Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"What Do Believers Experience at the Time of Death?"

Ross had this amazing experience! His blood pressure dropped drastically due to internal bleeding, he turned pale, and dropped to the floor. Paramedics said that when they first saw him, that he was as dead. But Ross also experienced something spiritual. He writes: “I was like Jello when I came to, and felt hands on me, but all I could see was a light, like through a tunnel. I felt peace. It was like God said to me that it wasn’t time yet and put my soul back in me. I’m wondering, what is your view on that?”

What can a believer expect to experience at the time of their death? What do the scriptures say about near death experiences?

Okay, near death experiences in the Bible: We can’t really count Elijah’s, because, he didn’t die, but was “taken up.” (2 Kings 2) Hezekiah almost died. But he cried out to God, who gave him 15 extra years. But Hezekiah didn’t see any lights. (2 Kings 20) The apostle Paul saw a light, but he wasn’t physically dying. (Acts 9) Some attribute Paul’s vision of heaven as from a near death experience, (2 Corinthians 12:2-5) but Paul is rather unsure himself how far to take that, and so we can’t presume either. Even Paul wouldn’t expound upon his experience. Lazarus died and came back, but the scriptures don’t describe his spiritual experience. Anyway, Lazarus died prior to Christ’s resurrection, and so his experience would have been more like that which Jesus describes in Luke 16: 19-31.

But look what God did for Stephen! Wow! While Stephen was still on trial, God prepared him for his earthly exit. Stephen looked up:

“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Acts 7:56

Then Stephen was dragged out by the religious mob, and brutally murdered. During the stoning, he never stopped talking to God. He cries out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” And then, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” God appeared to Stephen, just when he needed it. Despite surrounding chaos, Stephen was talking with God.

We’ve got to hang out with older Christians. Christians who have had opportunity to be with loved ones when they have passed on, or who have visited the deathbeds of believers, having the privilege of seeing them off to heaven, have witnessed some amazing things! Don’t be shy to ask them about it. It’s testimony!

It is good to consider death. Death is an ongoing part of the Christian’s life. In 1660, Sir Thomas Brooks wrote of the glory of growing older:

“An old disciple, an old Christian, is prepared for death; he hath been long a-dying to sin, to the world, to friends, to self, to relations, to all, and no man so prepared to die as he that thus daily dies.”

The more you’ve practiced dying on earth, the more you anticipate the final kick. When we realize how dead to this world we are, we find real life living in us. That life is Christ Himself.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 2:20

People in Christ pass onto Heaven; we just don’t take our bodies with us when we go. My friend Rashad writes: “… flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, because our true being is not cellular, molecular, atomic, subatomic, etc. but rather beyond this manifest form.” Paul writes:

“I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
1 Corinthians 15:20

I lost an uncle and a cousin while they were young, due to heart disease. Then in 1985, when I was in Bible College, I had a heart attack. Bible school is a great place to have one too! Everyone started praying right away, and it became a spiritual event.

The pain was awful, but God was so close! I felt I could ask Him anything. But those helping me were also competing for my attention. "Tom, what is it?!?" (I wasn’t moving.) You can imagine my dismay when one school chum suggested, "It’s probably intestinal gas!"

They just didn’t think “heart attack,” for someone my age. “Intestinal gas?!?” Right! “Someone quick! Pull his finger?!?”

As friends whisked me to health services, I talked with God. He was right there! I know He’s right here now. It is just that my flesh hinders our communion. But as it lay there dying that day, God and I were conversing. It was awesome!

For example, a few days prior in class, a few of us students were comparing (okay, arguing about) Isaiah 57:1:

“The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.”

Some interpreted that hard times were coming, and God wanted to spare His people from suffering overly. Other translations seemed like God was taking certain ones before they themselves turned to evil. I can't remember what side I’d been on, but here, assuming I was dying, I asked, "Oh Lord! Does this mean that had I lived longer, that I would have become apostate?!?" And God said to me, "My son, if that were so, wouldn't you want to come now?"

Suddenly, I saw that none of my ambition to impact the world for God amounted. That I am His is what mattered to God. I was finally going home where I belonged! And I think for the first time that was all that mattered to me. My name was written in the "Lamb's book of Life." He didn't really answer my question. He just changed my heart. I felt like I could actually enter Heaven now, rejoicing rightly:

“However do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Luke 10:20

The pain increased, and my classmates got me to the clinic. The nurse couldn’t find my pulse. Yet the more my body faded, the less of a barrier there seemed between God and I. I then knew that we in Christ don’t die. Our bodies stop, but as they do, we just continue on into His glorious presence. I fully expected to see Him shortly.

Only one thing troubled me. If the pain got much worse before I went, I might cuss. I had never been in such pain before and it was getting worse. Before knowing Jesus, swearing was a big part of my emotional vocabulary. If the pain got so bad, would my final words dishonor Him and shame me? I did not want to go out like that! God had been so awesome during this time, so close! I loved Him now more than ever. So I asked God to help me not to curse. Again without hesitation, He so clearly reminded me of 1 Corinthians 10:13:

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

He was going to make a way for me! All was well. I knew that it was just a matter of my body giving its last struggles before I could see God. I was going home. This was going to be great!

The school nurse sent me to the ER. The ambulance came, and a campus officer went with it. Once in ER someone rolled out the defibrillators. I wanted to yell, "Helloooo! I'm not unconscious yet!!!" I prayed, “God, can I come before they use those?”

The ER doctor placed a pill under my tongue, felt my pulse, and then gave me another pill. And then the pain started to go away. And I heard her saying, "You are going to be all right sir!" At once God’s voice was fading from my ears. I knew He was there. But hearing became less and less. The ER came into view. Imagine! Moments ago I was about to enter the great banquet feast, finally home in Heaven. Two nitroglycerine pills later, and I’m back in Chicago, on a no cholesterol diet! Tom wept.

God comforted me in the days that followed, my earthly future so uncertain. God now talked to me, not like during the heart attack, but as before. He hadn’t left me. Heaven is coming! Remember how God gave me 1 Corinthians 10:13? Well, the campus policeman who had brought me to ER in the ambulance visited me in the hospital. He said that the ambulance workers could hear me singing praises to God. Isn't God awesome? Christ had been leading me in song as I was dying! No cussing!

So what can a believer expect at the time of their death? You can expect God to be there for you. He will be with you. Lazarus and Paul and scripture don't tell us any more. And I think that is cause it is too great to be uniform for all of us, this side of Heaven. We can talk about it when we get there. Okay?

1 comment:

Othelmo da Silva said...

Tom,

I remember that day and the sudden awareness of how helpless I was on my own to bring any type of resolution to the situation you were in. There was no place to go but God's presence.

Phil 1:21-26 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.”

Some people live too long. Others not long enough. Surviving your heart attack has meant 26 years of fruitful labor for the Lord. And, quite selfishly, my joy in Christ Jesus overflows on account of you. I am thankful for your physical and spiritual life and I celebrate both today for I have derived great spiritual benefit from them, Dear Brother.