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Guest Interviews

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Steve & Sarah Berger

2156 05/29/11

SSC: I am eager for you to hear the story of a wonderful couple, Steve and Sarah Berger. Steve is the founding pastor of Grace Chapel church in Franklin, Tennessee.
Their journey of grief started when their son, Josiah, unexpectedly went to be in heaven on his 19th birthday. But through their pain, they have a passion for heaven like never before and they are here to share what they have learned. They've written a book entitled, Have Heart: Bridging the Gulf between Heaven and Earth.
Please welcome with me, Steve and Sarah Berger. This has been a painful journey for both of you. Tell us what happened.

STEVE: On August 11th, 2009, we got the phone call that no parent ever wants to get, and that is that our son was involved in a terrible car accident. We went to Vanderbilt University and were given no hope. But being people of hope, we didn't listen to the doctor's report right away. We trusted God for a miracle for 72 hours and then on Josiah's 19th birthday, we honored his wishes to be an organ donor and to give life. So on his 19th birthday, we officially released him to heaven.

SSC: Now he was preparing to start his freshman year at the University of Tennessee and you had talked to him about his first trip back home, so this was so unexpected.
How many lives were saved by his organ donation?

STEVE: Well the doctors told us that 77 lives would benefit, and five lives would immediately be saved.

SSC: Wow, that's amazing. So as a pastor and as parents, how did Josiah's homecoming impact you?

SARAH: Well I would say we knew enough of the truth going into this journey that we had full assurance that Josiah was really home, that he was in the place we're all living to get to. So we didn't believe lies or let culture begin to dictate what so many of us, even as church members, get sucked into that Josiah is dead and you'll never see him again. What we tend to embrace in culture that's entirely contrary to the word of God, we in fact knew that Josiah is in heaven and he's totally more alive than we are, and that's the truth of the gospel. So we embraced that at the onset of this journey.

SSC: In fact, you don't ever refer to him as dead, or lost because number one, he's not lost; you know exactly where he is.

STEVE: That's right.

SSC: And you never refer to him as being dead, because he's more alive now than he ever was. That's a fundamental part of your journey.

STEVE: It really is. It's a foundational point. We look into the scriptures for all hope and all healing, so when you start to understand what Jesus said, which is God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

SARAH: That's right.

STEVE: Jesus said if we live and believe in Him, we shall never die. Paul says in 2nd Corinthians 5:4 that our mortality is swallowed by immortality and swallowed by life itself. The reality is, we're in the land of the dying and those in heaven are in the land of the living. So we only refer to our son in the present tense. He's not a "was," he's an eternal in Christ. He is alive and active and aware and that's the hope of the gospel.

SSC: That's so true. What an amazing new paradigm shift.

SARAH: The scriptures tell us to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and that's just the truth.

SSC: Sarah, you talk in your book about an in-depth study that you did of that one bible verse. Talk a little bit about that because I think it is so important.

SARAH: I felt compelled by the Lord to get into my Strong's Concordance and really dissect that simple verse. And the truth of it in just the simplicity of reading it, should be enough: to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
But when I delved into it farther, I discovered that to be absent means to immigrate and to be present means to be in one's homeland. So to immigrate from your body is to be in one's homeland with the Lord. That's the literal meaning of that scripture.
So the Father gave me this perspective. You need to look at this as if Josiah lives in another country. That's bridging the gulf between heaven and earth. So it's not so far away after all.

SSC: And you contend in the book that the saints, which include our loved ones now in heaven, are active. They are praying, they are worshipping, and they are working on behalf of the Lord.

SARAH: Yes.

STEVE: Amen. Reigning as kings and priests, as the scripture says. When you look throughout the bible, you'll see that they are worshipping right now. They are praying and interceding, and it really changes your whole perspective. It realizes that our cartoon theology of sitting on a cloud, endlessly plucking a harp, doing nothing is cultural and not biblical at all. So we want to see people's paradigm change and realize that when you're in heaven, you are alive, you are active, and you are aware more than ever.

SSC: Heaven is real.

STEVE: Absolutely.

SSC: And our loved ones who know Jesus, and who are no longer here on earth, are very much alive today in heaven.

STEVE: Absolutely.

SSC: That's the message of your book, right?

STEVE: Absolutely.

SSC: It is a hope filled message. You still miss Josiah?

SARAH: Yes.

SSC: Every day, I bet.

STEVE: "Miss" is an inadequate word. It's the word we have to use but miss is inadequate. I ache for my son, however, I rejoice because I know where he is. I know he's not lost, I know he's not dead, and I can't wait to see him again. That's the hope of Jesus Christ.

SARAH: Might I add this? I have had this simple revelation that apart from Christ, our family's lives together are very limited, maybe 40, 50 or 60 years. But in Christ, who wouldn't want to live forever as a family? What a benefit of knowing Christ.

SSC: Now today you are continuing the memory of Josiah here on earth through Josiah's House. Tell us about that.

STEVE: We're thrilled about that. Josiah had a heart for missions and for Latin speakers. He traveled around and went with me to Mexico and Ecuador several times.
So we do work in the Dominican Republic and there are some homes being built right now called Josiah's House. They're for boys who are homeless and in need of love and support. So Josiah's House in the Dominican Republic is part of his on-going legacy and we're thrilled about that. All of the proceeds from the book go to the support of Josiah's House.

SSC: So Josiah's homecoming brings a home to homeless boys here on earth.

STEVE: Absolutely.

SSC: Steve, I'd like you to say a prayer for the people who don't have the assurance of knowing they're going to heaven.

STEVE: Father, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we come to You now and we ask that You would shower Your mercy and Your grace on those who don't yet know You. We pray, Father, that You would draw them to the Lord Jesus Christ. Remove the scales of unbelief that the god of this age and the enemy of their soul has placed on them. I pray that You would remove those scales and that they would see the hope, the life and the truth that is in Jesus Christ. I pray that they would surrender their hearts with humility, and that trust be born again in their spirits. Then, oh God, that they would spend eternity with You and the rest of their loved ones whose heart aches for them to know You. Father, we trust You to do that very thing, in the wonderful, strong name of Jesus, who is the Christ, Amen.

SSC: Amen. Thank you, Sarah.

SARAH: Thank you so much for the opportunity.

SSC: Thank you, Steve. God bless you.

STEVE: Sheila, it's an honor, thank you.

SSC: Thank you both. Steve and Sarah's book, Have Heart: Bridging the Gulf between Heaven and Earth is available at hourofpower.org.

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