Crystal McVea is a devoted churchgoer. For years she went through the motions of faith—attending church, Bible study, and other church fellowship and discipleship opportunities—yet deep down she privately held raw questions about the existence of God. Then everything changed on December 10, 2009, when she accidentally overdosed on pain medication and died for nine minutes. In an interview about her experience, she said:
“I remember almost every detail. I remember being in the bed. My mother was at my feet and I remember starting to drift off — and I remember opening my eyes and telling her that I loved her. I remember just closing my eyes in that bed and I opened them and I was standing in the most beautiful tunnel of light I could ever describe.”
McVea goes on to describe how being in heaven and God’s presence was stimulation overload. Instead of just five senses, she says it was like having 500 senses all at once. She admits that much of her nine minutes of death are indescribable.
Another such story is a recent New York Times bestseller, Heaven is for Real, which recently hit the big screen, describing a life-after-death experience of a 4-year-old boy from Nebraska named Colton Burpo. Colton’s story describes an emergency room visit in which he experiences heaven. Regardless of how one feels about the validity of Colton’s and McVea’s experiences, the book and movie raise great questions about heaven: Is heaven a real place? What happens when I die? What will heaven be like? If I’m heaven-bound, how do I live in the meantime? How do I get to heaven? Have you ever thought about these questions? If so, you are not alone.
Life after death stories like the one described above surface from time to time: a person dies, experiences heaven, and comes back to tell about it. Whether you agree with the accuracy of these afterlife stories, they present an open door for conversation. Every living being must at some point in their lives wrestle with the eternal question: What happens when I die? Our current sermon series seeks to pull back the veil a bit surrounding this age-old mystery in, A Glimpse of Heaven, which seeks to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about heaven from a biblical perspective. The Bible gives glimpses into the afterlife that for those who believe, create awe, wonder, and hope. I hope you can join the conversation around the topic of heaven these next weeks as we turn to see what God in His Word says about death, heaven, and the afterlife.
Or consider this series as the backdrop or encouragement for you to have a conversation with someone God has placed in your path about life after death. Do your loved ones know your faith story and the key people or events that have shaped you into the person you are today? This sermon series will provide a framework, and hopefully the encouragement to ask questions or open a dialogue with people about what happens after we die. In all honesty, as we step toward such conversations it may get messy as people say things we may or may not agree with, but give the relationship time to grow and listen, really listen to the story behind the story. More than likely, people will say things that are, from a Christian point of view, theologically incorrect. Take a deep breath, count to ten, and remember that you are in the midst of a missional moment. I have personally been challenged in such environments, and they have always been incredibly rewarding. Let us move beyond conversations about weather, sports, school, or farming and seek to lead discussion toward matters of eternal consequence. If friends tell friends everything, why do we so frequently never seem to get to the most important conversation of all: salvation through Jesus Christ? Consider using one of the questions highlighted above in bold as a springboard into conversation.
I would like to close with one more encounter of heaven. God gave the apostle John a glimpse into heaven, and it both challenged and changed him. He writes about this experience in the book of Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5)
I pray God opens our eyes to His vision of heaven as described in scripture, to see with the eyes of faith a reality too wonderful to describe yet ours through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 11:1). At the end of the day, our earthly life is all preparation not for heaven, but for an eternity spent with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As I close my eyes and pull my last earthly breath of air, in those next moments I am not going to heaven … I am going to be with Jesus. The Lord Himself will live with us, love on us, make us new, and call us to a place He has been preparing for us since the beginning of time (John 14:1-6; Revelation 22:20). We will be His people—His beloved sons and daughters—both now and forevermore.
Come, Lord Jesus, come!