Category Archives: Heaven

Answering the Why? Question

These are the thoughts I shared on Saturday at Jackie Tisdale’s memorial service.


If I asked you two weeks ago what you would be doing today, none of us would say, “I’ll be at a funeral.” This event was not on my calendar. The death of Jackie Tisdale was sudden and unexpected . . . at least from our perspective. I was stunned when I read the news on Facebook. My first thought was, “No, that can’t be right.”

Perhaps you, like me, have had many thoughts and prayers the past two weeks that started off with “Why?” “Why this?” “Why now?” “God, what are you doing?”

I started wrestling with the question of “Why?” some 35 years ago when my dad died of cancer. I struggled with it 20 years ago when my brother was killed in an industrial accident. I circled back to it again two weeks ago when I learned that Jackie had passed away.

As I thought about that question the past two weeks, I was reminded of a man who had similar questions. He was a wealthy patriarch by the name of Job. He was a man who had it all. He had seven sons and three daughters, and 11,000 head of livestock including sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. He was rich by anyone’s standards.

And yet in the space of a few days, he lost everything, including his health. The only thing left was his wife and she had become a bitter woman. Job 2:9 says, “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’” In essence she said, “Job, you’re a fool to keep trusting God. All your devotion amounted to this? Curse God and give up.”

Maybe you are feeling like that this morning. You trusted God. You relied on Jackie. And God took her away. If that’s how God treats his children, why bother trusting him?

Job had some well-meaning friends who stopped by to comfort him. Isn’t it strange that when we don’t know what to say, we either say nothing or say the wrong thing? Job’s friends were like that. In fact, they belonged to the “Cliché-of-the-month-Club.”

  • Job, you must have done something wrong. I bet God is punishing you.
  • Job, if you had only been a better person, you wouldn’t be in this mess.
  • Job, just trust God and everything will turn out ok.
  • Job, if you only had had more faith, or trusted God more, or been more generous, or . . . or . . . none of this would have happened.

We’ve all heard the clichés. In fact, we’ve probably said a few of them ourselves. Maybe you have heard or thought these statements over the past two weeks.

In his pain and depression, Job cried out and said, “Why?” And you know what God’s reply was?             SILENCE.

Despite what people say, despite all the pious sounding clichés, the comforting words, or finding someone to blame . . . despite all the well-meaning efforts, there is no answer to the “Why?” question.

In chapter 38 of the book of Job, God finally answered, sort of. But instead of answering Job’s questions, God asked Job some of his own.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? … “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, …12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, … 16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? … 19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, … 22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, … 24 What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth? … 28 “Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? … 31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? 32 … can you guide the Bear with its children? 33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?        35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’?

After God finished his questions, Job finally understood. He had been asking the wrong question. The question is not “Why?” The real question is “Who?”

At the end of the story, Job finally realized that God was sovereignly in control. He recognized that just because God did not explain everything to him, it didn’t mean that God didn’t have a plan and a purpose. In Job 42:1–2, we read, “Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

The concept of God’s sovereignty means that God is sitting on his throne, that he has a plan and a purpose that he is moving to accomplish, and nothing will stop him from completing it. God’s sovereignty says that nothing happens by accident and that God is not surprised by any seeming tragedy. Somehow, and we may never understand why, it is all part of his plan and purpose.

Recognizing God’s sovereignty doesn’t answer all the “Why?” questions. But it does answer the “Who?” question. It says that God is in control and that he can be trusted. While we still grieve, we can take comfort in the fact that Jackie’s death was not a random act or an accident. It was all part of God’s plan and purpose.

Jackie had a strong confidence in Who. Like Job, Jackie was confident that God was her redeemer. In Job 19:25–26 we read, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” Jackie is now in the presence of her redeemer, the one whom she put her faith and trust in.

Some years ago, my wife discovered a saying that said, “God is the Master Weaver—only he knows when the tapestry is complete.” Somehow in God’s plan, Jackie’s tapestry was complete. The final thread was added and he called her home. If I were weaving the tapestry, I would have included a few more threads. But I’m not the Master Weaver.

For some reason God’s tapestry for _________ and for us at First Central includes what looks to us to be some knots and twisted threads. Only time will tell what scene the Master Weaver is trying to weave into our lives. But we can be confident that he is still at work.

God’s sovereignty raises the issue of, “If God is who he says he is, can these events fit into his plan? Can he use these things to accomplish his purpose? If God is who he says he is, does he have the right to do with my life whatever he wants?”

Basically, it comes down to an issue of confidence and trust. Like Job, Jackie knew that God could be trusted. She agreed with the statement in Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” Jackie loved Jesus and trusted him completely. We need to trust that God knows what he is doing.


Myths about death

Over the years, I’ve been asked a number of questions about death, dying, heaven and hell. I’ve also heard an equal number of statements indicating what people believe about those topics. Here are four I’ve heard recently, written in the form of a question and answer.


Q: Do people become angels when they die?

A: The short answer is, “No.” The long answer is that we will be elevated above the angels. People and angels are in completely different categories of created beings. At the present time, human beings are “a little lower than the heavenly beings” (Psalm 8:5). If we have trusted Christ for our salvation (John 3:16; 14:6), then when we die and go to heaven, we will be in a position where we will judge the angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).

Part of the confusion on this topic comes from Matthew 22:30 where Jesus said that when we die, we “are like angels in heaven.” What he meant is that we will not be married in heaven. However, Jesus did NOT say we will become angels.


Q: Do our loved ones who died watch over us?

A: Yes, and, No. The answer is, “Yes,” in the sense that they are aware and watching. Hebrews 12:1 says that we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Luke 16:19-31 tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man was concerned about his relatives’ spiritual condition and wanted to warn them about the afterlife. The answer is, “No,” in the sense that they don’t watch over and protect us. God has sent angels for that purpose (Hebrews 1:14).


Q: Does the presence of a red cardinal mean someone beyond the grave is trying to communicate with me? Is this a visit from the spirit world? (My wife and I saw this on a garden ornament at a local country store and few weeks back.)

A: Unfortunately, the answer is “No.” This is a belief that comes from Native American spiritism. No where in Scripture will you find this.


Q: What do we mean when we say, “Rest in Peace”?

A: This question requires a much longer answer, as you can see below.

In one sense, death is a time of rest, at least for our physical bodies. Scripture uses the metaphor of “going to sleep” to describe death. This picture is mentioned three times in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Dr. Luke uses the same concept in Acts 7 and the apostle Paul uses it again in 1 Corinthians 15 on two occasions. In Mark, chapter 5, the daughter of a religious leader had died and Jairus, her father, begged Jesus for help. Jesus said, “She’s not dead; she is asleep.” In this sense, death is a time of rest.

In another sense, death is a time when we rest from our labors and enjoy our inheritance. Hebrews 4 talks about the “Sabbath rest” for the people of God. It links the idea to God’s work of creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh day as well as Israel’s wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Tying them together, to rest means to cease from our labor of trying to earn God’s favor and enjoying the inheritance and blessings he has prepared for us.

This doesn’t mean, however, that eternity will be spent floating on clouds strumming a harp. Scripture pictures heaven as a place where we engage in meaningful activity. We will be engaged in worship (Revelation 22:1-3), praising Christ for providing our salvation. We will also be serving as we reign with Christ in eternity (Revelation 20:6).

However, these pictures of rest are only true of those who trusted Christ for salvation during their lifetime. Those who rejected Christ as savior will find themselves in hell enduring an eternity of suffering (Matthew 13:42, 50).

With this is mind, we need to be careful about whom we say “Rest in Peace” to. We don’t want to come across as closet universalists who believe all people go to heaven regardless of their beliefs or lifestyle. Nor do we want to communicate that we secretly believe God grades on a curve and the more well-known you are, the more likely you will be in heaven. We also don’t want to act as if this life is all there is, and there is no afterlife. In addition, we don’t want to say “Rest in Peace” simply because we don’t know what else to say.

Eternal rest is only available to those who stopped working to earn their salvation. For the Christ follower, they can go to sleep and later wake up in the arms of Jesus. They can rest and fully enjoy the blessings of salvation and heaven.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 25, 2019 in Heaven, Scripture, Theology


The Connection Between the Gospel and Discipleship

Book Review: Eternity is Now in Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught About Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place, by John Ortberg

“Salvation isn’t about getting you into heaven; it’s about getting heaven into you.” This is one of the statements made by pastor and author John Ortberg in his latest offering, Eternity is Now in Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught About Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place.

As the quote implies, Ortberg wants people to see that salvation is about more than just going to heaven. He explains in the acknowledgements,

I fondly hope this little book can help stimulate a fresh conversation about the glorious nature of salvation. I hope it can help people inside the church and out to see the indissoluble connection between the gospel Jesus preached and the discipleship he offered and to encourage people to “sell all they have in great joy” in order to follow him.

The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 focuses on “Rethinking Salvation.” Far too often, we emphasize the importance of believing in Jesus in order to get to heaven. It is sort of the minimum entrance requirements. The author wants us to understand that salvation also involves a daily relationship with Christ. Part 2 describes “Walking with Jesus.” It provides insight into the nature of discipleship. It begins with seeing God everywhere, leaving baggage behind, forming a new mental map, and abiding with Christ.

The book is a typical Ortberg book. The author incorporates truth with humor, teaching what Scripture says and illustrating it with philosophers, movies, history, quotes from Dallas Willard, and personal stories. While perhaps not one of his best books, it will challenge the reader to reexamine what they believe about salvation and encourage them to experience a growing relationship with Christ today rather simply waiting until they arrive at heaven’s door.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale Blog Network book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 27, 2018 in Books, Discipleship, Heaven, Quotes


Death is so unnatural

In my lifetime, I have buried my father, brother, mother, two hamsters, and one cat. I’ve also presided over 50 funerals of children and adults. In addition, I’ve attended a number of memorial and graveside services.

As we were driving home from the vet when we put our cat to sleep, I was struck with the thought, Death is so unnatural.

God originally wanted us to live forever. The Garden of Eden contained both the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9). When Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and sinned, God sent them out of the garden lest they eat of the tree of life and live forever in a sinful state (Genesis 3:22-24).

When God recreates the world in the new heaven and new earth, one of the things he does away with is death (Revelation 21:4). Death brings with it tears, mourning, crying, and pain. All of those will be removed when God establishes the new heaven and new earth. The tree of life will be present in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:2).

Death and funerals are unnatural. They are one of the consequences of sin. One day they will gone. One more reason to long for Jesus’ return and joining him in heaven.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 29, 2018 in Heaven, Scripture



Like many, I was surprised and saddened to learn of Billy Graham’s death yesterday. Since he was 99 years old, it was expected, but it was still a surprise.

As I reflect on a life well lived, I acknowledge my debt of gratitude to Billy Graham. He impacted my life in a number of ways.

  • My mother-in-law came to faith in Christ during one of Billy Graham’s first crusades in Los Angeles.
  • As a junior higher, my parents and my brother and I sang in the choir during a crusade in Anaheim Stadium. I recall going forward and rededicating my life to Christ during that crusade. I benefited from the follow up material afterwards as it helped strengthen my faith.
  • I attended the counselor training when a crusade was held in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
  • Our church participated in phone counseling after several of the Graham crusades.
  • Billy Graham’s practice of financial integrity and avoiding temptation with the opposite sex provided models to follow.
  • Our church participated in the My Hope campaign four years ago. It provided one more tool of how to share your faith.
  • A couple of articles I wrote were published in Decision Magazine.
  • My wife and I visited The Cove and The Billy Graham Library two years ago and were greatly impressed and encouraged.

Salvation, discipleship, equipping, resources, examples, tools, models, encouragement, ministry opprotunites … I am indebted to Dr. Graham in many, many ways.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 22, 2018 in Funerals, Heaven, News stories


Is there a “fast pass” to heaven?

The world was horrified last week to learn of another school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the midst of the tragedy, there were also acts of heroism as teachers shepherded students to safety. In particular, assistant football coach and security guard Aaron Feis used his own body as a shield to protect students. Taking a bullet and giving his life to save a student was a noble, heroic, sacrificial action.

Aaron’s action prompted one editorial cartoonist to suggest it was an automatic ticket into heaven.


It God grades on a curve, a sacrificial death would certainly rank higher than helping an elderly person cross the street. It would undoubtedly gain more points than donating blood, telling the truth, digging a well in Saharan Africa, curing malaria, or giving up your seat on a bus to someone with a broken leg.

But does God grade on a curve? Can one earn their way into heaven by performing good deeds? Do some actions guarantee one’s entrance into heaven?

In order to answer that question, we need to examine what Scripture says. Jesus told his own disciples that the path to God runs through himself.

John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In an interview with a Jewish leader, Jesus said that eternal life is directly related to one’s faith in Christ.

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The apostle John reiterated the same point years later when he wrote his first letter.

1 John 5:13 – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

The apostle Paul explained that one needs to believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Only then can we be saved and enter heaven.

Romans 10:9–10 – because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

If there was any question about how to enter heaven, the apostle Paul explained that salvation is determined by what God does for us, not by what we do for ourselves.

Ephesians 2:8–9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Good works, selfless deeds, and sacrificial acts are certainly valuable. While they might result in greater rewards in heaven, they won’t guarantee one’s entrance into heaven. Only putting one’s faith in Jesus for salvation will lead to eternal life.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 19, 2018 in Heaven, News stories, Scripture, Theology


To the Church in Philadelphia: A Church that was Faithful

While I was in the rehab center back in November, I applied for a disability parking placard from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). When I called two weeks later, I was told it took two months to process and I would receive it in February. Frustrated by the bureaucracy, I forgot all about it. Two weeks ago, I received a letter from the RMV asking me to surrender my driver’s license because the doctor who signed my original application noted I was medically unable to drive. I called to explain that was three months ago and was no longer valid. I was told I needed a note from my doctor saying my condition had improved and I was medically cleared to drive.

Rather than taking your driver’s license away, what if someone wanted to take heaven away from you? What if you were told that the door to heaven was closed and you were no longer welcome? What if your church told you to stay away and you could no longer attend?

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. While the believers in Philadelphia may have been excommunicated from the Jewish synagogue, Jesus send them a letter (3:7-13) encouraging them that the door to heaven is always. That hope would help them remain faithful in the midst of trying circumstances and persecution.

Jesus wants us to remain faithful in difficult situations. We must keep his word if we want to remain faithful.

The Church (7a) – The church was possibly founded as an outreach of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:10).

The City (7a) – The city was located about 28 miles southeast of Sardis. It was located in an area noted for its grapes but afflicted with earthquakes which destroyed the city several time, most recently about AD 17. With an economy based on agriculture and industry, Philadelphia enjoyed considerable prosperity. Because it was located in a vine-growing district, the worship of Dionysus was its chief pagan cult.

Philadelphia was situated in a strategic place on the main route of the Imperial Post from Rome to the east, and thus was called “the gateway to the East.” It was also called “little Athens” because of the many temples in the city.

The Character of Christ (7b) – Jesus described himself as the one who is holy and true, who holds the key of David, and is able to open or shut a door which no one else could open or shut.

Holiness speaks of his purity and total consecration to God. He will not lead his people into moral error. True or faithful would remind the believers that Christ can keep his promises and carry them to completion. Jesus is reliable. He can be trusted. The key of David refers to Isaiah 22:20-23 where Eliakim was the steward of Hezekiah and possessed the key of David. He was the gatekeeper who allowed access to the king and the king’s presence.

Christ alone has the authority to admit persons to his heavenly city. Because he is holy and true, no one can ever argue that his admission of some and refusal of others is unrighteous.

The Condition of the Church: Commendation (8-10a) – Though small in number, the congregation had a powerful impact. Though they had little strength to oppose the forces of evil, they kept Christ’s word and were faithful. It is not the size of the church that determines its ministry, but faith in the call and command of the Lord.

Jesus has placed before the church an open door. This could mean an open door for evangelism (1 Corinthians 16:9). As the “gateway to the East,” they had a unique opportunity to carry the gospel to the cities of Phrygia. It could also mean an open door to heaven (Revelation 4:1). Christ has placed an open door into the eternal kingdom, and no one can shut it.

The believers were faithful and loyal. They had not denied Christ even though they had opportunity to do so. Despite the pressure, they were faithful.

Christ refers to their enemies as the synagogue of Satan. They were Jews who opposed the believers’ Christian testimony. The day will come, however, when all opponents of the faith will have to acknowledge the truth. This probably refers to a future event of judgment.

The Commitment (10b-12) – Because the church was faithful and willing to endure patiently, Jesus promised to keep them from the hour of trial. The hour of trial will be terrible for all who live on the earth. Christ also promises that he will coming soon. They were encouraged to hold on to what they have so that they do not lose any heavenly rewards because they fell into sin.

Everyone who is an overcomer will become a pillar in the temple of God. This is a picture of stability and security. Because believers have identified with Christ by faith, he will identify himself with them. Jesus will write his name on the faithful believers.

The Challenge (13) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

Principles (1) God is more interested in faithfulness than success. Perseverance is the key to receiving the rewards God has for us. (2) Jesus has the key of David. He is able to provide access to heaven to those who keep his word. He can be trusted to keep his promises.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 18, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.