Tag Archives: Popular Opinion

The Direction We’re Headed

Much to-do has been made in recent years about “the direction we’re headed.” In many https://i0.wp.com/pbs.twimg.com/media/CoDyrtjUAAMSl8p.jpg:smallcases that phrase is used in the context of our governmental dictates and decisions, or non-decisions. In some cases the phrase is used about our world in general, and still in others, it is used regarding societal values. In nearly any context the phrase is used in a negative sense and the need for change. In most cases we see the abandonment of Christian values, e.g., banishing prayer from schools, the press for removing references to God and the scriptures from the public square, attempts to change the definition of family, and the list goes on seemingly endlessly. Man’s attempts to make up his own rules on the fly have resulted in ever changing standards of acceptable behavior, and with each change, acceptable behavior becomes ever more defined by one’s personal perspective and preferences.

Interestingly, that ancient book of wisdom, the Bible, foretold of these days and provided counsel on how we should respond. In Proverbs 3:5 the wisest man who ever lived gave us these words from God himself, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” In other words, quit making up your own rules to explain or guide your lives. Trust in God and his word and he will make your ways consistent and aligned with his design.

He told us in Romans 1 that the wrath of God would be revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. Isn’t that what our government and many in our world are trying to do? They’re trying to suppress the truth about their immorality and the value of life itself. We have a President of The United States of America justifying the killing of police officers. We have an entire group of radical Muslims waging war against any organization or country and anyone who stands for Christian values as prescribed in the scriptures. It seems at times that our country’s leadership is bent on protecting their right to do so.

God is giving these people up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie. He is giving them up to dishonorable passions. Their women and men have exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature, and they have become consumed with passion for one another. Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. More and more of our Christian denominations are condoning and participating in such things.

So where does all this lead us? The country in which we live has an election this year for the leader of what used to be the most influential country in the free world. Many are bemoaning the choices before us, as the successful candidate will most likely be elected, not on his or her merits but, as the choice of the lesser of the evils. Does this not sound as though God has given us up to our own passions and suddenly we recognize the repulsiveness of those passions? One candidate is an egotistical braggart with a platform based on platitudes and slogans, and the other is a habitual liar who was declared guilty of stupidity in the best case scenario, but no charges were filed because she was the leading candidate for her particular party. Does this not sound like a country that is being turned over to itself?

How can we respond in the face of such choices?

First, know that God is still God and he has not lost control of his plan. If you read the last book of the Bible, you’ll see that God wins. At the end of all this tomfoolery, God still wins. God created this world and so deeply loves the people in this world that he sent his Son to die on the cross for every person who will place their faith in him. God knew this was going to happen. It may be that he is turning us over to ourselves, we don’t know all that God is doing in this season. We do know that nothing we do here can surprise him or thwart his plan.

Then we can pray. Pray for our leaders. Pray that God will turn this country toward himself so that we will once again, respect and honor his name. We can pray for the election. We can get involved in the process by supporting that candidate that is running on a platform of values that are consistent with God’s word. For those who are so gifted and called, we could be working to take our voice to Congress and the White House, not to mention the Supreme Court.

Last but not least we can vote. I’m sorry that there are those Christians, even in my circles, who feel they should not vote. Not voting is voting. Being angry at all the candidates is not being responsible. You may not like either of the candidates, but God has put you in a country where we have the opportunity to voice our opinion. Not using that gift is casting aside a gift that God has given you. One of the candidates will be elected whether you vote or not. It would be better for your vote to be counted than for you to defer to an unacceptable candidate because you chose not to vote.

Be thankful that God placed you in a country where you had an opportunity to determine the future direction. Not voting is an abandonment of your responsibility to the next generations. The next President will place several Supreme Court justices and will influence the laws in this country for decades to come. Few in this country like its current direction. Some will vote to change that direction. How about you?

On Worship

How we connect with God is a very personal matter for all of us. It is also a topic that carries with it a great deal of emotional energy. There is so much wrapped up in this activity (yes, worship is a verb) that many people try to find that church and worship experience that provides the mysterious connection with God. Yes, it is a mystery when we are able to hear the Creator, God of the universe, Father Son and Holy Spirit, speak to us and know that He is telling us that He cares for us, wants to hear our heart’s cry and our praise.

The concept of worship is expressed in the Old Testament in the Hebrew language as the word shaha pronounced shaw-khaw’. This word is translated as “worship” 99 times in our English Bibles, 31 times as “bow,” and 18 times as “bow down.” The Webster Unabridged Dictionary provides this definition: “The act of paying divine honors to the Supreme Being; religious reverence and homage; adoration, or acts of reverence, paid to God, or a being viewed as God.” We get from these usages and definitions that worship is an act of humbling ourselves, bowing down to a being, in our case, God, to give him the honor and to revere Him as our Source. 1 Peter 5:6 advises, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

In today’s settings, we gather on Sunday mornings for gatherings labeled as “Worship Services.” Millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of Christians gather each week for worship. Many, if not most, have a firm grasp on the process and purpose of worship, but an increasing number of people can be found church hopping trying to find a worship style that suits them. There are multiple variables in this space, including but not limited to: relevant teaching, deep teaching, expository teaching, the hymns written since the reformation, contemporary songs with a faster beat, music of choruses with repetitive expressions of awe, communion every Sunday, communion periodically to keep it special, taking an offering as part of worship, letting my giving be done in secret either online or placed in boxes around the sanctuary before or after the services, and the list goes on. Still others look to the style of church leadership to be comfortable that the governance is focused on maintaining spiritual growth of the body.

Speaking as a worshiper, I am often convicted that I focus more on my own preferences rather than truly engaging in worship of a holy and righteous God. It would seem that at some point we must set aside the color of the carpet and the dress code of the pastor and focus on the One whom we are there to worship. I have to confess that I too fall victim to my own preferences in worship from time to time. Thankfully, my church provides some options from which to choose so that we are able to worship as a larger community with our preferred expressions, particularly in the area of music. The teaching is consistent and biblical, but the style of music, so influential in aiding our conversation with God and expressing our love and adoration, is varied in different services.

I have become convinced in my own mind that God is musically agnostic. What He loves and wants to hear is the expression of our hearts toward Him. We must focus on the object of our worship first and foremost, while making sure that we are hearing the truth of scripture being rightly divided. We must take the responsibility for validating what we are hearing by searching the scriptures to see whether the things we are hearing from the pulpit are correct.

Family, brothers and sisters, worshiping and bowing down involves humbling ourselves and honoring the One to whom honor is due. Worship is not a time to serve ourselves, let’s cast off the things that so easily beset us and put on the armor of light and give to God the glory, honor, and reverence that is due to Him alone.

“Come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker!” Psalm 95:6

Note to self: Come back to read this periodically for a reminder and attitude adjustment!

“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.

Jesus Quotes and God Thoughts

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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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!

Our Thoughts and Prayers …

As we rush to push God, Christ, and references to the Ten Commandments and nativity scenes out of our public visibility, schools, and politically correct conversation, when tragedy strikes we are quick to offer our thoughts and prayers for the people impacted by tragic events. A question might be asked about to whom the prayers are being offered and what exactly we’re thinking about. It all seems to beg the question about the value of thoughts and prayers.

First let’s talk about offering our thoughts. I can sit on the Ponderosa and think about a lot of things and perhaps some might argue that that karma is oozing out of the windows as I post pictures and thoughts on social media. The net result is negligible because other than having the other person “feeling good” that their friends are thinking about them, there is no outside power or support brought about through our thinking about a situation. One might argue that thinking of your loss or pain might give me additional empathy for you, but I’m not aware of any healings or changes of circumstance that have been brought about through the thoughts of friends and neighbors. Because of this, my friends will need to excuse me for not offering my thoughts. I have found them to be ineffectual.

The book of James chapter 5 tells us a couple of things in verse 16, “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Many would like to lean on this passage for the power of prayer, but we have to remember that this is prayer by one and for another person who have submitted themselves to a truth system and faith proposition that believes in God, the Father, and the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. So this is not a one-size fits all kind of prayer.

In Matthew 21, Christ talks about His Father’s house being a house of prayer. How many have darkened the door of a house of God honoring prayer recently? Later in verses 18 – 22, Christ again talks about what is required for effectual prayer. In the closing sentence of that section He tells His disciples, “And, whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” He talks here about moving mountains. I’m here to tell you that this really works and that I’ve seen mountains moved just in the past few months. God has responded to some BHAG requests (Big Hairy Audacious Goal to borrow a term from Jim Collins’ “Good to Great”) in ways that leave little doubt as to the effectiveness of prayer! God has moved mountains!

There has been a lot of bad news of late in our world. So bad, in fact, that the New York Daily News published a headline boldly stating that “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS.” The front page went on to pronounce the futility of “thoughts and prayers.” This is the world’s view. In scripture we see that Christ regularly retreated to a solitary place to pray. If prayer was of no effect, why would Christ go away to pray? Why would He tell us to pray without ceasing? Why would He say that He hears our prayers from afar?

If we look again at the James 5 and Matthew 21 passages, both (and many others) talk of prayers being offered by men and women of faith and in faith. By “in faith” I mean that we who have placed our faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and know that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God, must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Heb 11:6) We’re talking about prayer and relationship here, folks. We can’t deny God’s existence or relevance and expect him to respond to our foxhole cries for help.

When Noah built the ark, he was scorned until the day it started raining. Only 8 people from all of earth’s population were spared by getting into the ark. God promised that He would never do that again and from that promise, we have rainbows that color our skies. There was a time when the prophet Elijah despaired of life itself, sensing that he alone was left to serve and honor God among all the people of Israel. God took him to a quiet place and when Elijah had calmed down, God assured him in a quiet whisper that He had preserved some 7,000 people who were faithful. Elijah was not alone. Neither are we alone nor will we be wiped out!

So, where do we go from here? Those of us who are faithful need to be praying for those who lead government in our country and all over the world, that God will provide wisdom as they carry out their duties. God has said that He has established the authorities. Also that He would preserve a people faithful to Him. Since the beginning of the story of mankind, there have been nations bent on evil and destroying what God has made. Yet, through it all, God has preserved a people who are faithful. Some would say that until recently, the U.S.A. was that city on a hill that was a beacon and whose laws represented biblical values. I think it is safe to say that those days are quickly fading into history as our courts banish the name of God from public mention.

Still, as the mores of our country sliding away from biblical values, His church remains as the bearer of eternal hope in our communities and true believers shine light in their arenas of influence and within our society. Some will be those who have huge audiences and some will be those who touch one life at a time. Let’s not cower in a dark corner. Let’s have our lights shine and let our prayers impact our world as never before. May your prayers be among those that are powerful and effective.

Peace on earth, good will toward men!

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.