Posted in theology

Am I a wretch?

By Elizabeth Prata

For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23.
Photo by Mia Golic on Unsplash

Before I was saved, I used to like that hymn “Amazing Grace”. Go figure. Usually only at Christmas or Easter services I was dragged to, we were not a church going family. But that was where I’d heard the song, and I liked it.

But I decidedly did not like the part that said “a wretch like me”. I stubbornly clung to the notion that I, a good person, was in no way a wretch. I closed my mouth when that part came up. What self-pitying, low self-esteem these Christians were, I’d thought.

I was so deep in my sin, of course I could not see my own depravity. But His grace abounded. Now I’m saved, and far from thinking that Christians are being pitiable doormats with no self-esteem, now, acknowledging my position before Christ is a relief. I had been comparing myself to others, and comparatively I might have been slightly nicer than the other guy, who was also a thoroughly depraved wretch by the way, but at the judgment we do not compare ourselves to other people. We must be like Christ, who is perfectly holy. So, yes, I am a wretch. I had been strutting and roaming the earth in sin, proud of my sin, doing nothing for God and happy in my pigsty of a life.

Those who will humble themselves He will lift up, but the proud, He opposes.

It bears repeating, and repeating, and repeating, just how sinful we were before salvation – yet God loved us. He loved his enemies! We were His enemy, hating Him and rejecting Him at all points. No one seeks for God. We only seek for ourselves. Yet His grace descended on each person who is and will be in heaven, plucking us up from the sinner’s nest of sin, and cleaning us with his own blood, standing us upright, and bestowing on us all the benefits of heaven as His children.

Every human is made in the image of God but only people that His grace opened their eyes to repent are His children.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Do not let the wonder of salvation dwindle in your mind. Allow the beauty and eternal gift of His Spirit in us to dwell richly in a bed of gratitude deep within, welling up at all points to share the glory that is Jesus.

Posted in theology

Real Zeal vs. False Zeal part 2

By Elizabeth Prata

Part 1 Discerning false zeal, here

Brothers, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. (Romans 10:1-2).

By this verse we see there is such a thing as a zeal that is not of God. There can be zea, or fervor or energy around religious things, but not according to what we know from the Bible. AKA knowledge.

Zeal: great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective. Synonyms: passion, fervor, enthusiasm.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached on the Romans 10:1-2 verse in a sermon called False vs. True Zeal. The sermon is stunning, relevant, and informative. He laid the foundation as he always does, logically, then laid out tests to determine of someone is exhibiting false zeal. Then in the later part of the sermon he laid out how to determine if a person is exhibiting true zeal. I paraphrased the part of his sermon discussing false zeal, here. Today, we have an exam of true zeal.

Lloyd-Jones’ sermon can be heard here, for free: True Zeal and False Zeal: A Sermon on Romans 10:1-2. Or on Youtube with closed captions (which might help due to his accent).

What follows is Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ excerpt from the sermon True Zeal vs. False Zeal, focusing on true zeal.

What are the characteristics of a true zeal? A true zeal is never a zeal that’s put on. It’s not put on you by anybody else it’s not put on by you yourself. If you’ve got a zeal you’ve got it not because you’ve been told it’s the thing to do when you join this church or this society. That’s not the reason if you are doing it, simply because it’s the thing to do in this society or company. It’s never put on or mechanical either by other people or the thing to do or by ourselves as the result of a decision.

Secondly, it is always the result of being the man who’s got a true zeal has it because he is what he is. He has it because he’s grown in grace and because he’s grown in sanctification. It’s not an act.

Thirdly and putting it still more specifically and in terms of our text true zeal is always the result of knowledge. It is always the outcome of knowledge. With the Apostle is really put this very wonderfully for us already in chapter 6 in verse 17, (KJV)

But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.

Now you notice the order. He actually puts the obeying first. That the obeying actually in practice was the last. This is what he says has happened to you – he says the first thing was this a form of doctrine was delivered. The gospel was preached to them and they received it and believed it with their minds. But it wasn’t only in their minds, the heart was involved. They were moved by it and because the heart was involved they were moved by it. They gave it obedience. Their will came into action but that was the order they received it with the mind first, it moved the heart it moved them to action.

That is the true order of true zeal. The trouble with a false zeal is that it puts the will first and is not interested even in the heart nor in the head. The man who says ‘nothing matters but activity’ is exhibiting a false will. That’s the danger of activism. It goes on in his headlong blind manner. The right order is the mind, the heart, then the will.

The man who has the true zeal he knows what he’s doing and he knows why he’s doing it. Zeal is according to knowledge!

The fourth test is that it’s a deep zeal. Not superficial. It’s not a spectacular, showy blaze, but a controlled fire that’s longer lasting and more useful.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

As such, the true zeal displays control. Fire is a bad master, but when zeal is controlled by knowledge it’s as it should be. If a fire is in the hearth it’s controlled and warming the room and pleasant to be around. Fire that is out of control is damaging and unwanted. It burns and destroys. It is the same with zeal. A person exhibiting true zeal controls it.

Sixth, a true zeal is never self-confident. He’s always reverent. He doesn’t get excited. The Apostle Paul says to the Corinthians that when he went amongst them he did so in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, Paul, trembling, apprehensive, fearful nervous? How different that is from the false zeal and the confidence and the assurance and the mastery of the occasion some men show in their false zeal!

A person with true zeal knows he operates under grace and not in his own strength. His confidence comes from knowing his energy is deposited by the Spirit of God.

Remember, the Corinthians were despising Paul because he wasn’t boasting about himself. Some of the false teachers were boasting about themselves. They were recommending themselves. Well, says Paul, if you really want to know I laboured more abundantly than they all yet not I but the grace of God that was with me. I am what I am by the grace of God .

Seventh- What’s the motive that animates true zeal? Well it isn’t just to be busy and to do things and to get results. It’s the glory of God… the glory of God. The love of Christ. Their motivation is the love of Christ and wanting to share that with others who are lost.

A man of true zeal is not simply anxious that people should decide for Christ. He wants them to come to what Paul calls our knowledge of the truth. He’s not interested in superficial results. He is very concerned that men and women should have a knowledge of the truth that will save them from hell. 

It comes to this – that the man who is animated by a true zeal however successful he may be he is never elated he’s never excited with his own success. When the Lord sent the seventy out to preach and to cast out devils and they were so successful that they came back full of excitement. They said ‘master the very devils are subject unto us!’ and our Lord looked at them and said ‘In this rejoice not that the devils of the spirits are made subject unto you, but rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’

I ask you a question as I close. What’s the effect of all this upon you is it that you are so afraid of the false zeal that you do nothing at all. If it is I have spoken in vain if you are so afraid of a false zeal that it paralyzes you, then you’re the very antithesis of Paul. You’ve not understood the truth. Knowledge of the truth always moves the heart and moves the will.

If the knowledge of the truth hasn’t moved you, hasn’t engaged your affections and your emotions hasn’t made you do something, you have not known the truth properly. When a man really knows this truth he says we cannot but speak of the things which we have seen and heard.

In any case the Apostle teaches us in Romans that we must not be slothful in business we must rather be fervent in spirit serving the law not a false zeal but a true one. Fervent in spirit serving the Lord. He’s not writing to apostles he is writing to ordinary church members. Are you fervent in spirit? Are you moved by what you claim to believe? Do you really believe it? If you do you know that everybody who doesn’t believe it is going to hell, can you be passive and quiet and paralysed and say nothing and do nothing?

To what extent are you concerned about the souls of the Lost? How can a man believe the gospel and not be concerned about those who don’t? How can a man sit down feeling his own pulse worrying about his own temptations and sins and problems and have no concern about the lost?

————end MLJ sermon part 2 on true zeal.

We don’t often talk about zeal, or energy, or fervor for the lost. We talk of how ‘busy’ we are, but as we saw in part 1 and in part 2, there can be a false motivation, a false energy propelling us in this busyness that is completely vain. Make sure your energy comes from the Spirit, that it isn’t something put on and springs from a fountain of carnality. Matthew 7:21-23 shows the unmasking of people who exhibited a false zeal, only to find they were doing it in their own strength and not in the Lord.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. (Romans 10:1-2).

The only way to obtain knowledge of God is to go where God is: the Bible. That is where he has revealed Himself, and is the source of truth and knowledge.


Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

Poetry by Kay Cude: Unity in Christ

Artist’s Statement:

I was compelled to do a piece about “unity in Christ” and what Christ means, not what “we” assume He means. [The picture] is Christ the Lamb of God who manifested all that “unity” of the redeemed in God the Father and God the Son!

For more information on the topic of unity, please see Mike Oppenheimer’s (Let Us Reason) pieces on “UNITY”, (“The Gospel of UNITY,”  and “Unity Without Truth or Christ,”

Photo and poetry below. Used with permission.
kay cude unity.jpg

Posted in theology

Real zeal vs. False Zeal part 1

By Elizabeth Prata

Real Zeal vs. False zeal part 2

Photo by Luan Cabral on Unsplash

A regenerated heart means different affections, different point of view, different citizenship. It means the world will hate the believer. And it does. It does.

Post-salvation, I learned that some of the most vicious and difficult evangelistic responses don’t come from the world, but sometimes actually come from people calling themselves other Christians. That is because I learned there are false Christians who possess a false zeal. Or, actually, it’s a true zeal, but it’s misplaced from glorifying God in truth, to glorifying satan in hate.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. (Romans 10:1-2).

By this verse we see there is such a thing as a zeal that is not of God. There can be zeal, or fervor, or energy around religious things, but not according to what we know from the Bible. AKA knowledge.

This contrast of false zeal vs. true zeal was highlighted recently with several events in the news. Of course, the “Asbury Revival”, a week-long event that had occurred at a college in Kentucky where a seemingly spontaneous move of God spread across the campus, drawing hundreds of matriculated students, then busloads of students from other campuses, then rubber-neckers. The event seemed to indicate a spiritual move of the Spirit to awaken dead sinners. Or was it? There certainly was an abundance of zeal present. Was it real or false? How to tell? At the very beginning it was especially hard to tell.

Zeal: great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective. Synonyms: passion, fervor, enthusiasm.

In addition, another zeal event occurred. Beth Moore’s third memoir was released in February and the enterprising little Bible thumper from Texas has been busy as a bee flitting from interview to interview. The book rests at this writing at the top of famous best-seller lists. It’s creating quite a buzz. She has been on TV, streaming, and print, her opinions delivered with as much verve as ever, and are eagerly absorbed by audiences, never waning despite her 65 years and over 4 decades in the Christian biz.

Beth Moore has been consistently described through the years as “energetic”, “charismatic”, “passionate”. She puts out an energy as zealous for God.

But how can we discern if we observe a true zeal or a false zeal? Let’s turn to the scriptures.

As Paul finished Romans 9, and remember, there were no chapter breaks in the original letter, before he went on to mentioning false zeal in Chapter 10:1, had reminded the Roman Christians that Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not attain that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. (Romans 9:31-32).

They appeared to be doing a religious effort, they looked like they were on the right track, and part of that appearance is because of their fervent energy.

They went across the world to make one proselyte, but wound up making him twice the sons of hell they were. (Matthew 23:15). That verse is the example of zeal without knowledge. You can be passionate, you can be busy making disciples, but a false zeal will make disciples who miss the mark completely and will wind up in hell as a son of hell. Zeal, no knowledge.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached on the Romans 10:1-2 verse in a sermon called False vs. True Zeal. The sermon is stunning, relevant, and informative. He laid the foundation as he always does, logically, then laid out tests to determine of someone is exhibiting false zeal. Then in the later part of the sermon he laid out how to determine if a person is exhibiting true zeal. I’ll paraphrase his sermon below in 2 parts. Today, we have an exam of false zeal. Tomorrow, true zeal.

Lloyd-Jones’ sermon can be heard here, for free: True Zeal and False Zeal: A Sermon on Romans 10:1-2. Or on Youtube with closed captions (which might help due to his accent).

I think almost invariably that zeal is one of the most prominent characteristics of people who belong to the cults.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Test of False Zeal
by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, paraphrased & quoted from his sermon

Here is one thing which should always raise the query in our minds and that is that our zeal has been imposed upon us by somebody else and we are just conforming to a pattern. You’re becoming just like the rest of them, conforming to an external pattern.

Secondly if it is a zeal that has to be whipped up or organized as it were, or that we have to be kept up to it. If the stimulus has to come from other people on the outside, it may very well be a false zeal.

A third test if you find that you put greater emphasis upon doing than upon being, it’s always an indication. You should be careful if you are more anxious to do things than to be a saint, you better examine your zeal again.

Another way of putting that my fourth test can be put in this form that involves zeal the activity is always very prominent and at the center of the life rather than the truth. The thing you are hit by all along is the activity, this energy that’s being put forth, rather than by the truth which even the people themselves claim to be representing. In other words, there’s always a tendency in false zeal to overdo things. There’s always an element of excess where the activity is more in evidence than the thing which is claimed.

In the fifth place the more prominent the machinery and the element of organization the more likely it is to be a false zeal. When methods and means and organization of machinery are very prominent it’s good presumptive evidence that it is a false zeal.

As my sixth test MLJ grouped a number of things together under the heading of carnality carnality. He meant that by that the flesh. In false zeal there is always this carnal element and it shows itself by a kind of lightness, a lightness of spirit, almost sometimes even a frivolity.

This can sometimes be seen even in religious meetings. There’s a lightness and a joviality and the kind of jovial superficiality. You can’t imagine such things anywhere near the Apostle Paul or any other of the Apostles or anywhere near our Blessed Lord himself, but you get it in these meetings. They’re very zealous. I’m not quitting their zeal I’m granting their zeal. I’m granting their enthusiasm but they always overdo it and there is this light touch about it.

Indeed I have often on some occasions in a certain type of meeting I’ve had to remind myself that I am in a religious meeting. The spirit I have felt present has been the spirit of a cricket team or a football team. The spirit of doing something worldly some wealthy entertainment. Now the people were absolutely sincere but there was lightness in the atmosphere there was no sense of awe, no sense of God, no sense of holiness no sense of reverence but everything was bright and breezy. It was being carried along with the verve and wonderful organizing power I say these are indications of carnality, not of true zeal.

Still under carnality, if there is an element of self-confidence and of assurance and of being in control of the situation, you can be quite certain it is false zeal. Any impression that is given by men – I don’t care how zealous he is, I don’t care how sincere he is – if he gives that impression that he’s in control and self-confident in the show I’m suspicious of his zeal and of his sincerity. If there’s any suspicion at all of his being proud of himself, it is still worse.

But let’s go on to test number seven – false zeal is always impatient to the examination. It dislikes being examined. It dislikes being questioned.

It resents this- it says ‘Can’t you see that I’m zealous … I’m enthusiastic … I’m sincere … I want to do …’ But you say ‘Well but let’s make sure because of the teaching.’ No, no, it’s impatient of all that. It wants to get on with things, must be doing something.

False zeal dislikes slowing down long enough to be examined.

Eighth, that is surely a very bad sign and when it is impatient of teaching. It is still worse they have a zeal of God but not according to knowledge. They don’t want the knowledge, for they’ve rejected the knowledge. They are not interested in it. They must get on with it they say. They don’t want to be taught and teaching is unnecessary. The thing to do is to be doing something that’s the spirit of the false zeal test number nine.

—end Martyn Lloyd-Jones tests of false zeal from his sermon.

As you read along of the 9 tests, did anyone come to mind? I can think of a lot of Christian celebs I see on social media who resist being tested, or don’t like their teaching being compared to the Bible. I can think of several people who exhibit a zeal but after having seen them PERFORM, their teaching actually evaporates. Their teaching has no substance when parted from their charismatic personality.

Monday I’ll post what Lloyd-Jones outlines as tests of true zeal. You’ll notice the difference immediately. Meanwhile, don’t be one of the many who think that just because a person seems passionate for God, they possess a true understanding of the faith. There IS such a thing as false zeal.

There is a danger of setting up zeal or sincerity to the supreme position.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Further Reading

Real Zeal vs. False zeal part 2

Today’s blog and podcast was about Romans 10:1-2, having a false zeal, that is, zeal about God but no knowledge of God. Zeal without knowledge Here is a good article on turning information into knowledge-

Posted in discernment, joel osteen, victoria osteen

The “good” in God’s plan for your life

By Elizabeth Prata

Here is an exchange on Twitter that occurred, one of many like these.

The Prosperity gospel/Word of Faith that the Osteens and their kind promote is a deathly error. It drags away the unwary, it devastates the witness of the true Christians, and it condemns the Osteens to hell.

The “good” plan for your life, according to the Osteens, is a healthy checkbook, a large house, health, and happiness.

However the “Good” that Jesus plans for us may or may not include any of the above. Peter was told by Jesus that Peter will stretch out his hands and go where he will not want to go (crucifixion. John 21:18). Paul was told he will be tormented in every city will he ever travel to.

And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.” (Acts 20:22-23)

Stephen was bashed in the head with rocks, dying a martyr’s death. This does not sound like “a good plan for your life.”

Victoria Osteen

What satan offered Eve was a temptation involving the lust of the flesh, the pride of the eyes and the pride of life. (1 John 2:16). In other words, the world. And the Osteens offer the world, too, wrapped in a veneer of prosperity and ‘happiness’.

Was Stephen happy when he was being stoned? No but yes. He was in pain but also saw Jesus in glory standing at the right hand of the Father. Was Paul “happy” when he was beaten and left for dead? Or put in chains in jail? No but yes. He wrote in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

I have a feeling if Victoria Osteen was beaten and left for dead she would not have the wherewithal nor the capacity to shout Rejoice! That is because the Osteens attach happiness to their worldly circumstances. Paul did no such thing. He rejoiced with friends at supper, while teaching in the synagogue making disciples, sewing a tent, or while sitting in chains in the sewer sludge. That’s because his ‘happiness’, prosperity, joy, came from above, not the world.

The ‘good’ in God’s plan is Good not because we receive pleasant things from the world. It is good because:

  • God made the plan and everything God does is good. We proclaim this by faith, and
  • All things work together for the good of those who love Him, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28, and
  • God receives glory from the perfect outworking of His plan. The good is the glory He gains when saints acknowledge Him as good, no matter their circumstances. The ‘good’ in our lives is Jesus, not the world nor the things in it.

We do not seek the things the world calls good, but the things that God calls good. 

We do not say in our greetings and our letters and our prayers, “I want a mansion, perfect health, and a fat checkbook for myself” but we say –

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you (Jude 1:2) because it was multiplied to us. Now that’s good!


Further Reading 

Al Mohler: The Osteen Predicament

Posted in 90 minutes in heaven, burpo, discernment, heaven is for real, heaven tourism, visions

"Heaven is for Real" is Unreal. What near death experiences tell us, and what they don’t tell us

By Elizabeth Prata

At the Library book sale last week, I saw several of these heaven tourism books kicking around, still. Heaven Tourism is a phrase coined (I think) by evangelist Justin Peters, to indicate a book written by a person who allegedly was given a personal tour of heaven through a vision or even a personal, bodily visit, while still alive, guided by an angel or even by Jesus.

In 2010 a book was released called “Heaven is for Real“. A Wikipedia page describes the plot thus:
The book documents the report of a near-death experience by Burpo’s then-four-year-old son, Colton. The book tells how the boy began saying he had visited heaven.”

And at the end of the page it says, “See Also”:
23 Minutes in Hell
90 Minutes in Heaven
The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven
Proof of Heaven

The book was immediately optioned to be made into a movie, which was released in April 2014.

Heaven Is for Real
A small-town father must find the courage and conviction to share his son’s extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world.”

I used the word ‘immediately’ because the book was a runaway bestseller. It spent eight weeks at No. 1 in 2011. It was on the NY Times bestseller list for a total of 138 weeks, spurred on by the movie release.

This is incredible to me. That people in the first place would seek any information about God’s dwelling apart from God’s word is amazingly undiscerning. And to be attracted to such information from a four-year-old-boy is just beyond comprehension.

I kind of understand. I feel the attraction to wanting to see peeks of the other side. As Christians, we resist such thoughts and desires, because they aren’t profitable. When I was an unsaved person, though, I was intrigued by near-death experiences (NDEs).

Besides near-death experiences, there are now post-death experiences. Science and medicine has advanced to the point currently where doctors can put a person to death for a period of time in order to operate or repair a body, and then bring them back to life in controlled circumstances.

I wasn’t saved until I was 43 years old. That is a lot of years as a teen and an adult to ponder the mysteries of the other side. And ponder I did. There is a certain logic to Christianity that the unsaved mind suppresses. (Romans 1:18). Intuitively it seemed that evolution would not have gone to all the trouble to evolve us bodily AND in addition, give us a mind, a conscience, and self-awareness- and then we die off after only 40, 50, 70 years and then…poof, nada? Obliteration? It didn’t seem likely. What was the point of life, then? But the ‘Jesus thing’ as I termed it, made less sense.

Secondly, it seemed that every culture in the world since recorded time and history began has celebrated or worshiped a deity or deities. I often wondered, why are we all wired to worship? And which deity is the right one? There must be something to religion, if every culture from north to south, east to west, has worshiped someone or something. But my mind rejected Jesus as the answer.

Third, I always wondered why so many people reported having a near death experience, and why those experiences seemed so similar.

It was more than reasonable that religion was real, my pagan brain decided, the other side was real, that heaven was real.

Then I became a Christian by God’s grace and the drawing of the Holy Spirit, (Ephesians 2:8, John 6:44). I learned through the bible that heaven IS real. I read what it looks like. I read who will go there. I read about worship there. All about heaven, it’s in the Bible. How great and glorious God is to provide us this glimpse.

Four men went to heaven in visions and three came back authorized to tell about it. (Paul said he heard things he was forbidden to tell. 2 Corinthians 12:2. John also was told not to tell of one of the things he’d heard, the Seven Thunders, Revelation 10:1-7). Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John went to heaven in visions and were shown wonderful things. How glorious the Lord is to give us these peeks that are now recorded in His word! We can trust them.

It is not likely that Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John were the only men for thousands of years but then ALSO Colton Burpo, Don Piper, Beth Moore, Jesse DuPlantis, Bill Wiese and others all strolled around heaven, or in Wiese’s case, hell).

And if you think about it, ONLY FOUR men were given visions of heaven. Job, who was called righteous by God, wasn’t escorted around heaven on a personal tour. King David, a man after God’s own heart, wasn’t given an individual advance visit. John the Baptist, whom Jesus said no other man born of woman had risen greater than, wasn’t given an opportunity to stroll around and take in the sights.

But four year old Colton Burpo was. He and his dad wrote “Heaven is for Real.” In Colton’s version, people had bodies. In the Bible it says people haven’t been given their glorified body yet. That won’t happen until the resurrection. And we’re supposed to believe the boy?

Dr Eben Alexander was given a tour. He wrote “Proof of Heaven.” Dr Alexander, a former surgeon, has been fired from multiple hospitals, is the subject of several malpractice suits, and is charged by doctors with lying in his book about the events leading up to his NDE. Others found discrepancies in his book on other matters. He is a Christ-rejecting pagan who believes in reincarnation. And HE was given a tour of heaven?

What near death experiences don’t tell us is, what heaven is like, because NONE of the people who claim to have gone there, really went there. The details of their trip contradict not only the Bible, but they contradict each other. Any detail, glimpse, peek, or curiosity you have about heaven will not be satisfied in these books or movies. Though they may indeed have had some sort of experience, the details related to heaven are all untrue imaginings brought on by severe bodily stress, mental derangement, or outright lies.

What NDEs do tell us is what we already know from the Bible: the conscious mind continues.

There is no doubt that near death experiences happen. They are consistently reported by millions of people. Eight million people in the US alone have reported having such an experience. And most of them have similar elements. The NDE FAQ page defines those elements this way:

No two NDEs are exactly identical, but within a number of experiences a pattern becomes evident. Researchers have identified the common elements that define near-death experiences. Bruce Greyson argues that the general features of the experience include impressions of being outside one’s physical body, visions of deceased relatives and religious figures, and transcendence of egotic and spatiotemporal boundaries. (source)

There is no doubt that in some of the NDEs, spiritual forces are at play. However, the fact of having a near death experience does not by default make the experience true. There is such a thing as lying demons. (1 Kings 22:19–23). Here is the Stand to Reason blog explaining this very concept in their discussion of “Heaven is For Real“.

“What we can’t conclude from these experiences that appear to be real is that what they heard and learned during these experiences are necessarily true. An experience can be real without the conclusions of the experience being accurate. That happens to us all the time even in this life. We have an experience, but we’re mistaken about what we think about it. It can happen in death, too. After all, once we have evidence for a non-physical world, we have reason to believe from the Bible, which tells us about this world, that there are beings there that deceive us.”

Why would we believers even want to pursue such rabbit trails that lead only to deception?

All that NDEs can tell us is that the conscious mind continues (we already knew that) and people experience things after death (we already knew that too). Anything other than that are fanciful thoughts and images that have no place in biblical mind and a Jesus-loving heart.

Though ‘Christian’ movies that are made with Hollywood production values are rare these days, movies about the afterlife, the soul and angels are common. Interest in the topic of the afterlife among the unsaved (and unfortunately the saved) is what’s real.

In 2004 John Hagee Ministries put together a movie called “Escape From Hell.” In it, a psychiatrist who counsels people who have had near death experiences becomes consumed with learning whether there is an afterlife for real or not. He induces a medical death for himself and calls a friend to come revive him before it is too late. With that, he passes out and begins his tour. The doctrinal errors in this film are too numerous to mention, but a movie reviewer called CBC Pastor wrote this:

When we seek to add error to increase the scare effect, we deny the power of God’s Spirit to work through truth… Movies that stretch the truth to this level only hurt evangelism through those that will laugh themselves right out of our churches and ignore the truth of genuine warning.

That is exactly what these heaven tourism books and movies do. They deny the power of the Spirit to work through truth, and isn’t that how the Spirit promised to work? Through truth? Not through lies.

Here are some credible reviews and essays on heaven tourism. I’ll tell you ahead of time, they are all negative. I am purposely listing these in order to help you or to help you help a family member or friend who insists that these visions and trips to heaven are real. Heaven IS for real. I know this because Jesus told me so, not a little boy, or a disgraced doctor or a well-intentioned pastor or any man in the flesh. As Pastor Tim Challies succinctly said of Heaven is for Real,

The point of it all is to encourage you that heaven is a real place. Colton went there and his experience now validates its existence“.

Ridiculous in the extreme, isn’t it?!


Further Reading

Heaven is For Real, book review by Tim Challies

Heaven Tourism, essay by Tim Challies

The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine , essay by Phil Johnson

To Heaven and Back, review by Randy Alcorn

Justin Peters explains why trips to heaven don’t line up with the Bible video

This proves that heavenly tourism books and movies are a total scam. (Wretched video)

The Berean Library, Heaven is for Real

Posted in bible, encouragement, refresh, word

And now a word from our sponsor: the Word of God

By Elizabeth Prata

Did you ever get home from a long week and your body just throbs? Pulses with stress and worldly pollution and reverberating with clanging and noise you just can’t seem to get out or clear your head?

Saturday morning I slept late, always nice. (until 7:00 am!). I roasted broccoli, butternut squash, orange peppers, and spaghetti squash. On weekends when I process the produce and cook, I listen to sermons. I enjoy Refnet, Reformation Network. It’s a 24-hour online radio station featuring expositional sermons, prayers from the Valley of Vision, music and hymns, devotionals, some talk on news issues from a Christian perspective, and plain old reading of the word, uninterrupted and unadulterated. It’s a great network. No ads, and it’s free.

So on Saturday morning while my hands worked, my mind was busy listening. I listened to three sermons on while I cooked: Alistair Begg on David and Goliath (which is not about facing your giants but is about the might of God), RC Sproul on Mary’s Magnificat (brought me to tears), and John MacArthur on predestination in Romans 8, gorgeous.

Reformation Network: 24-Hour Internet Radio Committed To the Historic Christian Faith

As for the prayers, I heard one from the Valley of Vision that was so lovely, it was so beautifully written. Here is just part of it:

Lord Jesus, give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach. Help me to flee it and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be yours alone. Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in you, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being. Give me a deeper knowledge of you as Savior, Master, Lord, and King. Give me deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in your Word, more steadfast grip on its truth. Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action, and let me not seek moral virtue apart from you. The Valley of Vision (Puritan Prayer)

When people are stressed or overwhelmed they do a lot of things. They work out. They go for a walk. They cook ;). They enjoy their hobby/game/movie. For the Christian, there is no better stress reliever than the Word. Read it or listen to it. I don’t know how to explain the supernatural advance of the Spirit in us, but when I listen to the reading of the word and sermons explaining the word and music that praises the Lord, it does something to me. It washes me from the inside. It restores me, cleans me, revives me.

After a few hours, my heart was expanded with love for Jesus, my head was full of scripture, and my belly was satisfied with food He had provided.

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; (Psalm 19:7a)

he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3)

I am exceedingly afflicted; Revive me, O LORD, according to Thy word. (Psalm 119:107)

for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. (Psalm 107:9)

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Isaiah 40:29)

and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might (Ephesians 1:19)

The reviving energy of the Word is part of the great power He bestows on us.

The word “power” (dynamis; cf. 3:20) means a spiritually dynamic and living force. This power of God is directed toward believers. Paul then used three additional words to describe God’s power. It is according to the working (energeian, “energetic power,” from which comes the Eng. “energy”) of the might (kratous, “power that overcomes resistance,” as in Christ’s miracles; this word is used only of God, never of believers) of God’s inherent strength (ischyos) which He provides (cf. 6:10; 1 Peter 4:11). This magnificent accumulation of words for power under scores the magnitude of God’s “great power” available to Christians.
Hoehner, H. W. (1985). Ephesians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 620). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

What a good and loving God we have. His word is eternal and strong, it refreshes, revives, strengthens, and enlivens. Don’t put off reading it or listening to it.

Before reading/listening to the Word

After reading/listening to the Word

Posted in Aaron, almond tree, bible, jeremiah, resurrection, symbol

The Almond Tree: the promise and the beauty, a symbol of resurrection

By Elizabeth Prata

Most of us aren’t farmers. Many of us don’t garden. Having lost our connection to the land, sometimes the biblical symbolism of certain agricultural meanings are lost to us. Let’s look at the almond tree.

Flowering almond trees, Wiki CC, by Daniel Sancho

The almond tree is mentioned in scripture several times and always in interesting contexts. Almond tree twigs are mentioned as early as Genesis 30:37 and Genesis 43:11. In Exodus 25:33, God is describing how the Golden Lampstand in the Tabernacle should look.


Sweet almond tree branch with blossoms. Wiki CC

three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand.

Calyx is the collective name for sepals of a flower. Easton’s Bible Dictionary explains,

A native of Syria and Palestine. In form, blossoms, and fruit it resembles the peach tree. Its blossoms are of a very pale pink colour, and appear before its leaves. Its Hebrew name, shaked, signifying “wakeful, hastening,” is given to it on account of its putting forth its blossoms so early, generally in February, and sometimes even in January

The International Standard Bible encyclopedia says,

The masses of almond trees in full bloom in some parts of Palestine make a very beautiful and striking sight. The bloom of some varieties is almost pure white, from a little distance, in other parts the delicate pink, always present at the inner part of the petals, is diffused enough to give a pink blush to the whole blossom.”

Did you know that there are sweet almonds and bitter almonds. Bitter almonds are toxic. It becomes cyanide when crushed and mixed with other enzymes inside the almond.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez once wrote poetically about the scent of bitter almonds and the fate of unrequited love as a lead-in to murder by cyanide poisoning. And in bitter almond oil as in a tragic romance, the sweet and the toxic are inextricably entangled.

Benzaldehyde is made by the decomposition of amygdalin (named for Prunus amygdalus, and in turn responsible for the bitterness that gives bitter almonds their common name). The other decomposition products are glucose (sweet) and hydrogen cyanide (toxic). … The utility of amygdalin to the plant is for defense, specifically as a deterrent to grazers from eating the valuable seed as well as the dispensable fruit. Inside the cells of the almond kernel, amygdalin is sequestered from the enzyme that breaks it down: amygdalin hydrolase. Crushing, as happens when the plant is grazed upon, brings the enzyme and amygdalin together, and cyanide is produced as a result–as much as 4-9mg per almond.”

Aaron’s rod famously budded almond leaves, blossoms, and fully ripe fruit. The LORD did this to prove that Aaron was His designated spokesman, with Moses.

On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. (Numbers 17:8)

As with Aaron’s rod, Jeremiah 1:11 use of the almond as a symbol. Jeremiah 1:11-12:

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.

Pulpit Commentary says of Verse 12. – I will hasten my word; literally, I am wakeful over my word; alluding to the meaning of the Hebrew word for almond. The LORD will hasten to perform His judgments of Jerusalem which He proclaimed in His word to Jeremiah.

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ‘Love in the Time of Cholera”.

In Genesis 43:11 one of the ‘best gifts’ of the land that Joseph’s father Jacob urged his sons to bring to Egypt (unknowingly, to Joseph) were almonds.

In Plants of the Bible, it says, “The almond, Amygdalus communis, is a medium sized tree with narrow, light green leaves. Unlike the fig and olive, the almond does not live to a great age. The almond is a well-known symbol of resurrection because it is the first tree to flower. The white, five-parted flowers are up to two inches across and come in the late winter before the leaves of the tree develop. Because they may flower as early as late January or early February, it is sometimes possible to find almond flowers with snow.

Charles Spurgeon preached on the lessons of the Almond Tree. He says here,

“While I have felt compelled to speak of these solemn Truths, I am glad to turn to the other part of the subject which is this—that God is quick in performing His promises. They are like the almond tree—they blossom and bear fruit very quickly. “What sort of promises,” you ask, “are thus speedily fulfilled?” Well, first, the promise to give salvation to all these who believe in the Lo rd Jesus Christ. Listen— “The moment a sinner believes, And trusts in his crucified God, His pardon at once he receives, Redemption in full thro’ His blood.” I see “a branch of an almond tree” here. The Psalmist says, “His word runs very swiftly,” and I am a witness that it does. Many years ago, I, a poor sinner, went into a place of worship to hear the Gospel preached. The preacher repeated the Lord’s command, “Look unto Me, and be you saved.” I looked to Christ and I was saved that very instant. It takes no longer to tell the story than it did to work the miracle of mercy. Swift as a lightning flash I looked to Christ, and the great deed was done! I was a pardoned and justified soul—in a word, I was saved! Why should not the same thing happen to you who are here? It will happen to everyone who shall now be led to believe in Jesus Christ.”

On this most joyous of days, you who wonder at our joy, it is because we looked to Christ as our all in all, forgiver of sins, Lamb of God. You, also, look to Christ – and be saved. The almond tree blooms, quick with promises. The most wondrous promise of all is the resurrection of the Son of God.

Aaron’s rod budded, sprouted, and offered fully formed fruit, all at the same time. “According to the law of nature, all living things have a beginning and an end. However, this was not the case with Aaron’s rod, for God gave it a new lease of life. This miracle hinted at the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though death came to the world because of the actions of the first man, Adam, resurrection would come about on account of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:17–22). Hence, when Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, He told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (Jn 11:25). … the flowering rod served to quell Korah’s rebellion and re-affirmed Aaron’s position as high priest. Furthermore, this wondrous sign hinted at the future Messiah and His status as the firstfruits of resurrection (1 Cor 15:20).” (source)

He is risen!

Further Reading

The Sign of the Almond Tree

The Lesson of the Almond Tree

Daily Bible Study: Almonds

Posted in bible study, encouragement, exhortation

Shallow vs deep Bible study: do you want to really see?

By Elizabeth Prata

Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what do you see? And I said, I see a branch of an almond tree. Then said the LORD unto me, You have seen well: for I am ready to perform My word.” (Jeremiah 1:11, 12.)

Charles Spurgeon said in sermon #2678, “Lesson of the Almond Tree”,

OBSERVE, first, dear Friends, that before Jeremiah becomes a speaker for God, he must be a seer . The name for a Prophet, in the olden time, was a “seer”—a man who could see—one who could see with his mind’s eye, one who could also see with spiritual insight, so as vividly to realize the Truth of God which he had to deliver in the name of the Lord.

Learn that simple lesson well, O you who try to speak for God! You must be seers before you can be speakers. The question with which God usually begins His conversation with each of His true servants is the one He addressed to Jeremiah, “What do you see?” I am afraid that there are so me ministers, nowadays, who do not see much. Judging by what they preach, their vision must be all in cloudland, where all they see is smoke, mist and fog. I often meet with persons who have attended the same ministry for years—and when I have asked them even very simple questions about the things of God, I have found that they do not know anything.

It was not because they were not able to comprehend quickly when the Truth was set forth plainly before them, but I fear that it was, in most cases, because there was nothing that they could learn from the minister to whom they had been accustomed to listen. The preacher had seen nothing and, therefore, when he described what he saw, of course it all amounted to nothing.

No, my Brother, before you can make an impression upon another person’s heart , you must have an impression made upon your own soul. You must be able to say, concerning the Truth of God, “I see it,” before you can speak it so that your hearers shall also see it. It must be clear to your own mind, by the spiritual perception which accompanies true faith, or else you will not be able to say with the Psalmist, “I believed, therefore have I spoken.” Let me say again that sentence which I uttered a minute ago—the speaker for God must first be a seer in the Light of God.

I often cry out to the Lord that I want to see. I want to plumb the depths of His word and learn more about Him all the time. I want to go deeper, see more, understand Him. I know I see through a glass darkly now, and it will only be later that I fully know, but still, can I know You more today than yesterday, please? (1 Corinthians 13:12).

It’s a double edged sword though. Knowing Him better through His word means I get to know myself better, also. In reading Who He is, we get to know ourselves better to, positionally. I get convicted, repentant, and sorrowful over my own sin and the sin of the world.

This is the analogy.

If you know the size of RI, the ocean is never very far, since RI is so small. Moreover, my grandparents had a house on the bayfront, and we kids and all the cousins would visit constantly. Weekly, just about daily in summer. And we always had a boat.

Lubec Harbor, ME. Murky Atlantic waters hide rocks & great hazards.
EPrata photo

In the book The Wind in the Willows, Water Rat is extolling the virtues of being on the water to Mole, who has never been in a boat. Mole wants to know if it’s nice.

“Nice? It’s the only thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

The bay or the ocean has many charms, and all of them are interesting to a child. We splashed on the water, swam, messed around on the boat, played at the water’s edge. We collected shells and we dove off the dock and we raced to the mooring buoy and we lazed on the grass. We loved the water.

Snorkeling is the practice of swimming on or through a body of water while equipped with a diving mask, a shaped tube called a snorkel, and usually fins. Use of this equipment allows the snorkeler to observe underwater attractions for extended periods of time with relatively little effort.

As we grew older, we became fascinated with what was under the water. We’d fight for the masks and snorkel gear and paddle along, looking in fascination below the surface at the pretty pebbles the small waves were rolling along the sand. Or a hermit crab curling into his house shell as we swam over him, darkening his shallow water sky. Sometimes we’d forget we were in such shallow water and scrape our knees as we kicked along the beach’s edge, heeding our grandmother’s warning to stay close to shore.

As we grew even older, we wanted to see what was under the surface, really deep. Could we see horseshoe crabs? Fish? The anchor of the boat as it bobbed in the calm waves under a sunny sky? What was under there!? It was frustrating, the waters were not clear and even with a mask and flippers, we couldn’t get down far enough to see the bottom. Under the surface was still a mystery to us.

Then I sailed in The Bahamas. The waters are clear there. It was both fascinating and disconcerting to say the least! Suddenly I could see all the way down, but what the clear water revealed was another world, and one fraught with dangers, toils, and snares. Our keel passing over a coral head, we didn’t know if the coral was inches below the surface and ready to open the underside of our boat like a sardine can, or was in fact as deep below as the charts said. Predator barracudas were everywhere. And actually seeing the bottom was sometimes not a blessing, because it gave us an aquatic vertigo, always unsteady in thinking the boat as about to run aground in what looked like mere inches of water but was in fact fathoms.

In this photo, it was so clear that we could see our own anchor,
in 30 feet of water. In the moonlight. EPrata photo

Being able to see the depths under the surface of the waters revealed another world. It was as if the surface of the ocean was simply a thin veil, covering a vast and mysterious and beautiful world, hidden until now. It was a world that existed with ours, was immediately adjacent, and in this bit of Bahamian clarity, was in equal parts scary, dangerous, and destabilizing.

Do you want to go deeper? Do you want to see? Really see, as Spurgeon described? I hope you do. As we grow in sanctification we do not stay in the shallow water for long. We should desire to peer into the depths of the ocean of truth and see what the Lord will reveal.

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation…” (1 Peter 2:2)

The milk here is the spiritual food good for building up. When we’re born-again as babes we begin feeding on the pure spiritual milk. We crave it with intensity like a baby cries for his bottle! We need it every few hours! When we have capacity to understand more, we still thirst, and we go deeper into the Living Waters.

But we must be ready to withstand its glories. We remember who we are and in taking in all truth, we see our depravity compared to His holiness. We cry out, as Isaiah did,

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Reading the bible deeply, coming so close to His glory as revealed in the bible, some days I might as well say something similar, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a woman of unclean lips, and unholy heart, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have read the words of the King that the Spirit has delivered to us and revealed in His word!”

And yet we desire more, deeper, to see. Or we should.

The word is to be desired with appetite as the cause of life, to be swallowed in the hearing, to be chewed as cud is by rumination with the understanding, and to be digested by faith” [Tertullian].

Or…stay in the shallow end. It’s up to you.