Newsweek: Where Do You Go When You Die?

As I study the biblical worldview of the afterlife (which I’m convicted is true) I’m always curious to see what mainstream culture thinks about it all. So, when I saw this tweeted article – Newsweek giving credence to the possibility of life-beyond-death – my interest was piqued.

Most of the article cites what scientists are finding truly fascinating: human brain cells continue to function for hours after death. Scientists in no way argue that when a person is “dead” they may, in fact, be “mostly dead,” to borrow a term from The Princess Bride. They agree when a person dies, they’re dead. But this discovery of post-death brain activity intrigues them nonetheless.

Human consciousness is one of the “Achilles heels” of the psycho-physical/natural reductionist worldview (the argument for human existence being purely natural, void of anything supernatural, or outside empirical evidence – this worldview would include the disbelief in any form of an afterlife i.e. when we die, we cease to exist.)

No respected physicist/scientist on the planet claims to be able to define, much less explain, human consciousness & cognition. Presently, this remains beyond human explanation. No doubt, this is by God’s own design.

Citing “near death” experiences, the author writes,

[The scientific findings] seem to suggest that when our brains and bodies die, our conscious may not,…”

Indeed, according to God, they don’t. “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” the author of Hebrews warned. That does not sound to me like, after death, we cease to exist.

Of course, those who would scoff at this biblical warning are wagering there is nothing beyond death.  This, in my opinion, is a bad bet.

I’ve included for you here the final 4 paragraphs of the Newsweek article – which I find the most interesting part of the piece. (The article in its entirety is linked below.)

“In a 2016 study published in the Canadian Journal of Biological Sciences, doctors recounted shutting off life support for four terminally ill patients, only to have one of the patients continue emitting delta wave bursts—the measurable electrical activity in the brain we normally experience during deep sleep—for more than 10 minutes after the patient had been pronounced dead; no pupil dilation, no pulse, no heartbeat. The authors were at a loss for a physiological explanation.

Parnia’s research (Dr. Sam Parnia, director of critical care and resuscitation research at New York University Langone Medical Center) has shown that people who survive medical death frequently report experiences that share similar themes: bright lights; benevolent guiding figures; relief from physical pain and a deeply felt sensation of peace. Because those experiences are subjective, it’s possible to chalk them up to hallucinations. Where that explanation fails, though, is among the patients who have died on an operating table or crash cart and reported watching—from a corner of the room, from above—as doctors tried to save them, accounts subsequently verified by the (very perplexed) doctors themselves.

How these patients were able to describe objective events that took place while they were dead, we’re not exactly sure, just as we’re not exactly sure why certain parts of us appear to withstand death even as it takes hold of everything else. But it does seem to suggest that when our brains and bodies die, our consciousness may not, or at least not right away.

“I don’t mean that people have their eyes open or that their brain’s working after they die,” Parnia said. “That petrifies people. I’m saying we have a consciousness that makes up who we are—our selves, thoughts, feelings, emotions—and that entity, it seems, does not become annihilated just because we’ve crossed the threshold of death; it appears to keep functioning and not dissipate. How long it lingers, we can’t say.”

Read the entire article here.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Purging Purgatory from “Biblical” Teaching

In his outstanding book, The Unquenchable Flame, Michael Reeves writes in detail about the medieval (and, sadly, modern) unbiblical belief that salvation could/can be earned by human effort.  He writes,

“In 1215, the fourth Lateran Council came up with what it hoped would be a useful aid for all those seeking to be ‘justified’ (to be in right standing before a holy God):  it required all Christians (on pain of eternal damnation) to confess their sins regularly to a priest. [This introduced the idea of “human effort” being required for salvation.]… Of course, the [medieval] Church’s official teaching was quite clear that nobody would die righteous enough to have merited salvation fully. But that was no cause for great alarm, for there was always purgatory.”

These are satanic lies used to imprison people in earthly religious legalism.  Paul wrote, “He made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God [that is, we would be made acceptable to Him and placed in a right relationship with Him by His gracious lovingkindness].”  (2 Corinthians 5:21, Amplified)   Translation:  we are righteous before God not because of what we have done, but rather because of what Christ has done.

Additionally, as I have shown recently in our Biblical studies on the afterlife, there is no scriptural evidence whatsoever for an “intermediate state” – this would include purgatory – between life on planet earth and life in what the Bible calls heaven and hell.

Whether it’s Jesus’ story of the rich man & Lazarus or Paul’s encouraging words to the Corinthian believers or the warning from the writer of Hebrews or Jesus’ own words to the repentant thief on the cross, the overwhelming and consistent testimony of God’s Word is that the afterlife is both immediate and eternal.

Purgatory…

One of the schools of thought regarding the afterlife was introduced into religious life during medieval times.  This idea known as purgatory still endures today in some religious circles.

The idea of purgatory was the diametric-opposite-teaching-of-the-gospel idea that taught we must spend time in an intermediate place of suffering in order to have our sins “purged” from our souls, finally being liberated to the true heaven.  This was a man-made doctrine used to deceive the biblically illiterate into believing that if they performed enough via human effort or, even better, gave enough money to the church, they could magically spend less time (thousand – or millions – of years) in Purgatory, or bypass it altogether.

Reeves offers further insight…

Unless Christians died unrepentant of a mortal sin such as murder (in which case they would go to hell; this, by the way is where the purely unbiblical lie originated that those who commit suicide go to hell), they would have the chance after death to have all their sins slowly purged from them in purgatory before entering heaven, fully cleansed. Around the end of the fifteenth century, Catherine of Genoa wrote a Treatise on Purgatory in which she described it in glowing terms. There, she explained, the souls relish and embrace their chastisements because of their desire to be purged and purified for God.

As this corrupt doctrine became more successful in filling church coffers (why merely ask people to give out of the goodness of their hearts when scaring them to death with heretical teaching is far more effective?) the idea was eventually  introduced that, if you give enough money (called an “idulgence”) you could fast-track your dead loved ones presently suffering in Purgatory out of that painful place into heaven.

One of the Church’s official “traveling televangelists of indulgences” of the day, Johann Tetzel, made famous the marketing slogan, “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

Eric Metaxas, in his recently published best-selling biography on Martin Luther comments,

This tremendous problem (of heretical teaching) and temptation (to profit from these lies) got much worse in 1476, when Pope Sixtus IV realized that the market for indulgences needn’t be confined to those millions who were alive and sinning but could extend to those multiplied millions who had already left the land of the living and were languishing in purgatory. We can only imagine the moment when Sixtus realized that as pope he was able to decree that the infinite treasury of merits could be sold not just for sins committed by people living but to people who wanted to use them to alleviate the sufferings of their relatives in purgatory.

Reeves writes that, due to the overwhelming fear-induced success of the teaching of a fictional place called Purgatory, “an entire purgatory industry evolved.”

Two truths here.  According to the Bible:

  1. There is no “intermediate state” between life on earth and the afterlife.
  2. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  To teach otherwise lessens and negates altogether the all-sufficient work of Christ on the cross at Calvary.

Jesus has been, and always will be, enough.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Heaven

As a Christian, I believe in heaven. As a pastor, I’ve studied and taught about heaven. As a musician, I’ve noted that almost every single hymn written has heaven the subject of its final verse.

When my dad died I didn’t really think differently about heaven. When my sister died I didn’t really think differently about heaven.

But when my 19 year old son died…

Heaven was real to me before Jordan became a resident. But now, it’s something altogether different. How can something become “more real” than “real”? I don’t know. I can’t explain it. It’s as though, in May 2013, a part of my soul took up permanent residence in heaven.

The veil separating heaven and earth, for me, became thinner.

In his brilliant sermon, The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis described heaven as “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

Lewis wrote much about heaven. In Mere Christianity he observed, “If I find myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” And in his genius Screwtape Letters, based on correspondence between two demons, the senior demon, Screwtape, wrote to his apprentice, “My dear Wormwood.., the truth is that the Enemy (God), having oddly destined these mere animals (Christians) to life in [heaven], has guarded them pretty effectively from danger of feeling at home anywhere else.”

From John Newton’s “When we’ve been there ten thousand years,” to Andre Crouch’s soulful “Soon and Very Soon” and Dallas Holms’ reverent “I Saw the Lord” to Mercy Me’s “I Can Only Imagine”, heaven has filled the pages of Christian music.

And that brings me to what prompted this post.

I heard, for the first time this past week, Chris Tomlin’s “Home”. As I carefully listened to the lyrics of the chorus i had to grip my chest as my heart ached for “home.”

Hopefully, this reflection of mine has brought you encouragement and hope, and perhaps helped someone, for a moment, think about heaven, and that “this is not all there is.” Paul encouraged the Colossian believers, “…set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians‬ ‭3:1-2‬)

Allow me to close this post with one more of my favorite quotes from Lewis:  “At the present, we are on the outside of [heaven], the wrong side of the door… But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

When a Loved One Goes Home to Jesus

I’ve read Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17 many times but I never noticed the insight brought out by Mark Jones in his blog, “When a Loved One Goes Home to Jesus.”  (You can read the blog here.)

Having lost my own 19 year old son in 2013, I know what it feels like to scream and cry out to God due to the pain of wanting your loved one back.  But Jones highlights a phrase in Jesus’ prayer, found in vs. 24, that I had not considered:

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

Jones continues,

And what does Jesus desire?

He desires that his people be with him. Jesus is completely happy and satisfied as he reigns from heaven, but according to his prayer in John 17, he still has a certain unfulfilled desire: that his people join him in the home he has already prepared for them.

Sure, there’s a tension to be embraced here.  Regardless of how much we come to understand that Jesus desires us to be with him in heaven, it doesn’t take away the grief that comes with losing our loved ones here on planet earth.

Still, the truth of the matter is, as Jones writes,

When a brother or sister in the Lord dies, we should remember first and foremost that the Father has answered Jesus’s prayer.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb – one day we’ll join our loved ones. Forever. No more pain. No more death. Only joy.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

What Happens When We Die?

I once saw an interview with actor, Anthony Hopkins.  Asked about life & death, he, like many others, said  he believed, in essence: we live, we die, and then – that’s it.  Nothing else.

Of course, no one can, with authority, satisfy the question, “What happens when we die?”

Studying for a talk I gave recently, I stumbled across a Time Magazine article I’d kept in a file since 2008.  The title of the article is simply, “What Happens When We Die?”

The article begins…

A fellow at New York City’s Weill Cornell Medical Center, Dr. Sam Parnia is one of the world’s leading experts on the scientific study of death. Last week Parnia and his colleagues at the Human Consciousness Project announced their first major undertaking: a 3-year exploration of the biology behind “out-of-body” experiences. The study, known as AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation), involves the collaboration of 25 major medical centers through Europe, Canada and the U.S. and will examine some 1,500 survivors of cardiac arrest.

What intrigues me about this article is how much the scientific research supports what the Bible has taught for millennia.  I’ll come back to that in a moment.  Back to the article.  When asked, “What was your first interview like with someone who had reported an out-of-body experience?”, Dr. Parnia replied:

Eye-opening and very humbling. Because what you see is that, first of all, they are completely genuine people who are not looking for any kind of fame or attention. In many cases they haven’t even told anybody else about it because they’re afraid of what people will think of them. I have about 500 or so cases of people that I’ve interviewed since I first started out more than 10 years ago. It’s the consistency of the experiences, the reality of what they were describing. I managed to speak to doctors and nurses who had been present who said these patients had told them exactly what had happened, and they couldn’t explain it. I actually documented a few of those in my book What Happens When We Die because I wanted people to get both angles —not just the patients’ side but also the doctors’ side — and see how it feels for the doctors to have a patient come back and tell them what was going on. There was a cardiologist that I spoke with who said he hasn’t told anyone else about it because he has no explanation for how this patient could have been able to describe in detail what he had said and done. He was so freaked out by it that he just decided not to think about it anymore.

So, does the Bible have anything to say about what happens when we die?  Plenty.  I once heard someone wisely state, “If we want to know about ‘life after death’ it would be wise to consult someone who’s been to the other side – and back.”  In the book of Revelation, John recorded Jesus Christ saying, I am the first and the last,  and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore,…”

According to Jesus, physical death is not the end – far from it.  “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

In Luke 16, Jesus told a most disturbing parable of two men.  Each died, one man going to heaven, the other to hell.  The point I’m making here is that, after death, both men were very much alive.

Finally, moments away from, himself, dying, Jesus, from the cross, looked at the crucified thief next to him and assured him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be [alive] with me in paradise.”

Perhaps, you’re reading this and you are one who dismisses the idea of “life after life.”  I completely respect your position.  But, please consider this:  what if the Bible is true?

I read a story once of a son (a Christian) asking his father (not a Christian) if he ever worried about what happens after we die.  “The next life?” the father said. “I’ll worry about that when I get there!”

But, what if “when I get there” is too late?

The author of Hebrews pointedly warned, And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment.”

We all, regardless of what we believe, have an appointment with death.  Are you prepared for that appointment?

In 1997, Edwin Lutzer wrote his classic, One Minute After You Die. Lutzer writes, [According to the Bible], “one minute after you slip behind the parted curtain you will either be enjoying a personal welcome from Christ or catching your first glimpse of gloom as you have never known it. Either way, your future will be irrevocably fixed and eternally unchangeable.”

John – a disciple and eye-witness of Jesus – wrote, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

Christ calls out to you, “Come to Me. Trust Me. I died for you. And then I rose again. I love you.”

Tomorrow is guaranteed for no one.  Will you trust Him today?

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

For Further Study:  Never placed your faith in Christ but interested in investigating His claims?  Check out the evidence put forth in these two resources written by former atheists:  “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell; “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel

Pascal’s Wager

When we die, what do you think is on the other side?  (good question)

Recently, I read a story of a son (a Christian) asking his father (not a Christian) if he ever worried about what happens after we die.  “The next life?” the father said. “I’ll worry about that when I get there!”

But, what if “when I get there” is too late?

Blaise Pascal was a 17th century French philosopher, mathematician, scientist and inventor.  He was also a Christian who is famous for what is commonly known as Pascal’s Wager:

If Christianity is false, both non-Christians and Christians have nothing to gain and nothing to lose.  But what if Christianity is true?  For, if Christianity is true, the Christian has everything to gain (heaven) while the non-Christian has everything to lose (hell).

Does one really want to wager that Christianity is false and risk spending eternity in what the Bible calls hell?

Pascal’s Wager is not without its opponents.  Writing for Christianity Today, Michael Rota cites atheist, Richard Dawkins, who asked whether God might not respect a courageous skeptic “far more than he would respect Pascal for his cowardly bet-hedging.”

Fair enough.

Make no mistake though.  Christianity is not an unreasonable option when one is considering whether or not it is true.  Taking together the order of the cosmos, the intelligent design of the human body, the historical reliability of the gospels, and the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, the cumulative evidence for Christianity is, to say the least, compelling.

Contrary to how Dawkins may respond, Pascal was not a coward but rather quite courageous, himself, in posing such a pointed question to whomever will pause long enough to consider the gravity of what he is asking: What if the Bible is true after all?

Certainly, Christianity requires faith.  But, make no mistake: so does atheism. 

In his article, Rota concludes, “If I find myself thinking that Christianity might be false, I remember that it [also] might be true.  Do I want to take a real risk of turning my back on Jesus?  Never.”

Nor do I.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

No More Sickness

“For this corruptible [body] must put on incorruption; and this mortal [body] must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:53)

Sorta sounds like a script for the next Avengers movie, huh? “Regular person turns into super-hero.”

But, this is no movie script. This is Holy SCRIPTure.

Recently, I came down with something out of the pits of hell called a Stomach Virus (the dr said it may have been food-poisoning, he wasn’t sure). All I know is, for the most part, I haven’t felt like doing anything other than wishing I were dead.

I haven’t been this sick in years. So, naturally, there were a number of times (as I lay there moaning and groaning) I thought of the Scripture verse cited above.

Can you imagine?? One day, because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb – no more sickness of any kind – the old will be gone; the new will be realized! No more cancer or clinical depression! No more maladies that appear to stump the best of physicians causing them to say, “We’re just not sure what’s wrong.” No more disease or sickness at all! None! Nada! Zilch!

But it doesn’t end there…

Not only are we rid – forever – of mortal sickness, we’re given the “bodies” we were intended to have before Adam & Eve’s sin in Eden! In the preceding verse to the one cited above, Paul writes: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet…the dead will be raised *incorruptible*, and We. Shall. Be. Changed.” [emphasis mine]

Hallelujah, Nick