The greatest story ever told, the story of Jesus Christ, does not end with his death, His resurrection and ascension to heaven. His contemparies left their accounts of his life, his sayings, his miraculous deeds and his messages so that they would resound throughout history.Jesus promised that he would make his home in heaven for those who show their love for him by obeying his teachings (John 14:23-27) and promised his followers access to God's ongoing presence, as God is alive in our time as he was live in Jesus' time. His presence in us will always be felt, even beyond death.

The scriptures tell us that Christ died for our sins, and he was buried and was raised to life. His post-resurrection appearance is recorded in numerous places in the Bible and was reported by many eyewitnesses, including his 12 apostles and over 500 of his followers. They were told not to forget, but to remember God's message that he preached and instructed them how to carry on his work. And that the Holy Spirit, who existed since before time, would live inside his reconciled people of faith teaching and leading them in the ways to the kingdom of heaven.

As it was in the case of Don Piper, an ordained minister, who said, "Heaven is a reality, a real place!" A true story that happened to Piper, who died and was given a hint of what eternity in heaven will be like. Today he is well known all over the world, as he talks to people about his heavenly experience. He has been on the radio, T.V., in newspapers, on the Internet, has done countless speaking engagements and has written a book on his 90-minute revelation in heaven.

In his book, Piper tells how he died on Jan. 18, 1989. The para-medics reached the scene of his car accident within minutes. They found no pulse and declared him dead. They covered him with a tarp so that onlookers wouldn't stare at him while they attended to the injuries of others. He was completely unaware of the para-medics or anyone else around him.

Immediately after the accident, Don Piper died. He went straight to heaven. While he was in heaven, a Baptist preacher came upon the accident scene. Even though the preacher knew he was dead, he rushed to his lifeless body and prayed for him. Despite the scoffing of the EMTs, the pastor refused to stop praying. After 90 minutes, the EMTs pronounced Piper dead.

God answered the pastor's prayers and Piper returned to earth. He told his family what he had experienced in heaven and that he didn't want to come back to earth.

According to the police accident report, Piper was in his red 1986 Ford Escort, was traveling to Alvin, a small town outside Houston, Texas, to preach a sermon at the South Park Baptist Church.

That morning, he decided to take the Gulf Freeway known as I-45, instead of his regular Highway 59 route. Driving at 50-miles an hour at about 11:45 a.m., just before he cleared the east end of a bridge, an 18-wheeler driven by a man from the Texas Department of Corrections weaved across the center lane and hit Piper's car head on. The truck sandwiched the small car between the bridge railing and the driver's side of the truck. All the wheels went right on top of his car and smashed it.

From witnesses and people at the scene, the truck then veered off to the other side of the bridge and sideswiped two other cars.

The report said the truck driver was driving at least 60 miles an hour when it struck Piper's car.

A young Vietnamese man was in one vehicle that was hit and an elderly man was in the other. Although shaken up, both drivers suffered only minor cuts and bruises. They refused help, so the paramedics transported neither man to the hospital.

The truck driver didn't have a scratch on him, but Piper's car had been crushed and, according to those who were at the scene, the police called for medical backup, as they arrived a few minutes later. A medic examined Piper, found no pulse, and declared that he had been killed instantly.

Piper reported that he had no recollection of the impact or anything that happened afterward. Only that when he died, he didn't flow through a long, dark tunnel or have a sense of fading away or of coming back or never felt his body being transported into the light. He heard no voices calling to him or anything else.

His next moment of awareness was that he was standing in heaven and joy pulsated through him as he looked around. He became aware of a large crowd of people. They stood in front of a brilliant, ornate gate. As the crowd rushed toward him, he didn't see Jesus, but saw people he had known. As they surged toward him, he knew instantly that all of them had died during his lifetime and their presence seemed natural.

Every person was smiling as they rushed toward him, shouting and praising God. Although no one said so, Piper knew intuitively they were his celestial welcoming committee. It was as if they had all gathered just outside heaven's gate, waiting for him.

The first person he recognized was his grandfather, Joe Kulbeth, who he said looked exactly as he remembered, with his shock of white hair and what he called his banana nose. Grandfather Joe stopped momentarily and stood in front of Don. A grin covered his face and he said, "Donnie!" as he held out his arms, with his eyes lit up, and embraced him, holding him tightly. Joe was the robust strong grandfather he remembered as a child.

"My grandfather released me," Don remembered, as he stared into his face, an ecstatic bliss overwhelmed him. Don didn't think about his grandfather's heart attack or his death, because he couldn't get past the joy of their reunion. He had no idea why his grandfather was the first person he saw. Perhaps it had something to do with Don being there when Joe died.

After being hugged by his grandfather, Don didn't remember who was second or third, only that the crowd surrounded him. Some hugged him and some kissed his cheek, while others pumped his hand. And he said he never had felt more loved.

One person in that greeting committee was Don's childhood friend, Mike Wood, who was influential in Don's becoming a Christian. Mike was a devoted young Christian, a popular kid in high school who lettered in four major sports. Mike received a full scholarship to Louisiana State University. When he was 19, he was killed in a car wreck. Don saw Mike in heaven, as they both hugged and Mike smiled so brightly. The joyousness that Don felt, he said, was so blissful and perfect.

More and more people reached for Don, as they called his name. He felt so overwhelmed by the number of people who had come to welcome him to heaven and had never imagined anyone being so happy as they all were. Their faces radiated a serenity that Don had never seen on earth. All were full of life and expressed radiant joy.

Until next time, Ciao, Joe D'Angelo P.S. The tradition of Easter lilies, with many churches filling their sanctuaries with white lilies at Easter stems from several sources. It was said in the Bible that lilies sprang up in the Garden of Gethsemane on the spots where Christ's sweat and tears fell during is final hours before he was betrayed by Judas and crucified. And other sources tell that the lily was a flower that proclaims hope, beauty and nurture.

Next week, Part III

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