Article copyright by Brian A. Williamson
(Brian A. Williamson is a hospital chaplain and former pastor in Mississippi. He shares the following reflection on a funeral and on a hospital visit he made with a dying patient, which I found thought-provoking. He follows the reflection with a poem. Feel free to share your comments below.)
I recently attended the funeral of my dear friend Jack’s beloved wife of more than 30 years—Paula. Paula, too, was a close friend of mine, but not like Jack. I’ve told people many times about Jack’s faithful service as a devoted deacon of the first church I served as pastor. Being with Jack in this setting was different… Many times before Jack and I sat with others in a funeral setting, but usually he was the one walking around and ministering to others in the room. He was clearly uncomfortable on this occasion with all the attention he was receiving by those coming to pay their respects and offer condolences—a mark of an incredibly humble man. On this day, I saw no tears fall from his eyes while I marveled at his faith—he clearly knew that his wife’s final hope was realized.
Paula’s casket was beautiful; the drape of orchids, hydrangea, and white with light blue roses was the prettiest I’d ever seen on a casket. The colors of the flowers provided the eyes with a visual symphony in perfect pitch…and all of this matched the colors of the sanctuary of that little country church beautifully; and I thought, “Paula would smile if she could see all of this…” And then it hit me—I wonder, “what if she can?” I looked to and fro amongst all us mourners and supporters, contemplating this thought with a different curiosity than ever before. I thought, she’d cry at her own funeral—there were people everywhere sitting with this family, to support them and mourn with them over the loss of “the Queen of Banana Pudding” as she is known in the church. Paula isn’t used to this much attention, and I imagine she’d be uncomfortable with all this, too. Hmmm… I wonder, “What do dead people see?”
Flashback—I visited a terminal cancer patient in the hospital months ago who told me her only prayer request since being given a terminal diagnosis was to ask God to let her live long enough to see her first grandchild being born. Tearfully, she acknowledged the looming reality that she was dying faster than her daughter’s pregnancy was progressing. Several family members sat somberly with this woman as she lamented her death and God’s flat denial of her request. “Why would God take this from me?” she asked, seeming to genuinely hope that I had a great answer… But, I didn’t. Then she asked, “Do you think God will let me see my granddaughter’s birth even though I’m dead?”
I’d never considered a question the likes of this one before. Is it answerable? I pondered what it might be like once dead; is there Scripture to support such a notion? As I pondered the question further, her family began to offer her spiritual condolences… “Everything’s gonna be ok, why you won’t even care about us…things will be so beautiful in heaven that you won’t even think about us” said one man in a wheelchair. Another chimed in, “That’s right—you’ll just be worshipping the Lord, and you’ll be so consumed by his majesty that you’ll forget about us altogether…” Still another, “When you get to heaven, your sense of time will be like a warp or something; you won’t even think of being in a different place cause when you blink, we’ll all be there with you.” (Really? I thought…you gotta be kiddin’ me!) I thought more about the woman’s question…it was simple…yes or no…no other explanation needed.
“YES” I said; and the room fell quiet instantly, as if someone had thrown open the hatch in space and the vacuum sucked all the wind and words out of the room. My eyes were locked into the dying woman’s eyes as I had come to this conclusion, communicating my sincere faith in my response. She locked her eyes on mine as seconds passed in slow motion—she was processing. She looked interested and hopeful, and I repeated, “Yes. I do think that God will allow you to see the birth of your granddaughter even though you are dead.”
The others in the room leaned back as if lightning was about to strike me as God “took me out” for such heresy. I continued with my thoughts out loud: “It seems to me that God understands the beauty of birth, for God created it; and, God knows the love you have for your daughter as well as your love for the unborn child. If God formed this life and longs for her to spring from her mother’s womb, and I believe that you believe it is so; then, I’m certain that his love for you would not deny you the joy of such an anticipated event that is overflowing with hope and love from you. Because of his love, I believe he will allow you to see what He will see on that blessed day. Even though you will be dead, you will be alive by faith. You’re death won’t make you blind—you will still see. I don’t know how it will work, but I believe it will be so. You and your family will celebrate your granddaughter’s birth together—of this, I have no doubt.”
She held her breath for in silence; then, she believed and exhaled. It was as if the weight of the world had been lifted off the woman’s shoulders. Her mourning tears became happy tears, and the anticipation of the new birth again gave her hope. No one had ever considered the possibility that God had already granted this grieving woman’s prayer request because she continued to die; but, God had.
Though “in Adam” we all die; yet, “in Christ” we all live! In Christ we live and move [and hope] and have our being! In Christ, this woman will live to see the birth of her prized and much-anticipated grandchild! “Dead, and yet I see!” will be her anthem on that day. I can’t explain how it will work or what it will be like, I only know that is the truth.
Dead and yet I see
By: Chaplain Brian Williamson
I’m dead and yet I see, having crossed over to Promised Land,
‘Tis my home now, though it’s hard for you to understand.
Am I dead? Yes…and yet I see, for by my faith I’ve moved along,
Joyfully straining to be happy in life, while longing what lies beyond.
Now more than ever, by my hope in Christ, I see
That painful things in life make sense in eternity.
Dead, but now I see. I know you don’t understand,
But my life isn’t over, and I still see you from Glory Land.
God knew my love for you; and though we now live separately,
I’m closer than you think, beloved; for though I’m dead, yet I see.
Our God gives us hope through the promises contained in Scripture, and by faith in Him, I believe that he would never remove our love for others—if he did, He doesn’t understand.
My wife and I were deeply moved by the new film, I Can Only Imagine. I was so emotional that I had to compose myself before I could drive home– it was that powerful.
You may know the song, but do you know the story behind the song? “I Can Only Imagine” by Bart Millard of the Christian band Mercy Me is the best-selling, most-played Christian single of all time. The new film by the same title tells the moving true story of the songwriter and how he wrote the song.
The film tells how Bart Millard’s father abused him and his mother, and constantly told Bart he was not good enough. [Spoiler alert—skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know the basic plot.] Thanks to a football injury and a music teacher’s insistence, Bart discovered he had a gift to sing. When his father told him to forget his dreams, he left home, turned his back on the girlfriend who loved him, and tried to escape his troubles by singing with a traveling band.
I won’t give away the ending, because the circumstances of how he recorded the song have surprising twists and turns along the way, but suffice to say that Bart had to face his fears to reach his dreams. And yes, the film dramatically presents the full song near the end of the film.
Dennis Quaid is amazing as the actor playing Bart’s abusive father. People who have endured abuse will feel the pain Bart feels from his father, but many people with sins in their own past, like myself, will identify with the pain of the father himself.
This is a Christian film, but it is not “preachy.” The story is raw, real and unapologetically soaked with the hope of the gospel. Go see this film if you like music, if you like romance, if your dreams have been crushed, if you have been abused, if you have abused someone, if you have a broken home, if you are grieving the death of a loved one, if you need forgiveness, if you need to forgive, and if you need hope.
Article copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:31,35, 37-39 (ESV)
Why did he or she commit suicide? Could I have done something to prevent it? Most of us have asked these questions when someone we love has committed suicide. While there are no easy answers, the Bible gives us help in this time of grief.
Let me suggest several truths that can help.
1) Guard against being judgmental.
This is not a time to judge the friends, family, and certainly not a time to judge the one who took his or her life. No one knows the pressures or problems another person faces. Jesus taught us, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, KJV) It will not help to judge others, nor to judge yourself.
You may have repeated the word “if.” If only I (or someone else) had said something or done something different, perhaps she or he would not have taken that precious life. Martha used the word “if.” In John 11, Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus was dying and they sent for Jesus to heal him, but Lazarus died before Jesus arrived. In John 11:21, “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'” But “if” is about the past. “If” cannot bring the loved one back, and it will not help us in the present.
Instead of asking “why?” or wondering “if,” we need to ask “what.” What can I do now? Jesus told Martha what she needed: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25, ESV)
So instead of asking, “why,” let’s ask “what.” What can we do to be better because of this?
2) Hold on to our hope in Christ.
There is no point in ignoring the elephant in the room. So let’s address the matter directly. Is suicide a sin? Yes, it is. Is suicide the unpardonable sin? No, it is not. There are so many reasons why we should not take our own lives, which I will discuss in a moment, but the Bible does not teach that suicide cannot be forgiven. Mark 3:28-30 says that all sins can be forgiven, except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit refers to rejecting the Spirit’s call on us to follow Christ; this is not referring to taking one’s own life.
Our salvation is not based on the way we die, but based on the One who died for us.
3) God brings good out of the bad.
When Jesus died on the cross, the disciples thought their world had come to an end, and Jesus had been defeated. But instead, God was using it to forgive our sins, and then God raised Jesus from the dead to pave the way for us to have eternal life. God is in the business of bringing good out of bad!
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Jesus Christ is the permanent solution who makes our problems temporary!
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but he things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV)
4) Let’s examine our own lives.
Life is a gift. We should not waste our lives by suddenly taking it, or by wasting it slowly by degrees, with meaningless living. Make your days count. Hug your children. Hug your parents. Say, “I love you.” Listen to one another. Reach out for help when you are in despair. Talk about your problems. We have a choice to be bitter or better because of this. If we can draw closer together as a community and with our families, we can be better.
Storms will come in our lives, but those who withstand are those who have strong roots. Years ago, a powerful storm blew down an oak tree in front of the youth center at the church where I was pastor. It crushed the roof and did major damage. Thankfully, it happened at night when nobody was inside. The reason it happened was that tree did not have deep roots. A tree that has deep roots can withstand a bigger storm.
The way you get deep roots is by a personal relationships with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. As you grow in your relationship with Him by faith, your roots get deeper and deeper, and you are more able to stand against the storms of life.
We will never understand all of the reasons why there is tragedy in life, but if we are rooted in Christ, we can hold on despite the tragedies we face.
The contemporary Christian group, 4Him, wrote a song about the tragic death of a friend, saying,
“When the reasons aren’t clear to me
When it all is a mystery
I want to know why.
And though down here I may not understand
I won’t let go of the Unseen Hand
For it holds the reasons why.”
Hold on to that Unseen Hand, my friend. He will be there for you.
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I climb in and cover the top.
Ah, but early it is and foul
As animals are on the prowl.
A cat toys with my tomb
Trying to roll the stone away.
Go on! I’m not the Christ–
Nor is it the third day.
Hearing fades to seeming
Seeing fades to dreaming
Time rots and relaxes my body
Though anointing oil smells strong.
A skylark screaming outside
Loud enough to wake the dead.
A thunderbird thunders by
Joyfully jolting my head.
Resurrection is not my request.
From awareness I wish release.
Animals, go back to the zoo
And let me rest in peace!
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
When Will I Stop Hurting? Dealing with a Recent Death by June Cerza Kolf is one of the most helpful, compassionate books I have read to comfort someone who is grieving. As a pastor, I have given several resources to people to help them with the grieving process. A church member who had lost her mother told me that this book was even more helpful to her than what I had given her, so I had to read it myself. Now I see why. Kolf writes as someone who not only understands the grief process, but has experienced it herself. She has a wonderful balance of encouragement and specific, practical advice. It is a resource that a grieving person will want to keep nearby to refer to again and again, and share with others.
The book is divided into three chapters: The Wound, The Flood, and the Rainbow. The first chapter, “The Wound,” explains the hurt and feelings of grief. Grieving readers will find themselves saying, “Yep, that’s me.” Yet they will find it comforting to see how what they are experiencing is normal, and they are not going crazy.
The second chapter, “The Flood,” explains the stages of grief and gives practical advice about making decisions and taking care of oneself through that process.
The third chapter, “The Rainbow,” is an inspiring and practical explanation of how one let’s go of grief and moves on in life.
There is an appendix that gives nearly 20 exercises with a “To Do” list to handle guilt, crying, loss of sleep, remembering your loved one, etc.
However, as good as this book is, I feel that Kolf could have strengthened the book with comforting scripture. She does mention two Bible verses, and talks about God throughout the book. On page 41, she gently recommends “a divine friend who loves me no matter what…This friend, Jesus, is available to everyone through prayer.” Since she chose to mention her faith, she could have strengthened this by citing scripture such as Jesus’ words about being with us and preparing a place in heaven (John 14:1-6), Paul’s words about finding comfort in God by comforting others (2 Corinthians 1:6), or Kind David’s beloved Shepherd’s Psalm, Psalm 23. I have seen people physically relax upon hearing the Twenty-third Psalm. Scriptures such as these could make this wonderful, helpful book even more “hope-ful” to the grieving reader.
If you see a video ad below this post, I do not necessarily endorse the product.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
With the increased popularity of cremation instead of burial, people often ask me if the Bible forbids cremation. The Bible does not prohibit cremation, but it does seem to show a preference for burial.
In defense of cremation, the apostle Paul speaks positively about death by fire in 1 Corinthians 13:3 with the phrase, “if I give my body to be burned…” While Paul was referring to martyrdom, not cremation, the apostle certainly did not think death by burning would prevent him from being in heaven. God can reassemble the molecules of your body at the resurrection, whether they are burned to ashes or decay to ashes.
I have done funerals for people who chose cremation. It certainly is a less expensive option.
Nevertheless, the Bible shows a preference for burial. In the Old Testament, passages such as Genesis 50 show great concern for the proper burial of the remains of Jacob and Joseph. In the New Testament, the Christian belief in resurrection is vividly shown as Lazarus and Jesus were buried and bodily raised from a grave. In Romans 6:4, baptism is depicted as a burial and resurrection: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism…” Mark Coppenger says, “I would hate to think what sort of ceremony cremation would suggest.”
So while cremation is not prohibited and may be understandable for financial reasons, burial has a stronger basis in the Bible and is a clearer testimony to our faith.
If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.
Guest blog: OUT OF THIS WORLD! Part Three: Books and audiovisuals on near death experiences and the afterlife.
Copyright 2013 by Joyce C. Rogers
(For the past two days on this blog, my mother, Joyce Rogers, has shared her insights from scripture and other resources on the subject of what happens when we die. Today she lists the books, articles and audiovisuals she read on the subject, with a brief comment about each.)
Alcorn, Randy. Heaven. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Randy is considered a leading authority on Heaven. He answers some tough questions as he invites you to picture Heaven as the Scripture does. This is a very scholarly book. One needs more than an afternoon to read it!
Alexander, Eben, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. Dr. Alexander spent seven days in a coma and experienced a heavenly reality of love and beauty. His experiences changed his scientific mind to one of profound belief in God, spirituality and love. An excellent book.
Black, Dale. Flight to heaven; A Plane Crash: A Lone Survivor: A Journey to Heaven and Back. Published by Bethany House Publishers. Captain Black pursued his dream of flying planes, even after being severely injured in a plane crash. His trip to Heaven is beautifully detailed. The story is a fascinating read.
Burpo, Todd and Sonja Burpo. Heaven Changes Everything. Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc. This is a sequel to the very popular book, Heaven is for Real, the story of little Colton Burpo’s unforgettable trip to Heaven. This family’s lives were changed. The Burpos show how believing in Heaven helps one survive hardships here on earth, including the death of a loved one, particularly the loss of a child. A sweet and down to earth book.
Burpo, Todd with Lynn Vincent. Heaven is for Real: A little boy’s astounding story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. Thomas Nelson Publishing. A four year old child, he sat on Jesus’ lap, said angels took him from his hospital bed and other wonderful things. Colton spoke with disarming innocence. A delightful and convincing book. Colton and his parents were interviewed on the “Today” show, showing the public interest in this story.
Garlow, James and Keith Wall. Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife: True Stories From People Who Have Glimpsed the World Beyond. People who have had near death experiences (NDEs) bring back word descriptions of the pathway to Heaven or the descent into the darkness of Hell. Those who go to Heaven lose their fear and report amazing feelings of love, warmth and acceptance. Those who go to Hell are horrified and so thankful they get to come back.
Graham, Billy. Death and the Life After. Word Publishing. Billy Graham talks about how the culture relates to death, the death of children, living wills, euthanasia, hospice care, the grief process, and preparation for death. He explores the practical side of death. Dr. Graham helps the reader find peace and comfort for those grieving or pre- paring a will or planning a funeral.
Graham, Billy. Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well. Thomas Nelson Publishing. At 93, Dr. Graham said that old age was a surprise. He advises one not to retire from life. Many older people have heard and obeyed God’s call. He says leave a legacy of faithfulness. We are meant for Heaven, our final home. Heaven is glorious because it is the dwelling place of God.
Graham, Billy. The Heaven Answer Book. Thomas Nelson Publishing. This short little question and answer book gives straight biblical answers about heaven in typical Billy Graham style. He answers such questions as “Does Heaven really exist?” and “What is a resurrected body?” Dr. Graham is evangelistic in his approach to these questions and answers.
Harris, Trudy. Glimpses of Heaven: True Stories. Published by Revell. A hospice nurse relates stories of those leaving the world in his/her own unique way.
Harrie, Trudy. More Glimpses of Heaven: Inspiring True Stories of Hope and Peace at The End of Life’s Journey. Published by Revell. More stories of the beauty and pain of life’s end as observed by hospice nurse, Trudy Harris.
Lotz, Anne Graham. Heaven, My Father’s House. W. Publishing Group. Billy Graham’s daughter writes about our heavenly home compared to our earthly home. She says, “The invitation to my Father’s house is extended to all, but you have to RSVP.” This is an inspiring little book.
Malz, Betty, My Glimpse of Eternity. Published by Chosen. Betty was “officially” Pronounced dead for 28 minutes before waking to report seeing and hearing angels and understanding several different languages at once. Catherine Marshall said, “Upon occasion God breaks into human life to give us a glimpse of what lies ahead.
Betty Malz’s remarkable experience is a resounding ‘Yes, there is life after death.’”
Neal, Mary C. MD. To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, angels, and Life Again. Waterbrook Press. Dr. Neal, a spine specialist, had a kayak accident and drowned. Her friends worked hard to revive her and finally did. In her “in-between “ state, she experienced a joyous welcome celebration in Heaven. Very readable and interesting.
Piper, Don with Cecil Murphy. 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life. Published by Revell. A popular book involving a car accident, being pronounced dead and waking up to sing with a minister praying and singing over him. After a long, grueling recovery, Don was persuaded to tell his story.
Prince, Dennis and Nolene. Nine Days in Heaven: A True Story. Charisma House Publishing. Nine Days in Heaven relates the vision of 25 year old Marietta Davis more than 150 years ago, in 1848. Her story is re-written in modern English. She was shown the heavenly nursery where infants are cared for and taught redemption’s story. Each section is supported by Scripture. Beautifully done. Especially helpful for those grieving for a lost child. Not to be confused with 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper.
Rogers, Joyce C. “After This, Then What?” Family Bible Study, Life Ventures Learner Guide. Summer, 2005, p.116-161. LifeWay Sunday School unit. Speaks of salva-tion here and now and throughout eternity, Jesus’ return, and the special place God has prepared for His own.
Sigmund, Richard. My Time in Heaven: A True Story of Dying…And Coming Back. Whitaker House Publishing. Following a traffic accident, Richard found himself in a thick, cloudy veil. He could hear sirens and the words, “He’s dead.” He could hear singing and laughter on the other side. Led along a path by angels, he saw a book containing his name. He claims to have seen mansions belonging to loved ones and many other wonders. The book has testimonies, select scriptures and an index.
Springer, Rebecca. Within Heaven’s Gates. Published by Whitaker House. After feeling alone in her illness far from home and family, Rebecca has a vision of life in Heaven. She describes with unspeakable joy life in Heaven where she has her own mansion and visits with loved ones. A vision, not an NDE.
Stone, Perry. Secrets from Beyond the Grave: The Amazing mysteries of Eternity, Paradise, and the Land of Lost Souls. Published by Charisma House. Detailed studies of questions related to death and the afterlife. The author asserts that Heaven and Hell are real places. Details he relates include: people in Heaven or Hell have all 5 senses; are not limited to time or space or travel hindrances; and have conversations not with words but with thoughts.
Wiese, Bill. 23 Minutes in Hell; One man’s story about what he saw, heard, and felt in That place of torment. Published by Charisma House. Bill Wiese said that he saw the searing flames of hell and was terrorized. He said, “My sincere hope is that this book is the closest you will ever come to experiencing hell for yourself.” A question he answers is “Can ‘Good’ people go to hell? There is an 18-page scripture index.
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY Of AUDIO VISUALS
Besteman, Marvin with Lorille Craker, read by Maurice England. “My Journey to Heaven.: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life.” Baker Publishing House, Christianaudio, 2012.. Marvin Besteman shares the true story of his experience of Heaven in detail. He speaks of angels accompanying him to the gate, his conversation with St. Peter, and his joy when he recognized friends and family members who had touched his life. Very interesting story. Running time 4.7 hours. CD.
Malarky, Kevin. “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,” Tyndale Entertainment Production in Association with Franklin Films. Based on book by Kevin Malarky. Six year old Alex Malarky suffered a terrible car accident which left him in a coma for 2 months. He awoke to share an incredible story of angels, Jesus and his trip to Heaven. He was left paralyzed, but we see how God is still using him today. This is an amazing and convincing story. Running time 50 minutes. DVD.
_______. “The Final Frontier.” Produced by Eternal Productions. Revived patients encounter some form of extension of consciousness beyond clinical death. They encounter some form of reality: Heaven or Hell. These are not hallucinations, but a highly structured and organized phenomenon. More and more scientific evidence tells us that life after death exists. Where we are going is a matter of choice. We must think about our own lives. This DVD makes one think. Running time 53 minutes.
_______. “The Lazarus Phenomenon: A Glimpse of Eternity.” Eternal Productions. Lan McCormack was stung by jelly fish off the coast of an island in the Pacific and was unable to get help. His experiences changed his life. On the other side of the world, a pastor died and 48 hours later revived. He was shown his death certificate. He also had experiences beyond the veil. Well worth watching. Running time 100 minutes..
Jeremiah, David Dr. “Revealing the Mysteries of Heaven.” Turning Point Television. Shadow Mountain Community Church, San Diego, California.. Sermons on Heaven. Dr. Jeremiah preaches a 3 month series of sermons on Heaven. Each sermon covers A different aspect of Heaven. Topics such as “Won’t Heaven be Boring?” and “What About the Children?” are covered. He says “Worship in Heaven is not about us – its about Him. Its not about here – its about there. Its not about now – its about then. Its not about one – its about many.” Wonderful resource. Each sermon about 30 to 40 minutes. DVD.
Copyright 2013 by Joyce C. Rogers
(For the next three days I will be publishing a guest blog on what happens upon our death, written by my mother, Joyce Clinton Rogers. Today’s post is on near death experiences. Tomorrow’s post will be on the afterlife. The third post will give an annotated bibliography of her sources, for your further reading.
Joyce C. Rogers is a graduate of William Carey University (B.S.) and the University of Southern Mississippi (M.Ed.). She has written Sunday School literature for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, including a unit on the afterlife. She and my father, Robert H. Rogers, live in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.)
What happens the moment you die? Where will you go? How will you get there? When you arrive, will you know people? Will angels escort you? What are Heaven and Hell really like? Are near death experiences (NDEs) real? Is death the end?
I experienced deeply moving and spiritual experiences at the deaths of each of my parents, which contributes to my interest in these matters. When my Dad passed away in 1975, I mentally “saw” his body floating at the ceiling of the hospital room. He said, “Don’t cry. I’m fine.” This was said to my mind or spirit – I don’t know how to describe it. It was very real to me. I haven’t forgotten it, after 38 years. Incidents like this don’t seem to be that unusual, as I will explain later in this article.
In 1992, my mother passed away following a long illness and suffering. I began to wonder about my own death. I did not and do not doubt my salvation, but I was troubled about the physical part of dying. I prayed about this continually until I felt directed to read Isaiah. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3a, NASB)
This answer was very real and satisfying. It was also very emotional. I could not share it without tears for several years, but this answer erased my fear and stopped my worrying. Of course, I am not trying to hurry that time, either.
In my quest to understand more about near death experiences (NDEs), death and the afterlife, I made an exhaustive study of the Bible, as well as 21 books and five audiovisuals. Here is a summary of what I learned. First, we will look at NDEs, and in the second part, we will look at the afterlife. Third, I will give an annotated bibliography to assist you further reading on the subject.
One of the first books I read on the subject of NDEs was the delightful little book, Heaven is for Real, a Little Boy’s Astounding Story of his Trip to Heaven and Back. This book captivated my interest and made me want to know more about these experiences.
Another book that has been an inspiration to me is 90 minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. When I saw and heard Don Piper speak at Hardy Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, MS, I was surprised to see that he seemed perfectly normal physically – no limps or obvious scars. He was in a horrific car accident and was pronounced dead for an hour and a half. After a minister prayed over him and sang hymns, he began to sing with the minister! Needless to say, everyone was astonished! He recovered, but it was a long and difficult recovery.
At first, Don did not want to share his NDE. He thought others would not believe him. (This is a common reaction.) He also considered the experience very intimate and holy. Later he was persuaded that others would benefit from his story of going to Heaven, of being welcomed by loved ones, and experiencing heavenly wonders. He then wrote his book and began to speak on many occasions.
One of the most touching stories told in Heaven is for Real is the experience of the little boy, Colton, when he met his sister in Heaven. Since he was not quite four years old, his parents had not told him that his mother had miscarried. But he met a little girl in Heaven who told him that she was his sister. His parents were astonished when they heard this. They had not known that the miscarried baby was a girl or that she was being cared for in Heaven. I shared this incident with a ladies’ group. One lady was in tears because she had miscarried a child. She found immense comfort to think her child was prospering in Heaven.
An extensive account of the sights and sounds of Heaven are given in My Time in Heaven by Richard Sigmund. He declared that “absolute joy and total love are the rule in Heaven.” He tells of being escorted to Heaven by angels and of seeing Jesus.
Earlier, I described the “out of body” experience I had when my father died. There are many stories of “out of body” experiences. One story about a girl hit by a car is in the book Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife by James L. Garlow and Keith Wall. She could see her body and people trying to help her. She felt perfectly at peace at the time. She said she had a conversation with God in which she asked to go back and finish her life. She told God she would witness for Him now that she knows God is real. God allowed her to come back.
There are also many, many accounts of NDEs. I think some people don’t share these accounts because they are afraid that others will not believe they are true. Testimonies of children are to me especially believable and endearing.
Stories of going to Hell are told much less often. However, they are told. In Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife, there is a story of a man whose heart stopped during heart bypass surgery. He became aware of darkness and demons. With horror, he began to pray for God to deliver him. He realized that he had not confessed sin and acknowledged God in his life. He recovered and immediately wanted to be baptized. He was not shy about sharing what happened to him. “I know God is real and that Jesus died so I don’t have to go back to Hell ever again,” he said.
There are stories written by a hospice nurse in Glimpses of Heaven: True stories of Hope and Peace at the End of Life’s Journey by Trudy Harris. Each experience related is unique. Most want their affairs settled, including relationships before they “let go.”
Catherine Marshall wrote the Foreword to Betty Malz’s book, My Glimpse of Eternity. Betty was pronounced dead and the hospital sheet pulled over her head. Twenty eight minutes later, she returned to her body after getting a glimpse of Heaven. Catherine Marshall said, “Upon occasion God breaks into human life to give a glimpse of what lies ahead. Betty Malz’s remarkable experience is a resounding ‘Yes, there is life after death.’” Betty sang with the angels and understood several different languages used in the music.
Copyright 2013 by Joyce C. Rogers
(Coming tomorrow: OUT OF THIS WORLD! Part Two: The Afterlife)
The grief process is always very difficult and especially so during the holidays. Even the smallest memories will bring about a flood of painful thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we don’t know what to do or how to deal with these thoughts or the empty place on Christmas Day. Here are a few helpful suggestions:
Wrap a favorite keepsake or framed picture of your loved one, and give it as a gift to another grieving family member.
Create a special ornament with the name of your loved one and hang it on your Christmas tree.
Decorate a candle and light it at meal time in memory of your loved one.
Make a donation to a favorite charity in the person’s honor. Create a scholarship to keep the memory of the loved one alive and announce it at a holiday gathering of family and friends.
Purchase a Christmas book, perhaps a favorite of your loved one, and donate it to your local library or school. Ask the librarian to place a label in the front cover in memory of your loved one.
Bring your loved one’s favorite food to share at Christmas dinner. Mention their name in the blessing over the food.
Encourage grieving children to draw pictures and create gifts inspired by their memories of the one who died, to give to other family members.
Decorate and hang a cut-out star in your home, write on the star your hopes and dreams for the future. Thinking about tomorrow is part of the healing.
Once you have remembered your loved one, make sure you remember yourself. Take care of your needs. Be gentle. Do what you can and no more and no less.
“It bothers me that heaven is described as having mansions, gold, etc. and that those type of items should be such an incentive (for lack of a better term). I know that Jesus often preached that there would be a reward in heaven but as he focused not on material things it is inconsistent that heaven is described in a materialistic manner. If the focus in heaven is praising God, why the promise of what I describe as “earthly” treasures? As I believe that we leave behind our earthly shell when we die, what is the significance of the saveds’ bodies rising from their graves when Christ returns to earth?”
My answer was:
You ask some good questions that others have wondered.
1. John Piper addresses the first question very well in his book, Desiring God. He points out that there is nothing wrong with the motivation of rewards and pleasure for following God. The Old Testament psalmists often spoke of the “delight” of God’s law and delight of knowing God Himself (Psalm 1:2; 37:4; 119:77). Jesus often spoke of rewards in heaven. The Sermon on the Mount is full of such references (Matthew 5:12, 19; 6:1, 4, 6, 18, 20-21; 7:11). While Jesus told us not to focus on earthly treasures, there is no reason to think that we will not receive heavenly treasures. In fact, Jesus says this very thing in Mark 10:29-30. After telling a rich young man to give away his possessions to the poor and follow Him, Jesus then assures the disciples that anyone who has left behind family or possessions for the gospel will receive a hundred times as much in reward as well as eternal life. So it’s not that there is anything wrong with having a desire for reward or for good things; the problem is when material things because our first priority before the Lord Himself. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, seek FIRST His kingdom, and then these things will be given to you, as well!
2. We leave behind our earthly shell when we die, and our spirits and souls go immediately to be with the Lord. But the Bible also teaches that just as Jesus’ body was literally raised to life and glorified, so our own bodies will be raised and we will have new, perfectly renewed bodies. Philippians 3:20-21 says Jesus will transform our lowly bodies so they will be like His glorious body. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 explicitly states that our corrupt, perishable bodies will be changed to incorrupt, imperishable bodies at the resurrection. This resurrection will happen at the return of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). So the teaching of scripture is that at death our souls go to heaven, but at the Second Coming of Christ, our bodies are raised and reunited with our souls in heaven, the “new heaven” of Revelation 21:1.
A great book on this subject is Heaven by Randy Alcorn.