Battles Rage Within – Teaching

Last week we discussed our concept of Heaven. This week, we examine the next logical topic: Hell.

Quote

This week’s quote reminds us, come what may, we always have a choice.

“Whatever comes our way…
Whatever battle rages within us…
We always have a choice.
It’s our choices that make us who we are.
We can always choose what’s right.”
~Spiderman 3

 Thoughts

Last week we talked about concepts that we’ve been raised with – and that have been ingrained in our thinking and our faith. Just as we’ve been taught that if we’re “good” we go to heaven, we’ve been taught that if we don’t measure up we are sentenced to an eternity of fiery punishment. However, just as heaven is a spiritual state of consciousness, so is Hell.

Errors in Translation

Let’s look first at some of the errors in translation that have occurred over time. Did you know that in 1631 A.D. a Bible was printed giving the commandment, “Thou shalt commit adultery.”? (They forgot the word “not,” and thus the translation became known as The Sinner’s Bible.) There’s also a version that changed “no” to “on” and reads, “Go and sin on more.” Obviously, when humans get involved, mistakes are made.

Even the words we have used can be mistranslated or misinterpreted. For instance, the original word used in the Old Testament was Sheol. Sheol was a place all people went upon death. There was no fire or torment associated with Sheol. It was a shadowy and dim place without the Spirit of Life. Mr. Fischer says, “The terms spirit and soul are not used in connection with Sheol. Since we can also conclude that the body did not go to Sheol, it is difficult to know just what part of the person made this journey. In the original concept of Sheol, those who were there had no activity at all and could feel neither pain nor pleasure. Existence there was a dreamlike sort of thing.”

In the New Testament, one of the words used was Gehenna – referring to the Valley of Hinnom. This was a deep ravine used to burn garbage, refuse, and dead animals. It also became the site where infants were sacrificed in the worship of a god known as Molech. Because the fires burned constantly, it was sometimes referred to as “eternal fire.” Another word used was Hades. Hades, in Greek, literally means an unseen place; covered, concealed, or hidden. So, Hades is, quite simply, someplace we can’t see, touch, smell, taste, or hear. In its original form, Hades never meant “Hell” as formulated in our minds today.

 Power and Control

Augustine lived from 354-430 A.D. It is thanks to him that the concept Hell took on its present picture in our minds. Augustine, before his conversion to Christianity, was a Manichaean. Manichaeans believed in a dualistic theology – everything had two sides: good and evil, light and darkness. There was no supreme, all-loving God. They believed that all non-Manichaeans were condemned to an eternity of torment and anguish until the end of the world when they would be thrown into “hell.” When Augustine converted to Christianity, his view of hell and torment for non-believers was so ingrained that he superimposed that believe onto the Christian teachings.

As man came to power within the church, and human ego being what it is, it’s easy to see how the concept of condemning people to Hell could be used to keep people in submission. With time, this became the standard teaching that still exists today.

Another mistranslation is “everlasting.” The original word in Greek was “aion,” from which our English word eon is derived. Eon simply means an indeterminate, but finite, length of time. It has a beginning and an end – we just don’t know how long the time in between the beginning and the end is going to be. So, the concept of an eternal torment in Hell is entirely of man’s construct, a product of our ego, our limited language, and is based on our own mistranslations and misinterpretations.

Hell on Earth

As with Heaven, rather than a “place” or a “destination,” Hell is an experience of life. We’ve all “been through hell and back.” Like Heaven, hell is a state of consciousness. As Mr. Fischer says when he quotes Dr. James Fischer, “The tortures of hell are not in the core of the earth, but in the very core of life.” When we allow our thoughts and emotions to degenerate enough, our experiences reflect the degredation of our true spiritual nature.

In the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, Charles Fillmore writes:

“One does not have to die in order to go to hell, any more than one has to die to go to heaven. Both are states of mind, and conditions, which people experience as a direct outworking of their thoughts, beliefs, words, and acts. If one’s mental processes are out of harmony with the law of man’s being, they result in trouble and sorrow; mental as well as bodily anguish overtakes one, and this is hell.”

Continuing with Mr. Fischer, “We have all been taught that through our behavior we choose whether we shall experience heaven or hell. This is true; but this refers to now, not to some afterlife. It is a contemporary experience. If any one of us is going to experience hell, we can be sure that it will be during his or her earthly lifetime. When the Old Testament writers referred to Sheol, it was to a grave rather than to an eternal destination. Likewise, when we experience hell now, it is as if we have buried ourselves with trouble. We have shut ourselves out from all the light and beauty that life is. Somehow, we have made the choice not to express the mystical qualities of God. This is to lie in the grave of negation. It is our right to do this, since God has given us free will. But it is also our right not to. It is our right, through our divine heritage, to let ourselves be the free and open channels through which divine qualities of Spirit may express beauty. This is to refuse hell on earth.”

Closing Thoughts

Yes, we have all been given free will. And, as our quote says, whatever happens, whatever battles are raging within us, we always have a choice. We can choose the path to Heaven – focusing on love, kindness, compassion, beauty, forgiveness, etc. Or, we can choose the path to Hell – focusing on hate, anger, vengeance, darkness, revenge, violence, etc. The choice is ours alone. Our future is one of our making. Our thoughts and our actions determine who we are, and who we will become. Can others commit heinous acts that involve and impact us? Yes! And, in so doing, they manifest Hell on Earth. But, no matter what happens, we always have the choice in how to respond, how we’re going to let those actions impact us and affect the rest of our lives. It’s those choices that determine who we are – and we can always choose to do what’s right.

Scripture

There are so many Scriptures that one can turn to, instead of trying to list them all, I’m referencing a few websites that go into this subject in much greater detail:

  • http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/ifhellisreal.htm
  • http://www.goodnewsaboutgod.com/studies/hellfire2.htm
  • http://www.goodnewsaboutgod.com/studies/forever2.htm
  • http://www.mainemediaresources.com/mpl_fireinhell.htm
  • http://www.secretevangel.com/

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Battles Rage Within – Quote

Continuing our discussion, moving from last week’s topic of Heaven, we turn now to the next logical topic – Hell.

Quote

“Whatever comes our way…
Whatever battle rages within us…
We always have a choice.
It’s our choices that make us who we are.
We can always choose what’s right.”
~Spiderman 3

You’re invited to join us Sunday for Worship and Fellowship.

Planting Seeds – Teaching

Our discussion this week brings us to the topic of Heaven.

Quote

“Tomorrow’s flowers grow from the seeds we plant today.”
~Unknown

Thoughts

Common Concepts

What comes to mind when you think of heaven? Most of us, based on what we’ve been told and taught, picture an idyllic place, somewhere “up there.” We’ve been taught that heaven is somewhere up in the sky, and that hell is somewhere below us, “down there.”

When we think of heaven, we picture angels and harps, lots of white and gold, immense beauty, and complete peace. We probably also picture all of this set behind tall pearly white gates, guarded by St. Peter himself.

It’s interesting to note that nowhere in the Bible is Peter associated with guarding the gates of heaven. There’s only one passage, Matthew 16:19, which references the “keys to the kingdom.” However, as we’ll talk about in more detail at another time, this statement probably refers to the spiritual keys representing the knowledge and power of Christ.

Heaven, as depicted, is the ultimate goal. We all want to go to heaven. It all sounds so wonderful, who wouldn’t want to go there? Unfortunately, we’ve also been taught that in order to get to heaven, we must die. Though we desire heaven, most of us aren’t ready and willing to die just yet. In fact, there’s a line in a country-western song that goes, “Lord, I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to go tonight.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could experience heaven without having to die first? Maybe we can…

Somewhere Up There

At the time the ancient texts were written, the prevailing knowledge was that the earth was flat. It was also believed that the earth was the center of the universe, as it was understood, and that everything revolved and rotated around the earth. It made sense, then, that heaven would be “above” and hell would be “below.”

Genesis 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Given what we now know about the galaxies, universes, and the absolute vastness of space, it’s clear that the earth is not separate, but a part of the heavens.  If the earth were central and heaven was “up there,” now that we know the earth is round, we have a problem. Someone standing in the United States, when looking up, is looking in a completely opposite direction than someone standing on the other side of the planet. Our “up” is their “down.” Of course, this could simply mean that heaven is all around us so that no matter where on the planet one is standing, heaven is everywhere “out there.” This still presupposes that the earth is somehow at the center.

Genesis 1:15-17 tells how the sun, moon, planets, and stars are part of heaven. What happens when we send an astronaut into space? If the planets, sun, moon, starts, etc. are part of heaven, then an astronaut standing on the moon would be standing in heaven. We know from our astronauts’ experiences that there were no angels, no harps, no gates – no “place” visibly seen as heaven within the vastness of space. And, those same astronauts, standing on the moon, looking back at the earth would clearly see the earth not as separate, but as a part of “the heavens.”

So Where Did Heaven Go?

Jesus was specific when he spoke of heaven. In Matthew 10:7 He says, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”; and in Luke 17:21 He says, “The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” This means that heaven is here and now, not something to be experienced only after we die. The phrase “heaven on earth” comes to mind.

Experience Not Destination

So, if we are in the midst of the Kingdom of God, what is it? In the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, Charles Fillmore writes:

“The kingdom of heaven, or of the heavens, is a state of consciousness in which the soul and the body are in harmony with Divine Mind. Teachers of metaphysics find that their most difficult work is getting students to recognize that heaven is a condition of the mind. Jesus evidently experienced like difficulty in making Himself understood, which accounts for the numerous parables and comparisons that He gave of the kingdom. These were all illustrative of some condition pertaining to the kingdom, and never did He describe it as a place located in some distant realm.”

In Alternatives, Mr. Fischer says, “This means that heaven is a state of consciousness in which we have so elevated our thoughts and feelings that they are in complete harmony with the Spirit of God within us. ‘Entering’ the kingdom of heaven is an experience that any one of us can have here and now.”

We’ve talked before about being created in the image and likeness of God; and how the Spirit of God dwells within us. If God is in heaven, and God is within us, then logic would indicate heaven is also within us. Mr. Fischer goes on to say:

“The kingdom of heaven in us is the estate of perfect spiritual consciousness. It is that part of us where the supreme qualities of Spirit lie in waiting – waiting for us to allow them to find expression through us. These are the qualities of perfect love, peace, joy, health, courage, and all other expressions that represent the truly spiritual life. But these qualities are dormant until we consent to express them in our personal, spiritual character.”

Experienced Through Prayer

We can accomplish this through prayer. We must remove all of our mental obstructions and affirm these spiritual qualities in our consciousness. We must remove all doubt; we must have deep and abiding faith (i.e. trust) in the manifestation of perfect peace, love, joy, kindness, compassion, etc. in order to have the total experience. We must also be receptive. “We must be so receptive to the idea that God-qualities are coming to awareness in our personal consciousness that we find it impossible to harbor any doubt or fear to the contrary.”

Closing Thoughts – Planting the Seeds

Returning back to our quote, the spiritual experience is planting the seeds of these inner qualities into the soil of our minds. By maintaining a favorable attitude, these ideas and qualities germinate, sprout, grow, and bear fruit. The fruit is our experience. When we plant the seeds of love, forgiveness, kindness, peace, joy, etc., we attract these same qualities into our lives. We each have the power to sow the seeds of the spiritual qualities that will manifest heaven on earth.

Scripture

  • Matthew 16:19
  • Genesis 1:1
  • Genesis 1:15-17
  • Matthew 10:7
  • Luke 17:21

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In Remembrance of Me – Teaching

Our discussion this week brings us to one of the “most common doctrinal controversies” – Holy Communion. Virtually every church that celebrates Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, feels its way is the only way. Their way is the only “truth.”

This is why I chose the quote for this week. Albert Einstein said:

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up a judge in the field of truth and knowledge
is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
~Criminal Minds Episode

Thoughts

The debates over the “truth” of Communion have been going on for centuries. Should the wine be mixed (with water) or unmixed? Should the bread be leavened or unleavened? The Catholic and Episcopal Churches use wafers; while many Protestant Churches use cut loaves of bread. Some feel only wine is acceptable; others feel that grape juice is sufficient. Then there’s the issue of standing, kneeling or sitting.

Added to the “how” is the “who” – who is permitted to partake in the feast of Holy Communion? And, how often?

In the early Catholic Church, children were allowed to receive Communion. Today, in addition to being baptized, they must go through Confirmation. Additionally, no one is invited to partake unless they have been baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic faith. On the other hand, in many churches, all that’s required is a profession of faith and the desire to partake.

In some churches, only the clergy receive both the bread and the wine. Everyone else simply receives the bread. In others, everyone receives both bread and wine.

As to how often – many churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week; some only once a month. And, still others reserve the Feast for special times of year, like Christmas and Easter.

A main controversy also has to do with the nature of Communion itself. Roman Catholics, and others, believe in the transubstantiation – the bread and the wine actually become the body and the blood of Jesus. Others who, quite frankly, find the concept of transubstantiation to be akin to cannibalism, see Communion as commemorative – “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) And, some churches, like the Quakers, no longer celebrate Holy Communion at all.

The Debate Goes On

In 1950, a committee was created at the World Council of Churches in Evanston, Illinois. The committee’s sole purpose was to study and discuss ways to standardize the practice of celebrating Holy Communion. The committee was given a period of ten years. As of 1979, when Alternatives was first published (almost 30 years later), no standardized plan had been developed, much less accepted and adopted.

I find it interesting that of the four Synoptic Gospels, only Luke includes the statement, “do this in remembrance of me.” Mark and Matthew do not include this instruction. Neither Mark nor Matthew seem to indicate the Celebration of the Feast as something to be ongoing. John is completely silent on the subject.

As with many topics of debate, one can find scripture to validate one’s point of view as the “truth.” When researching this topic, I found numerous websites pointing to Scripture that validating many different opinions. Maybe, as Einstein says, we shouldn’t be putting ourselves in the position of judging in the field of truth lest we be shipwrecked. Maybe we need to realize that the celebration of Holy Communion is a deeply personal, spiritual experience.

Jesus said, “the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” For me, Communion is very personal. And, I relate very much to the sentiments of Mr. Fischer:

Let’s consider the sacraments, in a deep sense. Wine represents blood, and blood represents life. Therefore, wine is symbolic of the Life of God coursing through our bodies. Bread represents the body of Christ, and this in turn Is representative of divine substance. If the flesh profits nothing and the words are the important thing, why not observe communion by using our words in prayer? Since communion is concerned with the life and substance of God, then a real communion service is a prayer time when we appropriate more of divine life and substance into our lives.

Mr. Fischer goes on to describe Communion as a very personal thing, not necessarily something that must be observed in a formal church service. On this, I agree. Communion is often celebrated in homes, hospitals, places of healing, etc. And, it’s important to remember that celebrating the Feast is not something that requires clergy. There is no Scriptural instruction that the Lord’s Supper must be presided over by a member of the clergy. The heart and the mind are what’s required.

Now, Mr. Fischer indicates that we could easily substitute a personal and private Communion for that which we celebrate when we come together. I would submit that it is not something we should do “instead of,” but “in addition to.” Whether alone or as part of a formal service, what’s important is the prayerful experience with God and with Jesus. In this, I like what Mr. Fischer has to say:

“As you take time to have a real communion experience, you must become very still. In the dynamics of your silence, begin to think of the life and substance of God becoming more evident in every aspect of your life. Affirm for yourself that God’s life is a powerful, divine element flowing through you, strengthening and energizing your body. God’s life gives you a greater sense of service and a desire to be of greater benefit to others. In this rarefied consciousness of God working through you, you become more aware of His substance as evidenced in every aspect of your life. This substance represents more of everything in life that is for your highest good. Your life is mightily blessed.”

This, to me, is the essence of “remembrance of me.” Jesus’ life was powerful, a source of strength, one of service and benefit to others. When we connect, or Commune, with God and Jesus in this way; when we transform our lives into lives of service to others; when we become a source of strength to others – that’s when we live up to our statement of remembrance.

Closing Thoughts

We may never agree on the who, what, where, when, and how. We each must be free to celebrate our Lord’s Supper in the manner which is true for us. We must also be careful, however, not to judge others in how they choose to celebrate according to their truth. Whether in a formal service or not, whether bread or wafers, wine or juice, what matters most is the spiritual experience between ourselves, God, and Jesus. What matters is remembering Him, what He stood for, what He represents in our lives, and how we can make Him come alive through us. As Mr. Fischer says, “This is a life-changing experience. What could be more inspiring?”

Scripture

  • Luke 22:19
  • John 6:63

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Feel free to share your thoughts. And, if this message resonates with you, please feel free to share it with others.

In Remembrance of Me – Quote

One of the most debated subjects within the Christian faith is that of Holy Communion. Virtually every church that takes a position claims its way is “the way.” This week, we’ll examine this important aspect of our faith.

Quote

Whoever undertakes to set himself up a judge in the field of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.
~Criminal Minds Episode (Albert Einstein)

You are cordially invited to join us Sunday for worship and fellowship.

Born Again: Transcending Self – Teaching

Moving forward with Alternatives, we come to the chapter of Baptism. On the surface, our quote may seem completely unrelated to our topic. Upon reflection, however, I feel it is completely applicable – and bears witness to the desired result of baptism.

Quote

“The ultimate choice for a man, in as much as he is given to transcend himself,
is to create or destroy, to love or to hate.”
~Criminal Minds Episode (Eric Fromm)

Thoughts

The act of baptism is an important part of the Christian faith. Many churches believe that the only “true” baptism is by immersion. Others believe that pouring or sprinkling is sufficient. And, some don’t place any particular importance on baptism at all.

Baptism generally has two purposes: to symbolize the dedication of a life to spiritual ideals (baptism of children) and to cleanse or purify. To cleanse or purify by water is demonstrated by the acts of John the Baptist. This type of baptism, or cleansing, symbolizes the washing away of the old. The Greek word ‘baptizo’ means to dip. However, the same root word is also used for ceremonial washings. Ceremonial washing, baptismos, were done by sprinkling. Hebrews 9:10 cites “various washings.” And Hebrews 9:19 & 21 refer to being cleansed by the sprinkling of blood. In Acts 9:18, Paul was in the house with Ananias, the scales fell from his eyes, he arose, and was baptized. There is no indication that they left the home. Being inside a house, it’s unlikely Paul was immersed. So, for those who believe immersion is the only way to baptize, that’s fine, for them. And, for those who believe pouring or sprinkling is acceptable, there’s biblical evidence that would indicate this to also be valid.

What’s more important, to me, than the symbolic act of water baptism, is the spiritual aspect. When one has a deep and committed faith, and chooses to accept Jesus as Lord, and wishes to lead his or her life according to the Christian ideals, then the act of baptism takes on a whole new meaning. John the Baptist said that he baptized with water, but that one would follow him who would baptize with fire – the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It’s interesting to note that though he himself was baptized with water, there is no indication that Jesus ever baptized anyone else in this fashion. Jesus’ baptism was that of the Holy Spirit. The disciples spiritual baptism occurred when Jesus breathed on them and said, “…Recieve the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) When one is baptized by the Holy Spirit, it is an extremely personal and life-changing experience.

To quote Mr. Fischer, “Rather than being a ritual or ceremony formally endorsed by the church and administered by it, baptism can be understood as an intrinsically personal experience that occurs within us. In its deepest sense, baptism is a prayer experience with Spirit, an intimate dialogue between an individual and God…Let us first consider the idea of purification. This is what is implied in Jesus’ comment that we need to be born of water. To be born of water is to remove from our consciousness the impurities of negation.

We do this through the prayer-process called denial. Denial is the means by which we mentally, emotionally, and verbally refuse to allow anything that would impede our spiritual growth to remain in our minds. As long as such negation remains, we cannot have the spiritual experience of true baptism…Jesus also spike of the necessity of being born of the Spirit. This means that it is necessary to instill spiritual qualities into our consciousness to such an extent that they are automatically reflected in our lives. The way we do this is through the prayer-process called affirmation. In affirmation we declare for ourselves the establishment of great ideals.”

Many, like Mr. Fischer, feel that water baptism is of John, and that spiritual baptism was Jesus’ method. Though true, I do differ from Mr. Fischer on the concept that baptism is purely a personal experience. While I acknowledge that the belief, intent, and desire is deeply personal, I believe there is great value in the symbolism of baptism. There is a line in several of the wedding ceremonies I perform which acknowledges the importance of the public ceremony because it “outwardly symbolizes the inward commitment.” When one has made an inward commitment to Christ, and to living a life in pursuit of the Christian ideals, it is good that an outward symbol be made. This sort of public commitment demonstrates a sense of sincerity, enlists the support of fellow believers to help us on our path, and helps to keep us accountable to the commitment we are making.

Closing Thoughts

There are many schools of thought on the method of baptism – immersion, sprinkling, pouring, etc. Even with immersionists, there are differences – once forward, once backward, three times immersed, etc. Given the meanings of the original words, and how they were used, there is biblical evidence that would support both schools of thought. More important, to me, is the meaning and intent behind the act. When one chooses to be baptized as an outward symbol of the inward commitment, the commitment is what’s important. And, when one makes such a commitment, baptism by fire – the Holy Spirit, also occurs. In this act, we are making an inward commitment, and an outward declaration, to living a life with Christ as our Lord.

When we take Jesus into our hearts, when we live our lives accordingly, our commitment can, and should, change us. We swear less and speak kindly more; we judge less and become more tolerant; we hate less and love more. Letting our commitment change us means that we are truly born again. This is why I feel our quote bears witness to the desired result of baptism. When we are born again, we transcend our former selves, and we begin to make the choice to create and not destroy, to love and not to hate. In conclusion, I’ll quote Mr. Fischer again, “Spiritual baptism, that of Jesus Christ, is a time of becoming very quiet within yourself and being at peace with God…Let your mind be filled with the beauty and glory of God’s Spirit within you. Then you will be reborn into a new and exciting life.”

Scripture

  • Hebrews 9:10
  • Hebrews 9:19 & 21
  • Acts 9:18
  • John 20:22

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Born Again: Transcending Self – Quote

Our topic this week is Baptism. Our quote serves to remind us that in being born again, we transcend ourselves and become much more than we were before.

Quote

“The ultimate choice for a man, in as much as he is given to transcend himself,
is to create or destroy, to love or to hate.”
~Criminal Minds Episode (Eric Fromm)

Join us Sunday for worship and fellowship as we explore Baptism and what it is to be born again.