Sunday, July 4, 2010

His Many Mansions - Day 2

The air was chilly the next morning as Ed traveled in a taxi to his rendezvous at the Café to meet Tom, who, at that same moment, was bundled up in his small compact car with a heater that wouldn’t keep the fog off the windshield. As Ed paid the cabby and stepped into Nora’s, he saw Tom over at a corner booth by the window. Tom still had his overcoat on and was trying to take off the chill by wrapping his hands around a cup of hot chocolate, which had small marshmallows floating on top. “Mornin’ Tom,” Ed greeted as he approached his friend.

“It sure is that ... and a cold one to boot,” Tom replied as Ed took off his coat and slipped into the booth opposite his companion.

As the waitress approached the booth where the two men sat, she asked, “What can I get for ya’ this mornin’,” she inquired of Ed — “Coffee?”

“That’ll be fine—black please. Oh, and throw in a Danish too.”

“You got it,” she said, as she scribbled down the order, turned, and walking back behind the counter.

In a few moments, the young waitress returned with a steaming cup of black coffee and a large bun with sweet sticky stuff on top for which Nora’s was famous.

As the two friends quietly relaxed for a moment, Tom sipped his hot chocolate and ate the little marshmallows as he picked them out one by one. Ed methodically broke off pieces of his pastry and savored them after dipping them in his coffee. Out of the window they noticed the wind picking up a little; and the cold air was started to bring in snow flurries.

They weren’t too worried about that, though, they both just worked about a block away from where they were sitting—Tom being an investigative reporter for the Daily Globe, the local newspaper, and Ed the small-loan manager at City Bank. Not only that, they were enjoying the coziness of their surroundings. Nora’s was a nicely furnished and well decorated Café—no ordinary “greasy spoon” type of diner. It not only offered an adequate menu of well prepared and popular cuisine, it was always clean, well cared for with window curtains, real linen table cloths and napkins, and even sported a stone fireplace with real wood logs (not the artificial gas ones) that provided a feeling of home on days like this one. This is where Tom chose to sit this particular morning—in the booth closest to the fire.

Ed had to be to work in his office by nine, but Tom’s hours were more flexible. Aware of the time restraint, Ed launched into the purpose of their getting together. As he drank down his last drop of coffee and munched his final piece of Danish, he said, “You know, going back to our discussion, yesterday, I am starting to see that many doctrinal beliefs, often accepted because of tradition, do not necessarily coincide with what scripture teaches.

“Last evening I was visiting with a neighbor of mine that belongs to another church. I mentioned some of the things we talked about during our discussion yesterday, but he said he couldn’t quite agree with it all. He said that when the body dies, a man’s thoughts perish and that the dead do not know anything; he said there is no human consciousness between death and the resurrection. I asked, Where does it say that in the Bible? He gave me a couple of references off the top of his head, so I went home and looked them up. Here, I wrote them down. The first is Psalms 146:4, where it says, ‘His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.’ And the other is found in Ecclesiastes, Chapter 9 verse 5: ‘For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.’ What do you think of all of this, Tom?”

“For some people, these verses may sound sufficient in trying to justify that belief," Tom replied. "To prove the doctrine, the verses offered are obviously taken out of context from consideration of the entire subject. This method of proving a point is called ‘proof-texting,’ and it’s not really a valid method of teaching truth, although such a method can help substantiate some teachings. I’m familiar with the doctrine, and if the person would travel on to Chapter 12:7 of Ecclesiastes, they will read that, ‘... the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.’ Here we see that the spirit of man, his breath of life, returns to God. Why would it return to God if it was dead like the body? Do you remember the story of the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus that we discussed yesterday?”

“Yes I do, but isn’t that story an allegory?”

“I am sure it is,” replied Tom. “An allegory is similar to a parable in that it is used for teaching or explaining something; but Jesus never taught a false doctrine nor used a story to imply one. So, for me at least, that story helps point out that your neighbor’s belief is not sound, as does the fact that Moses and Elias appeared to Peter, James and John on Mount Transfiguration. Remember in our discussions that we have also referred to those people who have had near-death experiences? And...”

“Yes, I remember,” Ed interrupted, “But Satan’s the great deceiver, and couldn’t these people have been deceived in telling such stories?”

“Of course! He is the greatest deceiver,” Tom answered. “But can we honestly condemn everything we prejudicially disbelieve as being inspired by the devil? The Catholic believes that the Protestant is inspired of the devil; the Protestant believes the Mormon is deceived; the Mormon believes the Jehovah’s Witness is directed by Satan; the Jehovah’s Witness believes the Seventh-day Adventist is following Beelzebub; the Seventh-day Adventist believes that Catholicism was instigated by Lucifer; and around, and around it goes, and there seems to be no end to it. All church-going people, especially from birth, are indoctrinated in their specific religion; they are taught to be prejudice against others and bias towards their own. And can everyone be right in their doctrine when all believe opposing ideas? Obviously not.”

“I sure see that confusion around me every day,” observed Ed. “But should we go around saying one person is right in their belief and another wrong?”

“Ed, it’s not so much as one being right and another wrong. What should be considered is what is truth and what is not. Simply put—truth is truth. But even a half-truth is not truth. It’s a lie designed to deceive; that’s the devil’s seductive devise, and that’s a good reason why we need spiritual discernment. Just because we don’t want to believe something will not make a truth a lie, neither with it make a lie a truth.

Tom persisted. “You know, Ed, it’s easy to blame everything you don’t like on the devil. Quite a few years ago there was a TV comedian named Flip Wilson who had a popular saying when he did something wrong. He would say, “The devil made me do it.” Though comical in it’s setting, such statements too often reflect the attitudes of many people. They want to blame their troubles and sins on Satan or someone else, or they want to blame doctrine they feel uncomfortable with as Satanically inspired. That’s an easy “cop-out” from an uneasy discussion. Such justification is an attempt to circumvent an issue without further investigation.

“In Proverbs 18:13 we read,” quoted Tom, “‘He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.’ I believe the message of this scripture is that God does not want us to willy-nilly believe something just because we were taught it, or reject it just because it’s uncomfortable upon first hearing; at least not without a little forethought, further scriptural investigation and a little prayer. After that, at least, we will then have something to base our acceptance or rejection upon.

“Now I don’t believe we need to stick our heads into every garbage can to find a tasty morsel,” Tom continued, “but there are just too many stories about people who have had near-death experiences to ignore them. I feel they should, at least, be given some serious consideration before relegating them to hell’s fire. Those are stories that will NOT be accepted by people who espouse the doctrine that your neighbor believes in. Because their belief system is so ingrained, they must refuse to believe such stories or they might feel they have been living a lie. Some just can’t face that idea so they automatically put up their “protective wall” with a sign that says, “No Trespassing!”

Going on, Tom declares, “Personally, I have known at least four people who have shared stories about their own near-death experience, and I have never known any of them to ever lie to me, nor that any of them have ever been taken up with fanciful illusions. The belief, that the dead know not anything when they die, probably comes from the fact that many do not understand the true relationship between the spirit and the body.”

“How is that,” Ed inquired?

“Let me illustrate: The Holy Bible lets us know that man’s spirit is eternal and everlasting. In Genesis 2 and 7 the word says that God formed man from the ground and breathed into him the breath of life. What is this “breath of life”? The breath of life is nothing more than man’s life-giving spirit. This scripture simply means that God places into man’s physical-bodily-creation his eternal spirit. Then ‘man became a living soul.’ We all should know that a man’s physical mortal body is dead without the spirit of that man. It is his eternal spirit, the breath of life, that animates the physical and gives it life and purpose. Together, the spirit and the body constitute the ‘soul.’ Man becomes a living soul when the breath of life, his spirit, enters his body. So, as it says in Genesis, ‘man BECAME a living soul’—meaning, the eternal spirit of man now has a physical body in which to dwell. The question is: Where does the spirit of man go when the body of man dies?”

“Now that question has been the subject of our discussion,” answered Ed. “From what you said I assume that when the body dies it is no longer a suitable place for the spirit of man to dwell, so the spirit leaves the body.”

“That’s right,” Tom interrupted enthusiastically. “When the body dies, this does not mean that the spirit of man also dies. When the body dies, the spirit of man departs from his previous mortal remains and moves on into another dimension of existence to await the resurrection. This is simply the definition of death.

“A scripture that shows your friend’s doctrine false — meaning the doctrine that the spirit is dead or sleeps after the body dies—can be found in Luke 23:39-43.These verses explain that, although the bodies of both Jesus and the thief next to Him were placed in separate graves, their spirits would be together in another place—a place called ‘paradise.’ That’s a scripture we discussed yesterday, remember?”

“Yes, I remember it well. We spent quite some time on it, and I get your point. Yesterday you pointed out 1 Peter 3:18-20, where we are taught that Jesus, after His death and before His resurrection, went and preached to some disobedient spirits. Considering this scripture, I guess the question could be asked, How could those spirits await the visitation of the Lord and learn anything if they were asleep? Off course these verses go hand-in-hand with the fourth Chapter of First Peter, verse 6, that we also covered yesterday, the one about the gospel being preached to those who are dead, that they might be judged as men are in the flesh, but live unto God in the spirit.

“You know, come to think of it,” said Ed, “I remember a comment someone made, not very long ago, about God not being confined by time restraints as we mortals are, and that when we die in the Lord, the next thing we remember is that we are raised up and come back with Him at His great coming, even though we might have been dead a thousand years. He said that that time period will be as quick as closing and opening your eyes. However, from what we know from scripture, out spirits do not sleep but are alive and alert, even though our bodies may lie in the ground.

“Along that same line,” Ed went on, “I would like to followup on yesterday’s discussion. You just mentioned the resurrection, and that brings me to what I want to ask you about this morning.

“Last night,” he continued, “I was reading in First Corinthians 15. The entire chapter seems to be about the resurrection. In verse 35 the Apostle Paul asked, ‘How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?’ He explained in verses 38 and 39 that as there are differences between the flesh of man, beasts, fish and birds, there will also be differences in resurrected bodies. This seems to indicate that there might be differences in our resurrection. Also, as to emphasize the vast differences, Paul proceeds to compare them to some of the heavenly bodies in verses 38 through 41. One he compares to the glory of the sun, another to the lesser glory of the moon, and another to the even lower glories of the stars. Then he said that as one star was different from another star, so would be the resurrection. In saying all of this, I assume he was meaning that one resurrected body will be different from another, as seems to be pointed out by verses 41 and 42. Do you have a take on this?”

Tom, downing his last marshmallow and enjoying the final drop of cocoa said, “You have hit upon a concept of the resurrection that is difficult for many to comprehend. What you have discovered for yourself is that this is all in keeping with the Savior’s message when He said, ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you,’ as we read in John 14:2. In other words, if there were not many mansions or rewards in the life to come, Jesus would have told us so. And since He said there are many mansions, indeed, there must be.”

Taking a napkin and wiping the side of his mouth, Tom continued, “Not long ago I read a book entitled, Return from Tomorrow, by a George G. Ritchie. The book is an account of his ‘Near-death Experience,’ as that type of experience is referred to by some. A near-death experience, as you may know, is when someone dies and goes beyond this life into the next and then returns to mortality. It is not a death and a resurrection; it is simply a death where the person is permitted to return back to mortal life to still await their final demise. Mr. Ritchie is one of many who have had this experience.”

“Yes, I am familiar with such accounts,” stated Ed. “In fact, I think I still have a book similar to that in my book case somewhere. But its been quite a while since I read it, though.”

Tom asked, “Can you see if you can dig it up? I’d be interested in borrowing it if you don’t mind.

“Anyway,” Tom went on, “In his book, Mr. Ritchie verifies that there are more than only one heaven. When he died he was taken by a guide and entered a heaven, a place where there was love, peace, music, colors, and beauty beyond description. While there, he said he had a chance to visit with Jesus. During the time while in this heavenly place, he was also permitted to see another heaven. ... You know, I believe I still have that book out in my car. Hold on a minute while I run and see if it’s still there.”

As Tom left for his car, the waitress came over to clean off the table. “Anything else?” she asked.

“No, I don’t think so for now. We would just like to sit for a few more minutes by the fire before we take off to work, if you don’t mind.”

“Help yourself. If you change your mind and want something, just give me a call,” she said as she went over to clean another table.

It wasn’t long before Tom was back, not with only one book, but two. “I found that book I told you about, plus another one to which we might refer.

Settling back into his original spot, Tom opened Ritchie’s book to page 72. “About that scene I mentioned a moment ago; of it Mr. Ritchie wrote: ‘And then I saw, infinitely far off, far too distant to be visible with any kind of sight I knew of ... a city. A glowing, seemingly endless city, bright enough to be seen over all the unimaginable distance between. The brightness seemed to shine from the very walls and streets of this place, and from beings which I could now discern moving about within it. In fact, the city and everything in it seemed to be made of light, even as the Figure at my side was made of light.... Could these radiant beings, I wondered, amazed, be those who had indeed kept Jesus the focus of their lives? Was I seeing at last ones who had looked for Him in everything? Looked so well and so closely that they had been changed into His very likeness? ... I knew that my imperfect sight could not now sustain more than an instant’s glimpse of this real, this ultimate heaven.’”

“Now that’s profound,” Ed responded. “It’s far different than what most people believe.”

“Yes, it is!” Tom exclaimed. “Here’s another book which I highly recommend. It’s Elane Durham’s, I Stand All Amazed, which she wrote about her near-death experience. She not only visited with Christ, during her experience, but He also showed her multiple heavens. About these she said, ‘One was very close, and was whitish with a sort of shadowed or marbled appearance, sort of like mother-of-pearl. The other, higher and farther away, was a pure, brilliant white—the same sort of glorious white I had seen in Christ’s clothing, and which made even the sun seem dim by comparison.’”

“She said she viewed ‘three distinct and specific heavens or eternal destinations’ she could go to,” Tom explained, as he continued sharing from pages 61 and 62. “She also mentioned that, ‘The highest or most distant of these was the most desirable to me, and I expressed that feeling to the angel. But I was given to understand that I had to believe in Christ so thoroughly that I was willing to become one of his ‘select ones,’ and to do the work of a select one, if I really wanted Christ to take me there. ... This, he informed me, meant following the stricter laws and ordinances of Christ that most others would disdain—the laws of willingly giving up all my sins and mistakes to Christ, practicing obedience to all God’s commandments, loving others without condition, and serving them with joy for all the days of my life.... Such sacrifice was the only way an accountable person such as myself could obtain the spiritual growth needed to live in that highest realm. It was the only way an accountable person such as myself could become one of God’s select ones.’”

“If true,” Ed maintained, excitedly, “these experiences not only seem to be in harmony with the Savior’s message about their being ‘many mansions’ in His Father’s house, but also in keeping with what Paul said in Second Corinthians 12:2 when he declared that he knew of one ‘caught up to the third heaven’. It seems logical to me that if there is a third heaven, there at least has to be a first and a second; and only God knows how many.”

“Yes, I feel you are right!” said Tom. “And concerning the resurrection we talked about a moment ago, we read where all will be resurrected, ‘they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.’ Concerning the two resurrections, that of the first and the second, it appears that those confined to the spirit prison will come forth during the second resurrection, while those blessed in paradise will come forth during the first. But that is only as it appears, for God is the final judge.

“I know that I’m not the biblical scholar you are, Tom, but I’ve often wondered what the Lord thinks of all of the doctrinal bickering that goes on among people of various faiths. The diversity is such that it appears to cause, not only division, but contention as well among those who claim to be God’s people.” And those ...

“Well, I don’t know much about being any Bible scholar,” Tom quickly injected, “But you are right about doctrine being divisive. However, all of this doctrinal confusion will all be set straight when the Savior finally returns. Then we’ll be taught by One who understands scripture and what true doctrine really is. Not only that but ...”

“Wow,” Ed interrupted, “Look at that clock! I don’t mean to be rude, but I need to be heading to the office for an appointment that’s arriving in just a few minutes. Let’s get together again and talk some more. But, for now I’ve got’a scoot.

“That’ll be great ... soon I hope,” said Tom, as he slid out of the booth and fumbled in his pocket for a generous tip, while Ed slipped on his coat.

Shaking hands and exchanging smiles as they both stepped out of the Café onto the snowy and busy sidewalk, Ed replied, “Sounds good! ... Catch you later?”

“Right,” said Tom, as he held out his hands in front of him and watched a few flakes gently fall on them. Then, looking up into the gray sky and feeling a chilly breeze pick up, he pulled his coat collar snugly around his neck, stuck his hands into his coat pocket, and headed for his office.