Tag Archives: Popular Opinion

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.