No Man Ever Spoke Like This Man!

One of my favorite little slices of the Bible occurs in John Chapter 7. It’s easy to miss a very interesting historical note that is quite striking when you see it.

In verse 32, it says, “…the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him.” That is, they sent the Temple Guards (who acted as police in cases like this) to grab Jesus and bring him to them.

What’s interesting is that the Pharisees and the “chief priests” (often Sadducees) were not buddies. But in their shared hatred for Jesus, they together called for his capture.

But what is stunning is what happens when the Temple Guards return later!

Keep in mind, it was the job of the Temple Guards to obey. To do their jobs.

They had found Jesus, and apparently listened to him for awhile. Among the things he said to the crowd were those wonderful words, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (He said this concerning the Holy Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive.)

Well, verses 45 and 46 pick up the end of this little excursion of the Temple Guards to capture Jesus:

“Then the officers  came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, ‘Why have you not brought Him?’

“The officers answered, ‘No man ever spoke like this Man!'”

That’s our Lord and Savior.

Where’s The Love of God?

“Does anyone know where the love of God goes, When the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

Those words are from the haunting ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Canadian Gordon Lightfoot.

I was 25 years old when the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in the icy waters of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975.

It seems to mean more to us folks from Michigan, because Michigan is the “mitten” smack in the middle of the Great Lakes, and has a long Lake Superior coastline on our Upper Peninsula.

In “honor” of that tragic event, I was listening in my car yesterday to the video below. Already saddened some by the recounting of the horror of that stormy windy watery death song, I was even more saddened when I heard the lines I had kinda forgotten were in the song:

“Does anyone know where the love of God goes, When the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

What’s so sad about that? Because it is an indictment against God (who IS love), and the author didn’t know the answer to the question. Sad.

The question has a clear and wonderful answer. But although it’s simple, it’s complicated. Do you know what I mean?

Do you know of anything that is simple, yet complicated? A car is an example. A car is complicated, requiring huge numbers of engineers, craftsmen, artists, and mechanics to build and run. Yet it’s simple. Get in, turn the key, drive off.

The love of God is similar. You probably know John 3:16 — “For God so LOVED the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Simple. Because God loves us, He gave Jesus, the Son of God, to died on the cross for our sins. Then He was buried and rose from the dead on the third day. And whoever believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is saved, has his sins forgiven, and will live with Him forever in heaven when he dies.

That’s the “Gospel”, the Good News.

But it’s complicated. Because behind that simple good news is the bad news that Adam sinned in the Garden, and we have all inherited his sin nature from birth (you don’t have to teach a baby to sin — it comes naturally).

And it’s because of that sin the Earth is no longer a paradise. It’s beautiful in many ways, but it has the horrible defect of sin which has marred it, and brought death, destruction, and yes, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The bad news is that every one of the 29 crew on that ship who rejected the love of God given in Jesus Christ, will suffer eternal punishment for their sins, and their rejection of the loving (but righteous and holy and just) God who made them.

That may rub you the wrong way. But if it does, it’s because you don’t know Him. If you knew Him, you would know that the love of God is always there. It’s permanent because it is the very nature of Him.

And you can only know Him through Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. “The wages of sin is [spiritual] death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”

The good news is that every one of the 29 crew on that ship who believed in Jesus, though they died physically, will have everlasting life with their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sin and it’s consequences are ugly. But the Lord is full of beauty — and full of love, even when the consequences of sin rage around us.

The love of God didn’t “go” anywhere. It’s always available through Jesus Christ.

This life is short even if you’re not sunk in a ship. Eternity is so much more important. Come to Jesus. He said, “Whoever will, may come to Me.”

Was “Saint” John Paul II A Great Spiritual Leader?

pope-john-paul-ii-sainthoodAs many of you know, Pope John Paul II was “canonized” or officially declared a “Saint” by the Roman Catholic Church, on May 1, 2011.

Aside from the fact that Sainthood cannot biblically be given by the Roman Catholic Church, as I pointed out here, because all true believers in Jesus Christ are called saints in the Bible, it seems a good time to revisit the question whether John Paul (or any Pope, in this context) can legitimately be called a great spiritual leader at all — having just celebrated Reformation Day (October 31).

The following is not meant as a personal attack on Catholic folks, many of whom are my friends and family whom I love, nor as a personal attack on John Paul, or Popes in general. I find the current Pope Francis to be a likable guy, despite his appalling theology, which is constantly at odds with the Word of God, the Bible.

It’s about truth. As Jesus spoke to God the Father, “Thy Word is truth.” And that truth is found in the Bible, which is “inspired” by God, or literally, “God-breathed” — not in the words of mere men, “ex cathedra” or not.

I liked Pope John Paul II. He was kindly, charming, hard-working; a genius who spoke many languages, and he shared some of my own views on moral issues, such as the evil of killing our unborn, so I’m grateful for his influence in those areas.

And I wouldn’t judge his final destination, heaven or hell, because it’s God Who saves, by grace through faith, and none of us knows what may happen, even on a death bed.

But was John Paul a great spiritual leader? Particularly in this website about Grace, I must say “no”, for three reasons:

1) He taught and supported a religion of “grace” plus works. The Bible says clearly that if works is added to grace for salvation, it’s no longer grace (“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” –Romans 11:6)

Look at some excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (this is the “new” “modern” “open-minded” one…you should see the Traditional One!):

“. . Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that ‘we too might walk in newness of life,'”(Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 977). [note this first of seven sacraments obtains the forgiveness of sins]

“In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ,” (CCC, par. 1821). [note “as God’s eternal reward for the good works”]

“Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification.” (CCC, par. 2010) [note we not only merit for ourselves, but for others]

And since the Catholic Church obviously teaches that salvation includes man’s works, then it follows that the failure of man’s works can destroy that salvation and damn him again, after he’s been “justified”. The solution: more works! Read the following:

“Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as ‘the second plank (of salvation) after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.” (CCC, par. 1446).

Acts of penance may be such things as prayer, saying the Rosary, reading the scripture, saying a number of “Our Father’s” or “Hail Mary’s”, doing good works, fasting, etc.

Hold on, I gotta breathe in some fresh air of the Word of God, here:

“You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

2) John Paul also affirmed the Council of Trent, even traveling to Trento, Italy for the 450th Anniversary of the Council, and giving his approval. Among many other unbiblical teachings, the Council of Trent curses with damnation all of us who teach salvation “by grace through faith, not of works”. Excerpts can be viewed at http://www.carm.org/catholic/trent.htm .

3) Like many false teachers, John Paul was deceptive in his public speeches, opening the gates of heaven to almost anyone from Protestants to Buddhists, Hindus, etc., ignoring the words of Jesus, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Whether by deliberate deception, or personal confusion, John Paul spoke out of both sides of his mouth when it came to whom are children of God. At best his sloppiness has caused masses (no pun intended) of people to miss the pure beautiful gospel of faith alone, by grace alone, in Jesus Christ alone. At worst, he deliberately said whatever itching ears wanted to hear, in order to win the crowds.

Either way, he could not qualify as a great spiritual leader.

Let me say, I have a particular love for Roman Catholics. I was once a member of the Roman Catholic Church myself, and my wife Michele was raised Roman Catholic. Many of our family members are of that faith.

If you are a Roman Catholic, or anyone who thinks that heaven can be earned by Sacraments or good works of any kind, I have terrific news for you:

Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He was buried and rose again from the grave, to give eternal life to all who will believe on Him and trust that His work on the cross was enough…who will believe that He meant it when He said on the cross, “It is finished.” Whoever will may come to Him. God calls all men everywhere to repent, to change their minds. No works can earn it. It’s a free gift of God. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.

If you want to learn more about this Jesus Christ, I recommend starting with reading the Book of John in the Bible.

A Biblical Theology of Burial?

I stumbled across a little article entitled “A Biblical Theology of Burial”. It deals with burial vs cremation, intending to do so in a biblical way.

Not to pick on the author, but I find it both fairly unbiblical, and not really theology.

It borders on silliness in some of its points and conclusions.

For example, he makes the statement, “Whatever one may say about burial verse [he means “versus”] cremation, this much we can be certain of, burial is a distinctively Christian practice.”

Burial is a distinctively Christian practice? Tell that to the hundreds of millions of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and pagans that are buried. Except you can’t tell them — they’re buried!

Not to mention that several of his EXAMPLES of burial are Old Testament folks from before Christ!

The author also writes, “…a burial of the body of a believer is, in the truest sense, the last great act of faith that a believer may exhibit with his or her life.”

Except it’s NOT with his or her life — he or she is dead! And what’s written on a tombstone doesn’t save or damn the person who lived. Countless gravestones say things like “Safe In the Arms of Jesus”, when the dead guy didn’t know Jesus from a hole in the ground.

He concludes in part with, “While the Scriptures do not say that cremation is sinful in and of itself…”

And isn’t that the real point? There is NO scriptural teaching against cremation.

And if it’s supposedly an act of faith to be buried, as an indication that God will one day resurrect that ol’ body “mouldering in the grave”, could we not say that it’s even more an act of faith that God will gather all them lil’ ol’ specks of smoke and ash from a cremation, and resurrect a new glorious body?

So folks, if you wanna be buried, be buried. If you wanna be cremated, be cremated. If you even have a say in it.

Meanwhile, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (He who, though God, came to Earth as a man, died on the cross for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day) and you will be saved — whether buried or cremated.

Here’s the article:

http://info.alliancenet.org/christward/a-biblical-theology-of-burial#.U7wKT_ldXlN

Fuel Your Sense of Wonder – Part 1: Look At The Heavens

I love pondering the magnitude of the Universe. The gigantic size and beauty of Space. 

I love standing out on my back patio at night, maybe with a wind blowing through our huge maple trees, and just looking up at the stars and the moon and contemplating the vastness of what God accomplished when He said, “Let there be”. And there was.

Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

When I was a new Christian back in the late ’70’s, I visited the Planetarium in my home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’ve forgotten the regular Planetarium show that night, where you sit back in your seat, looking up at a huge white ceiling, and some astronomy lesson is projected out on the ceiling “sky”. I’m sure it was a good presentation.

But I still remember vividly, over thirty-five years later, the experience I had in the foyer of the Planetarium, as I was looking at some blown-up photographs of the sky, taken through high-power telescopes. Huge expanses of outer Space with too many stars to count printed on my brain, and I was struck with the awesomeness of the God Whom I’d just come to know. 

Tears came as I realized that this awesome God, this Creator who cast not just millions of stars, but billions of galaxies out into Space by His Word alone, had created a little planet called Earth, and had come here in love, to give His only begotten Son, to save us from our sins if we would believe in Him.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, it’s important to not just take time to smell the roses, but take time to inhale the aroma of a God who by His Word made the star Antares.

Antares is a giant star, so much bigger than our sun that if it was placed where our sun is, 93 million miles away, the Earth would actually be inside of the star! 

And Antares is just one of 500 billion stars in our galaxy called the Milky Way.

From America there is only one other galaxy that can be seen at all with the naked eye. That galaxy is called Andromeda, and is 2 million light-years away. That means that light, traveling at 186,000 miles per second, would take 2 million years to reach Earth. 

And yet that’s a very very short distance in Space. 

Until recently in human history, Andromeda was just thought to be another star. But with powerful telescopes, we came to know that Andromeda was actually a galaxy(!) twice the size of our Milky Way, and contains hundreds of billions of stars.

And the Milky Way and Andromeda are just 2 of 100 billion galaxies, each with billions of stars. 

Which brings me to the second time I got tears in my eyes at the Lord’s creation of the heavens:

I think it was the early 90’s when National Geographic published some photos taken by the Hubble telescope. The Hubble is a very powerful telescope which was put into Space orbit, so that the earth’s atmosphere wouldn’t interfere with or distort what the telescope could see.

By the way, a side note. Did you know that if you took a globe — you know, a globe like you might have at home, that spins around and let us see the maps of the world in their actual shapes — if you took that globe and sprayed a coat of varnish on it, that coat of varnish would be the equivalent of about the actual thickness of the atmosphere on the earth, the air we breathe? Isn’t that amazing?

Anyway, back to the National Geographic photos from the Hubble telescope.

One of the sets of pictures showed a part of Space which we had previously only seen as a black empty spot of Space from our Earth telescopes. Then another picture showed that same black spot that we previously thought was empty, and Hubble had shown us that that black empty spot of Space actually contained whole new beautiful astounding galaxies of stars and worlds that we didn’t even have a clue existed.

I was stunned, and the immense power and majesty of the Lord who became our Friend, once again shook my heart with gratitude.

Philip Yancey tells the story of how he was visiting a refugee camp in Somalia, just below the equator. He writes, 

“I had spent all day interviewing relief workers about the megadisaster of the moment. Kurdistan, Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia -– place names change, but the spectacle of suffering has a dreary sameness: mothers with shriveled, milkless breasts, babies crying and dying, fathers foraging for firewood in a treeless terrain.

“After three days of hearing tales of human misery, I could not lift my sights beyond that refugee camp situated in an obscure corner of an obscure country on the Horn of Africa. Until I saw the Milky Way. It abruptly reminded me that the present moment did not comprise all of life. History would go on. Tribes, governments, and whole civilizations may rise and fall, trailing disaster in their wake, but I dared not confine my field of vision to the scenes of suffering around me. I needed to look up, to the stars.”

The Lord asked Job, in the midst of complaining about his suffering, “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in the seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?”

Amazingly, Job was helped by these somewhat sarcastic questions from God. 

Job had been focusing on earthly things, as horrible as they were. And the Lord lifted his eyes to the heavens. And Job was changed. 

I’m changed too, when I contemplate the heavens.

The heavens declare the glory of God. 

Don’t ever lose your sense of wonder at the God who created you. Step outside, day or night, and look up at the heavens. I don’t mean to be spooky about it, but just relax, just wait and let the heavens declare His glory. 

It will fuel the sense of wonder that God wants you to have.

Here are some of the actual pictures from the Hubble, accompanied by Loreena McKennitt beautifully singing some words I can’t understand most of :)