Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Near Death Experiences — Don’t Fall in Love with Them

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Our best, most accurate, and truthful source of information — the Bible — does not give us specifics as to what to expect in heaven. On the Horizon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition prints available at Great Big Canvas and Framed Canvas Art.

“Did you read the book?”

“Nope.”

“See the movie?”

“Nope.”

“Then what makes you think you can have an opinion on the matter?”

I grew up in a family of scientists, where not having a PhD in a discipline (and most 13-year-olds don’t have one of these) meant that you were unqualified to have an opinion on the topic at hand — evolution, say, or the nutritive content (or lack of) of pesticide-laden food.

I learned early that an effective means of squashing dialogue and dissent is to call the other person stupid or unqualified, a technique used liberally in the scientific, political, educational, religious, or financial communities today. (As an aside, since most of the people “representing” these areas don’t have English degrees, perhaps they should refrain from writing, ever. See the absurdity?)

Misgivings about NDEs

So it is when you, or rather, I, express misgivings about Near Death Experiences, first-hand accounts by people who have died medically, been transported elsewhere (heaven, or hell), and returned to tell of their experiences.

It’s not that I don’t believe them — although the more money they make in the process of telling their story the less credence I give to their motives — it’s that I don’t need their stories to confirm my faith, and I encourage my Christian brothers and sisters, especially, to be wary, very very wary, about incorporating NDEs into their faith life.

Why?

Here are — 4 reasons:

Don’t Touch That Curtain

1) Scripture expressly tells us to not try to break the barrier between this world and the next. Leviticus 19: 31 says, “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them,” and Isaiah 8: 19 asks, “Why consult the dead on  behalf of the living?”

Many NDE messages include words of advice from dead loved ones, to “go back and tell the world about this,” (generally in a book, movie, and multiple talk show appearances), but “it is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to silence.” (Psalm 115: 17)

Noticeably missing from NDE accounts are specific, direct messages from Jesus Christ telling them, “Praise and glorify the Son of Man, and tell people that I am the only way to heaven.” Rather, the message is a more innocuous, “Go and tell people that God is love.”

That’s it?

No Eye Has Seen, No Mind Has Conceived

2) Nobody on earth knows what heaven looks like. 1 Corinthians 2: 9 tells us, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

The sights, the smells, the sounds, the colors, the experience of heaven — these are hidden to us while we live on earth. We are told to focus on, and follow, Jesus. Ocean Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

These words come from the apostle Paul, who later spoke about a man (many think this is autobiographical) who “was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”  (2 Corinthians 11: 28) No books, no movies, no talk show appearances.

While there are many accounts in Scripture of the dead being brought back to life — Lazarus (John 11: 38-44); Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5: 35-43); the widow’s son (Luke 7: 11-17) — distinctly absent are firsthand accounts from these people about their experiences.

Jesus Is Silent

3) Jesus Himself, the best source of truth about what life is like after death, does not share this information with us. In the 40 days after His resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus , “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets . . . explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24: 13-35)

Christ’s focus was not details about the afterlife, but teaching how Scripture was fulfilled in Him, and instructions to His followers to “go make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28: 19)

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 21: 21)

Is God Glorified? How?

4) God is not glorified through NDE experiences, but human beings are. Point number one touches upon the innocuousness of the message brought back, and how the supremacy and sovereignty of Jesus Christ is not part of that message.

In Matthew 17: 1-13, Jesus, in the Transfiguration, is visited by Moses and Elijah, and this mountaintop experience is witnessed by Peter, James, and John. Peter’s response is distinctly human-based:

“If you wish, I will put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17: 4)

With a cover charge, perhaps?

Christ’s response is,

“Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17: 9)

THAT particular event is the big one, and it is the one that is shoved into the background when we focus upon, seek out, and place our trust in Near Death Experiences.

We are told that, in the latter days, “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect,” (Matthew 24: 24) and while many, no doubt, of NDE speakers have genuinely experienced something, if that experience does not glorify Jesus Christ, then it’s not a message worth focusing on.

“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert, do not go out; or, “Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.” (Matthew 24: 26)

For now, we are increasingly getting messages from “beyond.” In the future, we will be told that Christ Himself has appeared.

It’s happening, people — false messages, false signs, false wonders — that look really, really real, but don’t glorify God. Be awake.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage Christians to make a distinction between the words “spirituality” and “Christianity.” Just because something generates from the spiritual realm, does not mean that it is from God.

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Is It Enough — Just to Believe?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

There is a sense of peace and joy in believing in a good, gracious, merciful, loving, compassionate, understanding God. Blossom, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

I’ll be the first to admit that I make things too complicated, and as an astute and thoughtful reader wrote me about a recent article, The Kingdom of Heaven — How Do We Get There?,

“Isn’t it enough just to believe?”

I would say that he stopped me cold if I hadn’t already been sitting, and his point was that, In Acts 16: 30-31 the jailer in charge of the apostle Paul and Silas asked them,

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

My correspondent wrote: Paul and Silas “did not say change your life, or walk with God, or submit to Him and follow where He leads you. They said ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.’ It’s that simple — why make it any harder than it has to be?”

Good question, and in my pitiful defense I point out that Paul and Silas’s answer is post-Jesus-on-earth, and I was discussing the things Jesus flat out told us, like becoming as a little child (Matthew 18: 2) and why this is important, but the point is well made,

Is it enough — Just to Believe?

Yes

And the short answer is, yes.

John 3: 16 is quoted so often, that we almost don’t hear the words when we say them:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

There is nothing in this verse that implies we have to believe in a certain manner, or at a certain depth, or with a total intellectual understanding of the background of why we believe: we just have to believe. It’s enough.

And that really bothers some people:

“Believing isn’t enough! Taking something on faith without fully understanding it is stupid, just stupid!”

Parsing Belief

Maybe, maybe not. Some people’s level of faith is simpler than others, and they don’t need to understand quantum physics in order to acknowledge the existence of the stars. They don’t need to know how their car works in order to drive it. And they don’t need massive amounts of historical, apologetic, or theological information to believe that Christ walked on the earth, sacrificed His perfect self because nothing we can do is enough to satisfy God’s goodness, and freely gives eternal life to everyone who asks Him for it.

Others require more before they believe, but ultimately, it is the belief that saves them. Perhaps it’s why followers of Christ are called, “believers.”

Just because a person’s belief is uncomplicated and simple does not mean that it lacks deep thought. Gathering Thoughts, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

My own belief in Jesus came about when I was 19, sitting on my college dormitory bed. Raised Catholic, I had this idea that Jesus was one of the saints — less than Peter, greater than Joseph, roughly equal with John — but once I understood who He was — the Son of God, I prayed:

“I believe you. I believe in You. Take my life.”

And I was saved.

The Four Spiritual (Man Made) Laws

Only, in accordance with contemporary establishment evangelical Christianity, I wasn’t, because as we all learn when we get plugged into the system, you have to say the Four Spiritual Laws, a series of man made injunctions, pulled from throughout Scripture, that insist we must admit, acknowledge and understand our sinful nature before we give our lives to Christ.

I hadn’t done that!

So, like many other Christians, I prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer,” just to make sure that I got this right, and because I wasn’t fully sure I prayed it right the first, second, third, fourth, and 35th time, I prayed it every time it was offered, until I woke up to the fact that this was a level of superstition no better than insisting there is no 13th floor in a 40-story hotel.

My belief, my initial belief, was enough.

God Builds on Our Initial Belief

As we walk in our Christian life, we grow — in understanding, wisdom, perception, discernment, intellect, trust, faith, and love — because the Father teaches us, but every step we take still requires belief. Sometimes it is difficult for us to believe what God is teaching us, and when this is so, we feel that God disapproves of us and our lack of faith.

This is why reading the Bible is such an important part of the Christian life: not because God will be angry and wrathful and dreadful and irritable because we don’t, but because there is truth there that will free us from our misconceptions:

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9: 24 describes a father, desperate for the healing of his son, who expressed misgivings that Jesus could actually do anything.

It is very very simple, and very very difficult, to believe, and this father’s prayer is a beautiful one, because it is universal. Did Jesus reject the man because of his unbelief? Did he send the child away?

No. He answered the prayer.

Is it enough — just to believe?

Yes, it is.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, and thank you, Robert, for contacting me privately and expressing your thoughts. You were gracious, polite, reasonable, and insistent, and your words stopped me, and made me think.

That’s what we do as believers, isn’t it? It’s not whether we attend a church or not, it’s that we fellowship with, pray for, communicate with, and challenge one another, in love, because we are all growing up and running the race.

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The Kingdom of Heaven — How Do We Get There?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

When we’re very young, we can’t even walk on our own. Children are a visual reminder that we are not mighty mountains of strength and wisdom, completely in charge of our destiny. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

How to get to heaven is a piece of information that from the beginning of time, humanity has wanted to know. The rich young ruler of Matthew 19:16 – 29 (Mark 10: 17 – 30, Luke 18: 18 – 30) asked Jesus,

“What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Nicodemus, a religious leader, visited Jesus secretly at night and circumspectly touched upon the topic, something that should comfort the rest of us ordinary, non-leadership type people, because as Jesus observed,

“You are Israel’s teacher . . . and  do you not understand these things?” (John 3: 10)

(Remember this the next time an assertive, confident bastion of the Christian faith tells you how to live your life and where to send your money.)

Are There Instructions?

Why didn’t Jesus just flat out tell us what to do? we quite sensibly ask.

Well, He did flat out tell us a number of things, many of which we avoid doing (“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” – Luke 6: 46), and one of the many issues Christ addressed was the kingdom of heaven, and what it takes to get there:

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 2)

Ah, something concrete we can do — become like a little child. Only, like any major change in our life, it’s not a task we accomplish on our own without God’s hand in ours: we don’t awake in the morning and say,

“I’m going to be like a little child! I’ll start by staying in bed until mom calls me down for breakfast.”

What is it about children that differentiates them from adults? Let’s look at three things, real quick:

The Least of These

1) They’re vulnerable. Children need to be protected, and they know this. They look to someone stronger, wiser, and bigger than they are. (Before we mention the word “authority,” please note that there is a huge difference between a parent and a policeman, between God and the government. Make sure you put your trust in the right power.) We need our Father to guide us, teach us, hold us, and fight for us.

Man’s first home was in a garden, protected and safe, in close companionship with his Creator. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Also available as a licensed, open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

There’s nothing wrong with being weak — we all are. It’s only tragic when we think we’re alone, on our own, and fully dependent upon me, myself, and I, something that is not so:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” God tells the Apostle Paul, and us, in 2 Corinthians 12: 9). Yes, you’re weak. But thank God, He is strong.

It’s the Best Policy

2) They’re honest.  The most disconcerting thing about children is that they speak their minds, and a critical aspect of “educating” them is to conform those minds to think and say what the adult — corporate, political, financial, controlling — world wants to hear. By that time, they have moved into and accepted our language of deceit, where we call the Ministry of War the Department of Defense, mandatory taxation a “contribution to society,” or the taking of life the freedom of choice.

When we are constantly guarding our words so that we won’t be attacked, is it any wonder we have trouble coming before God, and honestly pouring out our hearts?

Jeremiah, often disparagingly called the “weeping prophet,” was remarkably outspoken before God –

“You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice . . .” (Jeremiah 12: 1)

“Shockingly candid,” is one description I have read of Jeremiah. Isn’t he just putting into words what many of us already think? Sort of like what a child would do?

Pride Bloats Our Souls

3) They’re humble. Children are small, physically weak in comparison to adults, and powerless. God designed children to be under the protection of loving parents (not the state), and secure in the safety of the home where they can grow. Look at a kitten, a puppy, a baby goat, a fawn — we accept that these animals were born into and need the protection of their parent, and that they learn from that parent.

We all know how hard it is to teach someone who is convinced that they know the lesson already, and their mistaken confidence in themselves and their abilities keeps them from actually learning. While this swaggering attitude is highly prized in modern society (we call it self-assurance, and that’s not such a bad appellation), God calls us to a different confidence:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5: 14). God isn’t interested in how much we think of ourselves, but in how much we trust in Him. He wants us to ask.

Children are smarter than what we give them credit for — if the young child in your life is averse to spending time around your new business partner,  you might think twice about the business relationship. The very innocence of young children enables them to identify, and recoil from, well camouflaged evil in others. They also gravitate toward goodness. As we become more like children ourselves, we will do this as well.

And then we are on our way to the kingdom of heaven.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I see daily a growing difference between true Christianity — which we can all find in the Bible — and the teachings of those who pronounce themselves spiritual and religious leaders.

Christianity is the only spiritual offering that does not require a human middleman, a guru, a teacher, or an interpreter. Every single human being has instant access to Jesus by simply crying out to Him. Do this, my friend. Submit to Christ alone, and walk where He leads you.

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posted by Carolyn Henderson

Great in the world’s eyes, or the kingdom of heaven’s? We can’t have both. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas art and other online retailers.

I love reading about the disciples. They’re so refreshingly human, constantly expressing fear and doubt and selfish ambition. One of the greatest gifts the Bible gives us is that it’s written honestly, and doesn’t — like we do — provide false impressions of who people are and what they’re like.

Luke 9: 46- 48 tells us that,

“An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.”

A statement like this is so much more convincing than, “George Washington stood before his father and said, ‘I cannot tell a lie. I chopped the cherry tree down.’” Similar “inspiring” stories are fed to us hourly through magazines, newspapers, text books, movies, talk shows and documentaries, with very little mention of this great statesman forgetting to leave a tip to the hardworking waiter who put up with him and his entourage, or that fine religious leader demanding to know why the sales of his latest book are down.

And we call the Bible a bunch of mythological stories.

He Knows Our Thoughts

But back to Luke:

“Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him.”

While it’s disconcerting, it also good to know that our thoughts are no secret to God, and when we are more focused on the world around us than we are on Him, those thoughts tend to run the wrong way — Genesis 6:5 tells us that “every inclination of the thoughts of (man’s) heart was only evil all the time.”

As Christians, we insist that we’re past all that, because we belong to Christ and not the world, but the stories of the disciples are a refreshing reminder that we fight, constantly, an extremely powerful human nature. Overcoming it is not something we can do on our own, the same way that coming to Christ in the first place, and being saved by grace, is not something we managed to accomplish with any brilliance on our part.

We Worship the Wrong Things

We seek for, and worship, the wrong things. In the case of the disciples, they wanted to know which one of them was the most important, and anyone who asserts, wide-eyed, that he never thinks this sort of thing is either lying or, more likely, not thinking.

“”What were you arguing about on the road?’” Jesus asked them in the companion account in Mark 9: 33. But the disciples kept quiet because they were embarrassed. As are we all, when we’re caught in the act.

Don’t the important things in life consistently and constantly wrap around people? Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

Jesus said to them, “Whoever welcome this little child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all — he is the greatest.” (Luke 9: 48)

If you have ever wondered how to be great, important, and significant, therein lies the answer, and like all of God’s wisdom, it runs contrary to ours. Anyone who spends a significant amount of time around children knows that they’re not in boardrooms, not in courtrooms (except as innocents, pawns in a game), not plotting out the death and destruction of more children, and their mothers, and their fathers. The lives of children, and the things that are important to them, are not important in the mighty world of men.

God Protects the Weak

And neither are the people who spend a lot of time caring for children — parents come to mind. Those who stay at home to care for their children are dredges on society; those whose paycheck feeds them are assured that the work they do in the cubicle is of far more importance than soothing a toddler’s nightmare.

Children are time consuming, noisy, messy, and discomfitingly honest. In the Emperor’s New Clothes, it was a child who pointed out that the leader was naked. When there is a child in the room, the adults have to behave more like, well, adults, because a child is vulnerable, and even the most selfish among us knows that we must slow down — it is our duty to be patient, kind, not self-seeking, not delighting in evil. There is someone smaller and weaker than we are, and it’s time to forget about making more money for awhile, and protect that small, precious person. Some of the most important people in the world are incapable of doing this.

Satan hates children, which is why, in the world of which he is prince, he encourages us to abort them, demean them, remove them from their homes and make them wards of the state, control them, drug them so that they sit quietly behind a desk for hours and fill out workbook pages, sell them on the open market for the puerile pleasures of sick, sick men.

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.” (Matthew 18: 19)

Rather, humble yourself to be like one of them, and you will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Now, how you ever sat through a Success Seminar that gave you advice like that?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I have spent my professional career (I was a homemaker who homeschooled) around children. It doesn’t matter where you work, or what you do, but it does matter, very much, how you interact with the world’s Least of These.

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