Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review of Visits to Heaven and Back -Are They Real?

Visits to Heaven and Back-Are they Real?by Mark Hitchcock
Who would tell a complete stranger, and a Baptist church librarian at that, that he didn’t put any stock in Colton’s account of his trip to heaven in the book, Heaven is For Real? Even when the church librarian heard his explanation and responded that she still endorsed the book as a way to get people to think about heaven and the afterlife, who would point out that the book could also lead people astray? Mark Hitchcock not only boldly makes these claims, but he has written a convincing argument in Visits to Heaven and Back-Are They Real? that near death experience stories that tell of the afterlife do not line up with the Bible’s teaching on Heaven.

Books on this topic are multiplying. The author makes it clear that he is not questioning the motive of authors who write, but he believes they did not go to heaven and back. Hitchcock then proceeds to assess the claims made in several of the bestsellers of these books. He gives credit to the ones who share a clear message of salvation, but finds fault with all of them. Here are some of his concerns:

-authors tell of things that go beyond what Scripture says
-the emphasis is often on the author’s self focus and not on the glory of God
-the Bible never portrays God giving someone a choice of whether to stay in heaven
  or return to earth
-many authors suggest we can find salvation after we die
-no one needs to fear death for all is well for everyone

Hitchcock uses quotes and details from many of the books he critiques and explains how they do not pass the test of what Scripture teaches.  He also quotes other Christian leaders who have found error in these types of stories.

The last half of the book, Hitchcock outlines what the Bible teaches about Heaven.  He lists what will be there, what won’t be there, and who will be there. In the chapter entitled, “How to Be Dead Right”, he lays out the truth that Christ Jesus is the only hope of heaven and eternal life. The book finishes with several appendices answering common questions about death and heaven and recommended books on heaven and the afterlife.

The author is passionate in his desire to uphold the truth of scripture and he keeps consistent to that purpose throughout the whole book. In the first chapter he answers the most common reaction of his critics who view stories of heavenly experiences as innocent and helpful in encouraging many. “…What’s the big deal? Why pick on these books that seem to be giving so many people comfort and hope?...The prevailing notion today is that it’s unloving and uncharitable to question someone else’s experience or private revelation from God…I have nothing personal against any of the people who have written about trips to heaven and back…it’s incumbent on believers to discern the truth of the claims being made and to think biblically about heaven and the afterlife.”

I received a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes from Tyndale House.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sustaining Words

I adjusted my hat to shield my face from the hot Costa Rican sun and wiped my brow with a clean patch of forearm. My gloved hands gripped the shovel handle again. Lunge downward, lift. The blade had barely scalped the tough grass from the heavy clay soil. The next spadeful was dumped into the 5 gallon bucket waiting to be filled and then carried to the construction site next door. The dirt would be pounded into the floor of the structure, preparing it for a layer of concrete. The hours dragged on as my mission trip teammates and I continued to dig.

Finally,  the word we longed to hear was flung from the kitchen. " Comida!" We abandoned the tools, tugged off our rubber boots, so as not to track mud inside, wriggled our feet into shoes and formed a line behind the food counter.  Our weariness was dissolving as we anticipated the Eating, the Sitting, the Resting.

Whether physically, emotionally or spiritually weary, sustaining words give hope and relief.  The mission trip was two summers ago. More recently, during a slough of despondency,  I needed prayer from a trusted friend.  "You never have to be ashamed of your weaknesses", she reminded me. I was weary from trying to appear strong, when she was graciously allowing me to fall apart. When we think we are disgraced, the God of rest graces us with help. Once strengthened in that humble place of need, we can go forth proclaiming "Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

We had the privilege of gathering with the Costa Rican church in their new, not-quite-finished building the night before we left them. The worship we offered to God there, sitting on plastic chairs with dirt beneath our feet, was well worth our labor of service.

Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to earth as the Word made flesh. My needy life is nourished as I hear your word through Holy Scripture and when you speak through your servants. Open my ears to the Holy Spirit today, and teach me how to speak encouragement to any who are longing for a word of comfort and hope.

Is. 50:4-9b
'The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
    the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
    wakens my ear
    to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious,
    I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
    from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
    he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
    Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Thankful for Taken-for-Granted Blessings

Auron, meets Mr. Snowman! Handshaking isn't necessary.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: Eccl 3:1

Knowing our limits, the husband and I booked a room about halfway along the road trip east. Leaving early from our work day we were taxiing out of the driveway about 1pm, luggage in the far back and snacks and reading material within easy reach behind the front seats. Mr. H does most of the driving while I cast scrutinizing glances at his eyes, ready to catch and reel in any shut eye, red eye, sudden jerks or other sleep related harbingers. It's not easy being a Sleep Detector and I'm as ragged as the driver when we finally stop for the bed we reserved.

This trip,  impending snow storms were following us and in all likelihood, if we stayed the night, the storms would overtake us. The morning drive would add slippery roads stress to Mr. H's driving and much anxiety to the Detector.  Like the let down of discovering movie night won't happen because the case of the carefully selected rented movie is minus its disc, we canceled our  awaiting room of bed, pillows, close by toilet and relief for body, soul and mind. We would keep driving, stretching our traveling resources, hoping our faculties were elastic enough.

Hours 11 through 14 were the worst. We kept teeth chomping on pretzel sticks and trail mix, while Mr. H was running on a substitute for Dunkin. The library's copy of The Book Thief on CD kept our minds preoccupied and every now and then Ms. GPS would regurgitate her commands in the background.

We arrived safely to our final destination in the foggy state between awake and asleep. The new day would  begin late the next morning after sweet sleep and rest.
Thank you, Father, for a safe trip!

After a quirky day this week of being connected to EKG teats for a very intimate test and being exposed to the x-ray machine, my condition was pronounced not life threatening, but significant enough for a follow up procedure that will happen later next week. How quickly life can change when health concerns are uncovered!
Thank you, Healer, for your care and protection and for medical experts who know what to do to help in our healing.

A call from a friend, a text from family, a baby shower invite in the mail, my dad gifting me with my no-longer-living-mother's Bible and eating the big bowl of fresh popped corn Mr. H made after supper are happy reminders that I have much to be thankful for.
Thank you, Father, that you are a sun and shield; you bestow favor and honor; no good thing do you withhold from those whose walk is blameless (Ps. 84:11)

That trip out East included days with family and grand kids. Even though we had wandered to a more southern latitude, the snow was bent on keeping us company. In it's grip, school was canceled and we had more time to play with Auron and Elika.  Snow play and indoor play. (Did you know there is a newer version of the "Sorry" game? Some ingenious parent or victim of playing the former longest-game-in-the-world  came up with brilliant ideas to make the game go faster and get everyone safely home sooner!)  But just maybe they outdid themselves as now it is easier to repeat the game. We certainly came close to some kind of record, I'm sure.
Thank you, Creator of families, for grand kids who connect us to youthfulness.

These are a few of my favorite things today. What is on your taken-for-granted list?