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Christian Finances Are Not a Secret

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I have to admit I get a little wore out at all the “Christian” sites/books/programs that offer the “Biblical secrets to financial prosperity”.  Some are nothing more than the butchering of Scripture passed off as “promises” from God for abundance… others are more sensible but still present Biblical principles as if they are secrets or sure-fire formulas for financial success.

What the Bible says about money, income, finances, prosperity, etc is not a secret. A friend of mine recently asked for my discernment about a currently popular site touting yet another exciting presentation of “Godly principles that guarantee financial success”. So I wrote up a summary list of what I believe is a Christian perspective on the topic. The Book of Proverbs gives us many principles about finances and there are many general truths on this topic (money, finances, prosperity, etc) found in the New Testament.  Here’s my nutshell version (just some example verses from the Bible; there are tons more):

  • Work hard
    • Proverb 12:11   Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.
    • 2 Thessalonians 3:10  For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
  • Be generous and giving
    • Proverbs 11:24  One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
    • 2 Corinthians 9:7  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
  • Acknowledge it all came from God and all BELONGS to God
    • 1 Corinthians 4:7  For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you didn’t receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as if you hadn’t received it?
    • Psalm 50:10  for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.
  • The only truly lasting investment and sure thing is investing our money in God’s Kingdom, or in truly unselfish righteous deeds
    • Matthew 6:19-20  Do not store up for yourselves treasures upon earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.
    • 1 Corinthians 3:12-14   Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.
  • Everything is temporal, fleeting and can be taken from you a hundred different ways; ex-wives, government, thieves, catastrophe… sorry for the redundancy 🙂
    • Matthew 6:19  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,
    • Psalms 144:4  Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.
    • Ecclesiastes 2:22  What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
  • Christians are never promised personal prosperity in Scripture. What we are promised is that God will give us what we need to be the MOST Christlike… for some that means less money, for others who can use money to God’s glory, he makes some Christians wealthy. Ironically – despite the preaching of today – what the Scripture does promise is persecution not affluence.
    • 1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;  but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.  If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
    • Philippians 4: 11-13  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
    • James 4:3  You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
  • The secret is being CONTENT with what you have while understanding it is perfectly “holy” to work , save, achieve and build wealth when you do so for the glory of God and TRULY are ready to be a good steward of it, hold on loosely to it, invest it in what matters, and always remember you would have NOTHING if God did not give it to you.
    • Hebrews 13:5  Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
    • 1 Timothy 6:6-8   Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
    • Luke 12:15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
    • 1 Timothy 6:10-11 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Those are the open “secrets” the Bible gives us about being 100% fulfilled and content financially; as Paul says, whether in “want” or “plenty” be content. That’s a far cry from the prosperity message of much of western Christianity today who – even the “poor” among us – are WILDLY rich compared to the rest of the world, and the rest of history. Remember the Biblical definition of “rich”: having more than enough for TODAY; not having to worry if we will have food, clothing or necessities tomorrow.  Even our welfare dependent, fixed incomes and lazy are crazy rich by the Biblical standard (which is by the way, the standard for the vast majority of humanity throughout all history).

I pray this:

“Lord, thank you for everything you’ve given me and our family… it’s more than we ever deserve. Help me to work hard, make smart business decisions, increase my income, increase my generosity and always acknowledge you as the source of my blessings or success. Help me to be CONTENT RIGHT NOW with exactly what I have knowing that you have given me THIS MOMENT exactly what I need to do your will, and exactly what I can handle spiritually without money distracting my attention from you. Lord, if it is your will, increase my income and business success THEN show me how you want me to use it to your glory.”

That’s what I have prayed for many years…  no matter how much money we make, if we cannot truly be content in this moment, right now, with what God has given us, we will never find rest or fulfillment with regards to finances. I always pray for more income following by praying that income will 1) never distract me from God and 2) will always be used the way God wants me to use it. I think it is only with that mindset that IF prosperity comes, it won’t come with regret and failure.  Let me close with a couple of things I often teach and repeat when it comes to money:

  • “God, give me exactly the amount of money You want me to have to do Your will but never distract me from it… grant me the desires of my heart (one of which is abundance) as long as they don’t keep me from being near Your heart.”

And this statement of faith I fully believe:

  • “I’m never anxious about money because God owns it all and I believe without doubt that if I needed a million dollars TODAY according to God’s will, a million dollars would show up today.”

Are the Soul and Spirit Two Different Things?

A reader asks:

Is there a difference between spirit and soul? Someone told me that the spirit is your life, the soul is your mind, will, and emotions. They told me that the spirit that is saved by salvation and you must “work out your souls salvation”. I’m not thinking this is true. What do you say?

My answer:

That’s a common thing people say but in reality, in Scripture, the spirit and soul and synonymous… it is the eternal part of man, or the living, animated part of animals. Animals have a spirit or soul in the sense that they are alive, or aware, but not eternal and not created in God’s image.

Perhaps that’s why the Bible uses the terms together sometimes in the same passage when describing people, to differentiate humans from animals. Animals are “alive” (unlike plants that are living but animated) but not eternal like humans. Animals “live and breath” but are not a special creation in God’s likeness with an eternal spirit.

Many teachers try hard to define “soul” from “spirit” but in the end, the Bible really speaks of them as one and the same. In the verses where they are both listed, I believe it is to emphasize the special nature of humans over any other living creature.

“Working your salvation” (Phil 2:12) speaks of transforming your behavior and life into the image of Christ (ie. Sanctification).   To make that apply to some separation of soul and spirit is conjecture and simply not found in Scripture.

We should not try to define terms found in Scripture by any other definition than what is found in Scripture. The Bible uses soul and spirit interchangeably so there is no need for us to force some sort of separate definitions on the terms.  I’ve heard a lot of Scripture tortured by trying to declare this difference between soul and spirit: man is like God in three parts (body, soul and spirit); the soul is the thinking, emotional part of man and the spirit is the regenerated eternal part. Many heresies and false teachings and plain silliness have come from trying to force definitions on “soul” and “spirit” that simply cannot be found in Scripture.

In the end, we should always simply let the Bible speak where it speaks, and accept what is not revealed or defined. Given all of  Scripture as a whole, soul and spirit are basic interchangeable, and no separate definition exists for them. So we have no reason to force clarification beyond that.


Confused About Divorce While Unsaved

A reader asks (condensed):

angrycouple2I have spoken to many Pastors hear different answers about my situation: raised as Catholic… never new the meaning of Christ. I was married at 21 im going to a non believer… he cheated, I cheated… divorced.  Years later we get back together… he cheated, I cheated… divorced.

In 2009, I accepted Christ and was truly saved… asked my ex-husband for forgiveness.  I’ve been told I cannot remarry because I was unequally yoked, because I am divorced. I want to marry a Christian man and do all things for the glory of God and honor him in my new marriage but I want to make sure I’m obeying God’s Word. I want to feel comfortable about this issue.

My Answer:

First, I rarely write an answer to make someone feel “comfortable”.  I want you to be CONFIDENT that you know God’s Word, and if not, I WANT you to be uncomfortable. However, I appreciate that you are interested in obedience to the degree that you are seeking out good counsel instead of just doing what you feel like doing. Before we are genuinely saved, we have no choice but to act like sinners and ignore God’s commandments. When you become a Christian, you are responsible to do what God leads you to do as a new Christian from that moment on.

Divorce is allowed for Christians for 2 reasons: abandonment and adultery. Both occurred in your marriage by both of you BEFORE you were saved. You were acting like what you were: UNSAVED. Now, as a Christian, you have two responsibilities: 1) do what God’s Word says, and 2) do what God leads you to do by your Spirit-led conscience.

You are divorced. God hates divorce. You did that as an unsaved person, a slave to sin. You are now a Christian. My pastoral advice is for you to first consider this: is there any chance that my previous marriage can be reconciled into a CHRISTIAN marriage? If he is remarried, then the answer is an easy “no”. Otherwise, you would not want to remarry him as a non-Christian because then you are certainly “unequally yoked” to an unbeliever. God never tells us to commit sin in order to obey another command or correct previous sin. So, if your ex-husband is now a Christian too (and never remarried), and wants to reconcile as Christians in Christian marriage, then I would say that is your first consideration.

If that is not possible, then your responsibility is now to have God’s mind and God’s heart about marriage. You could not have that as an unsaved person. You were incapable of it, and with regards to “Christian living” not responsible to live that way. Now you can and must. So if you remarry, you must remarry a sincere and authentic Christian only. BUT… and there’s always a “but”… you have to listen to your conscience. If God is saying clearly in your heart “no, do not remarry” then you have to be willing to obey God’s voice. I am telling you what I believe is the Truth objectively on the “outside”. Only you can know what God is saying INSIDE your heart.  Remember, as a Christian our priorities are this:  1) obey God’s Word… 2) obey our conscience that is in harmony with God’s Word and led by the Holy Spirit.

I do not believe the Bible prohibits you from remarriage at this point because you were unsaved when you sinned in your previous marriage. We can expect nothing more from sinners than SIN. We cannot bind God’s commands to Christians on the unsaved. They are incapable of keeping them. Yes, they are accountable to God’s law in the sense they will be condemned  for their sin if they reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ… but in the daily Christian life, we only become responsible to follow Christian teaching once we become a Christian (that is the issue of salvation not sanctification). We certainly still have consequences to deal with from our unsaved life after we become a Christian, but I find nothing in Scripture that tells us the principles/commands for the Christian life are binding and consequential to anyone BEFORE they become Christians (past the issue of being saved or not saved, heaven or hell).

You are a Christian now. Learn God’s commands by reading the Bible and do them. Obedience is the primary indicator of authentic salvation. Pray, and learn to follow your Spirit-led conscience (ie. don’t do something you KNOW God is saying “no” about…).  Your responsibility as a Christian is to start RIGHT NOW doing what God tells you to do which involves learning His Word, praying and obedience.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.


A Joyful Noise Movie Review: Some Things to Be Joyful About & Some Not

From Brent

I took my wife to see Joyful Noise last night, the reportedly “Christian” movie with Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah. Given how easily fads sweep through American Christianity with little discernment, I thought I would give you a review of the movie. I’m not going to try and decide for you whether or not to see it, or promote it as a “Christian” movie. I’ll just give you my observations, positive and negative and leave you to consider it.

FYI, I’m not trying to review like a movie critic. I’m not addressing whether the story, acting or production was good. I’m commenting on it for the sake of Christians being able to discern the CHRISTIAN merits of the movie since it’s 1) set in a church/Christianity environment and 2) it’s already being discussed as a “Christian movie” by Christians.

Summary:

The movie is about a church choir competition. The plot involves a mother with two kids, a father who left them, the mom’s struggle to raise the kids, and the kids struggle with growing up and the ever popular Hollywood premise of “finding out who they really are” (which is most often code language for “don’t be like your parents”… this movie is no exception but with a twist that makes it somewhat tolerable).

Some Joyful Noise About Joyful Noise

Here are my positive observations about the movie:

  • It’s cleaner and more “wholesome” than 99% of what Hollywood and TV produces. That’s not a huge endorsement given current entertainment standards but it is true relatively speaking.
  • The movie contains no real violence, overtly vulgar language (again, compared to what Hollywood typically produces, more on the language below because there is cursing in the movie), or graphic sex, immodesty or nudity (a negative about that below too)
  • For most of the movie it appears the typical Hollywood message that “conservative (and especially) Christian parents are intolerant, out of touch, close minded and need to be enlightened by the liberal, worldly and in particular the youthful characters” is going to be played out to the end… but in a refreshing twist, the mother confidently and accurately puts the smart-mouthed rebellious daughter in her place and the movie doesn’t use that as “proof” the mom is a jerk. Wow! What a concept!
  • The mom gets to say what every parents wants to say to their ungrateful, spoiled, self-pitying teen and it leaves the crowd applauding. Normally, Hollywood only puts in that kind of scene when it makes the parent look even more controlling and close-minded. Not this time. The mom looks like the wise, strong, parent deserving of respect. Amazing that a movie actually (FINALLY) portrays a Christian, authoritative parent in that kind of positive light.  (Caveat: but even still, the subtle final message is still that the mom loosened up and let her 16 year old daughter “grow up” even though she was allowed to put her foot down against the blatant rebelliousness and self pity.)
  • The music is clean and entertaining though hardly “Christian” in any substantive way. It’s pop music sang in the best tradition of black gospel.
  • The story ends up with family reconciliation, portrays faithfulness to marriage vows, and implies the strength of traditional family.
  • The movie shows whites, blacks and Asians all getting along and living together just fine in a small, southern town. That drives liberals CRAZY who sincerely believe that all southern states are really just closeted KKK hotbeds. While there is no doubt racism is alive and well (from ALL COLORS) in American MOSTLY IN BIG CITIES NOT RURAL TOWNS, it has been my experience in 40 years of small southern towns that the ’60’s Lyndon Johnson idea of racism is rarely seen today. Whites and blacks and browns and reds and yellows in conservative small town America live and work and worship and play together without a whole lot of thought of “race”. You’ll never convince Washington or Hollywood of that though because it would erode the power of people who live and prosper by fanning the flames of racism.

Some Not So Joyful Noise

If I were to stop at merely comparing this to the normal trash that is shown on flat screens today, I would give this film a double thumbs up and tell you to take the family to see it. However, it’s not quite that simple from a Christian standpoint. Compared to Godly standards, there are several concerns, and given the impression it leaves about Christianity in general, I’m not all that joyful about it. My observations:
  • Casual fornication (no sex scene but the deed is obvious) between two choir members is played off mostly as a joke and it’s never seriously implied (or stated) that fornication is a sin to be repented of.  Even the Pastor makes a joke about it at a funeral (the man died from a heart attack while having sex).  It’s also implied several times that if you haven’t had sex for several years, you can’t help but want to jump in bed with someone.
  • Cursing: there are a couple of scenes when unbelievers or the rebellious say a “mild” curse word and that could have been livable as demonstrating  “real life”. But the movie goes much further with a couple of dozen or more curse words used casually and without concern even from the Christian characters in the movie.
  • There is one scene where the mom comes down on the daughter about cursing,  the mom spouting some curse words then saying “see I can cuss too. It’s easy and it proves your stupid” (I’m paraphrasing). That kind of message I can live with. The gratuitous cursing for a laugh or simply because no one, even the Christians, think it is any big deal is not something I can pass over as no big deal. The movie in total leaves you with the impression that “mild” cursing is not a concern. I guess that’s a good selling point in light of some of today’s Christian writers like Doug Giles (whose thoughts I agree with but I’m concerned about his growing use of crass verbiage and cursing).
  • The typical Hollywood message (particularly to the youth) that no one who is a serious student and Christian can possibly be living life to the fullest is present and never completely debunked.  The rebellious daughter, the wayward grandson and the worldly grandmother are sympathetically portrayed as compassionate, thoughtful, earthy, feeling and really embracing life. The uptight mother and pastor are close minded, controlling and stifled.  A couple of other Christians are buffoonish rednecks and simpletons. Yawn…. typical Hollywood.  It’s not NEARLY as blatant in this movie as most but the message is clear. At the end of the movie the mom’s strictness is shown to be somewhat positive AFTER she softens towards her daughter and the rebel boyfriend. Three steps forward, one step back.
  • In one scene, the black gospel music presentation is almost clownish (specifically their “competition” from a Detroit black church)… on a positive note, the primary choir the story revolves around is entertaining and dignified even though the music is not Christian, it’s pop music.
  • Other than some casual contemporary Christian stanzas, no serious Christian music (doctrinally speaking) is used in the movie; the choir sings pop music from the likes of Michael Jackson. The church service is where the performances are rehearsed.  It adds to the overall subtle message (in my opinion) that Christianity is more social than anything, and not something to be taken very seriously. Unbelievers are invited to be in the choir because of their music talent and the Sunday church gathering is trivialized. The rebellious unbelievers come to accept the Christians because they like the music but it’s never portrayed or implied that they accepted the Christian Gospel.
  • The Christians in the movie are wholesome for the most part but apologetically worldly and no serious Christianity or Gospel message is portrayed in any substantial way.  Even though the entire movie is about Christianity, “Jesus” and supposedly faith, not one single serious message about Christ, the Bible, prayer or any Christian doctrine is expressed; not even a hint about the Gospel.
  • The Pastor declares the church can only remain “open” because of rich a member and her support (any real Pastor would recoil at referring to the Church as a business that depends on rich donors). In the end, the Pastor sends that same member packing because she tries to demand his obedience for her support. But… she then pulls another (weird, not very creative) trick out of her bag and ends up with the Pastor in her pocket again at the end of the movie.  Of course, typically, the uptight Pastor eventually comes around and loosens up like everyone else.

————–

Overall, the movie is fairly enjoyable and certainly “wholesome” when measured by Hollywood standards. Christianity is not openly attacked or mocked (as is typical on TV or movies today almost without exception) but the way morality, holiness and “church” is trivialized throughout the show, it leaves Christians with concerns. What’s worse? Outright mockery of Christianity, or the subtle trivializing of it?

(Something to think about: the movie “Soul Surfer” portrays a faithful Christian family without mockery but the whole movie is filled with teenage girls in bikinis [the real life girls looked more like prepubescent children, but the movie girls were post-puberty]; is that better or worse than a movie like “Joyful Noise” that’s not start-to-end-teen-girls-in-bikini’s but trivializes morality, faith and Christianity for the most part? Just something to think about…)

The usual message that authoritative parents and/or serious Christians are uptight and close-minded is loud and proud for most of the movie… then knocked down momentarily towards the end… then left as implied truth when the movie ends.  The flipside is also clear: the worldly, the youthful, and the rebellious are the enlightened, happy and compassionate people who really know how to enjoy life. The movie knocks down (appropriately) the worst of the rebellious behavior from the teens but still leaves the final underlying message that they were mostly right about everything, they just needed to be a little more respectful about it.

About the best I can say is this: it’s downright clean and wholesome compared to most movies. However, if you do choose to see it, you should not be undiscerning about it and promote it without concern. I would also be careful labeling it a “Christian movie” when it’s more accurately “a movie whose characters go to church and sing in a choir”.  Maybe that’s enough to call it “Christian” but it’s nowhere close to a movie that clearly communicates the Christian message (no one says that was the purpose; but if they aren’t calling it a “Christian” movie, should Christians?).

  • A good clean family movie compared by Hollywood standards? Yes.
  • A “Christian” movie that portrays morality, holiness and faith seriously and accurately? No.
  • A movie devoid of liberal Hollywood messages about enlightened youth and close minded authoritarians? No.

I just want Christians to be discerning. We are so used to the garbage and filth in most movies or books, that we jump on any “Christian” scrap media throws us with very little scrutiny or discernment. I would not take my children under 12 to see it unless I could edit out the cursing and the fornication jokes.  I would only see it with my teens or older if I was ready to explain to them where the movie falls short of true Christian messaging.

Contemplation: isn’t it amazing that we are at a point in Christianity where we consider a movie with a dozen or more curse words, unrepentant fornication, church favoritism, a manipulated Pastor and a trivialized Christian experience something we would even CONSIDER seeing because it’s a wholesome family movie compared to the rest of Hollywood trash?


Another Concerning Book Gaining Popularity with Christians

Note from Brent:

Books about people visiting Heaven or Hell, or communicating with someone there have been all the rage for the past few years. Although each of these – from Baxter’s “Divine Revelation” to a child’s testimony in”Heaven is for Real” –  have been repeatedly (and easily) shown to be EXTRA-Biblical at best and unScriptural and metaphysical at worst, the undiscriminating embrace of such accounts continues with no less enthusiasm.

Just as the Bible predicts about the lukewarm Church of the last days, the craving for ear tickling sensationalism and the elevation of experience over doctrine primes Western Christians to gulp down and savor pretty much any story that the book sellers eagerly promote (I say “western” because I can’t speak for other cultures). Unlike the Biblical admonition, few Christians “search the Scriptures to see if it is so” (Acts 17:11) and because anecdote-filled books are more interesting to read than the Bible (another sign of spiritual immaturity and a lack of discernment), there are masses of Believers who simply read and accept… without discernment.  If a Christian publisher prints it, it must be true, right?

Whether it’s “‘The Shack’ changed my life and my view of God” or “‘Heaven is for Real’ made me really understand, long for and see Heaven”, alarming numbers of Christians now readily accept extra-Biblical accounts, “visions”, “visits”, “revelations” and analogies as a  better (or at least supplementary) source of God’s knowledge than the Bible itself (which is what all Christian teaching is… the problem is, Christian books and teaching must AGREE with the Bible, not add to it, or contradict it).

It doesn’t seem to cross anyone’s mind that Satan doesn’t care when or whom he deceives: he will deceive a child just ask quickly as he will deceive grieving parents, or an author of a book. In fact, it is more shrewd for Satan to use the “innocent” to deceive us.  In our naivete, we don’t want to consider that small child is being led astray by the demonic influence. In our understandable sympathy, we shudder to think that Satan would appear as an angel of light to grieving parents who just lost their son and wish desperately to communicate with the boy.  To think for one second Satan won’t do these things, and worse, is to sorely and dangerously underestimate the lengths the Father of Lies will go to in order to deceive Believers, distract them from the Bible and spread false teaching.

What follows below is a question and answer about one of the newest fad books sweeping Christianity and in myopinion one of the more dangerous because it indirectly but undeniably encourages communication with the dead (forbidden by God) and opens up incredible potential for Christians to be supernaturally deceived (after all, who wants to believe that the vision or visit they just had with their deceased loved one is really a demon in disguise?).  If God allows the parents of a dead son open and ongoing visitation and communication, why won’t God let me speak to my dead uncle, or you with your dead mother, or anyone with a passed away best friend?

Where does it end?  The book in question below (maybe unintentionally by the authors but definetely NOT unintentionally by Satan) opens up a whole new trend in Christianity that evidently God allows, blesses and facilitates open communication between us and those who are already in Heaven.  There is only one result of accepting this “truth” based on experiential proof: rampant and destructive spiritual deception.

Here’s the Q&A from www.thebereancall.org. Be sure to read it so that when this book makes it’s way to your Church or family, you can be the voice of discernment that is so sorely needed today:

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Question: In a previous TBC newsletter, you wrote about a book titled Heaven Is For Real. You introduced the article as an “exercise in discernment.” I was recently sent a book that rather shocked me. Its title is Have Heart: Bridging the Gulf Between Heaven and Earth. It seems to do what you objected to in Heaven Is For Real–that is, supply information about heaven that is not taught in Scripture. Actually, it goes well beyond that problem by seeming to promote things prohibited in God’s Word. The most disturbing aspect of the book for me, however, was that two of the endorsers are men for whom I have great respect: Greg Laurie and Chuck Missler. What is your discernment regarding Have Heart?

Response: Have Heart was written by Steve and Sarah Berger, a couple who suffered the tragic loss of their 19-year-old son, Josiah. Their stated objective is to use what God showed them through their experience surrounding his auto accident in 2009 and beyond that event to comfort and help  others who have had a similar loss of a loved one.

 

My wife and I (T. A.) recently experienced the loss of her mom, who lived with us for the last three years. Yet, as difficult as that was, I can’t imagine such a heartrending event as losing one of our five children. For those who have had such an experience, the first part of the Bergers’ book fulfills much of their goal: they do give wonderful comfort and some sound biblical counsel. For example, they write, “From the beginning of our pain, we asked the Lord for only His truth. We didn’t want to be comforted by a lie or counterfeit sympathies. We wanted God and His truth….The Holy Spirit also convicts believers of what is true and what is not. He is the ultimate Teacher and Comforter. In His comforting, He brings not only the truth, but He also proves God’s Word time and time again in our hearts….We need to be rooted and grounded in this truth so that no matter how hard the wind [of brokenheartedness] blows, we’ll stand….Our words need to match biblical truth” (pp. 32-33, 36, 60). This concern for God’s truth is repeated throughout the book.

 

Sadly, however, midway through Take Heart, the Bergers take leave of their statements regarding the objective Word of God and begin introducing their subjective experiences involving their deceased son, Josiah. Dreams become a vehicle of communication between Josiah and his family and friends: “And then one night, Josiah showed up in a dream” (p. 69). In that episode, Josiah cryptically communicated that he was “pickled,” i.e., his term for his life being preserved in heaven. “He [God] used a dream in my life to further unfold the greatness of Heaven, to reinforce the supernatural preservation of my son…” (p. 71).

 

Communication through dreams featuring a deceased loved one quickly led to direct communication: “Only two weeks after Josiah went to Heaven, I (Sarah) made it a habit to talk to Josiah…I would then be in instant conversation with Jesus and Siah [Josiah]” (p. 82).

 

Sarah declared to her son that she needed “to be involved with your life even now…and I want to be involved in what you are doing” (p. 82). She then pleads with God to allow that to take place. Supposedly, God answered Sarah through the dream of an unbeliever, a Muslim friend of the family. Others supplied details of Josiah’s “job” in heaven through their own dreams.

 

The authors introduce many things that are allegedly taking place in heaven that are not specifically taught in the Bible. “Are our loved ones in Heaven able to occasionally see things that are happening on earth?…Do the saints intercede for people who are going through hard times? Yes–they know what is happening, as much as God allows, and they are praying for us!” (p. 76). Although the authors intend to comfort people with their insights, they don’t seem to be thinking the process through. Knowing what loved ones are doing on earth–perhaps in rebellion and sin–would certainly bring grief to those in heaven, a place of consummate joy. They seem to recognize that problem yet address it with another extra-biblical assessment: “It’s not all the time; they don’t get to see everything. But every once in a while the Lord grants them permission to look on this earth, and based on what they see, they intercede on our behalf.” Where is that found in Scripture?

 

The authors note the biblical prohibition of contacting the dead in Deuteronomy 18:10-12 but then issue a qualification presumably for believers: “We need to understand that God has the power to temporarily lift the veil between Heaven and earth at any time according to His good pleasure” (p. 95) They offer support for the legitimacy of their view experientially by adding that “Several people in our family and inner circle of friends have experienced similar meetings with Josiah…” including their pastor. The latter declares, “The next thing I knew, Josiah came into [the church] sanctuary…and he got down on one knee and bent to speak into my ear….I stood up and went over to my wife and told her, ‘Josiah was just here'” (pp. 99-100). The gist of Josiah’s communication was an encouragement regarding what his pastor had gone through during Josiah’s hospital stay.

 

The Bergers claim that such events surrounding their deceased son are proofs of biblical truths: “This visit proves that our loved ones in Heaven are spiritually active and that they care–they are aware of the times that we need special encouragement….God granted Josiah permission to make an appearance…it serves as proof that our son is not dead and gone, but merely moved to a different place to do other things for God. It shows he is happy there, and it demonstrates his continued presence in not only our lives but in the lives of his friends as well” (p. 100; italics added).

 

Although perhaps well meaning in their attempt to uphold the faith by “proofs,” the Bergers are nevertheless undermining biblical faith. Jesus gave the example of Abraham speaking to the rich man who wanted Lazarus to appear to his five brothers, saying that if they hear not Moses and the prophets, i.e., the Scriptures, they wouldn’t believe someone returning from the dead. Furthermore, Jesus chided Thomas for not believing that He had resurrected from the dead without physical proof, adding, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

 

Experiences never trump faith that is based upon the Word of God. Peter had an incredible experience on the Mount of Transfiguration when he saw Jesus glorified and in the presence of Moses and Elijah. Yet Peter declares that even better than that, we have “a more sure word of prophecy” and exhorts believers to “take heed” to the written Word (2 Pt 1:19).

 

In further attempting to legitimize their experiences (in view of Scriptural prohibitions), they appeal to the “spontaneity” of the “visitations” as the difference between that which is “condemned by God” and that which is “orchestrated by God” (p. 102). This is wishful thinking on their part, not Scripture’s truth.

 

In fact, much of what the Bergers hold for their hope in heaven is not stated in the Bible. They say that loved ones in heaven are “enjoying some pretty rockin’ new bodies,” whereas Scripture indicates that a deceased believer will receive his immortal body not right after death but when Christ returns for His church at the Rapture (1 Cor 15:52). They transfer things they love about their temporal life into the eternal realm, particularly their family relationships, and they see that relationship continuing with their deceased son: “We want all of us to continue to have relationship with Siah right up until the day that we are face-to-face in Heaven with him” (p. 103).

 

Just because someone wants it doesn’t make it so. We know that our relationships with unbelieving family members will not continue in heaven. How joyful, then, would a family unit be there with perhaps multiple missing members? Will there be family relationships in heaven? No matter what our rationale, Scripture simply does not tell us. We do know that there is neither marrying nor those given in marriage in heaven (Mt 22:30). Furthermore, all that the Bergers describe seems to lose sight of, even diminish, the extraordinary relationship every believer will have with Jesus Christ.

 

One of the dangers of this book for a person who doesn’t study the Word of God for himself (which is epidemic today) is that he is disarmed by the multiple claims of biblical veracity, which give way to human speculations–which are then accepted as biblical truth. With no scriptural support, the Bergers write, “We know that [Josiah] can see us, hear us, and even be involved, not only in our lives but also in the lives of his friends. We are continually hearing of Siah coming to friends in dreams….The dreams are incredibly profound and always prove God’s Word, point to the glory of God, and compel us to get closer to Jesus” (p. 104). They add, “We mean no disrespect to the prophets, but the idea of Siah being able to observe the choices we make here on earth is way more motivating as we seek to live for God moment-by-moment. The cloud of witnesses [of “Christian loved ones in Heaven”] is personal, and we believe it is part of their work in the spiritual realm to cheer on their loved ones still on earth…” (p. 107; italics added).

 

In their attempt to comfort those who have also lost loved ones to death, the Bergers fail to give the biblical warnings of spiritual deception, especially since their grieving state may make them terribly vulnerable to Satan’s ploys, such as transforming himself “into an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14-15).

 

In our day, when biblical discernment is practically nonexistent among most who call themselves Christians, to emphasize the experiential, as the Bergers do throughout their book, is playing right into the hands of the Adversary. Tragically, they call such supernatural experiences with their deceased son “God Nods” and encourage their readers to seek their own: “Be on the lookout for God Nods in your own life”
(p. 104). They give examples of Josiah kissing his sister after his death (p. 115), and his dad crying out to God for a sign: “I was begging God for a sign, a sign…out of the ordinary…that my Josiah was all right…. I was asking God to give me something I could behold with my physical eyes” (p. 118). Scripture, however, warns that “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign” (Mt 12:39).

 

In contradiction to the biblical counsel the authors give at the beginning of their book, in the end they not only capitulate to a view that disagrees with the Bible but they promote it enthusiastically: “Our loved ones may show up in dreams or visits or other ways (who can limit God’s imagination?), but the fact is that we’re connected….There is a thin veil, and we’re connected to them, forever, in Christ” (p. 110). They conclude, “You don’t father or mother a child for nineteen years and then hear God say, ‘Oh, now you can’t talk to him. You no longer have a relationship with him until you see him face to face in Heaven….’ We still talk to Josiah, and it’s going to be so great when we’re together again” (p. 125).

 

In our view, Have Heart is an example of how a tragic event in the lives of believers can lead many into an even more tragic misunderstanding of God’s Word.

 


What Is The Sin That “Leads To Death”?

A reader asks:

Please explain 1John 5:16-17. What is a “sin that leads to death?” I thought all sin led to death. Can you explain?

– – – – – – – – – – –

All sin does lead to death. That’s clear from Genesis through Revelation. So what is this passage talking about? What is a sin that “does not lead to death?” Let’s take a look….

To start, you need to back up a couple of verses. In verses 14-15, we find John telling us about the certainty of answered prayer IF we ask according to His will. We know His will by learning it from the Bible and being led by the Holy Spirit.  We are told in no uncertain terms that IF we pray according to God’s will, then He WILL hear us and WILL grant us what we ask.

We know that this is not a blanket “purchase order” for Christians, because we all know from reality that God does not give us everything we pray for… in fact, most Christians would argue God RARELY gives us what we ask for (which should be a clear indication of some needed introspection).

What could be the obvious reason for not getting what we ask for from God? Answer: we aren’t praying according to His will. For some reason, we either don’t know it, have it wrong, or don’t understand it, but one thing is certain – it isn’t God’s will, or He would give it. That is a clear promise.

Given that background, we move to verses 16-17:

  • 1 John 5:16-17 – If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death. (NKJV)

Remember, you can’t jerk verses off the page and treat them as “stand alone” (known as “prooftexting”). You have to take them in context.

In context, we move from hearing about the certainty of answered prayer – conditional on asking according to God’s will – to a specific example of praying according to God’s will – in this case concerning “a sin leading to death” – and NOT getting your request. That leads us to need to find out “WHY?”

It concerns one specific type of prayer request relating to prayer for someone who has committed “a sin leading to death.”

What kind of sin is that? We aren’t specifically told, but the context and the way it is written make it apparent the passage is talking literally about a sin that will lead to physical death in this life.  Sometimes we “spiritualize” Scripture and miss the plain meaning. We think of “leading to death” more of a symbolic way of saying “a sin that keeps you from being saved.” In this verse and context, the more obvious interpretation is that physical death is the meaning.

It is not referring to one specific sin or a certain list of sins but rather the types of premeditated, willful, unconfessed sin that causes God to finally decide to take that person’s life. It is a sin that finally reaches the end of God’s tolerance for reasons known only to God. There are some verses that touch on this:

  • 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 (the sin of sexual immorality in the church) – In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (NKJV)
  • 1 Corinthians 11:30 (irreverence concerning the Lord’s Supper) – For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. (NKJV)
  • Acts 5:5 (lying to God) – Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. (NKJV)

Verses 16 & 17 seem to be saying – keeping verses 14-15 in mind – that “God will give you whatever you ask according to His will but not if you are praying for a sinner whom God has already determined will lose his life because of some sin that has been committed.”

In this case, the intercessory prayer – which is promised to be granted in verses 14-15 – will not be answered… and God is telling us why it won’t be answered so that His promise is not untruthful in verses 14-15. Once God has decided that physical death is inevitable, for reasons only He knows, then prayer on that person’s behalf is no longer effective.

John shows the obvious by contrasting the opposites: there IS a sin leading to death, and there IS NOT a sin leading to death. Since we know all sin leads to spiritual death, and can only be atoned for by the blood of Christ, it becomes obvious that physical death is the meaning in these verses.

We are also indirectly comforted knowing that not all sin (and obviously not most) leads to God’s decision to take away someone’s life. God is patient and merciful. It seems obvious that you really have to push God to get Him to decide that your physical life has been forfeited.

However, we should not ignore or neglect the opposite truth: sometimes a person can sin in such a way that God may choose to end their physical life because of it. Very sobering.

This appears to be true for Christians as well as the unsaved. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is addressing a worldly, struggling church, but still addresses them as true Christians. In 1Cor 11:30 he points out that some of them had died because of taking the Lord’s supper in an “unworthy manner.”

Can we categorically say that they must not have been truly saved? That would be pretty presumptuous – just as presumptuous as assuming the warning and consequences in those verses don’t apply to us today. Something to think about next time you partake of Communion.

In summary, this verse is stating that God will not grant a prayer request when it concerns someone whom God has already judged worthy of physical death because of a particular sin – but this does not invalidate God’s promise to grant us our requests when they are made “according to His will.”

As a secondary lesson, use this lesson as a demonstration of how to interpret the Bible IN CONTEXT. Far too often, Christians attempt to USE and INTERPRET verses as if those verses existed in a vacuum all by themselves. It is the sole reason we have so much confusion and error in Christianity.

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