December 1

The Self-emptying of Jesus to Come for Us at Christmas

The Sunday after Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to preach twice in the Marquette Branch Prison.  Back in the 1990s the Pope made national news when he visited one of the worst prisons in Rome. It was the first time in ninety years that a pope had gone to a prison, and in greeting the prisoners he said, “You could not come to me, so I have come to you.”

 

That little incident illustrates the heart of the gospel—that we were desperate prisoners, condemned and locked up for crimes we have committed, who could not go to God and never had the hope of Him coming to us.  But in the person of His Son God did what we could not expect.  He came to us.  And He did more than just visit us; He ransomed us by the payment of His own blood for our crimes against Him.  What did it take for this to happen?

 

Philippians 2:5-8 answers that question with a very intriguing word.  The passage says that Christ Jesus emptied Himself.  Verse 7 reads, Who made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  The phrase “made himself nothing” comes from one Greek word—kenosis.  This passage is called “The Kenosis Passage” from this word.  And the question is “What did Christ empty Himself of in order to come to us as a man?”  Several answers can be given.

 

He never emptied Himself of His deity.  Verse 6 says that Christ was “in very nature God” in eternity past before the incarnation.  God can never become less than God or else He’s not God.  So the Son of God did not give up or empty Himself of any of His divine attributes.  The incarnation was not a giving up of His divine nature but the addition of a human nature.  Jesus was always fully God and fully man.

 

He left His exalted position in glory to take a lowly position on earth.  The hymn writer Francis Havergal captured it just right when she penned these words about Christ:  My Father’s house of light, My glory-circled throne, I left, for earthly night, For wand’ rings sad and lone; I left, I left it all for thee, Hast thou left aught for Me? (I Gave My Life for Thee, verse 2)

 

He subjected Himself to human weakness.  The only time Jesus used His divine powers was in subjection to the Father’s plan.  So He gave up the self-use of His attributes and subjected Himself to our human limitations.  So on one occasion He asked for a drink.  The Creator of the oceans was thirsty.  He was so weak after His beating that He fell under the crossbeam.  The One who made the elephant had no strength.  On another occasion He was so exhausted from work that He fell asleep in a boat.  The One who never sleeps or slumbers slept form exhaustion.  That’s how little He became.  Though he retained all the powers of the Father, He never exercised them for His personal use but lived with our limitations.

 

What is so astounding about this incomparable condescension is that Christ Jesus’ example is set before us to follow.  We are told in v. 5, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”   While Christmas is a time to celebrate the self-emptying of Christ for us, it is also a time to long to be more like Him—giving up our rights, humbling ourselves, serving others.  Hast thou left aught for Me?

 

Merry Christmas, Pastor Brian (:-}).

November 1

All True Change Begins with Repentance

Many years ago I heard Pastor John Guest, then a pastor from Pittsburgh, say that all true change begins with repentance.  Though I heard him preach for an entire week, that was the one thing that sticks in my mind these many years later.  We could define repentance this way:  sorrow for sin leading to a changed mind about sin resulting in changed behavior toward sin.  Notice that all three dimensions of our personality are involved in true repentance.  The emotions are grieved over the sin we have committed.  The mind agrees that a change is needed.  Finally, the will acts taking a new direction towards God.

 

2 Corinthians 7:10-11 is possibly the clearest explanation of how true repentance works:  10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

 

Verse 10 is one of the best explanations of the difference between Judas and Peter.  Peter rejected Christ, as did Judas.  Peter denied Christ, as did Judas.  Judas died lost, while Peter was restored.  The difference was that Judas had a worldly grief in which he was sorry over the consequences of sin.  He felt bad that he had betrayed innocent blood and was unable to face the shame and humiliation it would bring.  Rather than turning to Jesus in real repentance for forgiveness, he took the selfish way out and ended his life.

 

Peter, on the other hand, had a godly grief not simply over the consequences of sin but over the fact that he had committed sin.  It was the sin itself that caused him to go to a solitary place and weep bitterly.   When he told Jesus three times that he loved Him, he admitted he was wrong wanting a new direction.  That was true repentance that led to his restoration by the Savior.

 

What are the marks of this kind of repentance either in a nonbeliever for salvation or a believer for restoration?  Verse 11 explains what true repentance does as well as any verse I know.

 

There is earnestness or eagerness to no longer be indifferent or complacent about sin in one’s life when we realize it.  Then there is eagerness to clear yourselves.  This is the desire to make things right and remove the stigma that the sin has caused.  Next there is indignation which is displeasure at what has been offensive to the Lord and harmful to others.  There is also fear, the healthy reverence for the Lord that does not want to continue offending Him.  There is longing, which is the desire to restore relationships with those affected.  There is zeal for that which is right, the opposite of one’s wrong.  This leads to punishment, the willingness to accept the consequences that may come and see justice done where required.  Finally, this shows one to be innocent, the Greek word for holy or pure.  The end result of repentance is a real concern for restored innocence and the pursuit of a blameless or pure life once again.

 

God loves to see these marks of repentance because He knows they will lead to the good He has planned for us.  He does not want us to live in regret, but salvation and restoration.  Praise Him.

 

Your friend, thankful for God’s work, Pastor Brian (:-}).

October 1

Experiencing Peace thru Prayer

One of the great promises of the Bible is that believers can experience peace through prayer even when circumstances remain unchanged.  Philippians 4:6-7 is where such a promise occurs.

 

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

The Old Testament often illustrates truths in the New Testament so we can have real life examples.  It is here that Psalm 7 is very helpful.  David was fleeing for his very life from King Saul who hounded him for eight long years.  So David prayed, save me from all my pursuers and deliver me, v. 1.  We don’t know at what point during the eight years David prayed Psalm 7, but clearly by the end of the prayer it remained unanswered.  Yet David could say in the final verse of Psalm 7, I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High, v. 17.  David clearly had the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.  He was praising God and at peace after his prayer which still remained unanswered.  How could this be?

 

Please not the connection between David’s thanks in Psalm 7 and with thanksgiving in the Philippians passage above.  That is very key.  How do we truly know when we have placed a matter in God’s hands in prayer?  The answer is that we can thank God for the answer before it has been given.  When we have that kind of peace that we can thank God for what He is going to do even though circumstances remain unchanged, then we have truly given the matter to Him.

 

Our natural tendency is to place a matter in God’s hands and then take it back again through worry and anxiety.  We’ve given it to the Lord in prayer, but our anxious fear shows we have taken it back again.  Our lack of peace indicates that we have not really lain our requests before the Lord confident that the matter is under His control.  How did David get to that place?

 

The answer is found in the opening line Psalm 7 where David says O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge, v. 1.  A refuge was a cave where someone could go in a thunder storm and feel safe.  So David felt safe with God as His refuge and so was at peace even while fleeing from Saul.  We have the same refuge but often do not feel safe even though we pray like David did.  Why?

 

This is the first time in the Psalms that Lord (Yahweh) and God (Elohim) appear together.  Yahweh speaks of God’s love and faithfulness to His children.  So our refuge is a welcoming one.  God invites us to come.  Elohim speaks of God’s creative power.  So our refuge is a strong one.  God is able to act on our behalf.  It is clear that David knew his God and believed that He was loving so He would care for him, and that He was powerful so He could care for him.

 

This is always the key, isn’t it?  When we know our God and believe what He says about Himself, then we know He will care for us and can care for us.  Knowledge of God + trust in God = the peace of God revealed by thanks to God.  If it worked for David, it can work for us.

 

Your friend, seeking peace thru prayer, Pastor Brian (:-}).

September 1

Jesus’ Hard Saying on Radical Discipleship

One of the hardest sayings of Jesus is His call to radical discipleship in Luke 14:26:  If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  For Jesus to make such a demand says something very unique about Him, for no ordinary person would be so bold.  This also tells us that following Jesus will at times be costly putting us at odds with our own families.

 

Jesus is using at least two figures of speech in this demanding call.  The first is hyperbole which is exaggerating something for effect.  If I say, “I hate being late,” I am using extreme language to let everyone know how much I value punctuality.  Jesus does not mean literal hate but is using extreme language to show us the serious demands of discipleship.

 

The second figure is metonymy which literally means to “change names.”  It substitutes one thing for another associated with it, like cause for result.  In this case the exaggerated emotion of hate (the cause) is substituted for the result which it produces such as “esteeming less” or “choosing second.”  My friend Dr. Dwight Perry as a Chicago Bears fan once told me he hates the Packers.  He was using hyperbole because he was very calm when he said it, and he was also using metonymy substituting the cause (the exaggerated emotion of hate) for its result (that he chooses the Bears above the Packers as a fan).  So, we can read Jesus words this way, “If anyone comes to me and does not choose second (or esteem less) his own father,” etc.  Let’s apply this.

 

Our parents’ care is not the issue.  Caring for our parents when they become dependent is not the same as them contradicting God’s will.  The 5th Command calls us to honor our parents including caring for them when they can’t themselves.  Jesus did this for His own mother while dying on the cross setting an example for us.  Sometimes sacrifices have to be made to insure this, but in such cases those sacrifices are the will of Jesus.

 

Jesus must come first in our affections or desires.  A Jewish friend of mine became a Christian because as he was reading the Gospels he said, “I fell in love with Jesus.”  Christianity is not only a set of doctrines we believe, but it is a relationship we enter into based upon love.  Sometimes loving one person supremely (like a spouse) means loving others less.  If we have really come to know Jesus we will love Him supremely over others we still love, but less.

 

Jesus’ will must exceed family if need be, and our own personal desires also.  Jesus means we must esteem our families less than Him or choose them second to Him, as we also do our own selves.  It is not an emotion that is really at issue (hate), but the choice that Jesus calls us to make.  We can love our parents dearly, yet choose to follow Jesus when they disagree with Him. Discipleship then is a matter of obedience rather than feeling or convenience.  Disciples obey.

 

Jesus’ demand must be right if He is God.  Since God is the greatest good there is, His will must also be our highest good.  Whatever He requires is right and true and our highest duty.  Since Jesus is God He can do no other than make this radical demand or He would devalue His own person.  As hard as some choices may be we know they are right because He wills them.

 

Your friend, seeking to follow Him, Pastor Brian (:-}).

August 1

Our Weapon Against Discouragement

When one studies the armor of God in Ephesians 6 it becomes clear that each piece of the equipment is designed to defeat a particular strategy of Satan.  The belt of truth, for example, counteracts the comprising of our integrity.  Satan knows that if he can lead us into dishonesty or duplicity he can inflict all manner of trouble in our lives.  An old Chinese proverb says, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when integrity is lost, all is lost.”  Satan knows that full well, but the belt of truth keeps us living a truthful life.

 

What battles against discouragement?  Which piece of the armor?  Let me put three verses together and it becomes clear.  Then let’s consider this piece of armor.

 

Take the helmet of salvation, Ephesians 6:17a

For a helmet the hope of salvation, 1 Thessalonians 5:8

Hope does not disappoint us, Romans 5:5

 

Note that it is clear that the helmet of salvation refers to final salvation, what we are still hoping for.  Salvation in all its totality is in view, but particular emphasis falls on our future glorification which we are still hoping for when Jesus comes.  And this hope will not disappoint us because Jesus cannot be defeated and will bring about the completion of our salvation when He returns.

 

Putting this together the helmet of salvation is the piece of armor that keeps us from discouragement.  Knowing that we cannot ultimately be defeated, that Who we have placed our confidence in cannot fail, gives us hope and confidence in the times when life in a fallen world does disappoint us.  We can keep our head up for we know our ultimate victory will transcend every discouraging thing in this life.  Let’s consider three applications of this.

 

Satan is already defeated at the cross, John 12:31-32.  Jesus said that at the cross the prince of this world would be judged and “will be driven out.”  Jesus said that He “will draw all men to myself.”  So Satan is already a defeated foe.  The decisive battle has been won.  Only the final sentence upon Satan awaits to be carried out.  We are not called on to defeat Satan, but live in the victory already provided by wearing the armor.

 

We may lose spiritual battles, but not the final war, John 21:15-15.  Peter lost a spiritual battle when Satan sifted him like wheat as Jesus predicted, and Peter denied his Lord three times.  We can lose spiritual battles too.  But, like Peter, Jesus can restore us and we can go on living for the Master once again.  Despite failure we will still share in His victory.

 

God always has a remnant of faithful believers, 1 Kings 19:18.  God told discouraged Elijah that there were still 7000 faithful Israelites.  That was a small remnant but God was still working through them to accomplish His will.  All faithful believers belong to Jesus remnant and so are His tools to accomplish His will.  Since this is always the way God has worked, we can take great courage in knowing He is still working through us in that way today, outnumbered as we often feel.  So, let’s put on the helmet and face down the discouragement of our day.

 

Your friend, fighting with the weapons, Pastor Brian (:-}).

July 1

Plans during Sabbatical

The Elders at Bethel have graciously allowed the pastors to choose a one month Sabbatical to refresh, relax and invest in spiritual renewal.  The term Sabbatical comes from the Old Testament Sabbath referring to the seventh day as the day of rest and renewal.  Counting my three years as a youth pastor I’ve been privileged to be in the ministry for 31 years.  This is my first official Sabbatical so I am very grateful.  What to do?

 

A nice development in the publishing world has been the opportunity for unknown writers to publish manuscripts through small market companies.  I have one pastor-friend who has already published two books through this very means.  A member of Bethel has a pastor-cousin who has written several books this way.  Since I enjoy writing I thought the Sabbatical would be a good time to try my hand.  What to write?

 

Several years ago I was teaching the Cornerstone ABF on the subject of Christian Ethics.  A large part of that study focused on the 10 Commandments.  Out of that grew an awareness that the 10 Commandments undergird all Old Testament and New Testament ethics and morals in the Bible.  Wherever you go in the Scriptures, moral and ethical teaching always relates back to the 10 Commandments.

 

As I realized this it gripped me that I had never preached on all 10 Commandments.  When I learned that the two tablets of stone given to Moses are the only part of the Bible not written through human authors but by the very finger of God Himself, it seemed to me that every pastor at some point in His ministry ought to do a series on the 10 Commandments.  Two years ago I did that series.

 

What I learned felt literally like the joy of discovery.  There were so many discoveries that I couldn’t wait to share the messages in the pulpit.  At the close of the series I was presented with a lovely quilt of the 10 Commandments by three ladies at Bethel who started the quilt unbeknownst to me along the way.  Their appreciation was the most visible response I’ve ever received to a series of sermons.

 

Since the research for that series is done, I’ve decided to try my hand at publishing it in book form.  I find research is very hard work, but writing is more stimulating and enjoyable.  So during the days of the week for this Sabbatical I will enjoy writing the research in chapter format and renewing the truths I’ve learned before.  How far I can get in a month will be a new experience.  A dear friend has provided me a get-a-way where I can enjoy privacy but not be far from home.

 

During the evenings and weekends I’ll be relaxing with my family and pulling our camper to various places where Jay may be having Legion baseball tournaments.  The “camper that never leaves the church” may get a little more use this summer.  Swimming and camping are the hobbies that refresh me so I look forward to plenty of that during the Sabbatical.  Thank you to the elders for this opportunity.  I’ll miss my church family and rejoice to be back in late July.

 

Your friend, thankful for a Sabbath, Pastor Brian (:-}).

June 1

Awaiting the Supreme Court Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage

By now we are aware that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage will be handed down in June 2015.  Currently 36 states and the District of Columbia recognize the rights of same-sex couples to marry.  If the court rules accordingly, state laws opposing such marriage will be overturned and same-sex marriage will become the law of the land.  This will be as monumental a social change as was Roe v. Wade in 1973 that mandated abortion-on-demand throughout the U.S.  If the court does not rule in favor, the tide of opinion is turning in our country and it is only a matter of time when a future decision will mandate it in all 50 states.

 

Already some Christian leaders have warned that a favorable ruling will mean “the end of Western Civilization as we have known it.”  Certainly that was the effect of Roe v. Wade with one out of four pregnancies in America now ending in abortion.  The legalizing of same-sex marriage will mean the triumph of the sexual revolution which has always wanted no restrictions on sexual behavior.  Already advocates of plural marriage are advancing their arguments, attempting to change further the meaning of marriage to be what anyone wants it to be.  Justice Samuel Alito’s perceptive questioning raised this issue of what is to stop several people from demanding group marriage if the definition of marriage can be changed to include same-sex couples.  The lawyer could only respond that society has not recognized marriage to include more than two people.  We might add to her statement, “yet.”

 

Several reactions to this come to mind.  One, the Bible is very clear that homosexual relations are morally sinful.    You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination, Leviticus 18:22.  This is so clear it needs no explanation, and it can receive no refutation.  As D. James Kennedy wrote, If homosexual relations are not wrong, then nothing is wrong.  Bible-believing Christians have no choice but to stand on the truth of God’s Word and not compromise.  Others may capitulate but we cannot.  And we will be tested.

 

Two, the open acceptance and normalizing of homosexual relations is a sign that God has abandoned our culture to the consequences of its sin.  Three times in Romans 1 Scripture says emphatically that God gives up to degraded passions a society that abandons Him, vv. 24, 26, 28.  Those degraded passions are men committing shameless acts with men, v. 27, and even their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature, v. 26.  The result of this is that a veritable floodgate of iniquity opens up as a culture descends ever more deeply into moral darkness and chaos, vv. 29-32.  That is now what is ahead morally and spiritually for America.  Apart from national repentance and revival we cannot avoid descending into a new spiritual Dark Ages.  God’s judgment is upon us.  May He graciously spare us with revival.

 

Three, the gospel of Jesus Christ is still able to rescue sinners from the bondage of sin.  We don’t despise sinners, but lovingly and boldly share the good news that can set them free.  That’s every sinner’s hope.  Despite the lie that homosexuals cannot be delivered, Paul knew better.  He knew many people in Corinth who practice homosexuality, 1 Corinthians 6:9.  Yet he wrote this about his Christian converts, And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God, v. 11.

 

Your friend, sharing the good news, Pastor Brian (:-}).

May 1

Sinfulness, Humility, & Amazing Grace

One of the clear teachings of the Bible is that the closer we get to God the more aware we are of our own continuing sinfulness and His marvelous grace in forgiving us on a daily basis.  This has a twofold outcome of humbling us, for we truly are miserable sinners, and yet, at the same time, giving us the deepest joy for God has truly been merciful to us for Jesus’ sake.  So we regularly experience the remorse of contrition with the joy of forgiveness.  We can say with the Apostle Paul, I am the worst of sinners, 1 Timothy 1:15-16, and yet again, Rejoice in the Lord always, Philippians 4:4.  This is always the safest position for every Christian, because it will keep us humble in ourselves yet joyful in the Lord and not despairing.

 

One day in a restaurant I experienced this thru a simple illustration.  The restaurant has a high ceiling with sun lights around the center.  While waiting for my meal the sun was beaming thru those lights sending shafts of light into the room.  All of the dust particles were illuminated by the shafts of light so that I was surprised.  I had been in the restaurant many times without ever noticing the dust floating in the air.  I assumed I was breathing crystal clear, Upper Peninsula air.  But in the sunlight I could see the air I was breathing was loaded with dirt particles.

 

What hit me is that this is what the Christian life is like.  Those dust particles were there all along, but they were never detected by me until the brilliant light of the sun shone upon them.  Had the clouds blocked the light I would have continued to think the air was dirt-free.  It is the same as a Christian.  We fail daily in many ways often imperceptible to us.  Sins of commission, omission, thought & word cling to us daily.  Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin?” Proverbs 20:9.  Clearly, no one.  It is only when the light of God’s Word shines upon us that we see the hidden dirt exposed so clearly by the light of God’s truth.

 

That’s why the more we study the Bible and learn of the beauty of God’s holiness, the more the brilliant light of His character exposes the remaining impurity within us.  We are surprised at the sins we never saw before.  We are humbled and led to confession, and then filled with wonder and praise because the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin, 1 John 1:7.

 

A great biblical illustration of this truth is the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair in Luke 7.  Simon the Pharisee, proud of his own righteousness, snubbed Jesus by not having a servant wash His dirty feet as was customary.  But this woman lowered herself to do the dirty task with her own hair (which the Bible says is a woman’s glory).  Jesus said, Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little, Luke 7:47.  The closer she got to Jesus the more humbled she was by His forgiveness of her many sins.  But at the same time, the more she also loved Him and found overflowing peace in His wonderful grace and acceptance.

 

Commenting on this woman, B. B. Warfield, the old-time, Bible-believing Princeton theologian, wrote, But we are saved sinners; and it is our salvation which gives the tone to our life, a tone of joy which swells in exact proportion to the sense we have of our ill-desert; for it is he to whom much is forgiven who loves much, and who, loving, rejoices much.  Amen.

 

Your friend, in Christ, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 1

The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards for Us Today

In a recent sermon I mentioned the story of Jonathan Edwards.  He was a pastor in New England who was instrumental in the First Great Awakening that saw revival come to the thirteen original colonies of Colonial America in the 1700s.  Today Edwards is considered to be one of America’s premier pastors and his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is probably the most famous sermon ever preached in America.  Today Edwards has enormous influence through his spiritual and doctrinal writings.

 

But that was not always the case.  In his own state of Massachusetts he was widely discredited and ignored after his death.  The only portrait we have of Edwards was painted through a Scottish benefactor who believed Edwards would one day be recognized by posterity as a great Christian leader.  His own American countryman had no such concern to preserve his likeness for later generations.  How did this come about?

 

In New England it was believed that Holy Communion was a converting ordinance, that is, that nonbelievers could become believers by participating in communion.  The problem was that to partake of communion one had to be a member of the church.  This led to the widespread practice of admitting people to membership who were nominal Christians who gave mental assent only to the teachings of Christianity but were not born again and gave no personal testimony of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  Edwards himself went along with this practice for years admitting unsaved people to church membership.  He finally saw two errors which are widely taken for granted today.

 

One, if nonbelievers become church members they can be lulled into a state of complacency thinking that all is well with their souls when it is not.  This can lead to false assurance causing them to think they are right with God when they are not.  Two, if a church becomes filled with unconverted members they can become tools of the Devil.  When issues arise that require spiritual thinking, the unconverted member has no capacity for that and can be used of Satan to bring compromise and division into the church.  This actually happened in New England as many of those churches became Unitarians denying the Trinity and deity of the Lord Jesus.

 

Today the dangers of unconverted church members are clearly understood and Bible believing churches require a personal testimony of saving grace before admitting members.  But in the 1700s when Edwards finally opposed the practice and spoke out against it he was forced to resign from his church after twenty three years as one of the most faithful pastors in America.  Rather than continue a practice he knew was contrary to Scripture and harming souls, he resigned with no place to go.  His own relatives were the leaders in the opposition to him causing long term rifts among his extended family.  He was without income for six months with a large family to support.  When Edwards finally found a new church it was a difficult ministry in frontier conditions with dangers from hostile Indians.

 

Once again we learn that a courageous Christian standing on the truth of Scripture often turns out to be right and a safeguard to future generations.  Thank God for Edwards’s legacy for us today.

 

Your friend, learning from history, Pastor Brian (:-}).

March 1

Lessons Learned from the “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven”

At age six Alex Malarkey was in a car accident with his father Kevin that resulted in the boy being in a coma for two months.  He claimed that he had been to heaven during that time and spoke to Jesus.  Out of the experience came the best-selling book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.  Now 16-yrs-old, Alex says the book is not true and has admonished LifeWay Christian stores for profiting from it.  He wrote a letter addressed “to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism.”  An excerpt from the letter says:

 

“I did not die.  I did not go to heaven.  I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.  When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible.  People have profited from lies, and continue to.  They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth.  Anything written by man cannot be infallible.  It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven…. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient.  Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.”

 

Over the last number of years books of this type have proliferated even among Christian publishers.  One of the books reports a trip to Hell and another was made into a movie.  Now that Alex has recanted his story as a fabrication promoted by publishers eager to make money off of the public, what lessons might we learn about why these stories are succeeding today.

 

One lesson is that Americans are increasingly elevating personal experience as the arbiter of truth instead of the Bible.  Pastor David Platt pointed out that there is not one instance in the whole Bible of a person dying, going to heaven, and returning to tell about it.  Even Paul who experienced visions and revelations of heaven was not sure whether he went to heaven bodily or in his spirit, but he said he could not talk about the things he had heard, let alone write a book about them, 2 Corinthians 12:1-4.  In addition, Proverbs 30:4 explicitly declares that people do not go up to heaven and come down again.  Asking a series of questions with a no answer the verse opens by asking, Who has gone up to heaven and come down?  Clearly no one.  Shouldn’t this create caution about the many who claim otherwise?

 

Many years ago a Christian leader told me that a popular Christian movement has a tendency to elevate personal experience as the guide for the Christian life instead of biblical truth.  As absolute truth is more and more receding, people are replacing it with their own feelings, intuitions and experiences.  While former generations viewed such individual, subjective impressions as untrustworthy, currently there is an enormous confidence in the powers of the self to determine what is true or false.  One deeply deceived New Age Movement follower once replied to me, after I asked how he knew his experiences were true, “You just know.”  It didn’t matter if the facts could not be validated, he just knew and was so sincere about it.

 

It is extremely sad that a Christian publisher has led the public astray with a made-up story that contradicts the Bible in the first place and now is admitted was not true.  As Alex now says, The Bible is sufficient.  Let’s read it, learn it, and test every truth claim by it.

 

Your friend, needing insight and wisdom from above, Pastor Brian (:-}).