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Chapter 3

Later that evening, back on Earth

    Already in his pajamas, Tony finished brushing his teeth then slid into bed.  Anna couldn't help but notice that Tony was rather quiet the entire evening.  She wasn't sure if something was bothering him, or if he just wasn't feeling well.  

    "Is something wrong?"  Anna asked in a soft voice and with heartfelt concern. "You're just not your usual, talkative self tonight.  Either there's something on your mind, or you're getting sick"

    "Maybe both," Tony responded. "I've been feeling a little off since dinner.  I'm sure it's just gas.  Maybe the pizza was just a little too spicy for me.  But I keep thinking about the matter-of-fact way that the guy at the mall--Joe, I think his name was--outright refused to hear the Truth about Jesus.  He was so sure he already had all of the answers even though he wasn't even sure of what he believed.  I guess it just bothers me that so many people will consider anything and everything except the Truth of Jesus.  So many people think they know the truth, and won't find out otherwise until it's too late.  It's frustrating."

    "Don't let it get to you, Honey. I've talked to a lot of people about Jesus, and that seems to be what usually happens.  They just don't want to be bothered with hearing about it.  I think that deep down inside, on some level, people know that what you're telling them is true, but their pride and stubbornness make them want to fight it.  Maybe they realize that if they listen, they'll have to actually make a decision to either accept Christ or reject Him.  And, if they do accept what you're telling them, then they have to make some major decisions and changes in their lives.  I think that, deep down inside, people are convinced that as long as they don't deal with the whole Jesus thing, they can just keep living the way they're living."

    "But," Tony interjected, "life gets better after you're saved--I'm not saying easier, but better.  I never realized how little purpose and direction I had in my life until after I got saved.  After all these years, I still remember very clearly how much more direction and purpose I felt after the whole 'born-again' experience."

    "Yea, but people don't know that,"  Anna continued. "They can't know what life will be like after they're saved until after they're saved.  I know it gets frustrating sometimes, but don't forget that even the Bible says many people will never listen.  Some will listen, some will come around later, but some will just never listen.  It's not our job to convince them, it's our job to tell them.  As long as you tell people about Jesus, you're doing all you're expected to do to help them find the Truth.  So, don't worry too much about whether or not people listen, just make sure you're at least telling them.  It's their choice to accept it or reject it."

    Tony winced as his gas pain got a little more severe, and he started to get a dull ache in his shoulder.  "I guess it's just been a longer day than I thought.  I think I'm gonna just go to sleep and hopefully feel better in the morning--physically and emotionally."

    "Good night dear."  Anna whispered as she gently and lovingly kissed Tony on the forehead.  Within a minute or two, Tony was fast asleep.


4:00am wake-up call

    In a heavy sweat, Tony was jolted awake when the gas pain in his chest suddenly increased.  He decided to get a drink of water, wait a minute or two, and if the pain didn't subside, he would wake up Anna and go to the hospital.  Tony slipped out of bed and walked into the bathroom.  As he reached for the glass next to the sink, the dull ache in his chest became a heavy squeeze that literally took his breath away.  The pain in his arm became so severe that he couldn't lift it.  The heaviness in his chest grew, the pain in his arm became unbearable, and a sharp pain shot through his jaw.  He tried with all of his strength to yell out to Anna, but his body was doubled over in indescribable pain leaving him unable to take a deep enough breath to make any sound but a soft, guttural groan.  Tony was relieved when the pain suddenly subsided, but now there was a loud, annoying ringing in his ears.  Tony was very grateful to trade all of that gut-wrenching pain for a mere ringing in his ears.  

    Within a few seconds, the ringing in his ears diminished to nothing.  Tony was stunned to be looking at himself laying on the bathroom floor.  His body  had taken on a bluish hue, leading Tony to conclude that his heart had stopped.  With that thought, the visual image of the bathroom took on a surrealistic feel.  Not quite cartoon, but not quite real either.  As Tony continued to gaze down on his lifeless body,  he was surprised at how pathetic, worthless and dirty his body now seemed to him.  Not physically dirty--maybe "dirty" wasn't the right word.  His body just seemed disgusting in some way--no, the word "disgusting" didn't fit either.  He didn't really know what word to use to describe how revolting the dead body on the bathroom floor now appeared to him; but, he did know that he didn't want to look at it any longer.  Tony had just completed that last thought when he felt the sensation of being very quickly swept up and out of the bathroom.  It was much like the feeling someone experiences the moment they descend the first hill on a roller coaster ride.  Tony got a very brief glimpse of the outside of his house when, with a sound like a water fall and rushing wind, Tony watched the visual image of his house rapidly shrink to nothing but a dot, and then disappear completely.  At that very instant, Tony found himself in some sort of tunnel, or deep valley.  He couldn't really see it well enough to discern which it was, but he definitely had the feeling of traveling along at high speed inside of--something.  This experience was so unexpected and inexplicable that Tony was dumbfounded by the fact that he wasn't feeling any fear.  He felt relieved, relaxed and sort of peaceful--but no fear whatsoever.


One For Heaven


     As Tony continued to fly along the deep valley in which he now found himself, he became full of excitement and anticipation.  It was much like watching an exciting movie, anxiously waiting to see what would happen next. Tony remembered that often, during his childhood, his parents would quote a verse from the Bible--the Lord's prayer--that said "though I walk through the the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."  With all that was suddenly happening to him, Tony found that verse to be very comforting.  Maybe this valley is the valley of the shadow of death.  The valley itself was so dark and obscured that he could certainly see that the "shadow" part made perfect sense.

    "Why isn't this weird experience scary?"  Tony thought; "I would think that something like this would be terrifying."  But still he felt no fear, no stress, just a feeling of anticipation.

    Far off in the distance, toward what Tony assumed to be the other end of the valley, he was able to roughly make out a small dot of white light.  It was like looking up at the darkest night sky he had ever seen at the brightest, most brilliantly white star he could possibly imagine.  Even though it was nothing but a small pinpoint of light, Tony couldn't get over how intensely white and bright it was.  He also couldn't get over the feeling of warmth, love and--perfection.  Although the word perfection seemed so inadequate, it was the only word that at least came close to describing the warm feelings that were making his skin and his senses tingle.  
    With the same sound of a water fall and rushing wind that Tony had heard when he was whisked from his house, he saw two human figures slide up next to him, one on each side.  Tony could tell that they were wearing some sort of white gowns or robes, but they were emitting a light so white and intense that Tony's eyes were unable to make out any real detail.

    "Are these angels?"  Tony wondered to himself; "If these are angels, then I must be dead.  I don't feel dead."

    The expression "I don't feel dead" struck Tony as funny and he let out a barely audible chuckle.  Tony couldn't explain it, but he truly didn't feel dead. To him, the experience was like going to visit someplace you had never been before.  Like getting on a jet, then with no perception of the passage of time, stepping off the jet in a new, wondrous place that instilled anticipation and excitement at what might happen next.  Tony began to regard the dead body he left laying on the bathroom floor as a home he used to live in before moving to someplace new.  The feelings of peace, comfort and safety were beginning to make Tony feel almost giddy--like a small child at Christmas time.  He suddenly realized why his dead body seemed like "a home he used to live in"--this new place was beginning to feel more and more like home.

    "Are...are you angels?" Tony managed to ask, "Am I...home?"

    With a soft, amused laugh, the entity on Tony's right said "Yes, we are angels, creations just as you are; but, you are not home--not quite yet.  We are sent to you to take you home."

    Since it had now grown noticeably larger, Tony was certain that the bright light at the other end of the valley was getting closer.  The feeling of warmth, love and perfection he had begun to feel when first laying eyes on the light, began to fill him.  Yes, fill him.  As if something had always been missing from his very existence and he never knew it until now.  The word "fill" seemed too feeble to describe the sensation, but Tony could not think of a better way to explain the sensation of having everything that was ever missing from his soul, slowly being added back.  

    "If these beings with me are angels," Tony thought to himself, "then that bright light at the end of this valley must be--Jesus!"  The thought of meeting Jesus face to face took Tony's level of excitement and giddiness even higher.  Even as a child, Tony had never felt the overwhelming wash of excitement, hope, anticipation and wonder that he was feeling right now.

    While the point of light continued to grow larger and closer, Tony's eyes seemed to be adjusting to the intensity of the light from the end of the valley, as well as that emanating from his two angel guides.  Tony could see what could be described as wisps, or clouds, of glowing light pouring out from the point at the end of the valley; and he could also now see a bit more detail in his angel friends.  They appeared to be in their thirties although, to be honest, the concept of time was beginning to feel somewhat foreign now.  They were male, clean-shaven and with shoulder length hair.  Tony couldn't really discern the color of their hair since their entire being was made up of pure white light rather than color.  Both angels were about his height and had a look of anticipation which, much like Tony's, grew more obvious the closer they got to that distant point of light.

    With another waterfall, rushing wind, swishing sound, Tony and the two angels were suddenly joined by two additional entities.  These didn't look quite the same as the first two angels.  They were glowing just as brightly, but had a less ethereal look to them.  Tony was not sure exactly why, but they seemed familiar to him--then he realized why--"Mom and Dad?  Is that you?"  Amidst joyous laughter from both angels, there was a resounding "yes" in answer to Tony's question.  He wasn't sure how much more excitement he could take.  Things just kept getting better and better.  Seeing his parents again, after they had been killed in a car accident over twenty years ago, began to overwhelm Tony.  He hollered out in joy; no real words, just a loud, joyous yell as he and his parents joined in an embrace.

    "Thank you both for raising me to love Jesus!" Tony said, choking back tears. "I don't know where to begin to thank you for making sure I would be safe for eternity!"

    "Tony,"  his mother responded, "you sure don't have to thank us for that.  It was our job as parents to raise you as best we could."

    "And if we hadn't raised you to love and worship Jesus," Tony's father added, " then some other Christian would eventually have been sent to tell you about Him.  You listened right away when you were told the Truth as a child, but you would have also recognized the Truth as a teen or adult."

    Tony's mother continued, "There is so much that we can hardly wait to show you.  Wait until you see, Tony, wait until you see!  It's so beautiful,  There's light, laughter and warmth.  And LOVE--oh Tony, just wait until you feel how much you are truly loved by your Creator!  Everything is magnificent, glowing and wondrous.  You'll hardly know where to start.  We'll meet you there and join you at the celebration." Tony started to ask them what celebration they were talking about, but with another swishing sound, his mother and father were gone, even though the love he had felt from them remained.

    By now, the point of light was so much closer that Tony could plainly see that it was much more than just a point of light.  It appeared to be a gate of some sort--a huge gate.  It was smooth, shiny and glowing with light.  It looked as though someone had taken a gigantic, perfect jewel and carved it into a giant gate.  The image was detailed and pure in a way that the eyes of his human body would never have been able to perceive.  As Tony continued to admire the beauty of the gate, he noticed a human figure standing in front it.  As Tony drew closer, he could see that the figure was very, very tall--maybe ten feet or more.  The figure was glowing with the same pure, white light that Tony observed in his angel guides and his parents.  The warmth, love and acceptance that Tony felt earlier was now so intense that he actually shed a tear.  A single tear of intense joy.

    "That must be Jesus," Tony thought, "that huge, powerful, glowing person has got to be Jesus Himself!"  Without even the slightest perception of acceleration, Tony could feel that they were picking up speed as they approached the gate.  So much speed, in fact, that within seconds, he found himself standing before the towering figure.  The figure glowed with an indescribably intense light.  A light so warm and bright that Tony knew instinctively that the mortal eyes he once had would have been burned beyond use.  In every way that Tony could see, the figure looked to be the perfect specimen of a human form.  Well, not human.  It was very plain to see that this towering, glowing, perfect being was certainly not human.  But to Tony's perception, all of the being's human traits were perfect.  The being had shoulder length hair as did the two angels Tony had already met; beautiful, wide, piercing eyes which glowed too brightly for Tony to discern eye color; and a smooth, soft, loving face displaying the most heartwarming smile that Tony had ever seen.

    Tony suddenly felt dirty and unworthy.  He had always thought himself to be a good person, but in the presence of this magnificent entity, Tony felt less than worthless.  He immediately fell to his knees, covered his face, began to beg forgiveness for the times he has come short of God's perfect standard, and bowed his head in an act of contrition and worship.

    "Look up!"  an authoritative but not overly loud voice commanded.  The being held his hands down and slightly out with his palms facing forward.  Tony was surprised, though by now he probably shouldn't have been, to see that even the hands of this entity glowed with pure white light.  "Stand to your feet!" another command rang out.

    "No Lord,"  Tony responded with a somewhat weak and trembling voice, "I can't--I know I'm not worthy to stand in the presence of my Lord and Savior."

    "STAND NOW!"  the voice commanded so loudly and forcefully that Tony immediately sprang to his feet. "I am not He--I am not the Son of God--I am not the Christ--I am but a servant as are you.  DO NOT WORSHIP ME!  I am just an angel, the keeper of the gate, the Lord's watchman if you will.  I am merely here to allow you to pass through His gate and into His glorious Heaven--Come!"  The angel turned and faced the gate which opened to allow Tony and the three accompanying angels to enter into Heaven.  Honestly, Tony could only assume that the gate opened.  He never actually saw it open, he just suddenly found himself and the gate-keeper standing on the other side of the gate.  The two angels Tony had first met were now gone.


Welcome To Eternity
    
    Once inside, a light so bright that it washed out all visual images, forced Tony to close his eyes as he instantaneously became aware of music.  He couldn't help but notice the music since it was coming from all directions and seemed to be flowing around and through everything including Tony himself.  Although the musical style was one that Tony had never heard before, and couldn't have described, it was the most incredibly beautiful music he had ever heard.  It captured his soul, made him forget about everything else, and was like hearing music for the first time--like hearing pure, perfect music--as if all of the music Tony had ever heard before was nothing more than a cheap approximation and this is what music was really supposed to be--incredibly, inexplicably beautiful!  Actually, the word "beautiful" didn't come close to describing it; but, Tony was finding it difficult to put into human words any of what he was experiencing.  The melody, harmony and tones of the music were absolutely flawless and magnificent.  He heard complex harmonies playing off of the melody, but it all blended together so perfectly that it almost seemed as if the melody and harmonies were all one sound instead of separate components of the song.  Tony couldn't be certain, but there did seem to be some kind of instrumentation accompanying the music; although, to be honest, whatever instrumentation there might have been was also melding seamlessly with the rest of the composition and becoming one with it.  Tony wasn't really sure if he was hearing the music, feeling the music, or perhaps both.  He was certain, at first, that he was hearing the music with his ears, but the more of it he heard, the more he began to realize that he was also "hearing" it with his emotions.  There really wasn't any good way to describe the sensation except that he seemed to be melding with the music; or, that the music seemed to be becoming part of him--a vital part of his own body and spirit as though his very being was longing to express itself by joining in..

    Tony had been so lost in the breathtaking melody that he didn't realize at first that there were words being sung as well.  A sudden, giddy smile of joy and satisfaction came over Tony's face when he became aware that the lyrics were in some language he didn't even recognize, yet he was still able to understand each and every word being sung.  He heard songs of worship, songs of adoration, songs of praise, and songs of gratitude for Christ's sacrifice for His children.  The words of yet another song thanked God for gathering His children into this glorious place.  Even if Heaven had nothing more to offer than what Tony was experiencing right at this moment, he still would be content for eternity.

    Tony wasn't the least bit sure how, but as he listened to the various songs, it occurred to him that, somewhere inside him, he knew the words to every single one of them as though the desire to praise, worship and adore were woven through the fabric of his spirit and built right into his essence.  As Tony began to first hum, then softly sing along, he realized that he had been so lost in the music that he didn't realize that his eyes were still closed.  Upon this realization, he opened his eyes for his first glimpse of Heaven.

    Immediately, Tony understood the source of the bright light that had temporarily forced him to close his eyes.  His eyes were now fully adjusted to the radiantly pure, white light that seemed to shine right through him, and he could clearly see a man standing in front of him--a man emitting a pure, white, warming, loving light.  At least Tony thought it was light.  It was impossible to differentiate the visible light from what he was feeling.  Tony was engulfed by a feeling of--perfection--or maybe more like royal magnificence--no, it was perfection, but not just perfection.  It was perfection and--Holiness!  Was this Jesus?  Before Tony could even complete this thought, the man held his hands down and slightly in front of himself, then turned his palms outward.  A somewhat round, rough-edged scar was clearly visible in the middle of each of the man's palms.  There was no doubt this time.  Tony could feel it to his core.  The man, in whose presence Tony now stood, was Jesus Christ Himself.  Tony now understood why the gatekeeper angel held out his hands when Tony mistook him for Jesus.  It was to show Tony that there were no nail scars from Jesus' death on the cross..

    In a fraction of a second, Tony went from the complete elation he had been feeling, to being overwhelmed with how dirty and disgusting he felt.  Looking into the face of this glorious Man, Tony suddenly realized how foul and disgusting he truly was.  Tony had always thought of himself  as a nice guy and a good, caring person; someone who always tried to do good in the world and follow the teachings of Christ.  Someone who could be proud of who, and what, he had become.  But not now.  Not here in the presence of this magnificent Being.  Tony was only human.  He couldn't help making mistakes throughout his life; nonetheless, he was now painfully aware of every single time he had come short of the example Christ provided in the Bible.  Tony felt deathly sick to his stomach.  The gripping pain felt similar to what he had experienced during the heart attack that initially launched him on this ethereal journey, but considerably more intense.  Very quickly, the feeling of worthlessness gripped Tony tightly.  Tears poured from his eyes and he began to sob in a deep, heartfelt way that he wouldn't have thought possible.  He closed his eyes tightly, dropped to his knees, then fell face down at the feet of Jesus.  Tony didn't feel worthy to move, let alone get back up or even look up.  Even if he had wanted to get back up, the visceral sobbing welling up from deep within would have made it impossible to gather enough strength to stand.  

    Tony's mind was inundated by a barrage of memories of times during his life that he had the opportunity to tell people the Truth of Christ, but didn't for fear that they would make fun of, or reject him.  He remembered times when careless words slipped from his lips,  hurting or offending not only people he didn't know, but occasionally even people Tony claimed to care for.  He pondered  the many times he had become unfairly angry or indignant and failed to properly represent the Man at whose feet he now lay.  Memories of every lie, every curse, every vile thought, every indiscretion came flooding into his thoughts.  All of the things in his life that Tony had thought were done in private came back to him in vivid detail.  For the first time, he truly understood how the sin in his life had separated him from the God who loved him like a precious child--sin that separated him from God's Son who was sent to die an agonizing death to pay for every sin Tony had ever committed.  If only he had truly understood how precious he was to God, Tony would have made much more effort to eliminate sin from his life.  Well, not eliminate it.  Tony understood that all men are sinful and any sin separates us from the loving, forgiving warmth that surrounded Tony at this very moment; but, surely he could have kept much of the wrong he had done in his life from ever happening.  At that moment, Tony realized how silly it was to think that he, by himself, could have significantly removed sin from his own life.   He knew that all of the good he had done in his life meant nothing when it came to being acceptable to the Man Tony was now afraid to even look at.  If not for the torture and bloodshed of Christ's death on the cross, Tony knew that a vile, disgusting, sinful, creature such as himself would be rightfully done away with.  He was so filthy and so unworthy that he felt like just laying there at Jesus' feet until Jesus realized the things Tony now realized, and cast Tony out of His sight forever.  Tony felt certain that he couldn't take this emotional pain much longer.  Surely, his heart would soon explode from the crushing grief and regret it was was enduring at this moment.  As best he could manage through his deep sobbing, Tony weakly uttered the words "My Lord--my Savior--I'm sorry--I'm so sorry--please, Lord--please forgive me."

    Immediately, there was a soft warm touch on Tony's shoulder accompanied by the words "Tony, I already have.  All of those things that just went through your mind were paid for.  My precious child, why do you think I died for you?  You are loved, you are forgiven, and you are, forever, my child.  Stand up and enter into the glorious reward the Father has prepared for those who belong to Me"

    As Tony was helped to his feet, he opened his eyes and looked again into the face of Jesus.  From several angels who were now gathered around, Tony heard the words "Behold, the Lamb of God.  Behold the Son.  Behold the Sacrifice.  Behold the risen One."  Tony wasn't quite sure if those words were being spoken or sung, but it didn't matter.  He could plainly see that Jesus was all of those things and so much more.  Flowing from Jesus was a sense of intense, caring love comparable to what a loving parent would feel for their child, but so much deeper.  In an instant, Tony felt totally forgiven, as if each and every one of the memories that had just pummeled his thoughts were rendered meaningless.  With a half smile mixed with a look of awe, Tony gazed into Jesus' eyes.  Jesus' hand moved slowly to Tony's face, and with a soft, almost imperceptible touch, Tony's tears and sobbing were gone--replaced with feelings of love, warmth, acceptance and forgiveness.  Then, was it only a feeling, wishful thinking or was it actually happening--Yes, it was actually happening.  Tony felt the arms of Jesus wrap around him and pull him into a close, warm, loving, comforting embrace.  Emanating from Jesus was such a feeling of acceptance and love, that, for the first time, Tony began to truly, in his very core, understand how deeply loved he actually was.  Not the kind of love that he had ever known while on Earth, but an all-encompassing love that felt as though it extended from this moment back to before he was ever even born.  Tony couldn't have fully described it, but he most assuredly felt and understood it.  Tony now knew, without a single doubt, that he was indeed one of God's own children.  Tony closed his eyes, wrapped his arms around Christ, clung to Him tightly, and hoped this moment would never end.


So Much More

    As Tony felt the Lord release the embrace, he instinctively did the same.  When Tony opened his eyes, Jesus was gone; but, even though Jesus was no longer standing right there with him, Tony still had all of the same feelings, making it plain, in every way, that Jesus was somehow actually still there with him.  In fact, it was clear to Tony that the warm, loving light washing over and through everything, was emanating directly from God the Father and Jesus the Son.

    Then, Tony heard a canorous eruption of singing and laughter from behind him.  He turned around to see several people, including his parents, accompanied by more angels than Tony could count, all laughing, singing and dancing in a celebration the likes of which Tony had never seen.  Tony couldn't help but wonder what the occasion was and whether or not he would be permitted to join in.  He no sooner completed that thought when both of his parents yelled out, "Join in, Tony, this celebration is for you!"

    At that moment, all of the people at the celebration, along with the throng of angels, burst into a song as beautiful as those Tony had heard when he first got here.  Although still in a language he had never heard before, Tony understood every word.  The song was about welcoming one of God's children home.  Home.  That was exactly how it felt.  Tony had never felt more "home" in his entire life.  All of the memories of his life on Earth were now relegated to the farthest reaches of his mind.  He could still remember everything, but it was as though none of what happened before coming to Heaven was real.  It was a different place and a different life.  At this point, Tony's life on Earth was beginning to feel as though it never had really been his life.  This was his life.  This was life.  Tony found it difficult to fathom how shallow and wanting his life on Earth had really been, regardless of how happy he thought it was and how full his life on Earth had seemed.  Into Tony's mind flowed another verse from the Bible: "I come that you may have life and have it more abundantly."  It was at that moment that Tony realized that his own thoughts were beginning to mingle with words that Jesus has spoken while on Earth.  Though some of Jesus' thoughts Tony remembered reading from the Bible, there were some he did not.  Clearly, some thoughts of God the Father and Jesus the Son were being revealed to Tony for the first time now that he was here in Heaven.  He continued to feel the same love, warmth and acceptance he had felt while in the arms of Jesus; and continued to share in the pure light that was ever flowing through the deepest level of Tony's being.  Tony was beginning to share some of God's very thoughts and, for the first time, truly understood what the Bible meant about becoming "one with the Father."

    Tony was pulled from his deep thought by suddenly finding himself surrounded by his welcome-home celebration.  He freely sang, danced and laughed in an unencumbered way that would have been impossible on Earth, all the while amazed that he could possibly mean this much to anyone--let alone to the Creator of the entire universe.  Tony had been laughing and dancing for what seemed like hours when he noticed a young man standing in front of him.  Immediately, inexplicably, Tony knew who the young man was.  Twenty years before Tony's death--no, twenty years before the death of his body, Tony had served as a leader in his church youth group.  Once per week, the teenagers from the neighborhood would get together for fun, games and a quick lesson about forgiveness through Christ.  Tony did his best, during that time, to care for and guide each and every teen in the youth group.  He made sure that every teen who ever came to a youth group meeting, even once, heard about the love and salvation of Jesus Christ.  Now, so many years later, with a warm, friendly smile on his face, here stood one of those teens, though no longer a teen.  Tony was just wishing to himself that he could remember the young man's name, when it suddenly came to him--Bobby.  Well, actually it was Robert, but everyone called him Bobby.  Tony was amazed that he was able to remember Bobby's name after so many years.

    "Good to see you brother," Bobby said to Tony in a sincere, enthusiastic tone, "and thank you."

    "For what?" Tony.asked.

    "Tony, you told me all about having a relationship with Christ.  I was a pretty rebellious kid back in the old church youth group days, so I didn't listen to you.  I did hear you, I just didn't listen.  Well, as the years passed, I started feeling like I was searching for something in my life.  I knew something was missing, but I didn't know what.  I tried girls, sports, weird New Age religions, alcohol--well, just about everything.  Then one day, all of the things you taught me in youth group came back to me.  That was when I figured out what had been missing all that time--my relationship with the One who created me.  I broke down in tears, prayed to God and Jesus to forgive me, take over my life, and help me to live for Jesus.  All those times you talked to me in youth group were not wasted, Tony.  It all came together years later when I said that prayer right there..."

    Tony quickly interrupted "Right there in your little one-room apartment after being laid off from your job clear on the other side of the country from where you lived as a child!"  Tony was stunned.  He suddenly realized that he knew all about Bobby.  Who he was, how his life on Earth had turned out and how he came to give his life to Christ.  After hugging Bobby as if he were a long lost brother, Tony looked around in wonder realizing that he now knew everyone around him with the same amount of detail.  Laughing in sheer joy, Tony ran from person to person telling them things about themselves and embracing each person as a true brother or sister.  Some of them Tony had met during his life on Earth; but, some were people Tony never knew while on Earth yet knew them now just as well as he knew Bobby.  "We truly are one in Christ," Tony kept repeating out loud.

    Tony had barely completed that thought, when a beautiful young woman walked up to him, smiled, and gave him a warm. loving hug of gratitude.  Tony immediately recognized that the young woman was the one who had sat down on a bench in the mall to talk to Dave about Christ.

    "I overheard you tell that man in the mall to at least consider what Dave had to say.  That got me thinking that there wouldn't be any harm in just listening;  but, as Dave told me more and more about Christ, what he was saying started making sense to me.  For a long time, I had felt as though something was missing in my life, and Dave helped me to understand that what I was missing was a relationship with my Creator.  Good thing too--I died in a really bad car accident a short time after I pulled out of the mall parking lot.  A big truck destroyed the car in front of me, then ran right into, and completely crushed, mine.  If you hadn't told that man to at least consider Dave's words--well, I sure wouldn't be here right now.  Thanks Tony.  You were helping to spread the Truth of Christ and didn't even realize it."

    "You're welcome, Courtney, " Tony replied as the young lady smiled and continued on her way.  "One in Christ," Tony thought to himself. "I never truly understood what that meant until now--one in Christ..."

Another beautiful young woman walked up to Tony with the same knowing smile on her face that he had on his.  Looking right into Tony's eyes and in a soft but confident voice, the girl said "Thanks, Tony."

    "You're very welcome Zawadi," Tony immediately responded in a gentle, loving, knowing voice.  No discussion was necessary.  He knew all about Zawadi.  He had never met or spoken to her in his entire life, but he now knew all about her.  During his life on Earth, Tony occasionally gave small amounts of money, whenever he could afford it, to a church-sponsored, Christian missionary organization that sent doctors and medical supplies to poverty-stricken countries around the world.  It was a way for him to help others and spread the Truth of Jesus Christ at the same time.  Local people in those parts of the world would sometimes travel for days to be able to see a doctor for the first, and possibly the only, time in their lives. Upon arrival at the church's makeshift clinic, the people were given vaccinations, vitamins, and whatever treatments the doctors could provide for the myriad of medical conditions that had driven so many people to make such a long, difficult journey to the clinic.  

    While waiting for a turn to see the doctor, every person who came to the clinic was told the Truth of Jesus Christ; Zawadi was one of those people.  She had immediately felt that what she was told about the love and forgiveness of Christ was the Truth, and she accepted it with all her heart.  Several of the Christian volunteers at the clinic prayed with Zawadi, gave her a Bible and the contact information for some people who could answer any questions she might have in the future.  She took her newfound relationship with Jesus back to her village in Africa and told others.  During her life, Zawadi led forty seven other people to give their lives to Jesus.  Eventually, Zawadi died of an infection that could have been successfully treated with more antibiotics, but none were to be found in her little village.  By the time local Christian missionaries got word of it, it was too late for Zawadi.  Not that she cared anymore--Zawadi wouldn't want to go back to Earth now if she could.  And Tony instinctively knew all of this and more by just looking into her eyes. Tony didn't realized it until now, but a portion of the little money Tony was able to give to the clinic endeavor was what paid for the very bottle of antibiotics Zawadi herself received that day at the clinic--medicine that ultimately saved Zawadi from a very serious respiratory infection that otherwise would have killed her within weeks.  Tony could hardly wait to eventually meet the forty seven people Zawadi had led to a relationship with Jesus.  Again, out loud, Tony whispered "we truly are all one in Christ."

    "We truly are," Zawadi responded.

    Taking Tony's hand, his mother said "Come with us, Tony, your father and I have so much more we want to show you."

    It was a very strange, and very difficult to describe realization, but it suddenly occurred to Tony that his mother and father were not really his mother and father--at least they weren't now.  In every way, Tony's mother and father were now his sister and brother.  He couldn't quite explain it, but it was clear that they were all God's precious children and were therefore all brothers and sisters.

    Hand-in-hand, Tony, his mother and his father wandered away from the celebration and began taking a leisurely walk through Heaven.  Just the thought of that made Tony laugh out loud.  "I'm going for a walk in Heaven--in Heaven!"  He still had a little trouble believing that all of these wonderful things were really happening to him.

Beyond description

    As Tony and his parents walked, he looked around realizing immediately that he had been so overwhelmed and enthralled with the few things that had already happened since arriving, that he never even took the time for even a fleeting glance at Heaven around him.  It felt rather silly to Tony that he could be so distracted that he didn't even think to take at least a quick look around him, but then again, the experiences of the music, meeting Jesus face to face, the celebration and just the all-encompassing feeling of warmth and love, were all so far beyond words, and human experience, that Tony's senses were already taking in all they could.  But now, he was taking the time to just look around.

    Looking down at his feet, Tony could see that the pavement, if one could call it that, was made of a very thin layer of pure gold--no, it was more like a shining, glowing sheet of very, very thin, gold colored glass--no, that wasn't right either.  Maybe it was a very thin sheet made from a single jewel so large that all of the streets of heaven could be carved from it in one continuous piece.  Tony quickly gave up his attempt at describing the pavement in Heaven.  "How wonderful and glorious," Tony thought, "that even something as simple as the street is beyond description!"

    Looking around, Tony saw buildings lining the streets.  The style of most reminded Tony of pictures of Old Jerusalem he had seen in the back pages of his Bible; still, many more had a more roundish look to them--like there should be corners and angles to the building, but there were none.  These additional buildings weren't actually round or dome shaped, but they also weren't square or rectangular either.  It was as if they were made in some oddly beautiful geometric shape that would have been impossible on Earth.  All of the buildings seemed white and were somewhat translucent.  It was difficult to call them white since the colors of Heaven were so vibrant and varied that Tony didn't even have descriptions for most of them.  He could only describe the colors in Heaven as looking like the music sounded.  He knew that didn't make much sense, but it was the best he could do with human words.  The buildings were pure, clean and infused with the same light that permeated everything in this glorious place.  The material from which the buildings were built, whatever it was, reminded Tony of the material of the huge gate he had passed through to get into Heaven just a few hours earlier.  Of course, he could only guess that it was hours, since the concept of time was surprisingly foreign to him by this point.

    As far as Tony could see, there were rolling hills lush with soft, plush, carpet-like grass; and magnificent verdant bushes, trees and other vegetation.  All of the flora here was lush, perfect, soothing to behold and not like any growing things Tony had ever seen on Earth.  It was as if God had created plants with a light, energy, warmth and glory similar to His own.  Tony suddenly realized there were people--everywhere.  People walking along the streets, across the grass, in and out of the buildings.  Tony couldn't believe he didn't notice them when he was looking at the streets, the buildings and the foliage.  "How wonderful Heaven is," Tony pondered.  "Each and every thing, no matter how basic, is so magnificent that it draws and holds one's full attention to exclusion of all else.  No wonder there are no detailed descriptions of Heaven in the Bible--any attempt to do so in human words would be cheap, inadequate, and an injustice to the actual glory of this place."

    Many of the people were walking purposefully, not urgently or in a hurry, but purposefully, as if headed somewhere important.  Some of the people seemed to completely vanish at will, while others appeared from seemingly nowhere.  Although many of the people Tony saw seemed to be headed somewhere, he also saw many people sitting in the grass talking and laughing, many greeting others with a hug, and some just singing glorious praises to the Creator at the tops of their voices.  Now Tony understood why the music he had heard earlier seemed to be coming from all around him--it was.  Each and every person was joyful and obviously completely, spiritually fulfilled.  As if everything they ever wanted or needed was suddenly provided for them.  As if every joy that a human was capable of experiencing was suddenly made an actual part of their being.  

    "What are all of these people doing that's bringing them so much joy?  Where are they headed?  What is their purpose?"  Tony had no sooner asked the question than he found an answer in Jesus' thoughts still perfectly meshed with his own:  "There are many glorious and joyful endeavors in Heaven.  Everyone has some kind of job to do, some kind of assignment that fulfills them to the depths of their souls.  In many different ways, everyone is doing the exact same thing--glorifying their Heavenly Father and praising the Son by doing exactly what each of them was created to do."

    As Tony continued on his awe-inspiring walk through Heaven, a woman sporting the biggest, most satisfied smile that Tony had ever seen, came running across the lush, verdant, velvet soft grass straight toward him.  Tony's spirit was jolted by the realization of who this woman was.  It was Anna, his wife!  Well, at least she was his wife back on Earth.  Now, she was more his sister--yes, his sister in Christ.  The love that he had felt for her as his wife was now magnified by an unfathomable amount.  It was the love of Christ flowing between them.  Love that flowed between brother and sister.  Love that flowed between children of God.  A love that made what he felt when he was her husband almost meaningless.  Back on Earth, Tony only thought he knew what love was--now, he actually knew!

    "Anna," Tony uttered in a tender, soft, loving tone, "What happened?  How are you here so soon?  I wouldn't have expected you to follow me in death for years.  You died only a few hours after I did?"

    "Tony," Anna said with an air of amusement in her voice, "I lived another fifteen years after you died.  I just got here a short while ago myself.  There was a big celebration for me and then they sent me here to find you."

    "Fifteen years? "Tony mumbled in disbelief.  "I've been here for fifteen years?  I thought I had only been here a few hours at most!  Fifteen years?"

    "Well," Anna said with a chuckle, "This is eternity, and now it's actually been quite a bit longer than fifteen years."

    Instantly, that same sense of familiarity Tony had developed with the others he had already met here in Heaven, washed over him and he immediately knew all there was to know about Anna.  Just as quickly, it became clear to him that this truly was eternity.  Time meant nothing.  Living here in Heaven, surrounded by the warmth and love of his Creator, and his brothers and sisters in Christ, was forever.  All that Tony now had, would never be lost or taken away.  He had all of it--forever.  What Tony thought was life, when living on Earth, barely qualified as such.  Living here, in Heaven, permeated by the presence of the Holy Spirit that he now knew bound together God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and each and every child of God, Tony realized that this truly was life the way God had always intended it to be for His children.  In every sense of the word, Tony had truly gained eternal life just as Jesus had always promised to those who accept His forgiveness.

    "Hey Tony, "Anna said with almost childlike excitement in her voice, "I want to worship God Himself right in front of His Holy Throne.  I want to see Jesus seated at God's right hand just the way the Bible said it would be.  What do you say?"

    "Of course," Tony responded almost before Anna could finish asking; "I've been so overwhelmed--and overjoyed--that I haven't even thought that far ahead yet."

    Tony and Anna joined hands, took half a step, and disappeared from where they stood; to instantly reappear before the very throne of God...



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