Monthly Archives: January 2014

Near Death


“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

There seems to be an increased interest in the paranormal these days: crop circles, UFOs, alien abductions, zombies, vampires, etc. Included in these are the reports of “near-death” experiences. This seems particularly to have piqued an interest among Christians due to the Christian predisposition to think about the afterlife, particularly heaven. A new “Christian” movie that has added fuel to this fire takes its title from a book by the same name: Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo. This is supposedly a factual account of a little boy who dies in a hospital operating room and goes to heaven and returns to report all kinds of amazing things about his experience there.

A Christian lady concerned about what to make of this phenomenon told me about a nurse friend who told her about near death experiences she has witnessed. “I feel very uncomfortable about this,” she said to me. “It does not seem Scriptural…doesn’t seem to match with what Jesus has taught about death. And so, I’m wondering if these sorts of things are considered ‘false prophets doing great wonders to seduce even the elect.’”

She continued, “Surely it is tempting to hear ‘proof’ that such beauty exists…even to believe that, yes, heaven exists, and Jesus is waiting with outstretched arms when we die. Surely some people might become believers upon hearing such tales…at least, folks that would believe ‘we go to a place of great beauty, bright light, where Jesus is’ when we die. It’s such a comforting picture. But is it Scriptural? Are we to believe in these things?”

I assured her that I share her skepticism about these near death experience reports. Obviously, we cannot judge what another person experiences because only they are privy to that information. The same goes for judging another person’s salvation – only God (and the individual) truly knows the condition of the heart. So, when someone reports a near death experience, we have to take them at their word, because only they and God know what they experienced.

But going back to our example of salvation, we can pretty well guess the state of a person’s salvation because of the kinds of “fruit” they bear. Granted, a person may be putting on a good front leading us to think they are saved – in fact, they may even be fooling themselves – but they are not truly saved. Or the opposite may be true. The person may truly be saved, but are presently living in a temporary “back-slidden” state. Again, only God knows for sure, but we can certainly judge their “acts” and know if those acts, or fruits, are genuine – at least outwardly.

Coming back around to our near death question, except for a very small number of cases, most of these experiences report the very same thing regardless of the spiritual condition of the individual. There have been a few reports of individuals experiencing hell, and they are very thankful that they were “brought back,” but this is the exception rather than the norm.

I viewed a video on the topic recently[1]. For some time now neurologists have been studying near death experiences and to date they have no explanation for this phenomenon. It seems that the only thing they have been able to confirm is that when a patient is clinically dead, all brain activity ceases. They have been unable to determine at what point the patient has the “out-of-body” experience. Is it just before they die or is it when they are revived? They do not know. Yet the patients all seem to report similar experiences: a feeling of warmth, peace, acceptance and unconditional love. So, if all of these “good” experiences are true, regardless of the spiritual state of the individual, that might lead one to conclude that everyone goes to heaven – except for really, really bad people. The question then is how does that line up with what the Bible says?

There are several accounts of resuscitations[2] in the Bible where people died and were brought back to life: the raising of the widow’s son (1 Kings 17:22); the raising of the Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4:33-36); the man raised at Elisha’s tomb (2 Kings 13:21); the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:25); saints raised at the death of Christ (Matthew 27:52); raising of the widow’s son (Luke 7:15); the raising of Lazarus (John 11:43-44); raising of Tabitha by Peter (Acts 9:40-41); and the raising of Eutychus by Paul (Acts 20:9-12). With all of these examples, there exists no record about what the individuals experienced during their time of death. In every instance, the Bible is silent.

There is one instance where one died and then returned to tell about it. That was Paul in Acts 14:19-20. He later relates his experience in 2 Corinthians 12:2-7:

I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, … such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man … How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (vv. 2-4)

So, Paul experienced something, but he was not allowed to speak about it. This evidence from Scripture calls into question all the reports we are hearing today. Is it possible that there is a hidden agenda there? – one that says, “What you believe makes no difference. If you are a reasonably good person, you will go to heaven.” That is the devil’s oldest lie: “Yea, hath God said …? … Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 1:3, 4).

Jesus spoke more about hell than He spoke of heaven. In Luke 16:19-31, He relays the account of a rich man who died and woke up in Hades and likewise, poor, sickly Lazarus died “and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom” (v. 22). Here we are given a peek into the afterlife from which no one returns (generally speaking). Two very different places are depicted and two very different experiences are presented. Jesus related this “story” as an actual account. Considering His divine nature, He had firsthand knowledge of this event, which clearly shows us that not everyone goes to the same place or experiences the same thing. Something else worth noting in this account is that nowhere does Jesus describe the rich man as being a particularly (what we would consider) a “bad” person. From Jesus’ account, we gather that the rich man was self-absorbed, narcissistic, self-centered, selfish, and unconcerned with the plight of the poor beggar that sat at his gate, but it’s not as if he were a mass murderer, or anything like that. He may have been a good father, husband and provider. He was evidently concerned about his loved ones (vv. 27-28). Had we known him, we probably would not have considered him to be a bad person. Those who mourned him at his funeral probably thought he ascended to “Abraham’s bosom,” but that certainly was not the case.

So, the bottom line is that we cannot know with certainty what these people have experienced, but we are right to employ a healthy dose of skepticism. There is no biblical basis for these reports, and science offers no satisfactory explanations. The fact that most experiences reported are positive contradicts Jesus’ very words that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). The truth is that most people will NOT have a good experience. If these experiences are genuine, we should expect more bad experiences than good, but that is not what is being reported.

Of greater importance to anyone reading these words is the assurance and security of a place prepared for you by the Savior. He says:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1-3)

God promises: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Jesus adds to that: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).


[1] Documentary: “The Day I Died”

[2] Note that resuscitation is not the same as resurrection. In the former case, the individual eventually dies again. In the latter case, the individual remains alive for ever. Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). Because He lives, we can be assured of eternal life.

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It’s Not WHAT You Know, But WHO You Know That Matters

“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;” (Philippians 3:10)

I love to study Scripture and to mine the deeper treasures buried in God’s Word. It has always been a challenge for me to read the Bible all the way through in a year because I cannot just “read” the Bible. I find myself getting stuck on a passage and reaching for my Young’s Concordance, or Strong’s Dictionary to get the full meaning of a word or a phrase or to find other related passages on that verse or topic. Sometimes, I refer to commentaries to see how men like Calvin, Henry, Spurgeon, Criswell, Morris, etc. reflected on the same passage. I cannot just “read” the Bible. In fact, I would say that in my lifetime, I have read the Bible through – cover to cover – only about four times.

For my efforts, I have gained considerable knowledge about the Bible. I imagine that I can recite, in paraphrase, the entire Book. When I hear Scripture quoted, I can guess at least from what book of the Bible the quote comes. Sometimes I can even guess the book and chapter and quite often, especially for commonly quoted passages, the book, chapter, and verse.

I do not say this to brag, because there are many that are gifted far beyond me in Scripture knowledge. I know and admire pastors and teachers with the ability to, on a moment’s notice, stand up and expound on a passage complete with cross references and illustrations. That is impressive to me.

But there is danger in striving for knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Indeed, the first temptation foisted upon man included the desire for knowledge. “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Genesis 3:5-6, emphasis added).

Bertrand Russell once said, “There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge,” and that is true. Certainly in the secular realm, but also in the sacred, the accumulation of great amounts of knowledge serves only to produce educated fools (and I use the word in the biblical sense: Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Even when the strife for knowledge is well-intentioned in seeking to learn more about God and His Word, the end result can be a vacuous collection of facts that serves only to stroke the possessor’s ego. In that case, as Thomas Jefferson said, “He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”

What good is knowing about God without knowing God? The truth is that the knowledge about God is ubiquitous, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20). Here the saint and the sinner are on equal footing, and, while Thomas Jefferson was not speaking on spiritual matters, the adage holds true. Even those who claim to know nothing about God are closer to the truth than those who have filled their minds with “book learning” and placed their trust in what they “know.”

I don’t say this to downplay or discourage education – especially religious education – but rather to stress that the object of our desire to gain knowledge should be as Paul said, “to know Him” not just to know about Him. A ThD is a noble goal, but it is not a requirement for knowing God. If the focus is right, God makes this promise: “And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7, emphasis added). “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psalm 37:4). If our desire is “to know Him,” God promises: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

When I was in the secular labor force it was a common saying that “It’s not what you know, but who you know that matters.” That is a rather cynical perspective for someone clawing his way to the top, but for those who seek a far superior goal, it is a word of hope. “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). That is my desire. What about you?

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You Don’t Go to Hell Because You’re A Sinner

You have a choice!

You have a choice!

“But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:” (Mark 3:29)

One of the charges leveled against God by unbelievers is the question of why a loving God would send anyone to hell. A corollary to that questions why God would send sinners to hell since He created them that way in the first place. Unbelievers are not alone in this camp. They are joined by many pseudo Christians, like those in the Emergent Church movement who would do away with the doctrine of hell altogether in their misguided effort to rescue God from such charges, and thus make Him more attractive to the masses.

The truth of the matter is that God sends no one to hell. Hell was not intended for man, but rather it was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). From the beginning of time when man fell, God has always been proactive in the restoration of the broken relationship between God and man.

When man first disobeyed God, God immediately reached out to man in an effort to reconcile the broken relationship. “And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9). Does anyone really believe that God did not know where they were? David says, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Psalm 139:7). God knew where they were. He gave them the opportunity to come forward and confess their disobedience, but instead they made excuses: “I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). Again God gave opportunity for confession: “And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” (Genesis 3:11). Of course God knew what they had done. He was present when the serpent tempted Eve. In fact, Satan could not have tempted Eve without God’s permission (See Job 1-2). Just in case you are thinking it unfair of God to put Eve through such a test remember that “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Adam and Eve had all of their needs met. They wanted for nothing, yet they chose to disobey. But it was God who opened the door for reconciliation.

From the beginning God initiated the plan to reconcile man to Himself. “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; [He] shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). God’s solution was to take “upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). Such extreme measures were necessary because He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). That being the case, after all that effort on His part, why would He send anyone to hell?

As can be seen by the example in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), it was not the sin of disobedience that brought the curse, but lack of contrition on the part of the guilty couple. God gave ample opportunity to confess, assume responsibility, and ask for forgiveness, but instead they offered up excuses. If our sin kept us from being reconciled to God, no one would be saved “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But God has provided the solution to the rift that exists between God and man. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). For this reason He said, “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation” (Mark 3:28-29, emphasis added). To “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit” is nothing more than rejecting the message of salvation that the Holy Spirit brings to every individual.

What is that message? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). Reject that message, and it is not God that sends you to hell. At that point, you have rejected God and His offer of reconciliation, so He has no other option but to say, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). You don’t go to hell because you’re a sinner, but because you have rejected God’s offer of salvation.

If you are unsure of your eternal state and are still conscious and breathing, there is hope for you. You have two choices: God or no God. Just remember, whatever choice you make, it is for eternity. If you choose God, He says, “Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13). Sin won’t keep you out of heaven, but the wrong choice will.

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