A Picture of Hell

The picture showed multiple columns of smoke billowing into great clouds of flame, ash, and dust behind what would typically be considered a sprawling urban neighborhood with houses lined up one after another. In the distance a helicopter could be seen flying in front of the roiling tumult showing the magnitude of the raging fiery torrent. The caption read, “Hell’s Doorstep,” an apt description.

The word “hell” is used today to describe anything from stubbing one’s toe to engaging in a combat operation. Frequently the word is used lightly with little or no gravity at all in respect to its subject matter. Comedians have used it routinely; the word is sprinkled generously in movies; and television hesitates not the slightest to throw it out if it will generate a mild guffaw.

In stark contrast, however, the use of it to describe the recent fires in California seemed appropriate. The intensity of the flames, the smoke enveloping darkness, the completely dismal portrait painted, all testified to exactly the kind of place described in the New Testament that awaits impenitent sinners.

Hell is not a popular subject. While a majority of Americans believe in heaven and believe they will go there, a far fewer number believe in hell. And even if they believe in hell, they don’t believe in a hell like the one described in the Bible. For many, the concept of hell is like some ill-advised fraternity where you’ll be mercilessly hazed for the rest of your life. While such a concept isn’t pleasant, it nowhere near approaches the truth the Bible reveals about hell.

Hell is described in Revelation 21:8 as “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Mark 9:43 describes it as a place of “unquenchable fire.” 2 Peter 2:4 describes it as “pits of darkness.” Matthew 25:46 says it is a place of “eternal punishment.” Jude 1:7 calls it “the punishment of eternal fire.” 2 Thessalonians 1:8 says that it is Christ’s “vengeance” “in flaming fire” upon those who “know not God, and that obey not the gospel.”

The pictures out of California this past week were stark. That is the exact image that we should consider when contemplating a life in rebellion to God. Let us not think that we can live rebelliously and escape God’s eternal retribution. While we extend our sympathies to the people who lost loved ones and property, let us, with sober minds, consider what kind of place hell truly is.

Posted in Kevin Cauley | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on A Picture of Hell

“Miracle Baby”

Several weeks ago there was a storm that went through the upper Midwest. The news reported that a tornado passed through a residential area and a baby was swept away. There’s no doubt that was an emotionally tumultuous evening for the family. However, after the storm was over, thankfully, the baby was found alive. There was tremendous relief to the parents and family of the child; the emotions were running high in the recovery of this child and we can certainly thank God for this child’s safety. Shortly after the baby was found, a headline was run on the Fox News channel, “Miracle Baby.”

What is so wrong in calling something a miracle? What is right about calling something a miracle? We don’t go around all day long calling everything a miracle. We recognize that certain events that occur in life are routine and happen by way of the natural course that life takes. God designed the world to work on a series of natural laws and these laws interact with each other and with us to ensure that we have a relatively stable world in which to live.

Gravity, for example, is one of God’s natural laws and it’s a great thing to have. It keeps our feet on the ground; it keeps our cars on the road; it keeps our refrigerator from coming into the bedroom during the middle of the night. I’m thankful for gravity! Natural law is the non-miraculous way God keeps the earth going.

There are times, however, when natural law appears to be suspended. For example, when a terminally ill cancer patient becomes better; when someone picks up a vehicle in order to free a trapped person underneath; or when a baby that has been swept up by a tornado or strong wind is found safe and sound. Such events are unexpected and unlikely. People see these events and pronounce them “miraculous.”

One of the dangers with saying that something is a miracle is attributing the event to God’s direct involvement. Three men once did this. They had a friend who lost all of his family under terrible circumstances, who lost all of his property to enemies who raided his lands, and who lost his health to the terrible disease. When they looked upon all of these improbably circumstances, they said, “God is punishing you!” God said to those men, “You’re wrong!” God hadn’t punished Job at all; Satan was the one who was responsible for Job’s suffering.

Another danger of this kind of thinking is concluding from the improbably events a good relationship with God. Someone once told me that he knew he had a good relationship with God because he had been saved from a falling brick wall and from pulling out into traffic in front of a semi-trailer truck. My question to him was, “How do you know that God wasn’t ‘saving’ you to give you time to repent!?” How do you know that Satan didn’t save you so that you would believe a lie?

Consider also that for every baby that is saved from a terrible event, there are dozens more that die. Where does this put God if the one He saved He did so by miracle? Does He not love the others enough to save them by miracle? The Bible teaches that the age of miracles has ceased ( 1 Corinthians 13:8-10). Working through natural law, however, God is fair to all; all are treated equally

Let us credit God for blessings received because as our creator, God is ultimately responsible for all things. However, let us not attribute actions to God that are beyond our knowledge. Doing so takes us away from God’s word. We walk on tenuous ground when we base our faith on our own presuppositions regarding improbable events. Faith, the Bible teaches, comes from hearing God’s word ( Romans 10:17). Let’s leave it at that.

Posted in Kevin Cauley | Tagged , | Comments Off on “Miracle Baby”

Losing Our Identity

We hear a lot today about identity theft. Unscrupulous fellows have found ways to discover the social security numbers, addresses, names, dates of birth, and other information related to one’s identity and used such things for nefarious purposes. In some cases individuals have become indebted overnight for cars, motor homes, and real estate because they lost control of their unique financial identity.

Psychologists also like to talk about identity. They’re referring to individualism or uniqueness. When one’s sense of purpose evaporates like the morning mist, they “don’t know who they are anymore” and they seek help to rediscover their identity.

Not too many years ago, a gospel preacher said that the churches of Christ were in an identity crisis. He said that we were going to have to change our identity if we wanted to be relevant in the modern world. To be fair, there are some cultural things within the church that may change as the culture changes. Architecture styles change over time; technology changes; fashion changes; the way the culture does business may change. On the other hand, there are some things which must never change if we are to maintain our identity as the church of Christ. Let’s consider a few of those things.

First, we must not change our worship. I’m not talking about what song book we use, the order of the activities, or whether we use Power Point or not. I’m talking about our actions in worship: prayer ( 1 Timothy 2:8), singing ( Ephesians 5:19, Hebrews 13:15), hearing/studying God’s word ( 2 Timothy 2:15), giving ( 2 Corinthians 8-9), and observing the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week ( Acts 20:7). This includes respecting God’s roles of authority for men and women in worship as well ( 1 Timothy 2:8ff). How we worship affects our relationship with God as His people because God demands those who worship Him to do so in spirit and truth ( John 4:23-24). The churches of Christ are unique in their worship and that uniqueness defines our identity.

Second, we must not change God’s plan of salvation. Some in “Christendom” have gone so far as to say that even faith in Christ isn’t necessary for salvation. Some teach that faith alone is necessary even rejecting repentance. Most believe that baptism is not necessary for salvation. The Bible clearly teaches, however, that baptism is prerequisite to salvation ( Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:1-11, Colossians 2:11-13, Galatians 3:27, 1 Peter 3:21). Hebrews 5:9 teaches that obedience is as much a part of God’s plan for man’s salvation as anything else. We must not change our teaching regarding the necessity of baptism in God’s plan for man’s salvation.

Third, we must not change what the Bible teaches regarding the church. The church is a necessary institution for which Jesus died and shed His blood ( Acts 20:28). There is only one body ( Ephesians 4:4) which is the church and Christ is its head ( Ephesians 1:22-23). It is not a body composed of many bodies ( 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). It has for leadership elders which is to say, shepherds (pastors) and bishops. These men are appointed based upon the scriptural qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The churches of the New Testament are also always represented as having a plural number of these governors, not just one. If how the local church is governed is simply a matter of opinion then anything goes in the church. We must not change God’s pattern for the organization of the church.

Fourth, we must not change what the Bible teaches regarding morality. “Christendom” has already abandoned Bible teaching on the above subjects and now we are seeing it abandon Bible morality as well. We must not change God’s teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage ( Matthew 19:6, 9). We must not change God’s teaching regarding sexuality. We must not change God’s teaching regarding pure speech and godly living. The doctrine of once saved, always saved has wreaked terrible havoc in the church. We must be faithful to the Lord and to His church in order to be saved ( Revelation 2:10). We must withdraw from those who refuse to live faithfully ( 2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Some churches of Christ are experiencing an identity crisis because they have compromised on exactly these things. It just goes to show that we only have an identity crisis insomuch as we lack desire to allow the Bible to rule. If we don’t know who we are then we haven’t been studying The Book. Identity crises come from knowledge crises and God’s word tells us that lack of knowledge destroys ( Hosea 4:6). Let us be zealous, study, and apply what we learn faithfully so that we may maintain our identity as the church of Christ.

Posted in Kevin Cauley | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Losing Our Identity