What is it Like to Die? Part 1 – Basic Stuff You Need to Know

Originally published in August 2014

When I had my heart attack, I was dead for about 30 minutes.  I do not have a specific memory of that experience, maybe because I was sedated when it happened.  I have some impressions that I will share in later posts along with my thoughts on death and what happens when we die.  This series will “get into the weeds” a little bit and I hope you will hang with me.  It’s stuff we don’t often think about and it may be the most important stuff I say in the blog.

Let’s start with a fundamental truth: our spirit, or soul, lives forever.  Once you exist, you never cease to exist.  At death, your soul is freed from your body, but it doesn’t perish.  Take a minute to let that sink in.

Jesus told us that, when we die, our souls will be taken to heaven where we will spend eternity with God or we will go to hell where we will spend eternity separated from God.  Heaven is a place of joy and fellowship, hell is a place of suffering (we see the consequences of decisions we can’t change) and darkness.  Hell isn’t something we like to talk about, but Jesus talked about it a lot.  It is real and he doesn’t want us there.

What heaven and hell have in common is that things happen, but time never passes.  Imagine the most peaceful and joy-filled time of your life, you look at the clock and it is stopped.  The peace and joy continue and time remains stopped.  Can this go on forever? Yes, it does.  Now imagine the worst time you ever had: fear, regret, panic, suffering and pain.  Imagine being trapped in that time.  You keep checking the clock and time has not passed.  Can this go on forever? Yes, it does.

So, the big question you should be asking is: How do I make sure that, when the time comes, I am going to heaven and not to hell?  Do  you meet the entry requirement?  To get into heaven, a person must be perfect without ever having sinned.  God is perfect and he cannot allow imperfect souls to be around Him.  That’s a problem because, on our own, we are not perfect.  That’s where Jesus comes in.

The consequence for our imperfection, or sin, is eternal death. Or, as Paul says, the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). When we sin, we earn death. Paul also confirms that we all have sinned and fall short of God’s perfect standard (Romans 3:23). We like to think that “sins” are the “big things” that we don’t do. But, the truth is, that sin is every time we do not follow God’s law perfectly. By that standard, I can’t begin to count how many times a day that I sin.

God knew that His standard was unreachable when he set it, that is why He planned an alternative. For us, because we sin, death is the necessary outcome. But, what if a person did live a perfect life? That person would not have “earned death” and would be entitled to go to heaven and spend eternity with God. That person is Jesus. He lived a perfect life, yet he gave up his life for us on the cross. Jesus died the death that we are all condemned to die. God allows us to claim Jesus’ death on the cross as the death that we should have received for our sins. Then, because the price for our sin has been paid, God wipes out its consequences and we can enter heaven as if we had never sinned. The Bible calls us “righteous” meaning that we now have right standing before God.  When we get to heaven and are asked, “Did you live a perfect life?”  We can say, “I have accepted the perfect life that Jesus lived for me.”

The last question is, if you don’t have this right standing with God and are sure you will go to heaven when you die, how do you get it? You simply need to ask. There are many versions of the “sinner’s prayer” that you can pray. I will give you one here. There is no magic formula. You are committing you life to God and asking Him to forgive you and change you. Will there be changes in your life? You bet. Will it always be smooth sailing? No. But, I can assure you that a life spent on earth at peace with God and eternity in heaven with Him will far outweigh any temporary problems you may face.

Here’s what you can pray. Don’t be afraid to be honest and fill in the gaps.

“Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Please take my life and make me the kind of person You want me to be.”

This prayer is from the Cru Web site.  If you want more information, follow this link.

If you have prayed this prayer for the first time, welcome to the kingdom of heaven! If you have prayed this prayer or something like it to recommit your life to Jesus, welcome back.  Now,  scroll back to the top of the page and click the header to go the blog main page if you are not there already.  Read the posts on daily prayer and daily Bible reading and get started.

On Death and Dying

I am not an expert on the topic of death and dying.  I have only died once and, obviously, I wasn’t very good at it because I am writing a blog post two years later.  But, the experience was still a cause for some reflection.  You can read about it starting here.  I originally wrote the reflections on death and dying from the Cleveland Clinic two years ago.

Like most of the posts on The Digital Disciple, the posts  were written to help me sort out my ideas and to share them with others who may find them later.  I know the process helped me and I hope it has helped others.

The posts approach the subject from a faith perspective.  Unless someone is talking only about the physiology of death and dying, I don’t see how it is possible to take a different perspective.  What happens up to the point of death may be physiology.  But, talking about what happens to the person when the person’s body dies involves faith.  It’s like talking about the beginning of the universe.  The discussion from the instant of the big bang may be science, but the discussion of the instant before the big bang is faith.  It’s hard to walk around the edges of either topic without crossing over.

You may have a different perspective and I invite you to share it in the comments.  Or, if you prefer, use the “Contact Me” link on the top of the page to sent me a private e-mail.

Welcome back to The Digital Disciple Blog

hs-1-250pxSeptember 8, 2016

Welcome to the relaunched Digital Disciple blog.  The blog is still about life’s journey and the lessons learned along the way.

I have begun by re-posting some pieces that I wrote from the Cleveland Clinic in 2014.  You will find them if you scroll to the bottom or select The Cleveland Clinic in the categories to the right.  I have also added a Site  Map (see the list of pages in the right column) that gives a short introduction to some of the content and makes things easier to find.

If you would like to receive e-mail notices of new posts, please fill out the subscription form on the top right side of the page.  All of the old subscriptions have been deleted.

 

A Simple Plan for Daily Bible Reading

You may have tried reading the Bible from front to back.  Genesis and Exodus are pretty exciting, but you fell asleep in Leviticus and gave up in Numbers.  You’re not alone and not without hope.

I recommend that folks try a daily reading plan where they read the Bible in a year.  That way, you are getting regular input from the Bible and you get to see God’s big picture.  You also aren’t just picking and choosing the good parts and avoiding the parts that make you uncomfortable.   I have done it for over 15 years now and it stays fresh.  I am always seeing something new.

Start by finding a Bible that is designed for annual reading, like the One Year Bible or find a reading plan that breaks it down for you.  I use the Olive Tree Bible app on my iPad and they have a host of reading plans you can select.  My preference is a plan where I am reading through the Bible chronologically with readings from the Old and New Testament each day.  There are so many choices available to you.  Visit your local Christian book store and they can help.  (I work for Family Christian and I know we have many options.)

Begin your Bible reading time with prayer, either as part of your devotional time or just ask God to open His word to you as you read it and make you sensitive to what He wants you to learn.  You will begin to see that God uses the regular input that you are receiving to shape your life and attitude for the better.  Paul calls it a “transforming” of the mind as we see life from God’s perspective and not our own.

As I said in an earlier post, the purpose for this time is to get regular Bible input that gives God the raw material to build positive change in your life.  As you read, you will have questions or ideas that you want to look into.  Keep a Bible reading journal (it could be part of your prayer journal if you have one) where you write down topics, questions, and ideas that you would like to investigate more deeply.

For the purposes of your daily reading, focus on what the Bible passage is saying and ask how it applies to you.  What truths can you apply to your life?  Does the passage identify sin that you need to confess?  Maybe it will give you direction in a problem that you are trying to solve.  Nothing jumps out at you today?  No problem, just stick with it.  The more you read the more it will begin to apply.  My physical therapist told me that the work I did one week would begin to show next week.  Bible reading is a similar cumulative process.  Give it time to build up.

It seems like Bible reading should be more complicated, but it isn’t.  It is a matter of discipline to read the Bible daily.  If you will do it, you will see the result in your life.  You can’t read the Bible daily and not be changed by it.

Now you have the two basic tools for spiritual growth and preparedness: prayer and Bible reading.  There’s more and I will talk about it in future posts.  If you are doing these two things, leave a comment with your approach and suggestions.  If you’re not, why not start today?

A Simple Plan for Daily Prayer

I suppose there are all sorts of complicated plans that you could develop for Bible reading and prayer, but I figure that the harder I make it, the less likely I am to do it.  So, I keep it simple. Simple is good for me.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to call this “devotional time.”  It is time spent with God talking to Him and reading His word.  I will talk in other posts about the kind of Bible study where you dig into specific topics or questions.

Start by picking a consistent time.  Many people like their devotional time in the mornings before they start the day.  My time is in the evening as I close my day.  The reason was more by default than by plan and you can read about it here.  [Editor’s note – since writing this, I have changed to a morning devotional time.] If you can take time in the morning, I think that is a good choice.  Whatever time you pick, be consistent.  You want this to become a habit and that takes a period of consistent repetition.

Open your time with prayer.  Putting aside all the theological stuff, prayer is talking to God.  Does God already know you and what you need, sure, but He likes to hear from you.  Haven’t prayed in a while.  No problem, a simple model to get you started is the acronym ACTS.

“A” stands for acknowledgement or adoration.  Begin by acknowledging that you are talking to the God of the universe.  It doesn’t need to be overly formal.  As you read Jesus prayers or the Psalms, you will get an idea of how to start.  You may just start with, “Dear God, thank you that you want to spend time with me and that you care for me.  Please guide me as I pray because I am new at this.”  The more comfortable you become the easier it will be to get started.

“C” is for confession.  We all fall down.  Even the best people fail and normal people mess up all the time.  God’s standard is perfection.  He is perfect and he wants us to be perfect.  Of course, we can’t be perfect on our own and I’ll write more on that later.  I like to think of confession as “clearing the air” with God.  He knows where I have failed, I know where I have failed, let’s get it out there and admit.  The great thing about confession is that I can ask for forgiveness, cleansing and healing.  Tell God where you have failed and where you need Him.  Can’t think of anything to confess?  Ask God to show you.  If you keep in mind the two greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself, you will probably have enough to get started.

“T” is for thanksgiving.  What are you thankful for?  How has God blessed you?  Let Him know that you noticed and you are thankful for it.  The Bible teaches that we should be thankful in all circumstances and not just for the good things.  You may not be there there yet, but there are things in your life to be thankful for.  As you grow in this area, you will be able to thank God for the struggles and trials because He will use them to make you look like Jesus.  As hard as it may be to believe, that is His ultimate goal, that we become more like Jesus every day.

“S” is for supplication, a fancy word for “asking for stuff” that rounds out the acronym and makes is easy to remember.  You may have thought of prayer as only asking for stuff, I hope this helps you see that there is more to it than that.  At the same time, you might believe that asking for stuff is selfish or wrong.  It’s OK to take your cares and concerns to God and ask Him to get involved.  You can pray for yourself and for other people.  God wants you to bring your cares and concerns to Him and He will respond.  Keep a prayer journal.  Write down the things you are praying about and asking God to get involved in and then write down how He responds.  It is a great faith-building experience.

I always close my prayer with “In Jesus name, amen”  The “amen” is just how Christians traditionally say “OK, I’m finished praying now.”  The “in Jesus name” is important because Jesus tells to pray in his name.  So, I’m not going to change that.  Again, there is a lot of theology that supports it.  But, basically, it is through Jesus that we have the right to pray and ask God for anything.   That’s enough reason for me to close with ‘In Jesus name, amen.”

There you have it.  As you grow comfortable with prayer, you won’t need this model.  Just like building a relationship with anyone else, as you build your relationship with God, you will find that you have a lot to talk about and that you and God are talking all the time.  Pick a time and place and get started.  Commit to it now.   Next I will talk about a simple Bible reading plan that I have used for years to get daily input from the Bible.

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Pray Now

Mark 9:14-28:  [14] *And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. [15] And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him [Jesus], were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. [16] And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” [17] And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. [18] And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and *they were not able.” [19] And he answered them, “O *faithless generation, *how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”[20] And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it *convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. [21] And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. [22] And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But *if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” [23] And Jesus said to him, *“If you can! *All things are possible for one who believes.” [24] Immediately the father of the child cried out * and said, “I believe; *help my unbelief!” [25] And when Jesus saw that *a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, *“You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” [26] And after crying out and *convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” [27] But Jesus *took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. [28] And when he had *entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” [29] And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

One of the things I have noticed as we are going through this process is that I don’t worry about the outcome.  [You can read the original series of posts from 2014 starting here.]  At this point, it appears that God will heal me completely and that I will walk again. There have been enough worrisome things happen to us that I might fret a little about what is next or what we will do.  But, instead I find a peace that passes understanding and the assurance that comes from knowing that God holds the future.  He has already determined what will happen and my responsibility is to follow His leading and cooperate.

This conclusion is not based on some blinding revelation from God but, rather, on the years I have spent building a foundation of prayer, Bible study, and studying God’s character.  I believe in an unchanging God who loves me unconditionally and who will work all things together for my good because I am called according to His purpose  (Romans 8:28-30).  All of the truth that I have stored up is now ready to use and God has the raw material to build this situation into the outcome that He desires.  I could not imagine coming into this situation unprepared.  I would be overwhelmed with questions about why bad things happen to good people, why it feels like God is punishing me, and what would have happened if I died.  I will talk about all of those topics over the next days and weeks.

When you go on a vacation, you probably plan for it months in advance.  A journey like I am on starts in a heartbeat.  You must always be ready.  I chose the scripture for the opening because it highlights that important point.  Mark tells us that Jesus told the disciples that they could not cast out the unclean spirit because this kind only comes out with prayer.  But, as you read, Jesus did not pray, he simply commanded it to leave.  The disciples couldn’t command the spirit to leave and apparently did not think to pray.  Jesus, as the Son of God, clearly had authority to simply banish the spirit.  But, Jesus was also a man of prayer.  This event was the day after the transfiguration.  Jesus was undoubtedly up early and in prayer about his day.  He was ready when he encountered the boy with the unclean spirit.  The spirit came out with prayer because Jesus had gone into the situation with prayer.

My goal is to live in a state of readiness.  I don’t know what I will encounter, but I know that there will be trials and temptations along the way.  And, sometimes, there are experiences like I have had that are completely unforeseeable.  On June 12, I never would have expected to be where I am today.  Without the years I spent in prayer, Bible study, and learning about God, I never would have been ready.  This has been the greatest physical challenge I have ever faced.   The spiritual battle has been ferocious,  there is an adversary, and for some reason he does not want me well.  But, I am trusting the grace and mercy of my unchanging God to lead me through this process and bring me out stronger and better because of it.

What should you be doing?  I will talk in my next post about my approach to daily Bible study and a simple outline for jump-starting your prayer life.  Think of it as preparing your “life’s journey emergence suitcase.”  You want it filled with prayer, Bible and a firm knowledge of who God is.  Sometimes you will pull things out of it as you need them and sometimes you may be called to live out of it for a while.  Either way, you want it to be ready.

Oh Lord, Stuck in Cleveland Again

November 2014

The title of the post says it all.  I was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic with respiratory issues on Thursday evening.  The good news is that we got here by car (not helicopter) and I should be out on Tuesday.  I picked up a chest cold and the steroids weren’t working at home so we made the trip before I hit the critical stage.  It was a good decision that will save me time on the other end.

I spent about 24 hours in ICU getting stabilized and then was moved to a regular floor.  I tested positive for Parainfluenza type 2 (a respiratory condition affecting kids and immune suppressed patients) and that has landed me in isolation.  I hope to get permission to walk the hall later today but a walk down to Starbucks is probably not in the cards.

In ICU, I was able to meet one of the doctors who performed CPR on me for 30 minutes in June.  It was great to shake his hand.  Mary Ann got to share with him that we know God is in control and we were thankful that He had people like Dr. Choi lined up to work on me when I needed it.  I hope the meeting was as encouraging for him as it was for me.  I have been able to see several other of my Cleveland friends and doctors who we met this summer.  Derrick, the “Chief Encourager” from physical therapy dropped in to see me and pray with me on Friday.

I can report that the menu hasn’t changed since this summer (just in case you wondered).  My taste buds are working better now, so I can taste the food.  It doesn’t necessarily taste better, but it doesn’t all taste the same either.

Please pray for a continued quick recovery and that I will be out on Tuesday.  Also, join us in thanking God for the timing in getting here early.  If I need to make this trip, this is the preferred way to do it.  I have my next post floating around in my head and may try to get it written, or at least started, while I am here.  God bless you all and thanks for your prayers and support.  I hope you have a great Thanksgiving with family and friends.

Update from Cincinnati

September 22, 2014

It has been a few weeks since my last update and, in this case, no news has been good news.  My recovery continues to run ahead of the timeline they expected when I left the Clinic.  I am walking around the house with no support and only take a cane when we go out.  I use the cane mainly to let people know that I am not completely stable walking.  My in-home OT stopped last week and my in-home PT will stop next week.  Thanks to all of you for your continued prayers and support.  I will be going to the Clinic in two weeks for a follow-up appointment.

This is my second week of working full time.  It is great to be back.  I am looking forward to my next trip to Grand Rapids.  The folks there are not pressuring me to come up (in fact they want to be sure I am good and ready before I make the trip), but I miss seeing the folks that have played such an important part in our lives over the last 3 months.

You may have noticed that the blog posts have slowed down since I started back to work.  I will stay at it.   Thank you for taking the time to read them and letting me know that they have been helpful for you.  I am trying to put quality ahead of quantity and that takes time.

Thanks again for your prayers and support.  Remember, if I can be praying for you, please leave a comment or e-mail me at: david@thedigitaldisciple.net.

Update from Cincinnati August 30, 2014

I had intended to have a post up earlier this weekend with an update for the week. But, mostly for good reasons, I am just now clicking away at the keyboard late on Sunday evening.

After getting adjusted to being home last week, this week began what will be a more normal schedule.  I am back to being the breakfast cook, a job that I enjoy, and I am able to do more around the house.  Mary Ann and I were talking today that some of the accommodations we made so that I could come home are already unnecessary and others will be going away soon.  We have parked the wheelchair except for long shopping trips and I am using the walker around the house and most of the time when we go out.  It is probably only a week or two before I can start driving.  As promised, I will warn the locals beforehand.

I started Physical and Occupational Therapy this week.  PT is focused on leg strength and OT is focused on arm strength.  As I have mentioned before, it takes a lot longer to get the muscle back than it does to lose it. But, I see steady progress and the more I do, the more I can do.  I hope to be walking with a cane soon and taking the steps without the chair lift.

I started working part time this week and will add a few more hours next week.  I will begin full-time the week of September 8th.  It has been great to get involved with the business again.  We had a fairly quiet summer, legally speaking, and some projects are beginning to heat up, so now is a good time to be coming back.

I also attended my first church Executive Board meeting since May.  It was great to be back. I missed the people more than I thought.

The big news is that we were able to get the house flipped this week.  A group of people from church and some friends and neighbors spent about two hours on Wednesday evening moving and assembling furniture.  I was amazed by how much we accomplished in such a short period of time.  My office is nearly together and should be finished by the end of the day tomorrow.  I’ll include a picture in my next post to let you see how it turned out.

The week ended with me meeting up with a men’s fellowship group that Mike (our son-in-law) and I started last spring.  We only had a few meetings before my trip to the clinic.  It was great to be back at Coffee Please in Madeira at 6:00 AM this past Friday.  We are going to be studying Timothy Keller’s book, The Reason for God.

There is a new prayer request, in addition to the standing request for prayer that my recovery goes quickly and I stay healthy.  Sarah picked up a flu bug or some this week and has been sick off and on since about Tuesday.  Please pray that she will get over it.  We have been to the doctor’s office twice this week with her.  We have our own room there. The last time got we some meds that seem to be helping.

I plan to get back to the Bible series that I started a few weeks ago.  As always, I appreciate the prayers and support we have received from you.  If I can be praying for you or if I can help you in any way, please let me know.