61. Confirmations That Demand Attention

“Jesus
is God spelling Himself out
in language that man can understand.”
— S.D. Gordon

 

For some people, believing in heaven is a no-brainer and doesn’t take any conscious effort. For others – especially those deeply ensnared in the material world – it’s just as easy not to believe in life after death, and there is little or no way to convince them otherwise.

When I read about heaven in the book of Revelation, I can envision it as a real place where I will one day reside for eternity. But, I had no convincing proof that what I believe is not just a personal fantasy. That was before I heard about Colton Burpo and Akiane Kramaric – two children whose incredible stories are told by their parents in Akiane by Foreli Kramarik and Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo (with Lynn Vincent). These two kids, who had not met each other at the time of this revelation, have a connection that is … well, heavenly!

I don’t remember when I first became aware of Akiane’s supernatural gift for painting and poetry. But I do recall looking her up on the Internet to view the creations that I’d heard about. I wanted to see them with my own eyes, because the story I’d heard seemed quite hard to fathom.

I discovered that the Lithuanian-American Akiane began sharing visions of heaven with her parents when she was four years old. One morning she whispered to her mother, “Today I met God.” Since her mother and father knew nothing at all about God, Foreli Kramarik wasn’t sure how to respond to her daughter’s pronouncement, so she asked, “What is God?”

Akiane replied, “God is light – warm and good. It knows everything and talks with me. It is my parent.” In complete disbelief, Foreli continued groping for answers.

“Why did you think it was God?”

Akiane confidently answered, “Just like I know you are my mommy, and you know I am Akiane.”

“Who even taught you such a word God?”

Akiane replied, “You won’t understand.”

And she was right. Her mother and father could not understand. But they kept talking with their little girl and trying to remain open to the incomprehensible information that she was willing to share about God and heaven.

The entire story of their journey from spiritual ignorance to acceptance of Christianity is well documented, so I won’t try to retell it here. What I need you to know is that Akiane began drawing portraits when she was four. Her drawings were so professional looking by the time she was five that people refused to believe she had drawn them. When she was eight, she painted a portrait of Jesus as she had seen Him in heaven. And that is where Colton Burpo’s journey intersects with Akiane’s.

Colton was three years and ten months old when he lay on an operating table while surgeons struggled to repair his ruptured appendix and save the little boy’s life. He was officially four and still recovering from the surgery when he began talking about Jesus and the angels that he had seen while he was in heaven. This came as a huge surprise to his father, Pastor Todd, because there was no evidence that Colton had died for even a moment during the operation.

When Colton was seven, his mother, Sonja, saw a CNN report about Akiane that had aired in December 2006 when she was twelve years old. Sonja realized that Akiane’s descriptions of heaven were remarkably similar to Colton’s. Akiane described Jesus as pure and very masculine. “He’s really strong and big. And His eyes are just beautiful.”

At that time, Sonja and Todd had been playing a game with their son for several years. Whenever they came across a portrait of Jesus that an artist had rendered, they would ask, “Does that look like Him?” Colton would study the picture then patiently explain why the likeness was just not right. And he would comment, “His eyes are so pretty!” So when Todd saw the portrait that Akiane had painted, he called Colton to look at it and asked, “What’s wrong with this one?”

After a long, hypnotic moment, Colton studied the picture then said, “Dad, that one’s right.”

When I heard that phenomenal story, it became mine as well. And now that you’re aware of it, it has become ours – Colton’s,  Akiane’s, mine, and yours.

I don’t know about you, but these accounts by two very young, innocent children have in many ways confirmed what I believe about heaven. I will read their testimonies again and again when I need comforting and reassurance. And I will study Akiane’s portrait of Jesus when I need to be reminded of what He actually looks like.

 

 “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him,
nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”

(Isaiah 53:2)

A RUST REMOVER …

Internet search for Colton Burpo and Akiane. Both are older now, so their stories are even more fascinating to learn about. How do you feel about heaven? Are you ready to meet Jesus face-to-face?

 

 

The Wake-up Call!

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven,

 with a loud command,

 with the voice of the archangel,

and with the trumpet call of God,

 and the dead in Christ will rise first.

  After that, we who are still alive and are left

will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

 And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

(1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

 

60. Survival

“You are never at any time nearer to God
than when under tribulation,
which He permits for the purification
and beautification.
of your soul.”
— Miguel De Molinos

 

June 8, 2012 (Timothy Williams, New York Times): “The suicide rate among the nation’s active-duty military personnel has spiked this year, eclipsing the number of troops dying in battle and on pace to set a record annual high since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago, the Pentagon said Friday.”

Other news reports have claimed that the following month, another 38 were added to the numbers of those who took their own lives while on active duty. It’s a grim number that’s being dealt with on the highest levels. Those at the top of the authority pyramid have added counselors and chaplains. They’ve set aside September as “Suicide Prevention Month.” But what can they really do to stop soldiers from choosing to take a permanent leave of absence?

I understand the emotions behind all of that, because I’ve experienced a similar deep sadness and desperation. Of course, my situation wasn’t anything at all like that of a soldier in combat. But I do know that the Holy Spirit can strengthen a person’s will to survive, and He can make use of desperate situations in the most profound and unexpected ways.

I have a friend who can attest to that. His name is Frank Gamillo, and he and I have discovered that we have a number of life experiences in common. In 2011, we realized that we went through elementary school together and were actually in the same fourth grade class. We graduated from the same high school and stayed close to home after that.

In 1994, both of us experienced health issues that changed life as we knew it. For me it was the onset of fibromyalgia. For Frank, it was a serious, construction-related injury that irreparably damaged his spine.

Each of us, unbeknownst to the other, had to learn how to cope with physical, emotional, and psychological pain. We have both dealt with severe depression … and have contemplated suicide. And we’ve petitioned our God with requests for healing and haunting questions, like “why me?” and “what will the future look like?”

In 2003, in the midst of continuous physical pain, I had to restructure my life for the sake of loved ones. At that time, Frank was still hopping from one specialist to another and enduring surgeries to try and repair torn disks and disintegrating bone in his spine. And when it seemed as though there was not much to live for, each of us withdrew from fellowship with people who wanted to understand and offer support.

The two of us ended up moving into different houses at the insistence of our spouses. It took several years to adjust and eventually make personal discoveries that God had placed us in those homes for specific reasons. It took some time, but we finally figured out that He had been listening all along to our pleas for help.

For me, that help came in the form of a letter from a cousin I had grown up with, but who I had not seen in many years. Pam sent me an article she had cut out of her local newspaper in Fayetteville, Arkansas about a new drug that seemed to be helping victims of a mysterious illness called fibromyalgia. I began taking Lyrica shortly after that and, despite a few annoying side effects, I started feeling as though I had been given my life back.

Frank told me about a moment that he remembers when he felt the Holy Spirit take away the depression that Satan had used as leverage against him. And then, in 2008, something amazing happened. His wife, Maggie, suddenly had an idea to help her husband restore relationships that had been lost over time. She planned a gathering at their home, with the assistance of their friend Marcia, and invited people who might like to come together and help distract Frank from dwelling on his physical pain. To her surprise, over 60 people showed up! And as everyone was leaving, they expressed a desire to “do it again next year!”

In spring of 2009, Maggie and Frank planned a high school reunion party. Marcia offered to have it at her house, and she recruited a couple of live bands to play music from the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Frank pulled together the guest list and decided they should celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Woodstock” – the famous, pop culture music event that took place on a New York farm in 1969. After the reunion, word got out and more alumni wanted to know when the next event was going to be.

A long-time friend named Steph suggested that Frank join Facebook to get out information about a future event. And in spring 2010, Woodstock II took place in a large grassy area with an entertainment stage, on property owned by a local steam engine museum. Over 600 people attended!

Around the same when time Steph signed Frank up for Facebook, my daughter Lisa opened a Facebook account in my name. And since I’d started taking Lyrica and was feeling more energetic, I quickly became addicted to finding and communicating with friends from my past, acquiring new ones along the way. As Frank was establishing his site for “Woodstock Summer Jam,” I decided to set up a site to contact friends from my high school drill team days. And over the course of a few months, Frank and I somehow met in the middle!

In 2011, I planned a drill team  (my passion during high school)  reunion at my house for the day after Frank’s Woodstock III event. Emails started pouring in from folks who lived in various states across the nation. Some wanted to come out for BOTH events!

Even more amazing was the fact that our Lord provided both Frank and myself with strength and loads of adrenaline to accomplish something we would have sworn – just a few years earlier – that we would never be able to do.

Maybe the military should rethink their “Suicide Prevention Month.” Replacing it with something like “Survivor Celebration Week” might encourage gatherings across the country to promote desire in weary warriors to keep on living and striving, in spite of – and in the midst of – physical, emotional and psychological pain.

 

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me….
You are familiar with all my ways.”

(Psalm 139:1-3)

 

A RUST REMOVER …

The apostle Paul wrote about a mystery of enduring hope for everyone who believes that Jesus Christ died and rose again as He promised. Paul spoke of a moment in time when we will be caught up together “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with Him forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). He closed with this admonition: “Encourage each other with these words.”

Pray that the Spirit will remind you of someone who could use encouragement. Give that person a call, send them an email or a hand-written note to let them know they are not alone. And there is hope.

 

59. Security

“A miracle in the Biblical sense
is an event which happens
in a manner contrary to the regularly observed
processes of nature.”
— Alan Richardson

 

When the two criminals standing before Ken Ortman jammed their hands into their overcoat pockets, he thought he was a dead man. Ken had confronted the two inside his house over money that they had stolen from him.

One of the men, named Bobby, was in his forties and had recently been paroled from Sioux Falls Penitentiary. Ken and his wife Sheila had agreed to mentor Bobby after his release, with the hope that he would not repeat past mistakes. They had welcomed him into their home and treated him like part of their family. But then they began to notice money and items missing from their usual places, so Ken gave Bobby an ultimatum: “Return the things you’ve stolen within three days, or I’ll have to call the police.”

“You call the police and you’ll regret it,” Bobby threatened.

On the third day, Ken found himself in the frightening position of facing off with Bobby and an unidentified man who weighed around 250 pounds and was dressed in an overcoat made of fur. He looked like an angry grizzly bear! “Lord,” Ken prayed, “give me courage and wisdom to handle this right.

Bobby spoke first. “We came to tell you that you better not do anything about that money.”

Ken responded, “Did you bring it back?”

“No.”

“Well, then, I told you what I was going to do.”

“If you know what’s best for you, you won’t do that.” Bobby warned.

“If I don’t do anything, will you bring the things back that you took?”

“No, we can’t.”

“How do you ever plan to make this right, Bobby?” The calm in Ken’s voice surprised him. “Sooner or later, you’ll have to return all the things you took from people or go back to jail.”

“We’ll make sure we don’t get caught.” Bobby’s tone was threatening.

Ken noticed that he felt calm in spite of the tense atmosphere in the room. “You know, Bobby,” he said. “Only God can put wholeness and happiness in your life.”

“It’s too late for God now,” Bobby said. The two men looked at each other, and jammed their hands deeper into their pockets. Ken thought they were going to murder him.

Then puzzled expressions suddenly came over their faces. The bear-like man growled, “Keep your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you!” They both paced the room a bit – their hands still in their pockets. Then Bobby announced, “We’re leaving. Consider yourself lucky to be alive!”

The next evening, Ken and Sheila saw a news report that the two men were found with an arsenal of weapons. They’d gunned down a highway patrol officer and fled on foot. But eventually Bobby was caught and returned to prison. Ken couldn’t help feeling that somehow he had let the guy down. That nagging feeling prompted him to drive to the penitentiary for a visit.

At first Bobby seemed remorseful. But then his expression hardened and he said, “This is no big deal. I’ve been here before.”

“Just tell me this,” Ken asked. “What did we do wrong, Bobby? What could we have done differently that might have helped you?”

“It wouldn’t have mattered,” Bobby said. “It was too late. If you’d been there when I was fourteen instead of forty-three, things would have been different.”

Ken was touched by the sadness in Bobby’s voice. There was nothing more he could say. But as he started to leave, Bobby added, “You know, Ken. The strangest thing happened that day at your house. I haven’t been able to figure it out. We intended to kill you. But when we reached for our guns, we couldn’t get them out of our pockets!”

As a result of that miraculous encounter, a seed was planted deep in the hearts and minds of Ken and Sheila Ortman. And in 1982 they trusted God to help them establish the Lives Under Construction (L.U.C.) Boys’ Ranch in Lampe, Missouri. For decades, the Lord has been working through their ministry to positively influence the lives of troubled, young boys from all over the nation.

And in 1994, it was my great privilege to meet them in person and hear their story firsthand!

 

“Blessed is the man who fears the Lord …
in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.”

(Psalm 112:1,8)

 

A RUST REMOVER …

Visit the Lives Under Construction website at http://www.lucboys.org/ and look into the faces of each boy pictured in the home page photo. Pray for every precious soul, and ask God to continue performing miracles at the L.U.C. Ranch in Lampe, Missouri, on behalf of the troubled young men who live there.

 

58. Relationships

“Before any congregation can hope to excel at soul-winning,
the officers and members must first
be at peace with each other.”
— Andrew W. Blackwood

 

As I was growing up in the same church from toddler to teen, I often heard one name repeated over the years among the grown-ups – Miss Pearl.

Miss Pearl was a daunting, old woman with hair the color of fresh garlic, coiled into a tight bun. I don’t remember much about her other than she rarely smiled. And as a little girl I figured she was obviously the boss of everybody. It seemed like I often overheard women say, “Well, I don’t know. We’ll have to ask, Miss Pearl.”

Well, Miss Pearl eventually died. And as a young adult, I discovered that one had to go to “the committee chairperson” for permission to accomplish anything beyond the ordinary.  In retrospect, I can see that when a church is run by committees, they can be fatal to spiritual growth.

Then I attended a church that was run primarily by one man. I learned the hard way how much power he wielded behind the scenes. No one wanted to cross him for fear of damaging the façade of spiritual success that he had created.

The place of worship where I now find solace is an amazing entity. Due to my unpredictable fibromyalgia flare-ups, I’m not able to make long-term commitments, so I primarily observe from the sidelines and chime in when help is needed with community service projects and such. I’m not aware of how they run things in the upper echelons of authority, but they actively draw in new believers and nurture them in the faith.

There have been times in my life when I’ve experienced extreme bitterness and even rage over this and that within Christ’s body. But one thing I will absolutely attest to: No matter what’s going on or who’s involved or the reasons how and why things are happening as they are within a church, there are always sincere, godly people doing everything they can to keep the boat afloat and try not to rock it. And they will open their homes and hearts to strangers, no matter what … God love ‘em!

I enjoy reading about “the great multitude that no one can count … standing before the throne in front of the Lamb” described by John in Revelation 7. The “elder” with whom John is talking confirms that these folks have come out of the great tribulation. The white robes that they’re wearing are not spotless because of Oxyclean. They have been washed in the sacrificial blood of the Lamb for the removal of sin!

That tells me to expect rough times ahead before I make it to the Promised Land in heaven. My Tour Guide has assured me that the journey will be challenging “even to the point of death” so that I can be worthy of “the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). But after I get there, the Lamb at the center of the throne will be my shepherd, and never again will I hunger or thirst. He will lead me to springs of living water, and he’ll wipe away my tears (Revelation 7:16-17).

And I’m convinced that the many relationships that became tattered or ripped apart here on earth will be mended.

 

“If it is possible,
as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.”

(Romans 12:18)

 

A RUST REMOVER …

 Make a list of all the people you can think of who have hurt you in some way. Hold it over the kitchen sink and set it on fire. Jesus said, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

 

57. Blindness

“Beware lest we mistake our prejudices
for our convictions.”
— William Hazlitt

 

My four-year-old niece, Andrea, asked if I’d like to see her guinea pig. She led me to the cage and quickly announced, “We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl because it squeaks high and it squeaks low.”

Some of the most interesting and heated conversations I’ve had with people on Facebook have concerned the issues of same-sex marriage and the trend toward educating kids about homosexual relationships. And I admit that I have not always handled those opportunities as Jesus probably would have.

I usually begin with, “I have many gay and lesbian friends, and I love them all dearly, BUT …” Then depending on my mood, the way my day is going, and my energy level at the moment, I either respond or react, usually to my own detriment and without resolving the “problem.”

Then I sign off, sit back and think about my out-of-the-closet friend Jon — a loveable, gracious and easy-going guy who, I’m convinced, will always love and encourage me no matter what. I think about Jackie, who grew up with me and always seemed like a “tom boy.” Her marriage ended in divorce early on and she has enjoyed the company of girlfriends ever since. Then there’s Randy and Doug. I don’t know them well, but their many talents are well known in our local theater community. And of course, Liz and Diane, who are the very responsible parents to an adorable, adopted, little girl.

I often ask God to shed light on the subject of sexuality for me, and I’m reminded of the saying, “The teacher is always quiet during the test.” So I watch relevant documentaries, and I look to Scripture – to the actions and words of mentor Jesus, and to the wisdom shared by men who spent time with God in the flesh.

Jesus demonstrated kindness and compassion toward people who were discriminated against and hated. He recognized the influence of demonic activity in men who behaved in ways that were culturally incorrect and frightening to the folks of that day. He touched the physical and emotional sores of disgustingly diseased men and women and spoke with those whose reputations were stained by unfortunate life choices and generally accepted cultural norms. He chastised people who used religion and political correctness as barbed-wire-like barriers of self-protection.

When he spoke to his best friend, John, about the new Jerusalem, where all who enter will live in peace for eternity, Jesus said: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22: 14-15).

That’s a pretty large database! And I’m sure that I, and my rusty armor, would be included, if Jesus had not offered Himself as a sacrifice and His blood as payment to buy back my soul from Satan, the landlord of this sin-filled earth.  When I stand before the throne of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9), I will wear a white robe, symbolizing purity and holiness – not because of anything that I have done to earn it, but because of what Jesus did for me.

It has occurred to me that Andrea didn’t care whether her guinea pig was a boy or a girl. She loved it anyway.

 

“Behold, I am coming soon!
My reward is with me,
and I will give to everyone
according to what he has done.”

— Jesus (Revelation 22:12)

 

A RUST REMOVER …

If you are different, somehow socially unacceptable, displeasing to the eyes of other flawed humans, know that Jesus loves you just the way you are. But when you accept Him as Savior and Lord of your life, He will change you from the inside out, in ways you never imagined possible.

 

56. Perspective

“Religious persecution may shield itself
under the guise of
a mistaken and overzealous piety.”
— Edmond Burke

 

In August 2012, something unexpected happened involving Chick-fil-A restaurants and the coalition of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transexuals. I watched the evening news and was fascinated by San Diego broadcasters who were trying to give fair and balanced coverage of how people both protested and showed their support for the Chick-fil-A owner and his public comments on behalf of the traditional definition of marriage.

People held up huge signs with colorful lettering. Some stood toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose, shouting at each other. (I wondered if any of them had been sucking on breath mints beforehand.) Others discussed rationally one-on-one. And then there were those who endeavored to make their point by screaming obscenities or kissing someone of the same gender.

It was an interesting display. And it brought to my mind Dr. Luke’s account of Jesus’ words concerning events that will be happening on the day of His coming: “Just as it was in the days of Noah … It was the same in the days of Lot … It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:26-30).

I will let you find those stories in Genesis 6 and 19, and read about the culture during Noah’s time and Lot’s day, since the interpretation of those passages can be quite controversial. What I want to focus on is the unprecedented event listed in Jesus’ timeline which will take place “immediately after the distress of those days” – described by the Son of God as, “unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again” (Matthew 24:21).

Luke simply says, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars.” But Matthew and Mark paraphrase the prophet Isaiah: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4).

Isaiah also foretold: “… the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.” And check out what John saw during Jesus’ revelation (Revelation 6:12-14): “I watched as [the Lamb, Jesus] opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to the earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.”

I suppose that since Isaiah neglected to mention the part about the moon turning blood red, the Lord God made sure the connection would be made through the prophet Joel in a similar vision: “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31). He also gave Joel a message of hope to share: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for on Mount Zion [the Temple Mount] and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said …” (Joel 2:32).

Hopping back to the first three gospel writers, we find something else unprecedented. Matthew puts it this way: “AT THAT TIME the sign of the Son of Man [Jesus] will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30)

In the Book of Revelation, John adds some specifics: “THEN the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man [a.k.a. “all the nations of the earth”] hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called out to the rocks of the mountains, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Revelation 6:15-17).

Then Matthew quotes Jesus as saying: “And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:31).

In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle – who was quite literally acquisitioned by Jesus – wrote: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16-18).

In Revelation 7, John finishes that chapter for us: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb….”

How much more clearly and simply could we expect the story of Jesus’ second coming and the rapture of the elect to be told by imperfect humans?

It’s just spread out a bit!

 

“The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd …
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

(Revelation 7:17)

 

A RUST REMOVER …

Read the accounts of what the social scene was like during Noah’s time (Genesis 6:1-13) and Lot’s day (Genesis 18:16-25). Decide for yourself whether inappropriate behavior could have been the cause of the Lord’s decision to destroy those who had chosen to participate. Then compare that behavior with the blatant sexual impropriety of modern day.