Category: Updates

A Woman of Love and Service

Inspiration is one of those things you can’t expect. It just happens when it happens. It’s like a double rainbow or the northern lights – they just appear, unexpectedly, and it’s marvelous when they do.

Inspiration often presents itself in the least anticipated places, which makes it all the more profound. I collided with inspiration shortly before Christmas in 2014 on a frigid Michigan day, at the funeral of a truly remarkable individual.

Dolores Slikkers was in her mid-80s when tragedy intervened in the form of a motor vehicle accident and cut short her earthly sojourn. “Cut short” isn’t what you’d normally hear said about someone of Dolores’ age, and one of the speakers at the funeral made that very point.

“Normally, at the funeral of someone in their 20s, someone will say, ‘she had her whole life ahead of her,’” he said. “But that was true of Dolores. Even at her age, she did so much living that it was as though she had her whole life ahead of her.”

Dolores did as much living in one lifetime as most people could do in two or three. Together with Leon, her husband and best friend of 67 years, she raised a family of exceptional children, who in turn have raised outstanding children of their own.  She was the rock of her family as Leon founded a successful business, and her life was characterized by service. In addition to having been a respected member of It Is Written’s Executive Committee for over 20 years, Dolores volunteered in a wide variety of administrative roles in her church, including at the world church level, as well as on the board of a Christian university. She poured hours of her time into the life of her church in a multitude of ways.

She was instrumental in founding a Christian service organization that has blessed and improved the lives of multiplied thousands of people around the world, and yet what inspired me most of all was that she continued to be involved as an integral part of the life of her local church. Her church pastor spoke of still being able to ‘see’ her standing in her customary spot in the church foyer, waiting to greet people as they arrived at church each week. While Dolores was able to breathe the rarified air at the highest levels of church administration, she was equally at home at the lower altitudes inhabited by the every day church member.  She was a woman of faith who not only had a genuine connection with Jesus, but who lived that faith as she invested in the lives of countless others.

At one part of her funeral service, it was mentioned that it was Dolores’ practice to write encouraging notes to others. The pastor asked everyone who had received one of her personal, hand-written notes to stand. I looked around the crowded church and couldn’t see a single person seated. Everyone was on their feet. More than one person had to have wondered where Dolores found time to write all those notes.

Another of her ministries was to hand-make blankets for people in need.  And in the last conversation I had with Dolores, she told me how excited she was about her local church’s evangelistic outreach to her community. And yes, Dolores was on the front lines of that outreach. Involved. Doing. Giving. Ministering.

Among those who spoke at her funeral were academics, administrators, pastors, ministry leaders, friends, and family members. Each person testifying of a woman of real inspiration. This was someone who not only cared about people, but made a difference in their lives. One university professor shared that Dolores had ‘adopted’ him when he was a young man, enabling him to complete his doctoral studies in the United States, far from his home in Europe.

At funerals the word of God is especially poignant. Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians comes alive where grief and faith collide. “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Yes they will, and Dolores will be among them. “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord,” John wrote in Revelation 14:13. David declared, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:15.

As I sat in that crowded church, I couldn’t help but be inspired. It seemed to me that the most impressive degree she had earned was the doctorate she received from the school life. Her most outstanding achievements called her “Mom”.  Perhaps the most glowing tribute anyone had ever paid her was expressed in two words: “I do”, expressed well over half a century later as “I still do.” She influenced a denomination, provided guidance to a university and to generations of scholars, and – one blanket at a time, one card at a time – showed real, everyday people that they were special, valued and loved. 

I remembered the many times she had sat opposite me at It Is Written Executive Committee meetings, and I imagined her standing at her spot in the foyer waiting to warmly welcome saints and sinners into the house of God. God had blessed so many people through Dolores Slikkers, myself included. It just didn’t seem possible that at 85 years of age, the life of this mother in Israel had been cut tragically short.

She still had her whole life ahead of her.

Heavenly Hoax

Some years ago I stopped to use a pay phone and found the phone booth had been virtually wallpapered with pink tracts, which turned out to be excerpts from a book written by someone claiming to have visited hell. The author’s description of hell was partly graphic, somewhat entertaining, quite incredible and entirely un-Biblical.

In 2010, a book was published which claimed to be the story of a young boy who had visited not hell, but heaven. The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven was the spectacular story of a child’s visit to heaven after he “died” in a car wreck that left him a quadriplegic. Alex Malarkey’s story sold over a million copies and was developed into a TV movie, gripping hearts around the world. But several days ago Alex admitted that his story was nothing more than a heavenly hoax.

Following the accident which almost claimed his life, Alex – six years old at the time of the accident – spent two months in a coma. The wonder of Alex regaining consciousness was overshadowed by the incredible account he gave of what he experienced while he was unconscious. He claimed angels had escorted him through the gates of heaven, that he heard heavenly music, saw the devil and talked with Jesus Himself.

But Alex recently wrote an open letter that was published on the Pulpit and Pen website in which he flatly said, “It was all a lie.” Alex now says he didn’t “die” in he accident, and he never at any time went to heaven.

“I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention,” Alex said in a brief statement. “When I made the claims I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to.”

The book has been taken out of print by its publisher, and bookstores have stopped carrying the book.

Of course the bigger question is, “Should the book have been published in the first place?”

From a Biblical point of view, the clear answer is No.

The Bible speaks nothing of people dying, going to heaven and returning to the Earth to tell people what they have seen. Paul spoke about his own experience of seeing heaven in vision (2 Corinthians 12:2-4), and the prophets Daniel and John wrote of visions of heaven they had experienced (Daniel 7:9,10; Revelation 4:1-11). Jesus returned from heaven to Earth, but like Moses – the only other person the Bible discusses who died, went to heaven and returned to Earth – He was silent about what heaven is like.

What’s alarming about The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven and stories like it is that they directly contradict the plain testimony of the Bible. The Bible clearly states that death is a sleep, not a condition in which people can travel to heaven or any other place. Jesus spoke of Lazarus as being asleep (John 11:11), which he clearly interpreted as meaning “Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14). The Bible is remarkably consistent on the subject. Paul wrote that the dead sleep until Jesus wakes them at the second coming (1 Corinthians 15:51,52), and that the saved who are alive when Jesus returns will go to heaven at that time, along with those who had previously died in faith and slept the sleep of death. While such a view may come as a surprise to someone who has not carefully investigated this subject, it is certainly biblical.

Numerous times the Bible refers to death as a dreamless sleep which lasts from the moment of death until the first resurrection takes place (Revelation 14:13; John 5:28,29).

Over the years there has been a very deliberate and carefully-orchestrated campaign conducted by the enemy of souls to confuse people regarding death and life after death. Like the majority of Christian believers, I was taught as a child to believe that those who die are ushered immediately into either heaven or hell (or in certain other cases, purgatory or limbo). And rather than this being a minor theological point of debate or discussion, the twisting of truth on this subject leads to at least two extremely serious theological problems: the marginalizing of Jesus, and the opening of the door to spiritualism.

Spiritualism is serious business – literally and figuratively. Millions are spent on psychics and mediums and related materials. And a person who entertains thoughts of contacting a spiritist medium is entertaining thoughts of getting into very close contact with the devil himself. Such was the experience of King Saul (see 1 Samuel 28).

The Bible makes clear that spiritualism will be a major influence in Earth’s final days in preparing people to accept Satan’s final deceptions (Revelation 16:13). A friend recently told me that following the tragic death of his 23-year-old daughter, if he had not understood what the Bible says about death, he would undoubtedly have sought to contact his daughter through a spiritist medium. Such involvement with the enemy has disastrous consequences.

And while a misunderstanding of death opens the door to spiritualism, it also reduces Jesus to being less than He actually is. In John 11:25, Jesus explained to the sister of Lazarus that He is “the resurrection and the life”. Without Jesus the dead have no hope of life beyond the grave. Only through Jesus’ direct intervention at the time of the second coming can anyone be raised from the dead. Without Jesus waking the sleeping dead, the grave will never release its prisoners. Even the giants of faith listed in Hebrews 11 – with the exception of Moses and Enoch – “did not receive the promise (Hebrews 11:39.)” They also wait for the return of Jesus to take place before they can be raised from their various places of rest (see verse 40).

If people go to heaven immediately upon dying then a resurrection is unnecessary, and Jesus is no longer “the resurrection and the life.” Paul’s question in 1 Corinthians 15:55 KJV – “O grave, where is thy victory?” – is a question not worth asking. We can travel to heaven without a resurrection having taken place.

Stories like that of Alex Malarkey are extremely popular. 90 Minutes in Heaven, published in 2004, spent over 5 years on the New York Times bestsellers’ list and sold over six million copies. Heaven is for Real – the story of a four year old who visited heaven – has sold over ten million copies. A 2014 movie based on Heaven is for Real has grossed over one hundred million dollars. This publishing phenomenon is now a genre of its own, having been dubbed “Heavenly Tourism.”

A story published by National Public Radio quoted a blog post written by Alex’s mother, Beth, in which she said, “There are many who are scamming and using the Word of God to do it. They are good, especially if you are not digging into your Bible and truly studying it. They study their audience and even read ‘success’ books to try to build bigger and better… ‘ministries/businesses.’ “ And Phil Johnson, the Executive Director of the media ministry led by author and broadcaster John MacArthur said, quoted in the Washington Post, “The idea that Alex suddenly recanted is just not true. There was proof everywhere that he did not stand behind the content of this book. But it was a bestselling book. Nobody in the industry wanted to kill it.”

The publisher of the now-recalled book said at the time of publishing that the story was “a supernatural encounter that will give you new insights on Heaven, angels, and hearing the voice of God.” Alex Malarkey is now saying something very different.

So how could this heavenly hoax have happened? Some say Alex’s father – the co-author of the book – saw an opportunity to make money from his son’s vivid imagination. There seems to be little doubt that Alex was a genuine soul who had no idea of the harm his creativity was going to cause. But informed by a flawed belief system, Alex was able to believe that an out-of-body escape to heaven is entirely possible. Multiplied millions believe the same thing around the world.

Similar stories have been prominent in pop culture and within religious circles. Moves dealing with out-of-body and other paranormal experiences have played to audiences in all corners of the planet. And claims of mystical occurrences such as apparitions of the Virgin Mary continue to encourage the faithful, even though they have gain no support whatsoever from Scripture.

A number of years ago while I was praying in a small group at a convention for Catholic youth, my eyes opened wide when a young man from my church started ‘prophesying.’

“My people,” he began. “I have a message for you, my people…” It was well known that Peter was a plumber. What was not known was that he was a prophet. Few of us were convinced. Several of us tasked a young nun with talking to Peter about his ‘prophesying’, but before she had a chance to approach Peter, Peter came and spoke with our small group and admitted his ‘prophesying’ was nothing more than a case of misjudged wishful thinking.

“I just wanted it to be real, and… I’m sorry. That won’t happen again.” As far as I know, it never did. Peter had been exposed to Pentecostal worship services where ‘prophesying’ is common or even expected. His desire to possess this type of spiritual gift got the better of him.

Alex Malarkey admits his desire for attention prompted him to tell a story that simply wasn’t true. Now 16 years old, Alex offers some sound advice. “[People] should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

The hope is that many will take his take his counsel as seriously as they took his story.

(Originally published in the Adventist Review online)