Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The “Eyes” Have It?

Most anyone who has lived in a modern civilized culture for the last quarter century or so is rarely shocked by anything. Although few give God the credit, many are convinced that man, given enough time and money, will eventually invent nearly everything ever needed in this life. Of course those things will include destructive devices that can literally wipe their home planet out of existence.

But now, German researchers have developed yet another new technology that reportedly allows drivers to steer cars using only their eyes. Raul Rojas, a researcher at Berlin's Free University, claims that a miraculous new unit actually allows the driver’s eye movements to steer their vehicles without having to use their hands or steering wheel. A Dodge Caravan was tested at a German airport. The project, known as ‘Eyedriver’, seemed successful at allowing the operator to control the van up to 31 mph. Phase two will be to increase the speed to double the current rate - again using only the eyes as the source control of the vehicle’s direction.

Rojas said, "The car can do everything. It can drive autonomously or it can be guided by a driver's eyes." The compromise is a mode that has the car driving on its own. It bases critical decisions on input from scanners and cameras should the operator’s focus be briefly interrupted, for example, by perhaps looking at an attractive young lady standing at an intersection. He claims the car stops at intersections and asks the driver for guidance on which road to take. The car will begin moving again after the driver looks at his desired direction for a few seconds.

According to Rojas, "Autonomous driving systems may considerably change our mobility in the future."

The single most important use of the eyes is for the reading the Word of God. There one finds the eyes and sight used in a variety of ways to illustrate Biblical and spiritual truth. Back at the beginning of man’s initial time upon earth it was the eyes that helped initiate the original sin in Genesis 3. God warned Eve to resist even touching a special fruit in the midst of their garden home. But the serpent tempted her and promised her that partaking of it would open her and her husband’s spiritual eyes and make them God-like. Tragically they both took the brutal bait and their disobedience tarnished their innocence and plunged the entire race that would follow into sin, pain, chaos, and judgement. (Genesis 3:4-7)

The terrible result of their horrific decision has been evidenced globally since that fateful error. The basic reason for the mistake is revealed in Proverbs 2 and shows how the eyes of a man’s heart can be easily blinded regarding right versus wrong where it counts - in the eyes of a holy God. Vs 2 reads, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts.” Then in chapter thirty, the same idea is reaffirmed. Verse 12 reads, “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness.”

The pain and damage caused by sin is beyond human calculation. A pure and just God’s response to this open rebellion is seen through Proverbs 26:12. “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Amos 9:8 reads, "Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth.” God’s righteousness demands justice. His own nature and attributes leave Him no other choice but to judge sin one way or another.

The reason, and perhaps the best overall biblical description, for the ongoing godless behavior of humanity is revealed in detail in Romans 3:11-18, with the final verse summing up the primary problem.

“There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit. The poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace they have not known." Then verse 18 reveals the issue that causes all of the above and more. "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

But despite man’s constant rebellion, it is staggering to know that a merciful and loving God is still willing to forgive and save lost sinners – something that occurs when the eyes of their hearts see the error of their ways and Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.

1 Peter chapter 3 substantiates this great truth beginning in verse12. He writes, “He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers.”

Jesus made the requirements clear for what is needed for any to be seen as spiritually right and forgiven in the eyes of God. He used an effective parable seen in Luke 18. Starting in verse 10 He stated, "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Salvation is about accurately seeing who we are, viewing Jesus Christ as He really is, and accepting by faith what He did to open the eyes of our hearts and make us all new creations in Him.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Wrong and Right Reason for Silence

Maybe you missed it, but last Friday, April 16 was designated as a Day of Silence to encourage fellow students to defend those who are bullied or harassed because of their presumed or expressed homosexual orientation. In many public schools across the country, students were encouraged by GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) to wear red armbands and remain silent in support of those of the moral counter-culture who need to be protected.

The observance stirs discussion of educators addressing homosexuality and gay marriage. Happily, most conservative school districts let the day pass without observance or even comment. In fact, in a press release, the American College of Pediatricians cautioned school superintendents that sexual attractions are transient and schools should not adopt policies that affirm such non-heterosexual attractions.

The College’s letter gave the results of a survey by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) as the basis for their advice:

[The NARTH] recently released a landmark survey and analysis of 125 years of scientific studies and clinical experience dealing with homosexuality. This report, What Research Shows, draws three major conclusions: (1) individuals with unwanted same sex attraction often can be successfully treated; (2) there is no undue risk to patients from embarking on such therapy and (3), as a group, homosexuals experience significantly higher levels of mental and physical health problems compared to heterosexuals. Among adolescents who claim a ‘gay’ identity, the health risks include higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, alcoholism, substance abuse, anxiety, depression and suicide. Encouragingly, the longer students delay self-labeling as ‘gay,’ the less likely they are to experience these health risks. In fact, for each year an adolescent delays, the risk of suicide alone decreases by 20%.

Any school that allows or promotes the Day of Silence is apparently admitting that a problem exists. No student should be bullied or harassed for any reason. Agreeing that a Day of Silence is needed to focus on the problem shows a school’s indifference to it by apparently not addressing it until goaded into action. These schools are playing “catch up.”

In New Jersey, perhaps this strange new need for a whole day of silence is a retribution for the state forbidding one minute of silence at the beginning of the school day a few years ago. Opponents howled that it might be a back door effort to reintroduce prayer into the schools. If a moment of silent meditation had been allowed, perhaps the current violence and mayhem would have been avoided in the public schools. Now, public schools are allowing a whole day of silence in support of gay and lesbian students. If my math is right, the minutes in the Day of Silence on April 16 far exceed the total of the rejected single minutes of silence in an entire academic year.

When I moved to New Jersey just before my senior year of high school in 1951, by law ten verses from the Old Testament had to be read in homeroom at the beginning of each school day—not just moment of silence, but a whole ten verses from the Word of God. That was before prayer and Bible reading in schools were ruled unconstitutional. It was before metal detectors and safety police had to be in school, before widespread drug usage, teen pregnancies, student misbehavior, assaults on teachers and before incidents like Columbine.

Indeed, as Christian colonist William Penn—a man who made treaties with the Indians that were never broken—said, “If we will not be ruled by God, we will ruled by tyrants.” The tyranny of the human mind knows no boundaries unless constrained by the Word of God.

Hosea soberly warned of such days. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hosea 4:6)

Hopefully, a revival would send the schools back to the font of knowledge to enjoy another prophet’s happy forecast. “All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children’s peace.” (Isaiah 54:13)

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Should One Rotten Apple Spoil The Barrel?

For well over a week now it has been a matter of serious and constant controversy and tension. What is normally a highly admirable and respected act of love and sacrifice has suddenly soured and is now viewed by some as dangerous, if not evil.

The ongoing dispute erupted when an American adoptive mother made a grave error. She returned her 7-year old Russian son to his former country by placing him alone on a plane with only a short note explaining her actions. The letter was addressed simply, ‘To whom it may concern” and claimed she had been misled by the Russian orphanage about the very serious nature of the psychological condition of the child.

The dispute is continuing over proposed adoptions of Russian children to American families with some Russian officials stating that adoptions of children by U.S. families will be soon suspended. Other Russian and U.S. officials dispute this and are hopefully correct since there are nearly 3,000 U.S. applications for adopting Russian children presently pending, according to the Joint Council on International Children's Services.

But with Russia, the numbers have declined sharply in recent years. Last year only 1,586 U.S. adoptions took place compared with nearly 5,800 in 2004. The decline is due in part to concerns by U.S. parents about reports of fetal alcohol syndrome and other problems faced by some Russian children. American officials from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security will be traveling to Moscow this weekend for meetings with Russian officials to clarify and hopefully calm the situation down.

What has happened in this case is particualy unfortunate – especially when considering that their are now 143 million orphans in the world most in desperate in need of basic care and loving homes.

The vast majority of adoptions, foreign and domestic, result in the forming of loving family units and the best way for underprivileged children to have a chance at a life they could never realize otherwise. Also, very few ever stop and consider the awful treatment given by some birth parents to their own children in what has become a world-wide scourge that far out numbers the occasional bad adoption experience. The numbers of abused children in America today alone by their own birth parents is growing beyond belief. One glance at the U.S. foster care system statistics alone confirms that reality quickly.

But the other unfortunate aspect often overlooked is the shadow it sometimes casts on the doctrine of biblical adoption taught in the Scriptures. In Nelsons Illustrated Bible Dictionary adoption is defined as, “The act of taking voluntarily a child of other parents as one's child; in a theological sense, the act of God's grace by which sinful people are brought into his redeemed family. In the New Testament, the Greek word translated adoption literally means "placing as a son." It is a legal term that expresses the process by which a man brings another person into his family, endowing him with the status and privileges of a biological son or daughter.”

Galatians chapter four shows how God brings lost sinners into His spiritual family in spite of their many serious problems all involving direct rebellion against Him. Verse 3-5 declare, “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.“ Verses 6-7 then show the value and unique intensity of this supernatural relationship. “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

Paul, in His letter to the church at Rome, speaks more on the subject. Romans 8:14-17 reads, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”

Ephesians 1:3-5 then shows the staggering blessings and benefits of adoption into God’s family. Verse 3 begins by stating, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”

What is interesting, and perhaps most amazing, is that God’s adoption came, not to those who had few or easy problems to forgive or deal with. If anything, the opposite is true. His receiving us into His family was a combination of His great love coupled with our great need. Paul describes this amazing union in Romans 5:7-8. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We did not get what we all deserved but what God’s deeply unique love determined.

Biblical adoption is an interesting and sometimes difficult issue to grasp. But it is taught in Scripture nonetheless. On one hand, we are told that God chose some to be His intimate family members before the foundation of the world. But His word also speaks clearly and repeatedly about the great need and the only way for any individual to become a full-fledged family member comes through personal faith in Jesus Christ.

To a lost and needy world a loving God says in John 1:12-13, ‘To whom it may concern’: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, April 19, 2010

Volcanoes, Earthquakes and End-Times

Catastrophes of epic proportions lurk around the globe in volcanoes. A tragic example is the eruption in Iceland on the Eyjafjallajokull glacier, which may incite a sister volcano nearby to also erupt.

Volcanoes can belch death and devastation with lava flows of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, huge chunks of flaming debris, poisonous gases, floods from melting ice and fine airborne particles spewed over vast parts of the globe, which can cause havoc with air and ground travel and even breathing. In this case, the potential for deadly aircraft mechanical failures halted all air traffic over Europe resulting in thousands of stranded passengers and incalculable economic loss. An immediate insult on top of injury was the disruption of travel for many heads of state who could not attend the sad funeral ceremony for Poland’s president.

The problem is just the tip of the iceberg if not the tip of the glacier. Geologists note that nearby volcanoes under the ice cap in Iceland may be agitated into eruptions with further global consequences. There are some 1,500 active surface volcanoes and 10,000 oceanic volcanoes.

Underwater volcanoes, according to Dr. Stanley Williams, are more dangerous owing to the water pressure keeping them capped until a massive explosion. There is an ominous link between volcanic eruptions and floods and tidal waves caused by landslides either above or below the sea. An example is the Canary Islands, where a substantial eruption would likely set off a massive landslide sending a tsunami wave as high as 300 feet racing across the Atlantic toward North America.

An almost comic result of a volcanic ash cloud is that it can reduce global temperatures. As one commentator put it, “We went from warnings of global warming to warnings of possible global cooling in about a day.” It is a subtle reminder of Proverbs 27:1: “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

In the Bible, volcanoes are clearly seen from Genesis to Revelation with a few terrifying examples between.

Criticism has been leveled at the Genesis account of the Flood with some charging that 40 days of rain is impossible atmospherically. The Bible says that “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights.” Forty days later, “the fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were also stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained.” (Gen. 7:11-12, 8:2).

Underwater earthquakes with volcanic action could have lowered sea bottom. As the volcanic action poked through the surface, it could have shot steamy water vapors skyward causing torrential rains for the 40-day period.

Fast-moving modern natural phenomena may fulfill ancient prophecies very quickly.
Christ’s prediction of end-time events found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and Revelation anticipates global catastrophe, likely from earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.

“And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven. … And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring…” (Luke 21:11, 25)

Revelation has five major references to earthquakes with Rev. 16:18 telling of the mother of them all: “And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.”

While not using the term “volcano,” Rev. 8:8-9 seems to anticipate that. “Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.”

Further, Rev. 8:7 says, “The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.” This hail and fire and bloody seawater (also in Rev. 16:3) may be the result of horrendous underwater volcanic activity.

Matt. 24:29 foretells a time when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light.” Darkened means “obscured,” which is what volcanic ash would indeed do.

With recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Indonesia and China and now the volcano in Iceland, we may be pressing fast toward that Tribulation period of multiple catastrophes. At the very least, we may have current substantiation that the commotions recorded in Genesis and anticipated in Revelation are not figurative but literal both past and future.

Paul’s inspired assessment of present creation is totally accurate. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” (Rom 8:20-22)

The good news of the Gospel is that we are reborn as new spiritual creations. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This fits us for the coming recreation of earth. “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’” (Rev. 21:1-4)

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shroud of Turin On Display Again

It has always been a source of wonder, excitement, hope, but at the same time doubt and controversy. Most would recognize it with the uttering of just two simple words – The Shroud.

Of course it is the famed Shroud of Turin, believed by some Christians to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ – the very one that wrapped the Son of God after His crucifixion on a Roman cross some 2,000 years ago. But the legendary object has been out of circulation for eight years for patchwork repair that was done by nuns after the cloth was damaged in a fire. But a week after Easter 2010 the artifact again went on public display. The piece will be viewed at the Turin Cathedral by two million people over the next six week period.

As far as the Shroud itself, many scholars doubt its authenticity for a variety of reasons. Others believe it is real. The Catholic Church's official position states, “The shroud is an important tool for faith regardless of its authenticity.” David Rolfe, who made a film for the Catholic Church’s exhibition believes the Shroud to be real mainly because the face of the piece’s tortured victim has what he terms a ‘transcendental quality about it.”

Almost anyone involved on any level of Christianity can understand the wonder and fascination at the thought of literally gazing upon a preserved imagine of the Son of God, and Savior of humanity. Whether or not God would ever want such an item to be in the hands of man is an interesting question in and of itself. But to say that this particular item is the real deal because the face looks somehow ‘transcendental’ is a rather interesting way of looking at the issue. It would be interesting to see if the ‘transcendental’ quality of the Shroud would hold up as evidence of its reality in a serious court of law.

But it is the statement by the Catholic Church itself that seems most intriguing of all. To claim that the item is a ‘crucial tool to the faith regardless of its authenticity’ hopefully means something other than what it appears to on the surface.

When it comes to Christianity, and the redemption of the human soul, authenticity is everything. Without that, there is nothing of substance. Granted there are things that could be regarded as helpful, important, or encouraging in certain religious matters. But it is the reliability and full authenticity of God’s living word that changes lives, frees lost sinners, and opens the doors of heaven.

If Genesis, the book of beginnings, is not 100% authentic and trustworthy, then why should anything that follows it be taken as literal? If the miracles of Jesus described in the Gospel accounts are not seen as fully authentic, then how could the power of God not be doubted at some other point along the way? If the sinless life of Jesus Christ was viewed as just an ‘important religious tool’ would that not make His qualification to be the sacrifice for sins of the world suspect or perhaps inadequate?

When if comes to matters of the Christian faith it is the total authenticity of the Word of God that reigns supreme. Even the Scriptures themselves claim that in 2 Peter 1:20 which states, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

Whether or not the figure seen on the Shroud is Jesus Christ is not the real issue at hand. What matters is that Jesus was real as was His ministry and the perfect fulfillment of purpose for His coming. A tarnished image of His body does not need to be seen in some mysterious relic for saving faith in God to be confirmed. His authenticity is seen everywhere by those just willing to gaze upon His miraculous creation. The Apostle Paul shared that truth out Romans one. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20)

The admirers and the skeptics will continue their debate over the famous ‘transcendental’ figure known as the Shroud of Turin. But when all is said and done, just a few things will really matter and they will not be any of the so-called ‘important tools’ of the faith. Rather it will be only the authenticity of the Gospel as shared in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: 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.”

God’s creation and the authenticity of His Son’s existence, ministry and finished work of on the cross will never be seen or confirmed in some religious relic. The proof of His life, death, and resurrection are instead be revealed in the Scriptures and in the lives of those whose hearts have been genuinely changed by seeing Christ through them with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Peter put it like this in chapter nine. "That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith — the salvation of your souls." (1Peter 9:7-9

Is the Shroud of Turin for real? We will likely never know. But we do know this. If the man it displays was not God’s Son, then he was a lost sinner and thus in dire need of the authentic salvation offered by the authentic crucified Savior - the risen Christ who remains the only hope for those eternally lost apart from His unimaginable authentic love!

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, April 12, 2010

Death in a Mine and the Skies

From the heights to the depths, sorrow has invaded two countries.

In Montcoal, West Virginia, 29 miners perished in a mine disaster. The families and entire area are drenched in sorrow. The funeral will extend the grief while in years to come the families will never forget. The worst West Virginia mine tragedy in 40 years, this disaster reaches to the depths of the earth taking the humblest of laboring men into eternity. It will take a full year to determine the cause of the mine accident and assign liabilities accurately.

Meanwhile, 96 of Poland’s finest from high level government, including President Lech Kaczynski, military leaders, religious figures, banking personnel and countless support persons, all perished in a Russian-built Polish airliner unable to land in the fog near Smolensk airport in Russia. The tragedy is intensely sad since the passengers were enroute to a commemoration to be held nearby—a remembrance of Stalin’s slaughter of 20,000 Polish military officers and national leaders by the Secret Police in the Katyn forest in 1940. In Poland, the remaining political leaders are scrambling to maintain government stability in the face of such profound losses.

Sadly, but true though it is, death so unexpected may be an unwelcome arrival as Proverbs 27:1 says. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” Whether sooner or later, that grim reaper stalks every human from the lowliest laborer to the highest ruler. Ecclesiastes 8:7-8 warns us all, “Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come? No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death. As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it.”

A mass disaster contradicts the nonsense of astrologers who link one’s fortunes with the position of heavenly bodies at one’s birth. A simple examination of these tragic victims’ birthdays would likely find them born under every Zodiac sign. While birthdays are common knowledge, death days are known only to God.

Other Scriptural lessons may be learned from these tragedies. One is of the decision of the few adversely affecting the fates of the many. An investigation of the mine catastrophe will probably show multiple violations of simple worker safety regulations by the management few. And in the case of the aircraft disaster, pilot error or misjudgment seems to have taken the lives of all 96 aboard.

Genesis and Romans come together in a similar analysis of the human tragedy. Adam, God’s first human creation, was given the responsibility of choosing for us all. Romans 5:12 reviews his personal influence on the entire human race to be born. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…”

Investigations will probably show that a few mine mangers choose the fates of all the men down in the pits. And the airline pilots’ decisions held the fates of all 97 on the plane. Spiritually speaking, Adam walked us all down into the dark pit of sin and made decisions that affected us all. To put it in the context of a plane, Adam boarded the human race on an aircraft, took the controls and crashed us all.

Because of that, we all begin not as Adam began but as Adam ended—spiritually broken and shattered and in desperate need of salvation. God provided a means of rescue from our doomed condition through the work of Jesus Christ in the cross. I Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”

Christ’s love and sacrifice reach to the lowest of lows and the highest of highs as the stirring words by Frederick Lehman written in 1917 so eloquently say:

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell,
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair bowed down with care,
God gave His son to win:
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin.

We hope that the American miners deep below the earth’s surface and the Polish leaders in the aircraft high in the sky above called out to God and accepted His gift of salvation in whatever time they had left. And that is good for everyone at any time. If so, when death comes, we are “absent from the body and… present with the Lord.” (II Cor. 5:8)

Dave Virkler

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Heaven and Hell and Near-Death Experiences

Near-death experiences have encouraged some, terrorized others and given rise to numerous books analyzing borderline adventures of those who claim that they’ve seen the Great Beyond in various forms.

The most recent explanation into this misty area is a news article on the Fox News website on April 8 which lists statistics and suggests an explanation. “According to research, between 11 and 23 percent of heart attack survivors report having near-death experiences. The study, which is reported in the journal ‘Critical Care,’ looked at 52 heart attack victims. Eleven had a near-death experience and the common link was a high level of carbon dioxide in the blood.”

The article does leave an open-ended conclusion suggesting further research is needed.

I recall the first explosive book on near-death experiences by Raymond Moody entitled “Life After Life” published in 1973. This secular author recounted several case histories and cited some biblical references. Its foreword was by Elizabeth Kulber Ross, who was at the time an expert on death and dying and whose later involvement with a noted supernatural world cultists tended to mute her authority. Other books followed such as “Beyond and Back” by Ralph Wilkerson with introductions by Pat Robertson and Walter Martin (1977) and Robert Monroe’s “Journey Out of the Body” (1978).

The book I found most credible was published in 1978 by a medical doctor, Maurice Rawlings. He traces his nominal Christianity until one of his patients was diagnosed as being on the verge of a massive heart attack, which then occurred and from which Rawlings attempted to revive the patient. While slipping away, the man screamed that he was experiencing Hell and vividly described the pain and flames. Several comebacks followed by subsequent near departures that elicited similar terror.

On one of the patient’s “returns,” Rawlings gathered his meager theology into an explanation of the Gospel, telling the man that he could avoid Hell by receiving Christ, and he believed in Jesus as Savior. After some time unconscious, the man revived and even recovered to live for several years.

Rawlings recounts how, a brief time after his stable return, he quizzed the man on his “hell” experience. The man had absolutely no recollection and only after profound probing did the heart patient recall any unpleasantness.

Rawlings offers an amazing insight noting that if people who have a near-death or out-of-the-body experience are questioned immediately on their return, roughly 50% declare they have seen hell and 50% say they have seen Heaven. However, if they are questioned long after the experience, they all say they have seen Heaven. Evidently hell is so frightful that the mind blocks it out.

Very little is declared in Scripture about these “near-death” experiences. However, in Luke 16, Christ indicates that there are two places of Paradise (also called Abraham’s bosom, which was removed to Heaven after Christ’s resurrection) and Hell (also called Hades).

As a biblical example, Moody cited Paul’s Damascus Road account and Paul’s later revelation of a spiritual body in I Corinthians 15. A better example would have been Paul’s account of being stoned and taken up to “the third heaven” as he heard unspeakable things (II Cor. 12). Perhaps as the things of earth temporarily fade, some do see Heaven or Hell. But all come back later to say the experience was a happy one.

In Matthew 7:21–23, Christ, speaking of those who claimed salvation in His day through prophecy, exorcism and miracles indicates that people would still be appealing to these in “that day,” which would be a day of judgement not yet come—a span of nearly 2,000 years. The consciousness of Hell is evidently so bad that, even after centuries, a hellish experience is still erased by the rebellious, deceptive, unregenerate mind. This aligns well with Rawlings’ statistics.

The truth is that only Jesus Christ and a very few others have ever come back from death, and no one has ever come back from actual death in Hell, though Christ pulled the curtain back to reveal the rich unbeliever there (Luke 16:23).

If we could have a good chat with resurrected Lazarus as recorded in John 12:9, it would reveal lots of things. Barring that, we will trust the word of Christ, who did come back and is coming again. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1-4)

In view of past trust, present position and future removal, Ephesians 2:4-10 declares, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together (past), and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (present), that in the ages to come (future) He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

By receiving Christ, we have the guarantee of eternity in Heaven and need not ever fear death.

Dave Virkler