Opening Day in Paradise

 “The serious business of Heaven is joy.”      CS Lewis

I have a dear friend who for several years invited my son and I to join him and his son to Opening Day of the San Francisco 49ers season at the now defunct Candlestick Park.  It was always a memorable day, which my son and I looked forward to with special appreciation of the experience we knew to come.  On opening day there is a special feeling of electricity in the air, full of optimism and excitement for the season ahead for the 49ers.  The pre-game tailgate BBQ’s seemed to start a little earlier than usual and were more elaborate than ever, with everyone dressed in 49er garb head to toe.  Once you got into the stadium it seemed as though scarlet and gold were everywhere and the entire pre-game ceremony signaled that this was not just another football game.  It climaxed in an unveiling of the American flag (covering the entire field), with fireworks and rockets going off (“and the rockets red glare”) and the Blue Angels hitting their afterburners over the stadium as we finished singing our national anthem (“the home of the free and the land of the brave”).

Bring on the Root Beer, its GAME ON!

As amazing as the day was, I truly believe our “opening day” in paradise (Heaven) will make that 49er game seem like a day at the library in comparison.

Seriously.

I’ve often wondered what my own “opening day” in Heaven will be like, and maybe some of you do too. If we plan to spend an eternity in Heaven, perhaps it is important we have a good idea of what we’re getting in to.  Having an accurate picture of what it is going to be like in Heaven could (and should!) dramatically reshape our view of our life here on earth.  In other words, “begin with the end in mind.

Let’s take a walk down that path and see if you agree.

Randy Alcorn speaks to the power of what awaits us in Heaven:

“The day I die will be the best day I ever lived.”

The very second we enter Heaven our world will be transformed into indescribable beauty and peace from what we know here on Earth. What we see will exceed our wildest imagination following our life on earth.  To quote from my Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) notes on Heaven:

“God’s new creation will provide a sense of familiarity, yet we will experience something altogether new and awesome as the blinders of our sin nature are removed...  To an infinite measure, the tangible experience Heaven is and will be beyond human articulation.”

Chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation have the most striking descriptions of Heaven in the Bible.  Heaven will be illuminated with the brilliant and constant light of God, removing all darkness of evil and suffering.  We will experience new colors we could hardly dream of, streams of water as clear as crystal, flowers and trees and mountains more beautiful than anything we have seen here on Earth.  Best of all, there will be a joyous reunion with friends and family who preceded us in our death on earth.  We will feel a sense of infinite love and peace and comfort that will tell us we have finally found our true home.  Our thoughts of life back on earth will quickly fade away as we rejoice to the wonder of it all.

To quote my BSF notes on Revelation 21:3-5:

This life with God will satisfy every sense of loneliness and alienation ever experienced by a human heart.  It will exponentially intensify every joy.  All of us were made for this!

Tasting Heaven

The Bible is the sole authority on Heaven.  Aside from Jesus, who speaks of Heaven more than anyone else in the Bible, there are a few other important mentions of people entering or seeing Heaven and telling us what they saw.  Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5) had visions of Heaven that overwhelmed them.  John says he saw the “throne of Heaven” in Revelation 4, and described in great detail the “Holy City, New Jerusalem” in Revelation 21.  In 2 Corinthians (12:4) the Apostle Paul tells about a friend who was “caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.”  And in Acts 7, Stephen was stoned to death after his speech to the Sanhedrin, in which he claimed to “see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

Clearly Heaven is not a topic in the Bible to be taken lightly.

There are an abundance of books available today about people’s journey to Heaven and back after a near death experience, possibly offering a glimpse of what God has in store for us.  A few of these stories have recently been released as movies: “90 minutes in Heaven; “Heaven is for Real and “Miracles from Heaven.   Most of these books are very interesting reads, but how does one validate their authenticity?  Here is a list: Books on Heaven-3-7, to provide a sampling of how many have made the effort to document their story by publishing a book (those I have read I marked with an asterisk).  It is God’s mystery that these experiences happen to people, and I want to qualify them by reiterating that the Bible is our only source of truth on the subject.  These stories are fun to read, and provide me a taste of heaven, allowing my imagination to run on what will it be like for me?

90 Minutes in Heaven” was the first book I read.  It is the story of Don Piper, a Texas pastor who died in a horrific car crash.  Piper wrote a powerful account of what was to be his 90 minutes in Heaven.  It impacted me so deeply I made my wife and kids read it as soon as I was finished.  It was the first time I had read anything with such detail about the experiences.  It gave me goose bumps.  Piper admitted that words truly could not do the experience justice, and in fact it took him years before publically speaking about the experience.  In his words, “I considered it a sacred secret.”

Several books immediately followed. I found it fascinating and encouraging to read stories of people who had come back from Heaven to tell how incredibly wonderful it had been and how the experience had changed their life forever.  All of them spoke about experiencing a love that far exceeded anything they had ever known on earth, and none of them said they wanted to come back to Earth after getting a taste of it.

Not all of these books are written by Christian authors, which I find even more interesting to hear people tell their experiences without bringing the Scriptures into the discussion.

One of these is “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife”, written by Eben Alexander, a Jewish faculty member at Harvard Medical School.  Alexander writes about his near death experience while in a meningitis-induced coma in 2008.  He used his vast experience as a neurosurgeon (he performed thousands of brain surgeries) to scientifically prove that he could not have dreamed the experience he had going to Heaven while in the coma.

Life after Life was another, published in 1975 by Raymond Moody, who was credited with coining the term “Near Death Experience” (NDE).  In this book, Moody started a revolution in attitudes about the life after physical death. He accounted for more than 100 case studies of people who experienced “clinical death” and were subsequently revived.  In an interview, Moody shared his personal conclusions about his research into NDEs:

“I don’t mind saying that after talking with over a thousand people who have had these experiences, and having experienced many times some of the really baffling and unusual features of these experiences, it has given me great confidence that there is a life after death. As a matter of fact, I must confess to you in all honesty, I have absolutely no doubt, on the basis of what my patients have told me, that they did get a glimpse of the beyond.

One book in particular really caught me.

I came across it when our family was on vacation in Portland, Oregon at Powell’s bookstore, which claims to be the largest independent bookstore in the world.  Powell’s is the kind of place where you can just pick your favorite subject, go find that section of books, and spend an entire day going through the selection, including many books you will not find on Amazon.  So after doing my due diligence on “surfing”, I wandered over to a section on “Heaven” and was overwhelmed by the number of books.

Here I found one book that I just could not put down, “When Will The Heaven Begin” by Ally Breedlove.  Ally wrote this book about her brother, Ben Breedlove, who had lived his entire life on the precipice of death/Heaven due to a heart condition he was born with.  Ben died at the age of 18 on Christmas evening after experiencing a remarkable day with his entire family.

In this book, Ally referenced a video “This is my story, which Ben had posted on Youtube to tell his story prior to his passing on Christmas day.  I immediately called my family over and we watched in amazement on the cold cement floor in Powell’s.  Ben tells his story with flip cards, of how he had been waiting for Heaven to begin.  His sister Ally discovered the video while rummaging through his stuff on Christmas night.  Go watch that video now, and you will see what I mean (~7 minutes).  No matter what your beliefs are on Heaven, Ben’s story is one to behold.  As a vibrant 19-year old boy with a full life, including a girlfriend and loving family, Ben realized what was awaiting him in Heaven was much better than the life he had here on earth. He decided to leave his family a video to comfort them in case he did go there.

These stories paint a striking and consistent picture of Heaven as a physical place of indescribable beauty where our bodies are transformed into our perfect selves. Any suffering we experience here, no matter how intense, is completely cancelled out by the love that awaits us in Heaven. Those who have tasted it say they no longer fear death, as Ben Breedlove showed, they would rather be there than anywhere else.

Interestingly, each person’s experience of Heaven seems to be different, as if God had individually prepared a place for each one of them (see John 14:1-3).  They all pondered why God had chosen them to have the experience, and what to do with it after returning to earth.  Most who have written books believe that God gave them these experiences to spread the joy and hope for what awaits us in Heaven.

Randy Alcorn summarizes it well in his book “Heaven”:

“The most ordinary moment on the New Earth [Heaven] will be greater than the most perfect moments in this life – those experiences you wanted to bottle or hang on to but couldn’t.  It can get better, far better, than this – and it will.”  Life on the New Earth will be like sitting in front of the fire with family and friends, basking in the warmth, laughing uproariously, dreaming of the adventures to come – and then going out and living those adventures together.   With no fear that it will ever end or that tragedy will descend like a dark cloud.  With no fear that dreams will be shattered or relationships broken.”

For those who have placed their trust in God, an amazing new place awaits us.

As I continue along my path in Silicon Valley, Roger Williams’ words of wisdom have echoed in my heart about changing the way I live today – for Heaven.

Here’s a video of Roger speaking those very words to a Mount Hermon family camp (01:14):

“It’s not the end – it’s … the beginning.”

We need to think about Heaven now, and it will dramatically impact the life we are living here today on Earth.

We’ll talk more about that in my next post: “Heaven Can’t Wait”.

**RESOURCES**

Listing of books on “Heaven” (37) – compiled by Mike Mulkey:

I want to qualify this list by noting that I have not read all these books (I marked those I have read with an asterisk).  The Bible is the ultimate authority on Heaven, and we should never second-guess it in that respect.  But these books provide some enjoyable reading on the joy and love and promise of what awaits us in Heaven.

Hearing From Heaven: A Memoir of God At Work At Mount Hermon

by Roger Williams

If you know of and/or visit Mount Hermon in the Santa Cruz mountains, this book is a must read. One of my “2X4” incidents was when Roger Williams’ book “Hearing from Heaven” (published posthumously), showed up on our kitchen counter unannounced late one evening following Roger’s early departure from life here on earth.  The short story is that I had been teaching a class to the young adults from our church that night, and came home feeling incapable of teaching the next session, which was to be on the topic of “Heaven”.  I was just thinking over how truly inadequate I felt for this assignment when I walked into the kitchen late that night and suddenly saw this book on the counter staring me in the face (Hearing from Heaven!).  I knew nothing of Roger writing this book; not to speak for the fact that he was now living there! I almost fell to my knees.  I had no idea what to make of it, or where it even came from?!

Needless to say I did teach the class and of course it went very well. Thank you Roger!

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