“I died on January 18, 1989. Immediately after I died I went straight to heaven. While I was in heaven a Baptist preacher rushed to my lifeless body and prayed for me. At least 90 minutes after the EMT’s pronounced me dead, God answered that man’s prayers. I returned to earth. This is my story.”—Don Piper, 90 Minutes in Heaven, 2004
Maybe you’ve read one of the Christian leaders advising others NOT to go see the new 90 Minutes in Heaven book-based movie, released Thursday. “You dishonor God and the Bible if you need this kind of outside verification.” “Bad theology.”
I don’t think so.
My many reasons why began Friday, March 22nd 2003. I was in the “bullpen” at the Mt. Hermon Christian writer’s conference in California. At break time a handful of us news junkies were watching the US military unleash its “shock and awe” campaign on downtown Baghdad. “I can’t help but notice your limp,” I eventually said to one of the guys. “After twenty-three years of rheumatoid arthritis I limp sometimes too, so my antennae are fairly sensitive to that.”
With this week’s release of the movie 90 Minutes in Heaven, heaven is all over social media and the news. I’ll review the movie Tuesday, but today I want to ask you a more important question: Do you think that the “main point” of the Bible and salvation is escaping hell and going to heaven?
I grew up with the Wordless Book—one page black for sin, one red for Christ’s blood, one white for being cleansed of sin, one gold for going to heaven, one green for growing. It is a strategy often used in children’s ministry to explain the salvation message. It has no doubt been helpful to bring many to Christ.
But I think in my own life that gospel message and the children’s ministry I was a part of nurtured a “Salvation is a ticket to heaven” mentality. The main thing was to get rid of my sin, escape hell and get to heaven. I think there were some adults in my life who were trying to cast a vision of being reconciled to God so I could know him, so I could love and enjoy him more. But all the heaven talk kind of drowned it out.
Being a Christian became primarily about the destination, and then learning God’s word, and then obeying– black, red, white, gold and green. And somewhere after that, the relationship and intimacy. Anyone else growing up in a Christian home or church have that experience?
When I was twenty-nine I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. As I tried to live in a world of shattered dreams, chronic pain and limited mobility I lived`more and more from duty and resignation. In his mercy, God met me right where I was, as he always does, and drew me into the intimacy and joy that I was missing. I chronicled that journey in my book Godsight: Renewing the Eyes of Our Heart.
I discovered that there was a name for what I had experienced: “Destination Theology.” I decided to re-read the book of Acts with careful attention to the way Jesus’ disciples presented the gospel. What I found there surprised me.
The ultimate fix for culture wars and chaos, pain and loss
You probably saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets in protest for Right to Life and women’s empowerment last weekend. On Capitol Hill the Democrats in their trench shouted, ‘Protect Immigrants!” while Republicans in theirs shouted, “Protect citizens! Protect the military!”
And we watch. War-weary, just wanting these people to do their jobs and run the government. The shutdown shut down, but the “cultural war for the soul of America” as Pat Buchanan first described it, continues—this daily battle over “who we are and what we stand for as Americans.”
Did you hear any of the speeches from the Senate floor? It was as if Democrat Schumer and Republican McConnell each described the shutdown from totally different planets. As my gut tensed I wondered, “How will this war ever end?” It used to be that the war was fought during election season and now it’s fought every day.
Suddenly, unbidden, words and images flooded in…
You want to live with a confident faith in a world where people believe in so many different faiths…or no faith at all. How can we grow in our confidence that what we believe is true? We challenge ourselves. We listen to robust but respectful discussions of our deepest beliefs about God and life between people who sharpen us. Make us think. Make us laugh. Then…we get in the arena!
For almost five years I co-hosted those kinds of conversations on The Things That Matter Most. Broadcast on one of Houston’s largest secular talk radio stations (KSEV), a little over half of our guests were Christians; the rest were not.
We offered our listeners a trip inside the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) with a Muslim doctor. They heard Darwinist and Intelligent Design scientists give wildly different answers to the question, Where did we come from? They listened as Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias strongly disagreed with new age guru Deepak Chopra and Randy Alcorn (Heaven) responded to clips from Barbara Walters’ TV special on heaven.
Whatever our guests’ experience–war correspondent, Director of the Human Genome project, editor of GQ magazine, extreme surfer, Rwandan reconciliator, movie critic–they spoke authentically about faith and doubt, both intellectual and emotional.
Listen to or download these conversations and step into the minds and hearts of people who have all struggled with questions of faith and many who have deeply insightful, caring answers. Share them with friends who might be asking the same questions. The menu in the sidebar lists the guests alphabetically and gives the number of their show. To download simply right click on the audio file and click “save as.”
Emotional Doubt-Phil Vischer
1. Question: You have a dream you believe God gave you…and it shatters. How does your faith survive?
Phil Vischer had a big dream: he believed God wanted him to create a “Christian Disney” company. He even called it “Big Idea.” Phil is the voice of Bob the Tomato and creator of VeggieTales. The company soared. Millions were blessed. Then Big Idea went bankrupt. Phil had to sell Bob and his entire VeggieTales dream and work as contract labor for the new owners. In this interview he describes his journey–the rise and fall of VeggieTales and his struggle to forge a new understanding of who God is and what he really wants when dreams die.
Purpose and Meaning-Dallas Willard
2. Question: What makes us happy? How do we live a successful life?
Why don’t we learn in high school and college how to live deeply satisfying and meaningful lives? Why isn’t it even on the radar? Harvard University assembled a team of doctors, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and psychiatrists to follow 268 of their brightest and best (including JFK) to document the scientific answer. We discuss the Grant study with USC philosophy prof and popular author Dallas Willard. Willard exposes our hidden assumptions about success and the good life and whether we can be confident that the best answers might be spiritual. Can we trust spiritual knowledge? Willard answers from his book, Knowing Christ Today. The interview was broadcast in two parts.
Christianity and New Age/Hinduism-Ravi Zacharias and Deepak Chopra
3. Question: Is all one, is everything connected? Is detachment and enlightenment the goal? Or do good and evil, individuals and personality and love between individuals ultimately matter?
Imagine listening in on a conversation between Jesus and the great Hindu prince Krishna. Ravi’s book, New Birth or Rebirth?, does just that. While Deepak has never agreed to dialogue with Ravi we engineered a conversation by excerpting key points of our interview with Deepak and asking Ravi to respond. The result: a fascinating “dialogue” about enlightenment and redemption, Life and Afterlife, eternal oneness and eternal community that contrasts these two faiths in riveting detail.
Destiny: Randy Alcorn
4. Question: “Heaven: Where Is It? And How Do We Get There?”
When Barbara Walters aired her special on Heaven she interviewed experts from around the world. But she left out Randy Alcorn, author of the best-selling book, Heaven. So we invited him to respond to clips of the TV experts. Based on in-depth Biblical research Randy makes the reality of Heaven come alive.
Origins-Dr. Karl Giberson and Dr. Paul Nelson
5. Question: Can you be a thinking person and believe in Intelligent Design? Can you be a Christian and believe in evolution?
Dr. Karl Giberson, author of Saving Darwin and an internationally known scholar of science and religion who supports the theory of evolution, and Dr. Paul Nelson, a widely-published philosopher of biology who believes the current theory of evolution is insufficient to explain our origins, confront the strengths and weaknesses about one of the most electrifying issues of our times. The interview was broadcast in two parts.
Purpose and Meaning-Dr. Archibald Hart
6. Question: How should I engage with today’s overstimulating culture? How can I take iControl without my machines controlling me?
Dr. Archibald Hart is Professor of Psychology and Dean Emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary. His book, Thrilled to Death: How the Endless Pursuit of Pleasure is Leaving Us Numb makes the case that we may be physically setting ourselves up for boredom and difficulty enjoying the simple pleasures of life. Dr. Hart suggests a number of surprisingly simple strategies for revitalizing the joy of life.
Destiny: Don Piper, 90 Minutes in Heaven
7. What happens when we die?
People tell stories–long dark tunnels, bright lights–but are they credible? In March 2003 while on a break at the Mt. Hermon writers’ conference, I was watching the “shock and awe” campaign of US troops entering Baghdad when I met a fellow news junkie with a noticeable limp and an amazing story. I practically had to pry it out of him, he was such a reluctant witness. But when he finally told me what happened–a car crash, an immediate experience of light, beauty and familiar (but deceased) faces–my usual skepticism faded. After his book came out Rick and I interviewed him about his 90 minutes in heaven. The book has now been made into a movie which I’ve reviewed on my blog. Interview begins at 8:30.
Ours is truly a privileged planet. That’s what I was thinking Monday as the moon slid over the sun here in Columbia, South Carolina. Could it just be a co-incidence that…
…the moon perfectly, PERFECTLY blocks the sun’s fiery ball?
…the moon and sun are both perfect circles? (Some moons are shaped more like a potato)
…the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, but that is perfectly offset by the fact it is 400x’s closer to Earth?
“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other,” (Isaiah 45:18).
I was thinking, He formed it so that we would have a front row seat to see his glory on display like this.
Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist we interviewed for our radio program and co-author of the book Privileged Planet, said he studied all 65 moons in our solar system.
There’s this scene at the end of the movie of The Truman Show where Jim Carrey, who plays the unwitting star of a reality show about his life, finally figures out that none of it is real. Like the voice of God speaking out of the “sky,” The Truman Show producer tries to persuade him to stay, “You were real,”…that’s what made you so good to watch.”
Truman/Carrey pauses at the foot of a stair case leading up and out of the giant dome of his set, then takes his final bow and makes his exit. The millions who have watched him since he was a toddler explode into cheers, hi-fives and laughter. In the control room the order is given, “Cease transmission.” All the TV sets go to crackling “snow.”
Two security guys eating pizza look at each other. “What else is on?” asks one.
“Yeah let’s see what else is on.”
“Where’s the TV Guide?”
And the credits roll.
Because the show is over. Transmission has ceased. Time to change the channel. Those of us who have followed the 2016 Great Republican Presidential Race Reality Show find ourselves in the same place. Some breathless with the thrill of victory. Others incredulous over sixteen defeats. Millions of us a bit deflated that the primary “show” is over.
Many of us are trying to parse how such a promising field with so many good candidates has ended with the choice shaping up before us.
Jack and I visit with Adam before a 2014 game at Turner Field in Atlanta.
A friend and a timely dream encouraged White Sox hitter Adam LaRoche in his decision.
“I had the strangest dream,” my husband Jack told me at breakfast last Tuesday. “I dreamed I was walking with Adam down a long corridor headed to the field and he told me he was retiring from baseball.
“It was unlike any dream I’ve ever had, extremely vivid and high-def. Adam was sad so I put my arm around him to comfort him. I prayed for him. Then he walked on down the corridor and out onto the field to make his announcement.
“After all these years that would be sad,” I said.
“And then I woke up. It was only 5:30 am so I took it as a prompting from God to pray for Adam.”
Jack and I have known Adam since his family joined our church back in the 90’s. He baptized Adam and took him on his first hunt, a squirrel-control patrol. We’ve attended his Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals games. His mom is one of my best friends. So we didn’t think it all that unusual for Jack to have a dream about Adam. Until later.
If you locked all the Hollywood reality TV writers in a room until they came up with a script that would compare to our nightly news episodes they’d never be seen again. Each evening we tune in to discover what our crazy cast of characters has been up to today. And we are not disappointed.
Just in the last few days…over at the Values Voter Summit the billionaire with the uniquely crafted hair was waving his Bible in the air. Back in July, when asked whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions, Mr. Trump responded, “…if I do something wrong, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”
But on Saturday he was all about reading the inscription in his “favorite book” and in his closing remarks held it aloft once more, reminding the evangelical voters, “This is the key.” Except maybe for the forgiveness part?
In New Hampshire a 74-year old socialist, Bernie Sanders, leads Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton 46% to 30%. One of two very smart women in the Great Race made some very curious decisions to take her government email off the grid and wipe her server. (Inquiring minds will be lining up at the October Benghazi hearings to find out why.)
Meanwhile the other very smart woman, Carly Fiorina, was bombarded with condoms at an Iowa tailgate party by supporters of Planned Parenthood. (Really, you could not make this stuff up. But wait, there’s more!)