Category Archives: Biblical Truth

Life Priorities

In John 12:25, Jesus says this about our priorities, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” This is an important principle that tells us how we prioritize our lives in this life will determine how we will spend eternity.

Whoever loves his life will lose it – wow, that is a caution for us … in the book of Mark 8:38 in another setting, Jesus says, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” So we can value our lives with our pride and put other relationships, careers, and toys before God now, but know that when it comes time for the final judgement, Jesus will be ashamed, or separate these folks out with the goats in the final judgment. We talked about this over the past few weeks in the context of Psalm 1. This is not new teaching that Jesus brings. This is the truth that God has had from the beginning of time. The first commandment says, we should value no god above the Lord our God. To the extent that we’re ashamed of or deny our relationship with God before men, Christ will deny knowing when we stand before the Father.

Yet, whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone of us serves him, we must follow him and where Christ (God) is there will Christ’s servants be also. Those of us who serve Christ, will be honored by the Father. More powerful and strong words. So why do we have a Bible study? So that we can learn what it is to follow him and serve him.

We need to think about giving up our pride and our personal preferences for what it takes to follow Christ. Now here’s the frequent objection to this line of thinking … this is a one-sided deal, this sounds like I am not allowed to have any fun or have any good or nice things. I don’t think this is what he’s saying. Go back to the beginning of chapter 12 where Mary got out a pound of very expensive ointment, expensive enough that at least one disciple said that she should have sold it for the poor. Jesus didn’t chastise her. Instead he complimented her. Why? Because everything she had belonged to God. She did not hesitate to spend extravagantly to show her love for Jesus. This all becomes a question of who owns our stuff. Are we willing to give what we have to help someone in need? What if God permitted a stock market crash comparable to 1929? How would we navigate those waters? How important are those things to us? In the normal course of life, we depend on those resources, but would our lives end should the banks go out of business? What if the housing market crashed? Many of us are fairly heavily invested in our homes. What happens to our hearts if those values turn to dust?

The questions Christ is asking here, is about our priorities, our values, our confidence, our faith. What is the foundation of our confidence in this life? Is Christ all we need? What about those students at Columbine who were asked whether they were believers, knowing that if they answered affirmative they were dead, and if not, they would live. These are not hypothetical questions. What if our friends began to drift away because of our faith? What if some in our neighborhood, began to distance themselves because of our participation in a Bible study? Friends, I think these are real questions. Now we need to make sure that we don’t become a stumbling block for others, but the time could very well come when some of our friends and neighbors are going to migrate to others who choose a different system of world values.

Much time is spent on the cost of discipleship. In discussions like these, we also need to spend time on the upside of following Jesus. Looking back at Psalm 1 it tells us that “blessed” is the man whose delight is in the word of God and one who meditates on God’s word day and night. I like what the Holman Christian Study Bible says: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners, or join a group of mockers. Instead his delight is in the Lord’s instruction …” This man is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields fruit in its season. In other words, the flip side of losing our lives, should be gaining something. This Psalm tells us that someone who has given his life to Christ is like a strong tree in his community able to bear fruit in season, but also he is one who doesn’t fade at the end of the race (his season), it says his leaf does not wither, but in all that he does he prospers.

This is not some prosperity gospel as is put out by some, this is a man whose desires and joys or delights are in God’s word and the fruit of his strength is bringing wisdom and shade and strength to those around him. The purposes of this man will prosper or bear fruit. Comparing this man to those who choose another path, they are like the chaff that the wind blows away. They may be able to tell you how to make money or how to attain power. Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also … No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

In building our homes and our families would we rather not say with the Apostle Paul, “According to the grace of God given to men, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. (our successor generations are building out on the foundations that we have laid) Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it(the final judgment that may seem so far away, but take this to the bank, it is coming), because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”

So then, many of us consider ourselves savvy investors … where would you rather invest your time and your energies? For me and many of my friends, our career working days are pretty much over, but there is lots of opportunity to do work that will count for eternity.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matt 6:33

“There will be lying religious teachers among you.” ~Apostle Peter

My friend, Michael Wilson, shared this thought this morning. The idea is not to view everything skeptically, but rather to know what God’s Word says so that we can discern between truth and some distortion of it. Also for those things we aren’t sure about, to be able to dig into the Word, prayerfully, to be guided into truth by the Holy Spirit and the counsel of trusted students of the Word. Thanks to Michael for raising this matter for consideration.

Quotes, thoughts and musings

No Lying Zone

Being a religious teacher doesn’t mean you are telling the truth about Jesus. This stuns me but I must learn to discern the truth from a lie. Some ministers lie. Peter promised this would be true.

I must be able to tell right from wrong. To not do so can lead me downhill and off the cliff. Destruction and death follow suit.

Is the message one of unity or division. Am I being pitted against others? Am I encourage to look down at others or even hate them?

I need to consider the message as a reflection on the messenger. God’s goal for me is to follow the truth. I need to find ministers who teach the truth about Jesus and don’t lie.

But there were also lying prophets among the people then, just as there will be lying religious teachers among you. They’ll smuggle in destructive…

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Why Are You So Afraid?

The following came to me on Easter Sunday. It came from a very special person in my life. The author of this post and the next one is my grandson, Matt. He is a junior at Palmer Ridge High School in Monument, CO where he throws the shot put and discus. He is also a student leader in his schools chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). His mother was convinced that he was the original strong willed child. I think you’ll see in these next two posts that God has done a work in this young man’s heart. Through him, God has touched my heart and I’m not ashamed to say that pieces like these make me very proud.  Matt is growing in in his faith and in the knowledge of God. Here is what Matt shared from his heart on Easter Sunday … Why Are You So Afraid …

Jesus will protect you no matter what. Even though it may not seem so at certain times in
our lives, God has a plan for your life and a reason for everything. For God did not give you a spirit of timidity. So why are we so afraid? I strongly believe that it is because we have a lack of trust. If we say we trust in God and in His promises, why do we fear? There is no reason to fear because God says that He will protect us. “The fear of man is snare, but those who trust in the Lord are protected.” (Proverbs 29:25). We need to rebuke the fear of man. The devil puts a fear in our hearts of worrying about the future. We cannot look to the future and here’s why. First, only God knows what is going to happen so why worry because God will get His way. Second, looking into the future is leaning on your own understanding and not God’s. The best we can do, is to try our hardest and let God do the rest. We have to put our faith in Him. That’s all we can do.

Growing in Grace

I was reading Psalms 118 this morning and was touched by verse 14 which says, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” It struck me that our faith walk is a journey. Abraham journeyed to the land of promise. The people of Israel journeyed from Egypt to the land promised to Abraham. The Apostle Paul counsels us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. (Php 2:12) In the letter to the church at Colossae, Paul prayed for the people to increase in the knowledge of God. The prophet Jeremiah shares a word from God that says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches; but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,’ declares the Lord.”

As I reflect on this concept of spiritual growth, I am drawn into Psalms 119 where nearly every one of the 175 verses of that psalm refers to your precepts, your law, your rules, your statutes, your word, your testimonies, your promise and other descriptors of God’s word. Verse 105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s word brings us light to find our way in an otherwise dark world. God’s word helps us discern our relationship with our government. This is particularly helpful in the times in which we live. God’s word helps us find our way with our families, our employers, our churches and a myriad of other relationships.

God’s word gives us hope for the future. Psalm 119:90 says, “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth and it stands fast.” This is a great hope that we all can have. God’s faithfulness to his word and to who he is will endure to all generations! That means that until this world passes away, (Lk 21:33) God’s faithfulness will always be with us. And once that happens, God will provide a new heaven and a new earth that will be the dwelling place of God. Revelation 21 tells us, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Now if that doesn’t give us hope for our future, nothing will!

Spiritual growth helps us in our personal growth as well. In Peter’s second letter to the churches (3:18) he calls us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Growing in grace is something that we could all use. In the Lord’s Prayer cited in Matthew 6, he teaches us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors …” Forgiveness is one way of extending grace. Christ goes on to say, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” So extending the grace we have received to others allows the grace we receive to grow even more. The harsh words and rhetoric of our political campaigns are divisive and cause sharp lines to be drawn between people rather than drawing people to unity. In America, we are divided as never before. I constantly have to ask myself what part I am playing in extending grace and creating unity.

Ephesians chapter 4 is a powerful passage that calls us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This bearing with one another in love is called grace. While we were still sinners, God chose to forgive us of our sins because of the blood of Christ. That is grace.

For us it appears in the form of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As I read these words from Galatians 5, peace fills my heart. They feel like gracious living. These are the fruits of the Holy Spirit that is given us by Christ at moment we stake our faith in him. What are we doing to grow in gracious living? We are all on a journey and God, who gave us the Spirit and began this work in us will continue working with us to bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. He knows us and is patient with us, continuing to encourage us on our journey until the last day. He can calm the storms of the sea, he can also help us grow in grace.

Grace and Peace!

Prayer

This Christmas I was given the movie DVD War Room as a gift. Last night we had a family movie night in our theater to watch the movie once again. As I’ve reflected on the various messages in the movie, I caught myself in a Christian-ese world of thought. You know, all scripture is true and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16), but sometimes we pull pieces and place too much emphasis on different verses. My desire here is to be a man who does his best to present himself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15)

On days when we’re “feeling our oats” or being full of ourselves we like to offer to pray for others and quietly, in our hearts, quote the last phrase of James 5:16 which says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power …” In so doing we puff out our chests in our magnanimous prayers. This verse is absolutely true, but let’s not forget the other side either.

In Luke 18:9-14, we have a very different picture. It is the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Christ tells a parable about a Pharisee who was in the temple square and proudly praying to God out loud saying, “I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector ….” He goes on to expound on all the “righteous deeds” that he does for God in his prayer. Then the scene shifts to the tax collector who is standing far off and would not even lift his eyes up to heaven, but beat his chest saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Which prayer do you think God heard?

Christ tells us that the tax collector went home justified rather than the uber religious man. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. The word that struck me today after watching War Room is that a family’s life was changed by a woman who fell on her knees before God out of a life of self-sufficiency, declaring her need and dependence on God’s mercy.

As we think about prayer, and how powerful it is, it occurs to me that righteous people are not prideful about their prayers as a righteous person, but rather righteous people know and understand their needs before God. In humility and contrition, we bring our requests to him who changes the hearts of men.

Once again, blessed by the various media God uses to touch our hearts.

Same God?

Wheaton College, the alma mater of Billy Graham, finds itself in the throes of a theological discussion. One of their professors decided she would wear a hajib (Muslim scarf) during the Advent season. In justifying her actions, she quoted Pope Francis’ recent comments that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. The school has placed the professor on administrative leave until the matter could be resolved.

The question left open is whether Islam worships the same God as do the Christians. Wheaton College leadership believes this is a violation of the schools statement of faith. Still there is student and external pressure demanding that the school should reinstate Prof. Hawkins because her comments are, in fact, true and not in conflict with the statement of faith.

Whether or not it is in conflict with the statement of faith is for the school to decide. Her comments are clearly in conflict with scripture, however. The god of the Quran has nothing to do with Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. Islam follows Muhammad who has died and left a book of confusing instructions that has brought fear and terror to the global community. It is a book with conflicting guidance, but the later writings supersede the earlier instructions. This is not the truth of the inspired word of God, the Bible. Let me be clear, without Jesus Christ at the center of their faith, they cannot serve or worship the same God. In 1 Cor 1:23 Paul says, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.” Any gospel that does not teach Christ crucified, is no gospel at all, because the definition of gospel is “good news.” Without Christ crucified on our behalf, there is no good news.

My friends, we live in peculiar days, days in which people go to great lengths to make everyone feel good. Giving out a word that a god without Christ or the Holy Spirit is a universal god is not good news! In writing to the church at Galatia, Paul writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

Let’s not be confused by the politically correct or those who have an incorrect image of God in their own minds. From before time began, God in Christ was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. We are in the Christmas season, let’s celebrate the Christ who was God incarnate and came to earth to reveal the Father to us and to give himself as a sacrifice for our sins. He rose and sits at the right hand of the Father so that the Holy Spirit might come to guide us into all truth.

Merry Christmas to all!

What Do We Make of ’90 Minutes in Heaven’?

Don Piper’s story, now made visible in the movie 90 Minutes in Heaven (out this weekend), records his experience of “dying” as a result of a head-on car crash and experiencing some moments (90 minutes of them) of glorious encounter with “heaven” where God, a suffusing and overwhelming light, resided in the middle of the heavenly city.

In that near death experience (NDE), Piper saw and heard the voice of many of his fellow Christians as they were journeying toward the gate of heaven—but he never entered. A fellow pastor was praying for his recovery at the crash scene, and he found himself singing along with the pastor, back on earth.

The slow-developing movie focuses far more on the pain both Piper (Hayden Christensen) experienced and his family, especially his wife (Kate Bosworth), endured as he lay in hospital beds for months—suffocating with a desire to return to heaven and unwilling to communicate either about his NDE or what was happening in his soul. The slowness of the scenes accentuates the slowness of his recovery. But recover he did, to find a purpose in life—to tell people that heaven is real and that prayer really works.

Piper’s story is encouraging, and surely in the top two or three of hundreds of NDE stories I have read.

I do not disbelieve Don Piper’s story. He seems credible, and his experience is far from unusual. Mally Cox-Chapman, a skilled journalist, read and interviewed and tracked down one story after another. In her book The Case for Heaven: Near-Death Experiences as Evidence of the Afterlife, we read the fairly common pattern of near-death experiences:

  • Feelings of peace and quiet
  • Feeling oneself out of the body
  • Going through a dark tunnel
  • Meeting others, including one or more beings of light
  • A life review
  • Coming to a border or limit
  • Coming back
  • Seeing life differently
  • Having new views of death

Not everyone has each element. But the pattern is so common, and spans the religious spectrum so noticeably, that we can speak intelligently of the “NDE Pattern.” Christians of all stripes, Muslims, Buddhists, and others tell similar stories. In fact, there are NDE stories going all the way back to ancient Egypt and ancient Rome. Many of those stories have similar elements, though each religious orientation causes a reshaping of those elements.

Piper experienced the first two, not the second, the fourth, not the fifth, clearly the sixth and the seventh, and from that point the last two elements have reshaped his life and ministry. And the movie shows far fewer specifically Christian themes than his book did.

My concern is neither the movie nor Piper’s story; my concern is what to do with NDEs. What are we to make of them? Are they all true? Are they all bogus? How do we know?

And I have another concern: If death is irreversible, how can these be seen as experiences of what happens after death? Most would say these people have not, in (scientific) fact, died. Instead, they have entered into a pre-death experience that may glimpse heaven or the afterlife (or it may do neither).

But is not the deeper ache for an “after-death” experience? One where someone has scientifically died and told us what is in the Beyond? (We have such an account in the Gospels of the New Testament.)

The issue then is what to make of NDEs. After studying story after story of the NDE Pattern, Cox-Chapman landed on at least three conclusions, and these conclusions need to be considered before we rush to affirm too quickly the truthful witness of NDEs.

First, Cox-Chapman concludes that those who have an NDE become believers in an afterlife or in some kind of heaven. This is surely Piper’s experience.

Her second conclusion ought to warn those who find their faith most confirmed by these NDE stories: those who have NDEs become more universalistic in their faith. (I have not read anything by Piper that would indicate this, but there is plenty of evidence in NDE collections that this occurs.)

Cox-Chapman’s final conclusion startled me: the diversity of the experiences and the variety of religious ideas at work in those experiences lead her to conclude that “we will be provided with the Heaven that is right for each of us.”

That is, NDE studies make us think each person gets the heaven they want.

This is where our deepest concern breaks through the surface: the variety of NDEs, if they are true experiences of the afterlife or heaven, may well be a deconstruction of all faiths.

So a very serious issue arises for anyone who cares about how Christians determine what Christians are to believe about heaven and NDEs. In other words, if many Christians—the numbers who buy NDE books, the numbers who go to this movie—believe a story like Don Piper’s because it confirms their faith, a faith that comes from the Bible, then they are only believing what the Bible says, and don’t need the NDE story. In which case, let’s focus more on the Bible and bring the discussion back to what the Bible clearly teaches.

But we can turn this around slightly and look at it from a different angle: if many Christians disbelieve elements of many NDE stories because they don’t cohere with the Bibleand the elements that don’t cohere with the Bible are legionthen they don’t need the stories either! In which case, let’s focus on what the Bible teaches, not what NDEs suggest.

There is a more negative undercurrent to the NDE stories: if you believe the NDE stories because of the power of the experience being told, then you don’t need the Bible. If the experience itself is what determines what you believe, then you will believe the experience regardless of what the Bible says about heaven.

My reading of hundreds of NDE stories is that they in fact often don’t confirm what the Bible says. In fact, they bring into the light the faith and convictions and suspicions and hopes and dreams of what that person already believed. In this case, the Bible is being pushed to the side for the sake of the experience.

Again, this more negative consideration can be stated from a slightly different angle: if you believe the elements of the NDE stories because of the power of the experiences, you will need to believe every element in these stories. Which leads me to a question that haunts me every time I hear fellow Christians clap so loud about NDEs: How then does one distinguish which elements in these NDE experiences is what heaven is really like from what is not? I just don’t know that there’s a way of believing in the experience of the NDE, filtering out what is unbiblical and affirming as a witness to heaven what matches the Bible.

It seems to me in the flourishing of these NDEs, many Christians will want once again to take a whole new look at what the Bible says about heaven. What they will find, in almost all cases, is a view of heaven that is quite unlike what is experienced in the NDEs.

Scot McKnight is a New Testament Professor at Northern Seminary, the writer of the popular blog Jesus Creed, and author of the forthcoming book The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, (Oct. 6, WaterBrook Press).