Examining Near Death Experiences (Part II)

In my last entry I discussed six of the common factors found in Near Death Experiences (NDE) as detailed in the book by Jeffrey Long, MD entitled, Evidence of the Afterlife. Scripture remains the solid proof, promise and explanation of an afterlife; but finding or interpreting the experience of people in light of Scripture can give a connection to real events and broader understanding.

Here are some other common experiences listed in the book:

A sense of alteration of time or space. It is always mind-bending to imagine different scales of time or that time didn’t always exist. God reveals himself to be transcendent. Essentially, beyond the constraints of time or physical laws. A well-known passage that gets at this is:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord is day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

2 Peter 3:8

This statement is not a mathematical formula for converting God time to ours. It refers to God’s transcendence and to possibility that the experience of time will differ from Earth to Heaven to Hell. Science would suggest the same thing. While the measurement of the time difference is vague, the general experience is that there is a change of time and space and that you are aware of a difference.

Life Review. We have all heard the expression “my life flashed before my eyes” in connection to a brush with death. This would seem to be a review of your whole life, but particularly your sins. The Bible speaks of Judgment Day, but there is clearly also a “judgment” made at our death. I don’t think it is the same thing. Judgment Day is a future event. The judgment made at our death would be the determination of what comes next. We will all have failures that flash before our eyes, because we are all sinners. Are the sins that we see flash before our eyes our downfall, or are they what has been covered by the death of Jesus? This is what matters at that moment.

Not all people are saved. Scripture reveals it will be a minority. And not all people experience something heavenly in a NDE. Obviously, people would be reticent to announce, “I went to Hell/Sheol”. Those who return with a universalistic message of everyone is saved find themselves in conflict with both the words of Scripture and the experience of many people. Did they misunderstand something? Or is it possible for a NDE to be a deception?

Either way, to experience a life review fits what I would expect.

Encountering Unworldly (Heavenly) Realms. The Bible recounts several Out of Body Experiences (OBE) that took the writer to Heaven. You can find them in Isaiah 6, Daniel 7, Zechariah 3 and Revelation 4,5 and 7. Paul also refers to an OBE/NDE he had in 2 Corinthians 12. It is often hard for the person to discern exactly how they are experiencing this. They cannot tell if it is a vision or actually being there. They cannot tell if this is out-of-body or in the flesh. The Biblical experiences all show the person the throne room of God. It is not a tour of the whole of Heaven or even just another part. NDE recorded after medical emergencies typically reveal another landscape, a very beautiful one, presumably outside of God’s throne room.

These accounts mesh somewhat with Revelation 7:

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them nor any scorching heat.17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:16-17

We have a great interest in the landscape and lifestyle of Heaven. A misinterpretation of the Bible leads to art and the idea that Heaven is on clouds, or that we are bodiless or that it is one unending worship service. Clearly from NDE and Revelation 7 it is not in a cloudbank. Everyone experiences great beauty, but the beauty is different from place to place. Some can compare what they see to what God had created on Earth. For others, what they see defies words as it is very different from what is on Earth. Do these descriptions simply project a person’s expectations? I doubt it, for some of those witnesses didn’t expect a Heaven at all.

Why would some experience Heaven even as non-believers and others experience Hell? This is a mystery. God uses it often to turn around a life or point of view. The experience can seem like a mistake with people being told that it is not their time and sent back, but seems to be more complicated than that. Not every NDE happens with prophetic purpose. Perhaps our capabilities to retrieve people medically from death have made the boundary between Earth and Heaven more permeable, but in the end God’s will in done.

There are just a few more common experiences in NDE. I will discuss them next time.

Examining Near Death Experiences

I believe in life after death because God has given me faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior, the forgiveness of my sins, and the promise of entrance into Heaven and eventually also the New Earth. This faith is the combination of the Holy Spirit working on me through the use of God’s promises and Jesus’ story in the Bible. I have no personal experience of dying or Heaven.

That may not be true for everyone who is still alive. Medical interventions have drastically increased the number of Near Death Experiences (NDE). Though I would not count them as an equal source of information to the Holy Spirit and the Bible, they do represent information that needs to be explained.

In the book, Evidence of the Afterlife, Dr. Jeffery Long publishes the findings of an extended study of those who report leaving their bodies, sometimes hearing conversations they should not have been able to hear within this world, experiencing people and places beyond this world, and returning to their bodies and normal life.

Dr. Long looks at demographics such as religion to consider whether expectations have created false memories. He is convinced that the NDE experience is genuine and not the product of hypoxia as the brain dies, nor false memory. He notes that not all NDE’s are identical, but considering that an NDE is an abnormal state, one would expect some variation. He would also note that there are a set of frequently occurring experiences. Let’s consider what these may be.

The first is simply leaving your body. This would not fit with a materialist view that consciousness is simply brain chemistry and resident in the body. It fits very well with the biblical model of the soul and body separating, ultimately because of sin. It would also support the idea that consciousness is either connected to the soul or is the soul.

The ability to briefly move independent of the body and to see or hear things within or even outside of the room containing the body is further proof of the veracity of the experience. It suggests a brief lingering between our body and our life-after-death destination.

The second is heightened senses. This is an intriguing surprise. Our sensory organs and the sensory portions of our brain are part of the body. How can senses be greater without the body? This common experience (74% of those surveyed) suggests that some of our sensory faculties are a part of the soul. This allows for a heightened experience of color and beauty, also sound and music. It may suggest the formation of a heavenly body, though awareness of having a body is not reported.

The third is the experience of intense and generally positive emotions. The Bible warns us that some, in fact a majority, will experience Sheol at their death. Those experiencing this would be unlikely to share it, thereby creating biased information among reported data. What is primarily reported here is such things as love, joy, happiness, warmth, safety, belonging, forgiveness and understanding. These are emotions that would be expected from Heaven and the experience of meeting God.

The fourth, and maybe the most well-known, is passing through a tunnel. People sometimes describe the tunnel as soft. They experience movement, sometimes at great speed. While the tunnel is not necessarily dark, they know that they are moving toward a bright light. What could this be? I would theorize that Heaven isn’t a part of the space-time dimension in which we now exist. You will not find Heaven by traveling far enough out. I expect it forms a type of parallel universe, as does Sheol. The tunnel is a form of transition from one realm to the other. Whether it has anything to do with Einstein’s “wormhole” concept, I do not know.

The fifth, is experiencing a mystical or brilliant light. Dr. Long reports that 64.6% of respondents report seeing this light. God is described in 1 John as light. While this could be read as being metaphorical, it can also be understood as a statement about his being. The one account offered by Long in the first chapter of his book speaks about an interconnectedness of other lights, including the reporters, to the main light. I think this is intriguing about the Bible speaks about our being a part of the body of Christ. It is connectedness to Christ that saves us.

There are several more common experiences noted in the book, Evidence of the Afterlife, I would like to continue discussing these in my next entry.

The Wages of Sin

You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that eat of it you shall surely die.

Genesis 2:16-17

For us death is the norm. All of us understand that we will one day die; and even if death seems surreal to us now, the day is coming when it will seem quite concrete. It is hard to imagine a world where there was no such thing as death. Death is an integral part of our world now.

Adam and Eve most likely didn’t understand what death was. At least they couldn’t grasp the scope and the gravity of what it meant. One transgression, the only one they could make, would not only be a mistake, it would change the world.

My personal theory is that touching the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil released a means of genetic change. Something like a virus. It infected and changed Adam and Eve and through heredity impacts us all. It also infected and changed, every living thing and made death a part of the “circle of life” which would have been an ongoing line not a circle. Through some other means it also impacted the non-living part of the environment. The world became an unbalanced and dangerous place that didn’t work the way it did at creation. Now it would be far less cooperative. These changes were the direct result of sin. Evil was known because now it was part of the system.

The well-known passage from Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…” has many levels of meaning. The original sin and set of consequences got it all started. This passage is not said to us as if it were something we could really avoid. The story of Adam and Eve is recorded primarily so that we can understand why we, otherwise eternal creatures, live in a system that includes death. We are sinners by birth. The Sermon on the Mount was not given to lay down a list of achievable standards. It is primarily given to convince people that they are sinners. Jesus’ discourse with the “rich, young ruler” was not given to tell people they can save themselves by giving away their wealth to the poor. It was given to convince a man who thought he kept God’s law that he did not. He was a sinner.

The result is death. Genetically we are doomed to die, because genetically we are sinners. Further, as sinners we are doomed to experience ultimate death, spiritual death, exile from God; because that is the way God has made it. His Law requires death. No rebel will share in the good things that God has made for long.

If that were the end of the story, then God should have ended the story right after Adam and Eve’s transgression. Why let the rest of us be born into a hopeless situation? But Romans 6:23 says more, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Creation was allowed to continue on in its sinful condition because there would be hope of life restored.

The way the “wages of sin” have been paid out has varied over the ages. One aspect of consequences of rebellion has been the aging process. We start moving toward our ultimate physical death immediately. The pace wasn’t always the same. People born before Noah and then tailing off after Noah lived much longer lives. I don’t think this is mythical. Genetic modification done deliberately by God hasn’t the pace. Personally I am not complaining. To live 900+ years in a cursed world is unappealing. In fact, to live the full life expectancy of 120yrs, sounds like 30 years too much to me.

The spiritual aspect has differed too. Before Jesus had made eternal life with God a possibility, humans fell into two categories as they do now. Those who believed God and were claimed by Him and those who remained rebellious. Their fates after death were to be sent to a common place: Sheol (in Hebrew) Hades (in Greek). The only other hope expressed in the Old Testament referred to a resurrection connected to Judgment Day. There was no talk of humans in Heaven at that time. There had been no such promise expressed by God.

As you look for how Sheol fits into the execution of “the wages of sin is death”, it would seem that it was only a partial execution of the Law, especially for the faithful. Though rid of their genetically sinful bodies, the faithful were neither transported into the visible presence of God nor completely banished from God. The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31) gives the most comprehensive description of what Hades was like. In it, Lazarus is comforted in the “bosom of Abraham”, while the rich man suffers in hellish conditions. The two can communicate but are clearly segregated due to the judgment of their lives that already occurred. The sins of Lazarus, Abraham and other faithful have not yet been paid for by Jesus, neither has a full execution of death. The rich man is suffering a fuller sentence, but has yet to receive full abandonment by God. The experience of the sentence for sin would be radically changed by Jesus’ victory on the cross and then later by Judgment Day.

The wages of sins would fully by paid. It is just of matter of who pays them. For those who believe the judgment of God, that they are sinful, and the promise of God, that their sin can be forgiven, Jesus pays the price. Jesus is forsaken which fulfills the Law. For the rest, Judgment Day brings the final piece. They are put outside of any aspect of God’s presence. This is the ultimate sentence of death. To arrive at this point it takes more than to be born sinful, it takes rejecting God’s own effort to remove the sentence.

The Way That We Are Made

What makes a human being special, if anything? A Materialist would say that nothing is special. We are just a biological robot doing what chemistry is forcing us to do with no specific purpose. Materialism is a very disparaging philosophy that doesn’t fit our experience. I don’t believe it at all. I experience myself making choices, contemplating my existence, living with purpose; and even though I have not died and returned from the dead yet, I have a sense that I am not limited to my physical lifespan. That may lack scientific vigor, but the atheistic claims of a Materialist do as well, and are clearly rubbish.

Human beings are more than interesting chemistry. Complex chemistry is a part of our being, but not the whole of it. Most people have thought so. The dissenters have a clear bias–they don’t want God to exist.

The Bible says something different about humans. It says we were created in the “image of God”. What does that mean? I don’t think it is the common meaning of the term “image”. The Bible declares several times that God is a spirit or is spirit. While the meaning of “spirit” is also vague, I would gather from usage that it means that God is not set in his appearance by a defined physical form. Part of being created in the “image of God” is having a part of our being not connected to a defined physical form.

Our bodies are a “defined physical form” the way I am using the phrase. The Bible speaks of humans as also having a “spirit”. Our spirit may be what we experience as consciousness. But our spirit is not the whole of us. We are body, and possibly bodies, and spirit. Our spirit can be liberated from connection to our body. That is what death is. Our spirit can interact with our body. That is why we can control it and that is what is observed when mapping brain activity.

We know that our earthly body can die and decay. Our spirit cannot, which is another aspect of being made in the image of God. We are eternal. While I do not believe in reincarnation, I understand the Bible to say that we can have a heavenly body (1 Corinthians 15:40, 2 Corinthians 5:1). In that case, our spirit is interacting with a body made for the physical dimensions of Heaven. I also know from the Bible that we will have a “resurrected” body. In this case, our spirit is interacting with a recreated, indestructible body built for the physical dimensions of this universe. Being eternal, we will never lapse into non-existence.

Being created in the image of God means, among still other things, that we have an eternal, non-material part that can interact with material bodies that can exist within their respective physical realms. This is theorizing that Heaven is a parallel universe to this universe rather than a remote part of it. The same can be said for Hell. How we will spend eternity depends on our relationship with God.

Humans were not created by God to be in an antagonistic or forsaken relationship to Him. We were created for Him, to be with Him. But that relationship was broken a long time ago. When we come into being at our conception, we do not arrive with a good relationship and with an unblemished image of God. God creates us, but in the sense that He created the biological system of reproduction that makes us. We do not start from scratch. As such, we inherit physically a nature that is antagonistic to God and under God’s judgment. (Romans 7, Psalm 51:5 et al). The only fix for us is Jesus. Jesus’ actions created the opportunity to repair our relationship with God. God seeks us out to connect us to Jesus; and, if successful, to restore us to what we were originally intended to be.

Would we know this without being told about it by God? I doubt it. We would only experience a vague sense of something amiss. We would see a troubled and often ugly world made painful by human actions. We would walk blindly into our own deaths, perhaps expecting the end of our existence. Finding instead a far worse continued existence.

Created in the image of God is what we are for better or worse. Thank God, He did not abandon us to a hopeless fate.

The Unique Perspective and Mission of Jesus

If you wanted to know something about life after death, who would you consult? The obvious answer is someone who has died. Clearly, this answer has a problem. Death is typically a one way street. You don’t die and then come back to tell people about it. But throughout history there has been some exceptions, especially lately. There has also been work-arounds, though forbidden. And then there is Jesus, the one who not only died but rose again; the one who has created “all things unseen” and bridged an otherwise unbridgeable gap to eternal joy.

Near death experiences (NDE) are on the rise because of advances in modern science. They are intriguing accounts. For the most part they are brief. There is some consistency in the reports. There is also decent proof that these are not the memories of dying brain.

It seems that most people experience an ecstatically joyful experience with great beauty, heightened senses, and often meeting people that they know who are deceased. Some have experienced the opposite, encountering a place of agony, hopelessness and anger. These accounts clash with a common message that comes from NDEs, that all will be saved. This message also is contradicted by Jesus. So what does this say about the message and what does it say about the experience of an NDE?

We are definitely in unfamiliar territory when we cross over death. Is it real? Is it a vision? Can we be misled? It is exciting that people can report on heavenly experiences but we cannot give our trust to the information unreservedly.

Even less so what I termed as “work-arounds”. From Old Testament times the Bible reported practices of consulting the dead. These were forbidden by God. Why? These were also widely practiced. Were they real? If practices of consulting the dead were strictly forms of fraud, I could understand God forbidding them but not attaching such seriousness as we find in Deuteronomy 18:9-12:

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.”

Deuteronomy 18:9-12

Similarities between the after death beliefs in various religions are often attributing to copying between cultures. While this could happen, could not inquiries of the dead produce some similarities with possible distortions?

A current day practice called (TM) Transcendental Meditation produces out of body experiences. This might be just an altered state of mind, but we have to consider whether it accesses some type of space beyond our current dimension and that it could fall into the condemnation mentioned above. Are these work-arounds forbidden because the power used to do them is not from God, and/or does it leave the individual exposed to deceptions that will poison society if they are shared?

Jesus is something completely different from NDEs and forbidden procedures. Jesus has unique claims about himself. First, he claims to pre-exist his birth and to hail from Heaven.

13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

John 3:13

As far as understanding the place of joy that exists beyond death, Jesus makes this unique claim and then backs it up with very public miracles involving health issues, control over the laws of physics and even raising people from the dead. Who else comes close to having authority on this topic and proving it?

With this quote He is not dismissing the possibility that others could have had visions of Heaven (like Daniel and Isaiah) or that others who came after His resurrection could have actual travel there. But I bounce everything reported to be information about Heaven and getting there off of the words of Jesus. He alone has the credentials for truth.

Then there is His mission. Jesus does a lot of good during His earthly ministry, but He is clearly the Son of God in human flesh for one reason-to change the course of what happens to us when we die. Jesus can tell us about life after death because He is making real life after death possible by fixing our relationship to God’s Law which would condemn us. I can trust a being who made such a great sacrifice for me.

Because of how God worked His plan, when I read about Jesus’ death on the cross I am looking at my death and forsakeness under God’s Law. Also, when I read of Jesus’ resurrection, I am reading about something that happened for me and will happen to me. I will be physically resurrected, and it will be a resurrection to a new level of glory.

If other sources of information are preferred they need to show why. Jesus is the source of our information, and its interesting and serious stuff.

The Folly of Flying Blind

Imagine that you are an airplane pilot and that you need to land your plane. Only today there is a low cloud blank over the airport. You cannot see where you are going. Luckily, modern instrumentation can tell you your location and altitude and speed. You can land blind if you rely on your instrumentation. Imagine if it wasn’t working.

With a large degree of certainty, you know that the ground is somewhere below you. Just go for it, right? Landing a plane is not an activity without high stakes. Hitting the ground in the wrong way in the wrong place has serious consequences.

Many people approach death this way. With a high degree of certainty they will die. Still, they approach death as if nothing can go wrong. Ignoring the topic, living in denial at least makes them happy for the moment. But death is an experience where you would prefer not to have a crash landing. Information is critical.

We can assume that every outcome is positive. People like that. But that is hardly proof that every outcome is positive. You can dismiss all evidence and revelation as unreliable. You can hedge your bets by being a “moral” person. You can convince yourself that there is nothing to be known about what comes next, and just “land the plane”, but that is folly.

Since we will all die, we should all be hungry for information about what, if anything, happens to us next. Don’t be quickly convinced that we simply cease to exist. The methods of materialistic inquiry may not serve you well in this instance. Reported near death experiences and revelations about God, Heaven, Hell or reincarnation all have to be carefully weighed as to their reliability. While you can’t arrive at an absolutely conclusive experiment or definitive experience, I believe that God can give you the certainty and clarity that you need.

Only God can give us the information we seek and confidence to trust it. The experiences of others may give some corroboration. For me, the weight of the information points to a judgment of each of us at death; and it is a judgment that we will fair poorly in without forgiveness from God.

The good news is that God is a being eager to forgive and eager to bless people with an existence after death that far exceeds in both length and quality what we are experiencing now. That eagerness manifested itself in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life and death were part of a plan that provided a way for God to fulfill His laws and still forgive the sins of people. A connection to Jesus is a critical and necessary part of landing safely.

The objective of this blog has been to give you information about what the Bible says exists beyond this life. It is a more complicated scenario than most people realize. The complexity is caused because humans decided to rebel against God. Without the original sin of Adam and Eve, we would simply live forever in a world with no problems, new adventure and direct interaction with God. That is the end that God still desires for us. Jesus makes it possible.

Why Believe In Eternal Life?

You go to a funeral or visitation and there lies the body of a person you know. There is no movement, no sign of life. None of your senses tell you that this person still exists. There is just observable death and with it grief. Perhaps you want to believe that they are “in a better place”, but it could be just wishful thinking that we desperately need at this moment.

In another instance, you are sitting with a person in the process of dying. They seem to be having a vision. “I see Grandpa!” “The angels are coming for me!” ” I see Jesus!” You, of course, don’t see any of this. Is it real or is this just the expected delusions created by a dying brain? The same might be asked about people who have more terrifying visions. “I see fire!” “Help me!”

The sensory experience or even instrumental readings available at the time of death, all carry with them a large degree of doubt. Short of being able to freely move back and forth from this life to the next, all accounts are questionable. While I would put some weight behind the testimony of those who have had Near Death Experiences, I would consider our ability to measure or experience life after death to severely limited. Maybe someday we will have an instrument that can peer beyond death, but the current scientific orthodoxy has already decided that such a thing doesn’t exist.

That leaves us with two further means of information: one I can endorse and one I cannot. God can give to people the truth of what lies beyond the grave, if He so desires. And to a limited extend, that is exactly what He has done. When you are unequipped to investigate on your own, you are dependent on revelation. The other is a type of stolen revelation. Dabbling in the occult is tapping into the knowledge and power of other beings, evil beings, that can span the gap of death. God strictly forbids it. Why? He knows them to be prolific liars and deceivers. He knows them to hate our species, but that hasn’t kept people away.

The people of Israel were strictly warned against this type of inquiry. The people who occupied Canaan where deeply into these practices along with other disgusting forms of worship. For these reasons, they were being dispossessed of the land.

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.”

Deuteronomy 18:9-14

Such practices and the desperate demand for such contact has also created a cadre of con-men and women who prey on sorrow. It leads many people to doubt that such capabilities even exist. But God was not warning about hucksters.

Revelation from Jesus, who is God incarnate, is our most trustworthy source of information. Others sources provide modest, secondary affirmation. Jesus promised to be straight with us.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

John 14:1-2

If we were limited to just this life, then Jesus would have said so. There was no motive to lie. But Jesus’ whole mission was to prepare a place for us. It already had been determined and revealed that people would face a Judgment Day and experience a resurrection from the dead. Jesus was preparing a further place and a better resurrection. He was going to become the way to have Heaven as a destination at death, and a New Heaven and New Earth as a home after the resurrection.

Jesus proved his reliability on such grand promises to his contemporaries by raising people from the dead, three in all; and then rising from the dead himself. Do you have someone with better credentials?

It is true that there is nothing like experience. I can guarantee that you will get you chance at that. But listening to the revelation that God has given us is more than just interesting information. It is critical and relevant to all. It is information intended for you and truthful. It prepares you for death and guides you in life. It can make you certain of things you cannot see or measure.

Grief and Christmas

As a pastor I can tell you that deaths do not happen evenly over the course of a year. Death seems to be concentrated into the colder months. At my congregation we would typically have 8 to 12 funerals a year. This year, since mid-October we have already had 9 deaths with no doubt more to come before Spring. Covid only partially explains the rise.

This reality means that many deaths happen around the holidays, leaving grief perpetually connected with a day that is supposed to be happy. The same type of association can happen with hymns. We often play a person’s favorite hymn at their funeral, which often ruins it for us. “How Great Thou Art” is a hymn that many people can’t listen to for that reason.

Having a painful association points to having an incomplete and ineffective grieving process. Remembering shouldn’t hurt after a while. If we are still hurting, then we are dwelling on what we have lost versus focusing on the promise of eternal life and a future reunion. This, of course, hinges on having eternal life through Jesus.

The Christmas season will be the source of many cherished family memories. It should be. But the Christmas season is misspent if it is focused primarily on family and not focused on Christ. Celebrating the birth of Christ is celebrating God coming into the world to give a most precious gift.

The Son of God became a human to place himself under the jurisdiction of God’s Law. He came as the child of a virgin so that he would not be born with a sinful nature like the rest of us. Instead, he could remain sinless for life. He then could do something for us that is an incredible act of sacrificial love. When dying on the cross, Jesus was forsaken by his Father as a substitute for his Father forsaking us. To be forsaken, utterly abandoned by God, is the punishment required for sin. If you are connected to Jesus through baptism, your eternal punishment is done.

If your loved one died as a believer in Jesus as their Savior, they are alive with Jesus. Do not look back, look forward. If you also are in Christ, then there are more good times, even better than the best ahead. Let the celebration of the birth of a Savior take you there, at least for awhile. Be sure to also make the most of those who are still alive and with you.

I would say the same for “How Great Thou Art”, or any hymn for that matter. It sure not remind you of loss but rather of gain. Train your brain to do this. Catch yourself when you think about the loss, remind yourself of God’s promise and then imagine what you still cannot see. Do not wallow in loss. It is not forgetting your loved one, it is remembering them properly.

A Checklist for Death

I am a list maker. For many tasks I sit down and make a “to do” list so I do not forget something, and then take pleasure in checking off the list. Oddly, I do not typically do this for travel, but I should and many people do. Travel has a lot of details. You want to pack everything that you will need. You need to stop the mail, water the plants, care for your pets, and perhaps turn off the main water.

Should we have a checklist for death? It is a form of travel. Most of us are not planning to die, but we all will. A global pandemic helps to make that more real. Not only death, but Jesus’ return could be imminent. You don’t want to be unprepared.

The last two blogs covered the two critical areas in preparation for Judgment Day that Jesus shared with us. The first, we need to make sure our faith is alive. The stronger the better. Faith is the oil in the lamps in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Secondly, we want to be found to be faithful stewards, so we are to be busy doing God’s work at all times.

Anything else? There are a few more things that have biblical touchpoints that make for a wise checklist in preparation for leaving this Earth.

The first is being reconciled to everyone we know as far as that is possible. Don’t fail to ask for forgiveness from people that you hurt. Don’t fail to offer forgiveness to those who hurt you. Dying at peace means living at peace. Is this always possible? No. But be the instigator in trying to heal old wounds–even if you feel it should be the other person or that the effort is futile. To know that you put in the effort matters. (Matthew 5:25f, 18:21-35)

The next is to make clear, to at least the important people in your life, that you are disciple of Jesus. This is not to be done in a vain and bragging fashion. This is just the simple fact that your actions should match your beliefs. No one should be guessing whether you belong to Christ because your sinful nature is allowed to give conflicting messages. The Christian faith is not meant to be a private matter. Disciples are to be making more disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The degree to which you make your faith public depends on where you are. In the U.S., we should not hide who are at all, even though we may face ridicule from some. In countries where we would face dangerous persecution, we must be more clever. Other disciples of Jesus should recognize Christ in us. For others it depends on the Spirit’s guidance. We may be overt with our faith for the sake of witnessing to others. God will guide as to whether another person is open to our witness or a danger to be avoided. (Matthew 10:16)

A third item on our checklist is related to a good stewardship of life. Paul says,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:1o

We are here in this life because we have work to do. God shapes us and empowers us to do “good works”, which cover a scope of activity from showing love and meeting needs of others, to direct witnessing and discipleship of others, to genuine worship in spirit and truth, to doing our daily work to the glory of God, to developing and reflecting God’s character through obedience to His commands, to general good stewardship, to interacting as a friend with God. It is a lot of stuff. As we age and our faculties diminish, we may feel that we are no longer useful to the Kingdom of God; but if God has us here still, then we have a purpose. Look for it. There is no checklist we can possess of things God has prepared us to do, but seek to knock it all out as if there is one.

Our fourth item on our checklist is common to all people. It is making sure your final wishes are known. Have a will. If it has some eccentricities explain them to your loved ones ahead of time. Don’t take the coward’s way out and have surprises at the reading of the will. The final disposition of a Christian’s earthly property should not be a source of conflict nor offense. (Luke 12:15)

Finally, think about how you can make a final impact. I do think that one should help the next generation through a will if you can. I do not think that you should indulge them to a point of not needing to provide for themselves. That is not good stewardship nor healthy for our children. Finances can make an impact for the Kingdom of God and is one way to make a final impact. Though we will not be the witness ourselves, the person we support will do the work and we will share in it. (Matthew 10:41)

Another way to have a final impact is to leave a pre-recorded witness for your friends and family. This can be viewed after your death privately or as part of a funeral. Don’t call people out or embarrass them. Simply share words of your love and God’s.

This list doesn’t require death to be imminent. But sometimes that is a catalyst to get things done. Checking this list and keeping it current shows that you care about the details of life and respect that fact that we are only temporarily here. Real life comes next when you belong to Christ.

Faithful Stewardship

To be well prepared for death, we have to be reconciled with our Maker and Judge. That is the most fundamental thing. The story of the Ten Virgins, covered in my last blog, teaches that we cannot have the connection that we have with Jesus to run dry, and faith be lost. Presuming that this is not the case, we go on to Jesus’ next parable, The Parable of the Talents, in Matthew 25:14-30 to learn another valuable lesson about being prepared for death and/or Judgment Day.

This story describes Jesus as a rich man who is going away and leaving property in the management of three stewards. From Jesus’ ascension to His return, Jesus is not going to have a direct visible presence. He promises to be with us always. He promises that we are “the Body of Christ” and that He is in us. But to the outside observer, He is gone. The wise and prepared disciple of Jesus understands that Jesus is here and that He has given us responsibility. We are best prepared when we are faithfully caring out our responsibility to the very end of our days.

In the story, two of the three stewards manage to bring a 100% return. They are not given equal responsibilities (one has five talents of silver-approximately 100 years wages and the other has three talents) The money represents a wide range of things of which we are stewards: our money, our time, our abilities, our opportunities, our bodies, the planet, our knowledge of God and possibly more.

Their example instructs us to be examining our stewardship throughout our lives. Again, our stewardship doesn’t save us, but clearly there is a reward connected with doing a good job and we don’t have an evaluation until Judgment Day. It is good to be aware of our stewardship as early as possible, but this lesson is especially valuable toward the end of life when we might be inclined to evaluate our own lives as useless.

To be productive stewards isn’t necessarily the same thing as having a big impact on the world. It is just a matter of being faithful with what you have. As physical and mental faculties diminish, we need to seek what we can do rather than merely survive or bemoan what we have lost. Can you still pray? Then do it. Can you show love? Can you praise God, even internally? God determines when our stewardship is concluded in this life.

This is the primary argument against suicide. Suicide is not necessarily damning , but it is a sin. When we cut the corner to death, we leave behind at least some of our stewardship responsibility. A person who sees life as a stewardship given by God and is confident in eternal life because of grace is highly unlikely to find any situation bad enough to merit killing oneself.

Faithful stewardship involves both respect for the asset under your stewardship as being the property of God, efficient use of it, and results that further God’s Kingdom or honor God’s name. Faithful stewardship is a second level of preparedness for death.

The story has a third steward in it. This one is given only one talent, but he buries it in the ground. Who does this character represent? It represents those who are given at least life, time on Earth, and an intellectual understanding of the Gospel; but it never results in faith, salvation and consequently any result that is pleasing to God.

In his explanation, the third steward says that he knew the owner was a hard man and was afraid. Is God a hard man? In a way, yes. God is patient, merciful, loving and supportive. Those who have faith can never be completely unproductive, so there is little to worry about. But the story reminds us of the twin facts that God can be generous and severe.

Faithlessness and unfaithfulness as a steward results in the third steward being “cut to pieces and put with the hypocrites. In that place where there will be weeping a gnashing of teeth.” This sentence a description of being damned. God’s law leaves no room for those who reject Jesus’ sacrifice. God’s justice or severity will not compromise that requirement.

Again, do not take away that decent stewardship saves you. God gives salvation, but throwing it away damns you or, even better, leaves you in your natural state of being damned. Being a good steward rewards you. The two productive stewards get this accolade and promise:

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master.

Matthew 25:23

That is a promise that excites and a commendation that we should all seek.

For another angle on The Parable of the Talents go here:

https://wordpress.com/post/afterdeathsite.com/1395