Category Archives: How should we then live

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.

People Believed, then …

Acts chapter 2 tells us of the days following Pentecost, the days when 20151204_095731the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, were teaching all who were within hearing range. Those who believed were filled with joy and joined in the fellowship of believers sharing what each one had. Verse 47 reports that they were praising God and having favor with all the people. This favor paved the way to tremendous growth in the number of people who were being saved. Exciting days those were, believers were being added to the body of Christ every day!

Then the Jewish leaders saw that many were following “the way” because the apostles were teaching in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees did not believe in life after death. So they threw Peter and John in jail. Life begins to become complicated for the early Christians, not because of the Roman government, but because of the religious leaders. We have a saying these days that says, “We have found the enemy and they are us.” Isn’t that so often true? We feel constrained in following the word by our denominational preferences. Time passes and Paul, formerly Saul, begins to plant churches around the Western Asia world in places like Galatia, Ephesus, Colossae, Corinth, Athens, etc. The church at this point is growing through Paul’s teaching, yes, but also through the teaching of those who have learned from Paul.

In 2 Timothy 2:2 Paul instructs Timothy as follows: “… what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This is how the churches where Timothy was ministering were to be (a) strengthened and (b) growing. Much of my life has been committed to mentoring and helping other men navigate life from a biblical perspective. A few years back, my son-in-law, Russell, gave me the 4-link chain shown in the picture above. I keep it on my key ring as a reminder of my purpose as I travel from meeting to meeting. Regardless of the subject of any meeting, it helps me keep an eternal perspective on the relationships interacting in those settings. How does it work?

Paul said, “what you have heard from me …” are the first two links … Paul (the first link) passing truth and the message on to Timothy (the second link). Timothy, then was to entrust those truths to faithful men (the third link) who, in turn, would be able to teach others also (the fourth link). With each sharing of the truths of the Gospel, a new chain is started. We are called to share the truth of Jesus Christ, His love and His death and resurrection and the resulting future hope with others. Recently, I’ve been blessed to observe a couple of men prepare to share their faith with others, including their children! We are all trusting God to prepare the hearts of these “others” that God has laid on the hearts of these men. Yes, some of our words will fall on rocky soil, but some will fall on rich soil eager to hear the good news of the Gospel.

A dear friend excitedly talked of “paying it forward” with another couple we both know. While scripture doesn’t have that specific terminology, the concept of sharing the good news of Jesus that we have received in a “pay it forward” manner certainly is biblical. We who have been gobsmacked by God’s grace, can’t wait to share with others who need to hear the freedom that comes from life in Jesus Christ.

My challenge to you is to be the first link in the chain. Take the scriptural truths that you have received and share them with a friend or neighbor or even someone you know at church. Be in prayer asking God to guide you to that person who needs to hear His good news (gospel). We live in a world that is fearful and doesn’t know where to turn. They know they are looking for answers, and that there has to be a better way. Even though the media ridicules God and faith, when you build relationships with people to the point where you can hear their hearts, and they can hear yours, God will open doors. We’ll talk about this in another blog, but we’re not talking here about a Billy Graham style campaign on another person. We’re talking about building a very personal trusting relationship which gives each person the opportunity to hear heart level desires.

Praying for each one of you, because you have a story to tell, a story of redemption and hope that another person needs to hear.

Faith and World Events

Today is the 14th anniversary of the comandeering of four commercial aircraft. Three of them crashed into (1) World Trade North Tower, (2) The Pentagon, and (3) World Trade South Tower. The fourth hijacked over Pennsylvania, presumably to head for the White House. That hijacking was subverted by some very brave people and the plane crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania killing all aboard. Thousands of lives were lost that day as the World Trade Towers crumbled from the heat of the fires created by the planes flying into them. It was a horrific scene.

I remember that I had just concluded a meeting at Starbucks near our home and had returned home, clueless to what was going on. As I turned on the television in our family room, I was watching a reporter talk about the plane that had crashed into the North Tower. The North Tower was engulfed in flames in an area quite near the top. As he talked, I noticed a plane flying across the skyline and thought little of it until the South Tower exploded before our eyes on live TV. As the horrors of the scene continued to unfold, we learned that a commercial airliner had crashed into the Pentagon. The pieces then began to fall into place that our country was under attack. We later learned of the fourth plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

We had no idea how these events would change our world. During the ceremonies of remembrance today, one person being interviewed commented that unlike Pearl Harbor which was attacked by Japan, there was no country or political entity that had created this event. What we were dealing with was a fanatical Islamic religious group that worked out of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and some of the middle eastern countries. We found ourselves at war with an ideology rather than a country that could be punished or counter-attacked for such an attack. This was a new world and we knew little about how to combat an ideology. To this day we know little about maintaining a safe world, given the challenges of identifying the enemy. So where does this leave us?

Our God is a sovereign God. Nothing happens in this world that surprises Him. Could He have stopped the attacks? Yes, but throughout history, He has chosen to give man a free will. And guess what? Despite many who want to believe that man is inherently good, the Bible tells us that we are ALL sinners (Rom 3:23) and that through Adam (one man) sin entered into this world. From the time Eve believed the serpent and gave Adam some of the apple, sin has been a part of who we are. Even Adam’s son, Cain, killed his brother Abel. From those tragic beginnings, the Bible tells us that everyone has sinned and the devil has been allowed to “prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) We are in a season where the devil who is called “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” is being allowed to roam this earth. As long as he is allowed to roam free, we will have a battle on our hands. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present  darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” So there is a spiritual battle going on for which we need to be prepared. The rest of Ephesians 6 describes for us the “whole armor of God” that helps us withstand the spiritual forces that will attack our hearts, minds and souls. Romans 5:6 tells us that “While we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” God has a plan and that plan is at work. He says that Jesus will not return until every nation has heard the gospel. While we are fast approaching that milestone, know this. God’s timing is perfect and He will come to claim those who believe in the name of Jesus.

I said above that God is a sovereign God which means that He is in control. The Bible tells us that He even puts the political powers in place. Romans 13:1 says, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.” An appropriate warning for our day, when Christians are so prone to protest and not comply with the law. It is important to remember during the days of Christ, the Roman government was as corrupt and debased as any in the history of man. In that light it is interesting that scripture does not record Christ railing against the government. He repeatedly chastised the church leaders, but never spoke about those in government. In fact, even after he had been anointed as the next king of Israel, when David had opportunity to kill Saul, he refused to kill the man who was out to kill him, because he was the Lord’s anointed. Another man’s wrong does not justify wrongdoing on our part.

How then should we live? In the U.S., our government has long approved and funded abortions, more recently it has approved the marriage of gay and lesbian couples. We see many in the Christian community at a point of rebellion against our government, to the point that our speech has become hateful and unloving toward sinners just like us. God calls us to love Him with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we focused more on loving our neighbors and less on hating the government that was put in place by God, perhaps we’d have a more attractive faith. Perhaps we’d be viewed not in the same light as the radicals Islamic terrorists. I’m not suggesting that we condone sin. Christ never did that, but still He loved the sinner. He told the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery to go and sin no more.

A man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus gave him the list of several of the commandments, to which the man replied, “All these I have done.” The next words are stunning … instead of berating and correcting him, the book of Mark records that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him …” and told him to go sell everything he owned and give the proceeds to the poor. I fear that in today’s Christian community we would be prone to show our skepticism and dismiss the person out of hand by saying something to the effect, “Yeah, right!” Our challenge is to be Christlike. Be a Berean by studying the scriptures so that you know how to respond.

In the context of today’s world, most people of middle eastern descent and especially followers of Islam are viewed with suspicion and often with disrespect. We’ve come through a Civil War which started this country on the path to respecting all races. We still have a ways to go. In light of the radical Muslims who attacked us on 9/11/01, we need to be careful not to paint all people of Islam with the same brush. Is it hard to tell who can be trusted and who cannot? Sometimes. But suppose we started from a position of trust until proven otherwise. Suppose that we followed Christ in loving even those who railed against us. Suppose we really were able to love our neighbors as much as we loved ourselves. Just suppose …

Christ told us to love those who hate us and to love our enemies. That is not a model I’m seeing widely practiced in the public arena today by “Christian” politicians or even those who are posting on the social media. We are throwing the Bible at these sinners and expecting them to live up to our standards without the help of the Holy Spirit! Let’s think about our rhetoric and vitriol before denouncing unbelievers and trying to hold them to biblical standards. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 tells us that it is not our job to judge those outside the church. That is God’s job! Our job is to love those outside, so that they will come into the church. The Holy Spirit then convicts men of sin.

Just suppose that we loved our enemies and those who hate us. Might there be fewer, then, who hate us? We’re doing a fantastic job of making new enemies with each self-righteous statement that we make.

Something to think about.

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).

What’s Papa Thinking?

For some time now, I’ve been living in a world that (a) twists the truth to suit their own fancies, or (b) refuses to even acknowledge that we can know truth. Up until now, I’ve been writing the Ponderosa Perspectives blog which is an attempt to share a few thoughts from my perspective. The audience for that blog is broad and includes followers of Christ and those who aren’t so wild about the person of Jesus Christ. That blog will continue to serve a purpose and will continue to be populated and grow.

What’s Papa Thinking is intended to be a reflection of what the triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is doing in my heart through His word as I understand the scriptures. Paul says in Romans 14:5 that “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” The things you’ll see written here are topics that come to mind through daily life that will be shared in light of those things of which I am convinced the scriptures have to say on the particular topic.

So I am very comfortable that this blog may not have a broad following, but it will be a collection of those things that matter most to me which, then, are those thoughts that I want to leave behind for my children, grandchildren and their children after them.

A pastor that I follow on Instagram, Ray Ortlund, today quoted Horatius Bonar, a Scottish pastor of the 19th century, in this way, “Man is now thinking out a Bible for himself; framing a religion in harmony with the development of liberal thought; constructing a worship on the principles of taste and culture; shaping a god to suit the expanding aspirations of the age. The extent of the mischief no one can calculate. A soul without faith, a church without faith, a nation without faith, a world without faith – what is to be their future? What is their present? When faith goes, all good things go. When unbelief comes in, all evil things follow.”

If this was true in the 19th century, it has greater applicability today. I do not intend for this blog to be fear mongering or seeing demons behind every world event. The purpose of this blog is to serve as a reminder for my family to be called back to the truth of scripture as they work diligently to be the salt and light of the gospel in the world around them. The truth of scripture is the story of God’s design and love for man and how man should first of all love God in response and love his neighbor as much as he loves himself. If we get these things right, the world will know that we are not of this world. We are children of the most high God.

One final thought in this opening entry … well two … first, I may not say everything correctly and so am open to correction and reproof that is based on scripture. Secondly, I acknowledge that the world will not broadly embrace the truths shared here, but there are also those in the church who will differ. I pray that the tone of what is written demonstrates the words of A. W. Tozer from his “Knowledge of the Holy” where he says, “What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.” Blessings and love to you all.