I love a good story. I devour stories, in any format - movies, TV series, conversations with friends, and especially books. There's not much in this world that angers me more than spoilers; please never tell me the end of a story I haven't yet seen or read! I enjoy stories because I enjoy getting to live an adventure alongside the characters, experiencing every plot twist and emotion with them. I don't read the back covers of books; I don't watch previews or trailers; I don't even read reviews that look long enough to give away the plot. 
While my mom loves stories, she has a very different approach. Mom reads the first chapter or two of a book to get to know the characters and situation, and then she reads the last chapter or two. If she likes the ending, she reads the rest. Her philosophy is, "Life's too short to read a whole book if you're not going to end up liking it."
On Sunday, Jurie introduced our new sermon series called, "What's After ATX?" It's a series dedicated to exploring near-death experiences, finding out what the Bible says about the afterlife, and having an eternal perspective. Hundreds of churches across central Texas are walking through this topic together.
People who have had near-death experiences (cases where they were declared clinically dead and were then resuscitated) often come back with descriptions of a light at the end of a tunnel, a world that is fully alive, beautiful light filled with love and acceptance, and a review of their lives and deeds. Throughout the Bible, we get tiny glimpses of what the afterlife might be like, such as Paul's description of receiving a new body in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 (NIV):
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
During our Life Group this week, we had an interesting conversation around the question, "Discuss your exposure to the topic of near-death experiences. Is it important? Is it relevant?" Some of us said they aren't particularly interested in or compelled by stories of near-death experiences; their faith isn't bolstered by these stories, nor do the accounts seem all that relevant to their daily lives. Others said that while their faith doesn't hinge on anything in these accounts, the stories do provide comfort. While some are afraid of death and are comforted by the picture of a joyful afterlife, others are suffering in this life and enjoy having the expectation of a peaceful rest at the end.
When it comes to my life story, I'm glad God has given me some spoilers. I'm glad I've read my book the way my mom reads - I know the first few chapters of my story, and I've read what the Bible says about the last chapters. I don't understand everything fully, but just knowing that I will understand makes it easier to read the hard parts of the plot in the middle of my book. I used to think God set these images of heaven in the Bible as a bribe to get us to "behave" or to love Him, but I've come to realize that He did it to give us hope in the midst of the tangled plots of our lives. For that hope, I am eternally grateful.
What do you think? Does the idea of heaven bring you hope? Does it help you in times of suffering? Or do you find yourself feeling just fine without considering heaven? Feel free to let us know in the comments!

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