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A Glimpse of Heaven, Part I: Hope

November 25, 2019

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust; I trust in you . . . No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame . . . Show me your ways Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are my God and my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Excerpts, Psalm 25: 1-6).

Next Sunday is the first day of the church year–the first Sunday in Advent.  The days are growing shorter.  The darkest days of the year are upon us.  Yet in the midst of the darkness we have hope.  Our hope is expressed in the person of Jesus Christ, who overcame death itself.  We put our trust in God even as we face the dark days in our lives—setbacks in conquering addictions and other challenges; financial and career reverses; loss of family and friends to death, divorce, or alienation; loss of health; and other losses resulting in despair, anxiety, and the loss of hope.  David tells us: “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust; I trust in you . . . No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame . . . Show me your ways Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are my God and my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Excerpts, Psalm 25: 1-6).

The Jews in Jerusalem hoped that Jesus was the conqueror who would release them from the chains of bondage that they had endured for so many centuries: “Hosanna to David’s son! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21: 9).[1]  They were correct that Jesus was their Messiah, but they did not yet understand that his kingdom is so much greater than any on earth.

God rules over a vast kingdom—on earth and in heaven.  The psalmist speaks of the heavenly realm as well as the earthly realm when he sings, “My hope is in you all day long” (Psalm 25: 6).  We know that ultimately, all wrongs will be righted and that justice will prevail, if not always on earth, then in heaven.

Beginning this week and over the next several weeks, I will be writing about an experience I had on January 3, 1998, when I was given a glimpse of heaven.  The theme each week of Advent will be the traditional Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love—beginning this week with hope.

The experience I will be writing about was completely unexpected, was not sought by me, was brief, and was an incredibly encouraging and joyful experience.  This is the first time I have shared it publicly.  However, a few minutes after it occurred, I described it to my husband, Bob.  The next day I described it to my pastor and to my family, and spent the next day writing down every detail that I could remember about it.  I shared it with a few people, some of whom related similar experiences.  Pastor Ken Frese believes that such encounters are much more common than we realize.  While my experience was not a Near Death Experience (“NDE”), the occurrence and credibility of such occurrences has been well documented in scientific studies.[2]  And some of the aspects of the experience I had were similar to a few of the documented NDE accounts.  I have not written or spoken publicly about my experience for several reasons, including the following:

First, my experience echoes that of many other people. Why add my voice to theirs?

Second, I was concerned that people would want to have a similar experience.  I did not seek this experience, and I do not want to encourage others to seek an experience of God.  I want to encourage people to seek God, not to seek an experience of God.  Seeking an experience of God is idolatry.

Third, I was concerned that some may think I was sharing from a sense of superiority. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no hierarchy of believers.  I am broken, and was visibly broken and in the depths of grief when I had the experience.  I am deeply flawed.  We are all broken at some level.  We are all sinners.  Thomas Merton wrote that when it comes to the spiritual life, we are all beginners.[3]  Our only hope is in Christ Jesus.

Fourth, and most importantly, I do not want anyone to think that I am suggesting that they should try to contact the dead.  No—just the opposite!  The Bible specifically prohibits us from seeking dead spirits—because when dead spirits are sought, they are most likely from Hell.  Peter Kreeft, a highly respected Catholic scholar and author, writes, “There are malicious and deceptive spirits . . . these are probably the ones who respond to conjurings at seances. They probably come from Hell. . .”[4]

There are several Old Testament prohibitions against seeking the spirits of the dead.  Here are two: “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God,” (Leviticus 19:31, NIV); “Let no one be found among you who . . . practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, . . ., or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” (Excerpts, Deuteronomy 18:10-13).

John tells us that it is the Holy Spirit who will guide us, not the spirits of the dead: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13, NIV).  The Bible teaches that we should seek spiritual guidance from God alone through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  God has provided everything we need for this life in his Holy Word:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3);  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed”  (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Good News Version).

Pastor Frese asks, “Why would you seek the spirit of a dead person, when you have the Holy Spirit, who is always with you and helps you?”

Despite these concerns, for the past several years I have had a nagging thought that I should share the experience with others.  Pastor Frese encouraged me to share it.  He pointed out that it is an example of God’s grace.  Nothing we receive from God is earned.  He blesses us freely and we should share those blessings with others.  In addition to expressing love and encouragement, the point of such experiences is that we are to trust God. That we can trust him. That God is real and that the Bible is real.

Kreeft also notes,” There are the bright, happy spirits of dead friends and family, especially spouses, who appear unbidden, at God’s will, not ours, with messages of hope and love.  They seem to come from Heaven . . . these bright spirits come back for the sake of us, the living, to tell us all is well.”[5]

Are you looking for hope?  Do you need encouragement?  Are the holidays a particularly difficult time for you?  Are you looking for comfort in the dark, bleak days ahead?  Come to Jesus.  Give him your pain, your problems, your anxieties, your concerns.  When everything else around you is crumbling, rely on your one sure hope—Jesus Christ.  Paul asks God to fill us with hope, peace, and joy: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Seek God during this Advent season.  Invite the Spirit to fill your soul, to transform you from the inside out, to provide a well of love from which you can draw every day to share with those around you.

The evergreen tree is a symbol of our hope and belief that God offers us eternal life through his Son, Jesus, beginning now.  In his new book, Eternity Is Now in Session, John Ortberg reminds us,  “Jesus’ good news—his gospel—is simply this: the Kingdom of God has now, through Jesus, become available for ordinary human beings to live in.  It’s here.  Now.  You can live in it if you want to.”[6]  Think about that as you decorate your evergreen tree and string lights symbolizing the light of Christ.  God is real.  Heaven is real.  Trust the Bible. Trust God.  Eternity is now in session.

Prayer:  Lord of all hopefulness, fill us with your Spirit of hope, peace, joy, and love today and throughout this Advent season.  Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the First Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:(8-10) 11-14; Matthew 21:1-11.  .

[2] See John Burke, I Imagine Heaven (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015), which documents the many studies on this subject.

[3] See Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 2007), p. 237

[4] Peter Kreeft, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990) p. 34.

[5] Ibid.

[6] John Ortberg, Eternity Is Now in Session (Carol Stream, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2018) p.18

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