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Archive for the ‘Eternal Life’ 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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She dropped in midway through our church’s 12-week workshop, “EXPERIENCING GOD: Knowing and Doing the Will of God,” and sat beside me at our table.  She had never been to our church before and had been invited to the workshop by one of our members to learn about the will of God.

But we were not far into that evening’s session when our visitor became agitated and began to mutter in disagreement with what was being said about Terry, one of our congregation’s outstanding Bible teachers and leaders, who had died the week before at the age of 57, less than four months after doctors discovered that he had a brain tumor.

Terry had been very successful in business, including the founding and operating of a very profitable sportswear company.  He lived an affluent life and was a highly respected and effective Bible teacher and leader at our church.

But in the 1990s, Terry suffered financial setbacks and lost his business.  For several years he was unable to find work and eventually lost his beautiful home.  Throughout his years of financial setbacks and ordeals, Terry continued to witness and teach about God’s faithfulness, love, and amazing grace – even after his brain tumor was discovered in July 2000, and even after he knew that he was going to die.  Despite our fervent prayers for Terry’s healing, he died within months, leaving behind a wife and two young children.

This discussion disturbed our visitor.  She had become a Christian nearly two years before, with the expectation that not only would Christ save her soul but that he would bless her abundantly in all aspects of life – including her finances, love life, health, and with long life.

When we started to discuss the possibility that the premature death – and not the healing of Terry – might have been God’s will, she became so disturbed that she got up from the table and left the workshop.

As I watched her leave, I suddenly thought of the words and tune of a 1970s pop song by Joe South:

I beg your pardon,
I never promised you a rose garden,
Along with the sunshine
There’s gotta be a little rain sometime.

Our visitor expected her new faith in Jesus to be the key to life’s rose garden, but she was unwilling to accept the possibility that along with the beauty of roses could come thorns, storms, droughts, setbacks, failures, and things that kill.

She had apparently embraced the “prosperity gospel” brand of Christianity but couldn’t handle the reality that “s – – t happens” to even those who follow Christ.

And even more significant, she freaked out at the idea that God would allow such things to happen to his followers!

So she ran.

As we begin 2011 and look forward to the coming months, we naturally hope and pray that it will be a great year in which we’ll enjoy the good things of life – health, financial stability and success, happiness, pleasure, and loving relationships, all part of achieving the desires of our heart.

But what if bad things were to intrude into our carefully planned lives?  How do we, as Christians, deal with life in crisis?

There are several principles in Romans 8 that our brother Paul lays out to help us face life’s difficulties:

First, remember who we are and to whom we belong.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death. (vv. 1, 2; these and the following verses quoted are from the New Living Translation)

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.  And just as he raised Christ from the dead, he will give life to your mortal body by the same Spirit living within you. (v. 11)

So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family – calling him “father, dear Father.” For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children. (vv. 15, 16)

Second, we share God’s glorious treasures – as well as his suffering.

And since we are his children, we will share his treasures – for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later. (vv. 17, 18)

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. (vv. 22, 23a)

Third, the Holy Spirit sustains us and intercedes for us in the midst of our hardships and sufferings.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (vv. 26, 27)

Fourth, God works in every circumstance – even the bad ones – for our long-range good and to fulfill his purpose for us.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (v. 28)

Fifth, nothing can separate us from God’s love – so live with confidence and joy.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? (Even the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv. 35-39)

I sometimes think about our visitor who walked away from our workshop that night, and I’ve prayed that she has since come to a deeper understanding of her relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

No, God did not promise her a rose garden, but something far better – himself, with all the richness and fullness of his indwelling presence that enables her to live life powerfully, confidently, and joyfully because of his gift of Jesus Christ.

And he promises that, too, to all of us who believe, trust, and follow Christ.

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