigal in his attitude and behaviour - recklessly extravagant with his love, forgiveness, grace, restoration, etc.
I applied this to God, while pointing out that most Christians don't see God with such prodigality as Jesus' parables paint Him.
To illustrate, I briefly described Calvinism and Arminianism, and showed how these two most common Christian positions fell short in their views of God compared with the views expressed in Luke 15.
I then shared my own view of God as a God of unconditional love and sovereignty who could and would do whatever was necessary to ensure that all of his children eventually returned home.
I finished by encouraging the church to create their own biggest view of God.

The response was interesting.
Several people clapped when I finished speaking.
Several others came and thanked me for a message they "really needed to hear".
A couple came and asked questions because the thought that God might eventually get all of his children home was new to them and they wanted to know more, and a couple of others came and politely said they disagreed with that view.
The elders requested me to attend a meeting as they said many people were upset with this idea, it had caused division in the church and some were not going to return to the church until I was no longer in the pulpit to share such ideas.

At the subsequent elders meeting, which was cordial and respectful, I was told I could not continue my preaching assignment and indeed, it would be better for the congregation if I didn't even attend the church in the remaining time I was in town.
After agreeing to these, and since there had been no discussion up to this point of my offending view, just that it had caused problems, I asked if we could discuss the view, or at least if I could share the Biblical basis for my view and was politely, but cautiously, given a short time to do so.  Disappointingly, one elder, in reluctantly giving assent to my request, also said that whatever I said or showed him would make no difference to his opinion -  a sad opening statement to a study of the Scriptures by the spiritual leaders of the church.

One elder recorded the verses I shared, one other said he would like to give them some more thought, the others remained fairly silent.  I was asked a few questions, one of which was how this view of God and his possible success had changed my life, and I think they were surprised that my answer included my increased motivation for sharing the gospel with those who are currently lost.  (I will put the verses I shared with the elders in a separate post, as this one is getting too long.)

The whole episode has been a sad and disappointing one, and given that "the length of time wayward children might spend in hell" is hardly a core belief-issue for Christians, I guess I was as surprised as I was saddened by the elders' dramatic response and the course of action they took without even discussing the matter with me.

I would have expected such a strong reaction and subsequent course of action if I had shared an idea that belittled God or discounted the work of Jesus on the cross in some way, but getting that response after sharing an idea that enhances our concept of God's love and grace and which gives Christ's work on the cross its fullest possible scope and effect really surprised me in a Christian church, and especially one that so openly and frequently preaches grace.

Why am I sharing all this with you?

As much as you may be convinced of the love and sovereignty of God, and of his success in restoring all his creation to himself eventually, there are many who find more comfort in a lesser and less successful God and will emotionally and vehemently defend that position no matter what. 
If you are brave enough to publicly state your belief that Jesus does indeed save the world, as He came to do, be prepared to duck for cover if there are good Calvinists or Evangelicals nearby.

Personally though, although I have been so saddened and disappointed, I have had this incredible peace on the inside, which just has to be God's doing.  Barry

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Let's do some thinking

Hi Guys and Gal
Lying in bed this morning, I was thinking about how to make it easier for you to generate some discussion on the blogsite (assuming you might want to) while I am otherwise engaged these next few weeks.
Since all of you are parents and have raised at least one child, I thought I would pose a series of questions that you might consider, and hopefully some discussion material might pop out at the end.

Do you love your kids?
Do/did you ever discipline them?
What is/was the purpose of your discipline?
How severe is/was your discipline?
Does/did it ever stop?
Does/did it achieve its purpose?

Does God love his children (the people who populate his earth)?
Does he ever discipline them?
What is the purpose of His discipline?
How severe is His discipline?
Does it ever stop?
Does it achieve its purpose?

What Bible stories, parables, verses might support your answers?
What Bible stories, parables, verses might challenge your answers?

Use the Post a Comment link below to share the thoughts that pop out of your considering this.

Monday, August 23, 2010

On "Vacation"

Sorry Guys and Gal
But I am going to give this a rest for a couple of months, unless some spare time unexpectantly turns up.
I am preparing a series of sermons for a stint to help out in Cairns next month and will need to keep focussed on that preparation.  I have a couple of posts half-ready, and if I get the chance, I will finish them, but I am just sending out a warning that nothing fresh may appear for a while.

But that should not stop YOU from making some comments and having some discussion on the posts already there.
Haven't heard much from you great scholars so far........ so how about it....?
I will have the time to read what you write and make spontaneous comments on it.

Blessings all, Barry

Friday, August 13, 2010

Where Do We Start to Form our Biblical Views?

Since I am still away from home and on holidays with friends, I have not had the "privacy" to do any serious study or to write a well-thought through post.  But I have been doing a lot of thinking in the "privacy" of my mind, so I am writing this from some of that thinking.

Most Bible students try to understand the Bible and form their theological views using two rules:
1.  Allow the clear, straight forward verses to help us understand the meaning of difficult or more complex verses.
2.  Force the interpretation of verses that challenge a particular theological view we hold into harmony with the verses that support our already-formed view.

The first of these seems sound and sensible, so I won't comment on it any further.
The second raises some problems.

Firstly, it raises the prospect of us using our current understanding (theology) as the only determiner of the meaning of some difficult verses, thus hiding other possible views from our consideration.
Secondly, it raises the possibility of starting with the wrong set of verses to determine our theology and then trying to make everything else fit.

Let me give an example of this second problem that is very relevant to the topic of this blogsite.

Most people use the verses that describe God's judgement and punishment to form the view that all those who do not get to hear about Jesus and accept him as Saviour before they leave this planet will be tormented in hell forever. We shall call these the judgement-punishment verses - JP verses.

The verses that talk of God's salvation for all and promise that He will be glorified in all things at the end of the ages are paraphrased or interpreted to fit that torment-hell view.  We shall call these the universal reconciliation verses - UR verses.

Mainstream christianity always seems to start with the JP verses and the torment-hell conclusions they invite and either ignore the UR verses or interpret them in a way to fit.  There seem to be very few people who start with the UR verses and the obvious conclusions they demand, and try to interpret the JP verses in a way that is consistent with these conclusions.

Let's be more specific.
JP verses include verses like .....
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them." [John 3 : 36 TNIV]
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." [Matt 25 : 46 TNIV]
"Then I saw a great white throne ..... The dead were judged according to what they had done ..... All whose names were not found written in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire." [Rev 20 : 11 - 15 TNIV]

UR verses include verses like .....
"As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." [1 Cor 15 : 22 TNIV]
"..... we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe." [1 Tim 4 : 10 TNIV]
"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. [1 John 2 : 2 TNIV]

Taking a particular example, readers starting with Rev 20 : 11 - 15 quickly draw the conclusion that unbelievers will be tormented in hell forever.  They then paraphrase 1 Cor 15 : 22 so that it reads something like "For as in Adam all die, so all who are in Christ will be made alive." to fit in with their conclusion from Rev 20, and not contradict it.

However, readers who start with 1 Cor 15 : 22 and draw the conclusion that everyone will be saved eventually, then see all of God's judgements and punishments, even the lake of fire, as remedial and, like all good parents, God is using these to produce better attitudes and behaviours and attitudes in His children so that their relationship with Him will eventually be restored.

So where is our starting point?  Do we start with a God of unconditional love who desires all his children to be saved and in relationship with him eventually, or with God as an angry, vengeful judge who will punish forever his rebellious children (and those of his children who have never heard of Jesus)?

Is the gospel we proclaim one of good news for all, or a mixture of good news for some and very bad news for others?

Jesus said the truth will set us free.  Does the truth of Jesus' death and resurrection set all of his creation free, or only those chosen to belong to Him during their short lives on this planet?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What is Hell?

Today I am in Adelaide on holiday with our friends, Trevor and Nita Cole.  Scanning the magazine section of The Adelaide Advertiser I came across a review of a new book called "The Big Mo", with the subtitle "Why Momentum Now Rules the World", by Mark Roeder.
This really clicked with me, especially while thinking about writing this post.

The popular concept of 'hell', including the view held by mainstream christianity, has gained its own momentum since Augustine got the ball rolling centuries and centuries ago.

It's a bit like the word 'Jesus'.  If you asked an "unchurched" child (a child uneducated about such things) what the word 'Jesus' means, you would most likely get the answer that it is something you say when you get angry or when things aren't going your way.  This would not have been the answer of a generation or two ago, but the momentum of the last few decades would certainly make it so now.

So what is 'hell'?

The common view is that 'hell' is a place of fiery torment where God sends "bad" people forever to execute His justice on them and to appease His wrath.
Even mainstream christianity agrees with this view, while simultaneously declaring that God is love and unconditionally loves all of His creation.

Most people would say that this is the view of the church, and they would be right.  Most people would also say that this is the view of the Bible, but, in this case, they would be wrong.
So let's find the correct or original meaning of the English word 'hell'.

Dictionaries are designed to give the meanings of words as they are used in society.  They are not definitive authorities on the correct meanings of words, but are reporters of the popular and current use of language.  Some dictionaries also give older and even obsolete meanings and uses of words as well, and many discuss word origins and their histories.
Let's see what says about 'hell'.

–- Used as a Noun
1. the place or state of punishment of the wicked after death; the abode of evil and condemned spirits; Gehenna or Tartarus.
2. any place or state of torment or misery: They made their father's life a hell on earth.
3. something that causes torment or misery: Having that cut stitched without anesthesia was hell.
4. the powers of evil.
5. the abode of the dead; Sheol or Hades.
6. extreme disorder or confusion; chaos: The children let both dogs into the house, and all hell broke loose.
7. heck.
8. a receptacle into which a tailor throws scraps.
9. Also called hellbox. Printing. a box into which a printer throws discarded type.
10. the utterance of 'hell' in swearing or for emphasis.
11. the hell, Informal.
    a. (used as an intensifier to express surprise, anger, impatience, etc.): Why the hell can't the trains run on time?
    b. (used sarcastically or ironically to express the opposite of what is being stated): Are you listening to me? The hell you are!
–- Used as an Interjection
12. (used to express surprise, irritation, disgust, etc.)

-- Used as a Verb Phrase
13. hell around, Slang.  to live or act in a wild or dissolute manner: All they cared about was drinking and helling around. 

-- Used as an Idiom
14. be hell on, Slang.
    a. to be unpleasant to or painful for.
    b. to be harmful to: These country roads are hell on tyres.
15. for the hell of it, Informal.
    a. to see what will happen; for adventure, fun, excitement, etc.: For the hell of it, let's just get on the next bus and see where it takes us.
    b. with no particular purpose; for no special reason: I called him up for the hell of it, and he offered me a job.
16. get/catch hell, Slang. to suffer a scolding; receive a harsh reprimand: We'll get hell from our parents for staying out so late again.
17. give someone hell, Informal.  to reprimand or reproach severely.
18. go to hell in a handbasket. Informal.
19. hell on wheels, Slang.  extremely demanding, fast-paced, aggressive, effective, or the like: The new job is hell on wheels. Our sales staff is hell on wheels when it comes to getting the most out of every account.
20. like hell, Informal.
    a. with great speed, effort, intensity, etc.: We ran like hell to get home before the storm. She tried like hell to get him to change his mind.
    b. (used sarcastically or ironically to express the opposite of what is being stated): He says the motor will never break down? Like hell it won't!
21. play hell with, Slang.  to deal recklessly with; bring injury or harm to: Snowstorms played hell with the flow of city traffic.
22. raise hell, Slang.
    a. to indulge in wild celebration.
    b. to create an uproar; object violently to: She'll raise hell when she sees what your rabbit has done to her garden.
23. the/to hell with, Informal.  (used to express dismissal, rejection, contempt, disappointment, or the like): If we have to walk five miles to see the view, the hell with it! He wouldn't even speak to me, so to hell with him!
24. what the hell, Informal.  (used to express lack of concern or worry, indifference, abandonment, surrender, etc.): As long as you're borrowing $100, what the hell, borrow $200.

Amazingly, in defintion 5, an original meaning of 'hell' is still listed, although I rarely hear it used this way today.
The original meaning of 'hell' means the concealed or covered or invisible place, and therefore the abode of the dead, or the grave, having been derived from the Saxon word 'helan' meaning 'to cover' or 'to hide'. 

Irish potato farmers regularly talked of helling their potatoes, meaning to mount dirt on them, or to dig holes and bury them, so hiding or covering them.  Even today we still use the word 'helmet', which is a perfect example of the use of this meaning to convey a covering or hiding of the head.

Isn't it amazing how this correct meaning has been almost lost and completely overtaken by an incorrect one, and how this incorrect one has totally infiltrated our language and is used whenever a concept of harm or mayhem is being expressed?

Using the original definition, 'hell', or 'the grave', is then the correct translation of any Hebrew or Greek word used in the Bible that means hidden or concealed or covered, or where these meanings are inferred.  'Sheol' in Hebrew and 'Hades' in Greek should therefore be translated 'hell' (correctly understood) or, better still, 'the grave' while we are trying to rid people of their incorrect understanding of the meaning of 'hell'.

There is no connection with punishment or everlasting torment or fiery judgement.  Even Job said he preferred going to sheol (hell or the grave) rather than staying on earth experiencing God's wrath.

If only you would hide me in the grave (sheol) and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me! [Job 14 : 13 NIV]

The more modern translations have corrected the confusion caused by the KJV in translating 'sheol', but have usually allowed the confusion with 'hades' to remain.
As an aside, it's interesting to note that the translators of the King James Version, steeped in the mainstream understanding of 'hell' as a place of never-ending torment, often translated 'sheol' as 'the grave' when referring to good people and 'hell' when referring to bad people. 

The translation of 'sheol' and 'hades' is easy to sort out with a good Bible dictionary.  The real problems arise when 'hell' is used to translate two other Greek New Testament words.  We'll look at these words and their English translations in another post.

In the meantime, 'hell' is correctly a place of concealment, a place hidden or invisible to others, the abode of the dead in relation to those still on the planet. So whenever we notice the word 'hell' or 'the grave' in our English Bibles, if it is a translation of 'sheol' or 'hades', we can be assured they are correct translations, provided we have the correct definition of 'hell' in mind.