Read an Excerpt
HEAVEN CHANGES EVERYTHINGLiving Every Day with Eternity in Mind
By TODD BURPO SONJA BURPO
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Todd and Sonja Burpo
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHeaven—We're Not There Yet
For my family, the July Fourth weekend of 2003 was a big deal.... My wife, Sonja, and I had planned to take the kids to visit Sonja's brother, Steve, and his family in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.... It would be our first chance to meet our nephew, Bennett, born two months earlier.... This trip would be the first time we'd left our hometown of Imperial, Nebraska, since a family trip to Greeley, Colorado, in March had turned into the worst nightmare of our lives.
To put it bluntly, the last time we had taken a family trip, one of our children almost died. Call us crazy, but we were a little apprehensive this time, almost to the point of not wanting to go. Now, as a pastor, I'm not a believer in superstition. Still, some weird, unsettled part of me felt that if we just hunkered down close to home, we'd be safe.
—Heaven Is for Real, xv–xvi
Maybe you're like me and wonder sometimes, as your feet hit the floor, Is this going to be a good day or a bad day? Wouldn't we all like to know the answer to that question? Then we could just stay in bed some mornings and avoid the calamity awaiting us.
Maybe, like me, you've gone through some kind of gut-wrenching experience or some heartbreaking loss that makes you apprehensive as you begin each day now. Enduring a life-altering trauma can make you want to play the turtle and go inside your shell.
After seventeen days of watching my toddler suffer, I'd managed only about five nights of sleep. My life had been so painful during that time and I had been wounded so deeply that it took almost four months after Colton's hospitalization before I could really function again. There was no doubt that my faith in God—and even more, my faith in myself—had been stretched to the limits. The last thing on my to-do list was to repeat anything like I'd just endured.
But you have to go on living. You have to get out of bed in the morning. The question is, how?
Jesus said in this world we're going to have trouble. (Do I hear a big "Amen!" out there?) He spent time here on earth and endured the worst trouble anyone could imagine. So he knows better than anyone that this isn't heaven. But he also knows there's a place where there's no suffering and no trouble, and he's inviting us to join him there.
Today, people are looking for peace in the midst of trouble. But peace is an elusive thing. Looking for peace in worldly sources, many people become addicted to drugs or sex or other harmful substances or behaviors. Then Jesus comes along and makes this incredible claim: If you trust me, I will give you peace. One way we gain that peace is by believing his promise that, no matter how bad things get here on earth, we're headed for a better place: heaven.
Where do you find peace? How about looking for it in the Creator of the universe? In the One who said, "Yeah, in this world, you're gonna have trouble. But you can relax. I've overcome all that stuff. I'll help you get through it. And then someday I'll take you back to my place, where life's hurts don't exist. I know things are bad now, but heaven's ahead. And you're gonna love it."
How would you live your life differently today if you knew, without a doubt, that no matter what happens, everything is going to be okay, even wonderful, in the end?
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
—John 16:33 NIV
Chapter TwoMissing the Miracles
I noticed we were passing through the traffic light where, if we turned left, we'd wind up at the Great Plains Regional Medical Center. That was where we'd spent fifteen nightmarish days in March, much of it on our knees, praying for God to spare Colton's life....
Sometimes laughter is the only way to process tough times, so as we passed the turnoff, I decided to rib Colton a little.
"Hey, Colton, if we turn here, we can go back to the hospital," I said. "Do you wanna go back to the hospital?"
—Heaven Is for Real, XVII
God is sovereign. The way he orchestrates the tiniest details in our lives to carry out his will for us is simply beyond our understanding. I believe God is involved in every part of our lives, in small decisions and in monumental matters.
Consider this one: late one night, on a long cross-country drive to visit relatives, I jokingly asked our four-year-old son if he wanted to go back to the hospital where he had almost died a few months earlier. His casual answer would change our lives forever. Talking about the hospital, Colton told Sonja and me, "That's where the angels sang to me."
Over the next few weeks and months, other details of Colton's miraculous visit to heaven gradually trickled out. But if I hadn't asked that question that night, who knows when—or if—we would ever have known about it.
God is constantly at work in our lives in ways that we might not even realize.
Consider this: God's Son's first recorded miracle occurred when he attended a big wedding party where the wine ran out. Jesus instructed the servants to fill the containers with water, and then he turned that water into wine. One thing a lot of people miss in that story is that the bridegroom and bride didn't know they had run out of wine. In fact, they never knew! So they never knew that Jesus had turned the water into wine. God did a miracle for this couple, and they didn't even know he'd done it.
It makes me wonder, how many miracles has God done for us and we didn't even know he was at work? How many times has God directed us to turn left or turn right at an intersection and that turn kept us from an accident or brought us to encounter someone at exactly the right time so we could help or encourage him or her at exactly the right moment? How many times has he prompted us to reach out to someone, to ask a question that made a difference, and we didn't recognize his hand at work in that moment?
We don't often have problems bringing the big stuff to God, but remember, there is nothing too small for God to be involved with in our lives—whether or not we realize it at the time.
When's the last time you noticed God at work in your life? If you need a little help, listen to George Strait's song "I Saw God Today."
The master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.
—John 2:9 NIV
Chapter ThreeWatching for God-cidents
Inside the Expedition, time froze. Sonja and I looked at each other, passing a silent message: did he just say what I think he said?
Sonja leaned over and whispered, "Has he talked to you about angels before?"
I shook my head no. "You?"
She shook her head.
—Heaven Is for Real, XVIII
Colton interrupted our days with glimpses of heaven shared in bits of conversation I call "shock and awe."
For example, he would make some casual comment, like telling Todd that Todd's grandpa, Pop, who died in 1975, "has really big wings."
Or like telling me, "Jesus shoots down power for Daddy when he's talking."
Or describing an incident that happened to Todd when he was thirteen that Todd had never shared with our kids.
Colton kept telling Todd and me things he could not have known except by firsthand experience or someone telling him. And absolutely we knew that no one on this planet had told him! Remember, he was just turning four years old. And each time he dropped one of these little shock-and-awe bombs on us, Todd and I would have the same conversation:
"How did he know that? Did you tell him?"
"No, did you?"
Then there would be a moment of silence as we gave each other the same perplexed look.
Colton told us personal things that had happened in our lives long before he was born. If there had been an autobiography of the Burpo family at that time, Colton would have described most of the turning points in it. If we didn't know or remember it ourselves, we would ask others, like Todd's mom, who would say, "Yes, we did do that," or, "Yes, that did happen."
And Colton told us things about heaven—like the fact that Jesus's chair in heaven "is right next to his Dad's." When Todd asked which side, Colton was clear to point out that Jesus sat on God's right side.
We confirmed everything that could be confirmed either in the Bible or from someone's personal memory. And we got to the point where we learned to listen to Colton more closely. We knew his experience was real and that something spectacular had happened. We knew what he'd said was accurate, so we were constantly tuned in, wondering what was coming next. If there was no earthly explanation for what Colton told us, we knew there had to be a heavenly one.
The one thing we didn't have to confirm was that God was involved. We knew that without question.
What about you? Has something happened in your life that could have no earthly explanation? Did a stranger say something to you in the checkout line that was just the right word of encouragement you needed at the end of a long, stressful day? Was it a "coincidence" that you ran into someone at the post office and, without thinking, you said just the words she needed to hear? Did you have a dream that gave you a new perspective on a difficult situation? Did your child say or do something amazing that took your breath away?
Other people might call these unexplainable events coincidences. But did you know the word coincidence is not found in the Bible? Instead I use my own word when I'm thinking about these experiences. If your mind is open to the fact that heaven is real and you can go there someday, you may want to adopt my word into your vocabulary too.
I call them God-cidents.
What gift has God sent your way recently that you dismissed as a coincidence?
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.
—Luke 24:30–31 NIV
Chapter FourSolving the Puzzle
As I stood there and thought through a scriptural basis for experiencing heaven without dying, I realized that Colton, in telling me he had died "for a little bit," had only been trying to match up his pastor-dad's assertion with what he knew to be the facts of his own experience. Kind of like walking outside and finding that the street is wet, and concluding, well, okay, it must have rained.
—Heaven Is for Real, 80–81
The only time I work jigsaw puzzles is when I'm coerced, usually by one of my kids. Then the only way out of it is to just get the thing done, which for me means looking at the picture on the top of the box. Yes, I know there are ways to put it together without looking at the picture—you can pull out the edge pieces or sort out the colors. But I'm one of those guys who isn't big on following directions. I am good at looking at pictures. Just show me the picture, and let's get on with it.
In many ways, Bible verses about heaven are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but the problem is that the Bible doesn't have a picture of heaven on the cover. How do you put the pieces together without a picture? Reading some of those Scripture verses is like sitting down at the puzzle table and looking at a big pile of pieces with no clue how they go together. It's hard. Confusing. Frustrating.
And then along comes a kid, Colton, telling us he's been to heaven and here's what it's like. He describes his visit to heaven in the words of a young child, words that everyone can understand. Colton's story helps create the picture we need so we can see how the puzzle pieces about heaven fit together.
Stories help us understand lots of complicated things. Jesus used many stories about everyday things—farmers, fig trees, sheep, wolves and shepherds, fishermen—so that anyone listening could understand the truth behind those stories.
A lot of people have a hope of heaven, but they're kind of sketchy on the pieces of the puzzle and how they fit together. Some of the Bible's passages about heaven are hard to understand. For many people, Colton's visit to heaven, told in our simple story, provides that "aha!" moment when suddenly the picture comes together.
Once we can "see" heaven and understand that it's real, all sorts of good things happen to us in personal, everyday ways. Doubts are removed. Endurance is strengthened. Courage is emboldened. Grief is erased. It's like a little kid is saying earnestly to all of us, "Jesus is the truth, and he can be trusted."
And we believe him.
At least, that's how it has worked for me. And other people have let me know Colton's experience helped them the same way. One of them is my mom. She told me, "Ever since this happened, I think more about what it might really be like in heaven. I accepted the idea of heaven before, but now I visualize it. Before, I'd heard, but now I know that someday I'm going to see."
If you've pushed the Bible's puzzle pieces to the corner of your life because the puzzle just seems too hard to figure out, let Colton's story provide the picture you need to see how the pieces fit together.
For some earthly practice in putting together the Bible's words about heaven, Sonja suggests sitting down with your kids and working a jigsaw puzzle. (Todd says look at the picture first. You'll get finished faster.)
He taught by using stories, many stories.... He continued, "Do you see how this story works? All my stories work this way."
—Mark 4:2, 13 MSG
Chapter FiveCall Your Dad!
The sound of my leg breaking was so loud that I imagined the ball had zinged in from the outfield and smacked it. Fire exploded in my shin and ankle. I fell to my back, contracted into a fetal position, and pulled my knee up to my belly.
—Heaven Is for Real, 8
Life was good for the Burpos. Sonja and I had two healthy children, a comfortable home, and jobs we enjoyed. Sonja was a schoolteacher, and I pastored a small but growing church in a town we were happy to call home.
Then, in a coed softball tournament, I slid down the baseline while stealing third base and broke my leg—and also snapped the bones in my ankle in two different places.
While my pastoring work and Sonja's job with the school brought in some money, our primary source of income was the garage door company I owned. But it's pretty hard to climb ladders to install garage doors with a knee that won't bend while you're wearing a heavy cast the length of your leg. No surprise, our bank balance took a sudden and rapid nosedive.
While recovering from the broken leg and the plunging finances, I was hit with a severe attack of kidney stones. Right after that, I was diagnosed with the precursor to—get this—breast cancer. Hyperplasia was the word the doctor used.
Other pastors in our district started calling me "Pastor Job" after the Bible character who was struck with a series of increasingly severe setbacks. Like Job, I struggled to deal with life as one crisis after another struck my family.
Then, just as my own health problems were resolving, Colton suffered the ruptured appendix that almost killed him.
What we learned during those challenges was that we learn more during challenges than while life is good!
One thing I noticed was that, in the middle of all those problems, I was never too busy to pray. Isn't it amazing that in the midst of our problems we seem to have plenty of time to pray, but when things are going smoothly we are often "too busy"?
Here I was a pastor, someone who had prayer ingrained into every part of my life, yet it was my problems that caused my prayer time to increase and become more fervent. I'd often noticed how people never took the time to pray until they had a problem—and now I was noticing that my problems were having that same effect on my life too.
As a pastor, I pray a lot. But during that time I realized that I could pray a lot more—because I did.
The only time God even shows up on some people's radar is when they're in the midst of a crisis. It's like the situation some parents of college kids have with their children: they don't hear from the kids except when they need money. Aren't we the perfect example of that ourselves with our heavenly Father? He only hears from us when we need help.
If we take time to think about it, we realize that not only do we grow as people when we go through hard times but our understanding of God grows at the same time. Many people wander away during the good times and stray from God. But when hard times hit, they come running back to him. How much better it is if we stay close to God through the bad times and the good.
I remember a young man, I'll call him John, who came to me a few years ago, very upset because of what his family was going through. One family member had been found guilty of abusing his wife, another had been arrested for stealing, and another arrested for doing drugs. This man asked angrily, "Why does God let this happen to my family?"
He must have caught me in bad mood, because I wasn't having any of it that day. I said, "John, how can you lie like that?"
Excerpted from HEAVEN CHANGES EVERYTHING by TODD BURPO SONJA BURPO Copyright © 2012 by Todd and Sonja Burpo. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.