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Archive for the ‘Dying’ Category

The movie, Heaven Is for Real, opens today in theaters all across America and I would encourage everyone to go and see it. Back on July 6, 2011, I wrote about how the book, on which this film is based, impacted my wife and me, so I am reposting that account here today. Grace and peace to you all, and may your hope and assurance of a heavenly reality be rekindled and strengthened.

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I was shopping at Costco recently when I stopped by the book section and spotted the book Heaven Is for Real, about a little boy, Colton Burpo, who underwent emergency surgery for a misdiagnosed appendicitis that nearly took his life just short of his fourth birthday. His story had been featured on several recent TV programs, so I bought the book and read it in one sitting.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 9.42.29 AMWhen Colton made it through surgery, his family was overjoyed at his miraculous survival, but they were surprised and astonished during the following weeks and months as he began to detail his extraordinary experience of going to heaven during surgery.

He described leaving his body while under anesthesia during surgery, and described exactly what his parents were doing in separate parts of the hospital while he was being operated on. He described being in heaven, meeting people whom he had never met in life, sharing events that happened even before he was born, and described details about heaven that matched the Bible, even though he had never read the Bible because he had not yet learned to read.

One of the events in the book that affected me deeply was when Colton’s father, Todd, described the evening when Colton came into the living room and stood in front of his mother, Sonja, and said to her, “Mommy, I have two sisters.”

His mother replied that he had only one, his older sister, Cassie, but Colton was adamant. “No, I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?”

“Who told you I had a baby die in my tummy?” asked his mother.

Colton explained that when he was in heaven a little girl ran up to him and wouldn’t stop hugging him. “She did, Mommy. She said she died in your tummy.”

Todd and Sonja were very surprised, for two years after Sonja gave birth to Cassie, she became pregnant with a second child, but miscarried two months into the pregnancy. Eleven months later she gave birth to Colton, but neither Todd nor Sonja had ever told their son about the miscarriage, figuring that he was too young to understand.

Seeing his mother’s bewildered expression, Colton assured his mother, “It’s okay, Mommy. She’s okay. God adopted her.”

“Don’t you mean Jesus adopted her?” Sonja said.

“No mommy. His Dad did!”

Sonja was overwhelmed to learn that the baby had been a girl, and asked Colton a number of questions, including what she looked like (answer, like Cassie, but with dark hair like Sonja’s) and what her name was.

“She doesn’t have a name,” replied Colton, “You guys didn’t name her.”

“You’re right, Colton, we didn’t even know that she was a she,” Sonja said.

At this point, I paused in my reading as tears began to stream down my cheeks. I went into the living room and asked my wife, Diana, to read the four pages describing Colton’s account of meeting his sister in heaven.

While Diana read the pages, I went back into my study and my tears came freely as I thought about our own experience losing two babies to miscarriages.

I had been married twice before meeting Diana, and had produced two daughters from the first marriage and a son from the second. When I married Diana, she was 37 and had never been married nor had she ever had a child. She was hoping that we would have children, but I had been unwilling to have any more children.

But three years later I relented and we decided to try to have a baby. We were joyful when we learned that she was pregnant and for the next two months we lived in anticipation of this addition to our family. But after these two months the baby miscarried. The cause—fibroids in the uterus.

We tried again, she conceived, our hopes rose, but again the same thing happened. For the second time, Diana was devastated by the news, and mourned the losses for months.

After Diana finished reading the four pages, she came into my study and I could see that she, too, had been crying quietly. We hugged for a long while, until Diana said, “I’m glad that I named our babies.”

“You did? I don’t remember. What were their names?” I asked.

“Katherine Elizabeth Coy and Andrew Daniel Coy. The doctor told me that the first baby was a girl, and even though we didn’t know for sure the gender of the second baby, I felt very strongly that it was a boy.”

She paused for a while, and then added, “Even then I knew without a doubt that some day we’ll meet Katherine and Andrew in heaven!”

What was it about reading Colton’s experience meeting his sister in heaven that moved Diana and me so profoundly?

We had always believed that young children who die—including both wanted and unwanted unborn babies—have a special place in heaven. Though there is no direct Scripture passage to support this, a passage such as Psalm 139: 13-16 inspires us to believe in a heavenly Father who loves and cares for us, and has a plan for each of us, even from as early as our beginnings in the womb:

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.” (New Living Translation, NLT)

Though we had always believed that we would be united with our babies and other loved ones in heaven, reading the eyewitness account of Colton moved us emotionally and joyfully, and intensified our faith that we would some day meet and recognize our children, Katherine and Andrew.

Most comforting to us is our belief that Katherine and Andrew, along with Colton’s unnamed sister and all the other named and unnamed babies are okay, for Jesus’ Dad adopted them!

Best of all, are Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:14, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (NLT)

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Here’s a movie trailer for Heaven Is for Real:

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That was the title of a Los Angeles Times article announcing the release of Kris Kristofferson’s new CD, “Feeling Mortal,” in which the 76-year-old actor/singer/songwriter looks unflinchingly in the face of death and is comfortable with what he sees.

Kris Kristofferson

Kris Kristofferson

For instance, in Kristofferson’s opening track from which he pulls his album title, he writes:

Here today and gone tomorrow
That’s the way it’s got to be
With an empty blue horizon
For as far as I can see

In the same track Kristofferson wonders if he is where he ought to be (presumably in his relationship with God), thanks God for making him the kind of man he turned out to be (faults and all), and then ends the song with an expression of satisfaction:

Soon or later I’ll be leaving
I’m a winner either way
For the laughter and the loving
That I’m living with today

Randy Lewis, the writer of the article, states that despite Kristofferson’s outstanding legacy in country-western music and rock and roll, mainstream radio programmers most likely would not give much airplay to “Feeling Mortal,” the implication being that listeners do not want to be reminded of their own mortality.

But what is likely true for radio listeners and society at large should not be true for those of us who follow Jesus Christ. We should not be afraid of where we are going.

And where are we going when we die? We’re going immediately into the presence of Jesus Christ, fully aware of our savior and ourselves.

The apostle Paul expresses it this way:

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. That is why we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.
–2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (New Living Translation, NLT)

Or, as the New King James Version (NKJV) translates verse 8:

We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

And in his letter to the Philippian Church, Paul expresses his conflicting desires between living and dying:

For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better. Yet, if I live, that means fruitful service for Christ. I really don’t know which is better. I am torn between two desires: Sometimes I want to live, and sometimes I long to go and be with Christ. That would be far better for me, but it is better for you that I live. – Philippians 1:21-24 (NLT)

Paul longs for death because it is the gateway into the glorious presence and eternal life of Christ himself.

Paul understands that life and death, the present and the future, are gifts from God to us who follow Jesus Christ. The gift of death is only the beginning of eternal life with God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

Like Paul, we are also torn between this life and going home to be with the Lord. We want to live long, healthy, and happy lives, enjoying our families and loved ones, and accomplishing our goals and dreams. And although we know that death is inevitable, we are reluctant to leave loved ones behind, and we fear that someday no one will remember us.

While some of us are enjoying financial success, fulfilling careers, beautiful homes, and happy families, and are in no hurry to go home to be with the Lord, there are others of us who are struggling with pain, illnesses, financial hardships, and a host of problems that so suck the vitality out of living that death might indeed seem like a welcome gift that leads us into a new life free from sorrow and pain.

Jesus experienced both grief and joy at his own impending death. He agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, telling his disciples, “my soul is crushed with grief to the point of death . . .” for he was about to take upon himself the sins of the entire human race (Matthew 26:38).

Yet Jesus ultimately faced his death joyfully, for he knew that his upcoming death was the doorway that would take him back to God and the glory they shared before all creation (John 17:5), so he submitted to God’s will (Matthew 26:42) and endured his crucifixion “because of the joy he knew would be his afterward” (Hebrews 12:2, NLT).

His death and resurrection make it possible for us to pass from death to life, from our temporary home on earth to our real and eternal home that our Father has prepared for us in heaven (John 14:2-3).

That is why we, who have committed our lives to following Christ, must evaluate our lives and live each day from the perspective of eternity. Wherever we are in life—whether we are young in age or young in our faith, whether we’re going through our mid-life journey or facing our senior years—we are called to live joyfully each day because we are not afraid of where we’re going!

Hear, then, the words and sentiment of another country and western singer, Tim McGraw, as he encourages us to “Live like you were dying.”

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