Category Archives: Salvation

Biblical teaching on how to become a Christian

The Great Divide on Good Friday

You see the image often this time of year – three crosses in silhouette standing atop a small hill.  It’s a common image representing a most uncommon event and a critical truth.

Three men were crucified that day, two rebels or thieves and Jesus of Nazareth.  The rebels were lawbreakers.  They were convicted and being crucified for their crimes.  They had sinned too many times to count.

Jesus was sinless.  He was being crucified for claiming to be the Messiah and the son of God.

Religious leaders, people in authority, and countless others couldn’t believe it.  They thought the claim was blasphemy. Ignoring the miracles he had performed and despite fervently looking for and impatiently waiting for the promised Messiah who would redeem the Jewish people, most couldn’t or wouldn’t believe Jesus was the one.  If what he claimed couldn’t be true, it had to be blasphemy and he had to be crucified.   So, they nailed him to a cross and crucified him with the two thieves, one on his left, one on his right – a detail important enough to be described by all four writers of the Gospels.

Many in the crowd of onlookers shouted insults at Jesus and mocked him.  Even the two thieves taunted him.  In the midst of their own dying, they belittled the only one who could save them.

Then something happened.  One of the thieves noticed something.   There was something different about this Jesus dying next to him. He didn’t “take it like a man.”  He took it differently than the two thieves, differently from how you’d expect a normal human to take it.  He took it differently than the others who had been crucified — the soldiers noticed this.  One of them even said so. Despite being savagely flogged, torturously nailed to a cross, and struggling just to breathe – he still didn’t lash out.  He didn’t curse the soldiers or the crowd that mocked him. He didn’t respond insult for insult. He did something no one else did. He prayed for them — for their forgiveness. And he asked a friend standing nearby to take care of his mother. At a time when others being crucified would weep in sorrow or call out in defiance to the end, Jesus looked to the needs of others.

And it finally clicked – at least for one of the two thieves and one of the soldiers.  Maybe this Jesus really was different.  Maybe he was the Messiah.  Maybe he was who he claimed to be.

When the one thief sarcastically taunted Jesus again saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah?  Save yourself and us.”

The thief who now recognized something unique in Jesus rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what we deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Calling him by name he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Then Jesus, through all the pain and anguish he was suffering for the sins of others chose to look out for the needs of one more. He saved the thief also, saying, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

With that, Jesus forgave that thief of his sins, all his crimes, all his past as well.

The thief had finally recognized and acknowledged that Jesus was who he claimed — that he was Lord and God.

Jesus saved the thief.

Dying on a cross beside Jesus, legs and hands nailed to the tree, this thief couldn’t go anywhere, couldn’t do anything.  He couldn’t run to the temple, couldn’t sacrifice a lamb or a dove, couldn’t help care for the sick or the poor, couldn’t help little old ladies across the street. Literally and figuratively, he couldn’t lift a single finger to save himself or earn his salvation. Jesus saved him all the same.  Mercifully saved him by grace.

The other thief – bitter, defiant and spiritually blind — died a thief and a sinner.

Three crosses on a hill.  The sinner thief on one side, the saved thief on the other, and Jesus in between separating the two.  Fitting and profound.  As clear an image as you can imagine.  Jesus is the great divide. Graphically and spiritually, Jesus separates the saved from the lost.  His grace is sufficient.

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’”  (Mark 15: 39).

He then brought them [Paul and Silas] out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’  They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.’” (Acts 16: 30-31).

(This post was written by Dr. Larry Hembroff, a fellow member of our Blue Water Writers’ Group as well as a lifelong friend. Thank you, Larry!)

“Oh! What a Crowd!!”

Have you ever been at the bedside of someone you loved when they passed from this earth to the next? I heard a wonderful story recently about the last words of a dear friend’s father. Sue shared this account while we were grieving the fresh loss of her father-in-law, who was also every bit a father to her. Sue’s father-in-law was very elderly and infirm by the time I knew him, so it was a special treat to hear stories from his life at his recent memorial service. He was a devoted husband, father and grandfather, a veteran, a hunter, and a stellar fisherman. Best of all, he was a man of faith and grace. It was fun to watch the slide show of his life and realize how much my friend’s husband looked like his father…and was like his father in many ways. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bob without receiving a big, warm bear hug. He always has a mischievous grin too…like he’s just dreaming up how to tease Alan. Bob always makes you laugh!For example, Bob’s father graduated to glory just a few days before their family was scheduled to leave on a two-week vacation to the Caribbean, and one of his last jokes with his dad before he passed was that after all the years of Bob’s giving his father grief, his dad was going to get him back by dying at the wrong time and ruining Bob’s long-awaited family vacation. (He didn’t, BTW; he died at “the perfect” time!) If you are aghast by that kind of humor, know that this was not malicious teasing, this is a beautiful indication of how at peace Bob and his dad were with each other, and how deep and sure his father’s faith was that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (gleaned but not quoted from 2 Corinthians 5:8). Bob and his dad had a rare and wonderful relationship! But, the story that has stayed with me the longest was Sue’s account of her father’s last words. He was also a man of deep faith in Christ, and Sue was with him when he passed into eternity. Here is her account: “My dad said (I’ll never forget it) ‘Oh!  What a crowd!’  He was not only smiling but also had a look of awe, and his voice had the sound of awe (something else I will never forget)!  I think it’s the awe that really hit me, like something I can’t even begin to imagine as hard as I try – but I know it’s good because it was said with awe and a smile!” “He didn’t pass away until the next day but was not responsive before or after he said those words.  A few minutes before he passed he suddenly opened his eyes (which hadn’t been open for a day and a half) and looked beyond me toward the wall. He moved his mouth like he was trying to say something, but of course, no sound came out as he was too weak.  Then he was gone.” Sue says that now heaven is more than a hope for her; heaven has become an exciting reality that she’s looking forward to, where she’ll be reunited with loved ones and home with Jesus forever!  How about you? Are you ready to meet Jesus in heaven?!Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth:
for I am God, and there is none else”
(Isaiah 45:22).

Deep in the Heart of Kauai

mountains-in-kauaiDeep within Kauai’s mountainous heartland lies Mt. Wai’ale’ale,
which means “rippling water.” mt-waialeale-waterfallsWith an elevation of 5,148 ft. and an average of 452+ inches of rain every year, mt-waialeale-wettest-spot-on-earthMt. Wai’ale’ale’s summit is considered one of the rainiest spots on earth, mt-waialeale-waterfalls-kauai-aerial-viewand its “Wall of Tears” is filled with waterfalls gushing-waterfalls-kauaistreaming down its face. green-mountain-slopes-kauaiFrom a distance you can’t see the waterfalls. secret-manawaiopuna-falls-on-kauaiYou have to come closer and look carefully. manawaiopuna-falls-jurassic-park-waterfall-kauaiThis area is so wild and remote that it was used in filming Jurassic Parkrugged-mountain-peaks-in-kauaiMy husband didn’t want to go on the helicopter ride lush-foliage-in-kauais-interior-hawaiibecause sudden drops narrow-valley-on-kauai-blue-hawaiian-helicopter-rideand sharp turns in narrow spaces make him motion sick, waterfalls-in-the-interior-of-kauaibut I was totally enthralled the entire time. na-pali-coast-from-the-air-kauaiI’ll always remember my wondrous flight into the heart of Kauai, rugged-valleys-in-kauai-helicopter-tourand how much it made me think of flying into the heart of God. jagged-mountains-along-na-pali-coast-kauaiGod’s heart is deep, rugged, and privately owned, just like Kauai’s mountains. na-pali-coast-kauai-blue-hawaiian-helicopter-rideHis heart is inaccessible except by permission of the Holy Spirit,
who is able to guide us in. mt-waialeale-waterfalls-kauaiWithin God’s heart is a “Wall of Tears”
weeping for mankind to choose to love Him. spectacular-waterfalls-in-kauaiDo you realize that God’s ultimate sacrifice of love is in allowing us
to choose good or evil, to reject Him or love Him…
and then loving us so much that He sent His Son to redeem us?mt-waialeale-fallsIf God forced us to obey Him…forced Himself on us, He’d be a rapist, not a lover. waterfalls-in-kauaiDo you wonder why there’s sin in the world? Because we choose sin over God. secret-manawaiopuna-falls-on-kauai-2Still, God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to save us from sin
and transform us into children of light and love. blue-hawaiian-helicopterHave you allowed the Holy Spirit to transport you into the heart of God? manawaiopuna-falls-kauaiHave you marveled at his love and experienced drinking from His Living Water?rugged-mountains-along-na-pali-coast-hawaii In not, can I encourage you to come into His heart today?close-up-of-mt-waialeale-waterfalls-kauai-from-helicopter“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all,
how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies. (
Romans 8:31-33)na-pali-coast-on-way-to-hanalei-kauai

 

Do You Have An Epiphany To Celebrate?

adoration-of-the-magi-by-el-cgrco-1568-museo-soumaya-mexico-cityDo you celebrate Epiphany? I didn’t grow up knowing anything about it, but January 6 is celebrated by many Christians as Epiphany. The term Epiphany means “manifestation” and celebrates the revelation of God in the person of his son, Jesus Christ, who is called Immanuel, “God with us.” Epiphany is celebrated on “the twelfth day of Christmas” (the first day being Christmas Eve), and it’s the traditional date for the visitation by the wise men from the east, who worshiped Jesus and gave him gifts. nativity-by-lorenzo-lotto-1523-public-domain-in-usaOn Christmas Eve, we attended a service where the pastor mentioned that the story about the birth of Christ is really a story about bread: Jesus, the Bread of Life, came down from heaven to the little town of Bethlehem (whose name means “house of bread”) and was born in a manger (a feeding trough). The baby in the manger was really God coming to earth to save us from our sins. Communion (partaking of the bread and cup) is a celebration of our taking in Christ, the Bread of Life, and receiving eternal life through him. The fact that he was worshiped by the wise men and presented with kingly gifts was a testament to the world that Jesus is the king of all kings and worthy of worship. Now, that’s an epiphany worth celebrating! Are you?  the-adoration-of-the-magi-by-peter-papul-rubens-1633-1634-kings-college-chapel-cambridge-englandNow when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him...and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:1-2,9-11).

Power Out

full-cold-moon-12-13-16jpgLast night was extremely cold. Our chimes clanged in distress and the wind whined mournfully in our chimney, rattling at the damper like a robber trying to force a lock. Just as Alan and I were getting ready for bed, everything stopped. Everything warm and light, that is! The thief that hadn’t been able to gain entrance through the flue had successfully robbed us anyway—by snapping a power line. We piled on more covers and climbed into bed, noticing that the temperature in the house was dropping 3° per hour, which meant temperatures in the 40°F. range by morning and frozen pipes within 24 hours.downed-trees-buried-under-snow-12-11-16-3I tossed and turned, thinking about the fact that we have a wood-burning stove in the basement and a 10-year supply of downed firewood in our woods.
trees-destroyed-by-emerald-ash-boreYes, it looks like a tornado went through, but it was really West Michigan Tree Service, who downed all the trees killed by the emerald ash bore that were threatening to fall on our home and shed, and routinely obstructing our lane. downed-trees-buried-under-snow-2-12-11-16However, all of that wood was buried under a mantle of white and would take days to prepare for proper burning. Why hadn’t we taken time to prepare? We knew this type of emergency was possible. I thought about my friends, Rex and Cindi, who had already built “The Great Wall of Ada” with their downed trees. (Both Rex and Alan received chain saws for their Father’s Day gift this year knowing that their leisure-time work was cut out for them for the entire fall and winter, so to speak.) full-moon-and-snow-12-14-16In the wee hours, I peaked out the window. All was calm and bright. It reminded me of the lines from “‘Twas the Night before Christmas”: “The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.”snowy-wood-pileWhy had we left our stocked woodpile unprotected? Why hadn’t we thought to stash a pile of wood on our screen porch?snowy-pile-of-wood               Unless there was a break in the weather, we’d  be doomed! cold-blue-morning-with-iciclesThankfully, somewhere in the night the power came back on, and by this morning the temperature was creeping back into—if not our comfort zone, at least a viable-for-life zone. icicles-on-a-snowy-dayI hope none of you are spiritually where Alan and I were at physically last night. No power, heat, or light…growing colder by the hour…heading for disaster if something doesn’t change, but all the while surrounded by untapped resources that could make your survival possible.snowy-homeIf you’re reading this, then the lights are on again! Your soul is not yet buried under an impossible load of snow. You have been given another chance at life…at power, light, and heat. Where? In the Bible, the Word of God. Do you have a Bible sitting around your house? Please read it and stash a pile of its promises in your heart. How?? Through Jesus. He is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 4:6). Just ask him to save you and He will! As Alan and I read together this morning: cardinal-in-the-snow-12-12-16“Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye” (Ezekiel 18:30-32). christmas-cactus“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:8-10).

Joy to the World…or is that even Possible?

poinsettias-and-orchids-at-meijer-garden-12-16Yesterday I shared about how I’m feeling this Christmas, but how are you feeling this Christmas? Are you happy and full of good cheer, or are you finding it hard to sing “Joy to the World”? I thought you might be encouraged to know that even the author of “Joy to the World,” Isaac Watts, had a very difficult life! He grew up England during the 1600’s, and his father was twice incarcerated for holding non-conformist (Huguenot) religious views. As a small child Watts had to be lifted up outside the prison by his mother so his father could see him through the barred windows. As a young man, Watts was denied entry to Oxford or Cambridge because he was not Anglican. isaac_watts_from_npg-london-public-domainThroughout life, Isaac Watts was small and weakly. Although he was a great preacher and considered the Father of Hymnody (composing some 750 hymns), the only woman he ever wanted to marry declined his proposal with the cutting remark that while she loved the “jewel” of his mind, she couldn’t admire “the casket that contained it.” Talk about pain and sorrow. Still, Watts discovered inner joy despite the rejections and difficulties in his life.  He learned that true joy doesn’t come from an easy life or pleasant surroundings but rather from embracing the wonder of our Lord coming to earth to save us! When we allow Christ to reign in our hearts, He overcomes the sin and sorrow that would otherwise consume us, filling our hearts instead with joy and hope!poinsettias-and-orchids-at-meijer-garden-mi

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

“Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

“He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”
(—Lyrics by Isaac Watts, 1719; Music by George Frideric Handel)

But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee” (Psalm 5:11).

Little Known Facts about the Cape of Good Hope

beautiful-cape-of-good-hope-nature-reserveSouth of Cape Town is a spectacular peninsula,
most of which is part of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. cape-point-lighthouse-south-africaFrom the nearby lighthouse on Cape Point, vistas-from-cape-point-south-africayou can see beautiful vistas of the entire area. baboons-traveling-along-road-in-cape-of-good-hope-nature-reserveBaboons, ostrich-in-cape-of-good-hope-nature-reserveostriches, cormorants-and-seals-in-cape-of-good-hope-nature-reservecormorants, and seals roam freely.wildflowers-in-cape-of-good-hope-nature-reserveIn the spring the hills are lush with wildflowers.

cape-of-good-hopeSometime during childhood I was taught that the southernmost tip of Africa was called The Cape of Good Hope, but I didn’t know why it was so named until we visited. Near the end of the fourteenth century, the Mongolian Empire was crumbling and the Ottoman Turks gaining power, making  passage along the Silk Road unsafe for Europeans and putting pressure on traders to find sea routes to the East. In 1487, the Portuguese navigator, Bartholomew Diaz, took three ships to explore the southern extent of Africa. They were gone over sixteen months and first encountered the cape during fierce December storms, so they named it The Cape of Storms. point-where-atlantic-and-indian-oceans-meetHowever, after further exploration, they realized that this cape marked the beginning of the end, so to speak, because at the cape the warm Mozambique-Agulhas current from the Indian Ocean seemed to converge with the cool Benguela current from Antarctic waters and the Atlantic Ocean. the-cape-of-good-hopeOnce this was understood, the cape was renamed The Cape of Good Hope, because European sailors were overjoyed to think a route to India and the East had been discovered. indian-ocean-1Diaz was lost at sea in 1500 during a storm off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope, but he had a grandson, Paulo Dias de Novais, who founded the first city in southern Africa and governed Angola a generation later. southern-tip-of-africa-wiki-johantheghostToday, Bartholomew Diaz is considered the greatest Portuguese navigator to explore the Atlantic during the fifteen century, although we now know that the Cape of Good Hope isn’t actually the southernmost point in Africa; that honor goes to Cape Agulhas, some miles ninety-three miles to the southeast. cape-of-good-hope-peninsulaDid you know that? I did not! Here it is, nearly five hundred years later,
and misinformation is still being circulated as fact! How does that happen? cape-point-south-africaKnowing exact details of geography aren’t critical to life, but some facts are. breathtaking-ocean-views-in-cape-of-good-hope-nature-reserveIn particular, the existence of Christ and his resurrection from the dead are facts that are often misrepresented or denied, but they are critical to spiritual life, faith, and hope. Do you know the truth about Christ?southern-tip-of-africaMoreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).