As we viewed my father-in-law’s body in his casket at the funeral home, one of his sons took his dad’s hammer and tucked it alongside his folded hands. Years later, when my mother-in-law died, one of the children slipped a set of knitting needles under her fingers. Those sweet gestures brought comfort to us as we remembered how often they had used those tools during their lives.
Of course, we knew that they wouldn’t actually need those items in eternity. We had no illusions, as the ancient Egyptians did, that tools or money or weapons buried with someone would better prepare them for the next life. You can’t take it with you! (Ps. 49:16-17; 1 Tim. 6:7).
But some preparation for eternity had been necessary for my in-laws. That preparation had come years before when they trusted Jesus as their Savior.
Planning for the life to come can’t begin at the time of our death. Each of us must prepare our heart by accepting the gift of salvation made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
At the same time, God has made preparations as well: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). He has promised to prepare a place for us to spend eternity with Him.
In his book Jumping Through Fires, David Nasser tells the story of his spiritual journey. Before he began a relationship with Jesus, he was befriended by a group of Christian teens. Although most of the time his buddies were generous, winsome, and nonjudgmental, David witnessed one of them lie to his girlfriend. Feeling convicted, the young man later confessed and asked for her forgiveness. Reflecting on this, David said that the incident drew him closer to his Christian friends. He realized that they needed grace, just as he did.
We don’t have to act like we’re perfect with the people we know. It’s okay to be honest about our mistakes and struggles. The apostle Paul openly referred to himself as the worst of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). He also described his wrestling match with sin in Romans 7, where he said, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (v. 18). Unfortunately, the opposite was also true: “The evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (v. 19).
Being open about our struggles puts us on the same level with every other human alive—which is right where we belong! However, because of Jesus Christ, our sin will not follow us into eternity. It’s like the old saying goes, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”
Under Nehemiah’s supervision, the Israelite workers were rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. When they were nearly half finished, however, they learned that their enemies were plotting to attack Jerusalem. This news demoralized the already exhausted workers.
Nehemiah had to do something. First, he prayed and posted numerous guards in strategic places. Then, he armed his workers. “Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked” (Neh. 4:17-18).
We who are building God’s kingdom need to arm ourselves against the attack of our spiritual enemy, Satan. Our protection is the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word. Memorizing Scripture and meditating on it enables us to “take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11). If we think that working for God doesn’t matter, we should turn to the promise that what we do for Jesus will last for eternity (1 Cor. 3:11-15). If we fear we’ve sinned too greatly for God to use us, we must remember we’ve been forgiven by the power of Jesus’ blood (Matt. 26:28). And if we’re worried we might fail if we try to serve God, we can recall that Jesus said we will bear fruit if we abide in Him (John 15:5).
God’s Word is our divine defense!
One of my favorite scenes in literature occurs when a feisty aunt confronts an evil stepfather over the abuse of her nephew, David Copperfield. This scene takes place in Charles Dickens’ novel named after the main character.
When David Copperfield shows up at his aunt’s house, his stepfather is not far behind. Aunt Betsy Trotwood is not pleased to see the malicious Mr. Murdstone. She recounts a list of offenses and does not let him slither out of his responsibility for each act of cruelty. Her charges are so forceful and truthful that Mr. Murdstone—a normally aggressive person—finally leaves without a word. Through the strength and goodness of Aunt Betsy’s character, David finally receives justice.
There is Someone else who is strong and good, and who will one day right the wrongs in our world. When Jesus returns, He will come down from heaven with a group of powerful angels. He will “give relief to you who are troubled,” and He will not ignore those who have created problems for His children (2 Thess. 1:6-7). Until that day, Jesus wants us to stand firm and have courage. No matter what we endure on earth, we are safe for eternity.
I was engrossed in a book when a friend bent over to see what I was reading. Almost immediately, she recoiled and looked at me aghast. “What a gloomy title!” she said.
I was reading “The Glass Coffin” in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the word coffin disturbed her. Most of us don’t like to be reminded of our mortality. But the reality is that out of 1,000 people, 1,000 people will die.
Death always elicits a deep emotional response. It was at the funeral of one of His dear friends that Jesus displayed strong emotions. When He saw Mary, whose brother had recently died, “he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Another translation says, “a deep anger welled up within him” (nlt).
Jesus was troubled—even angry—but at what? Possibly, He was indignant at sin and its consequences. God didn’t make a world filled with sickness, suffering, and death. But sin entered the world and marred God’s beautiful plan.
The Lord comes alongside us in our grief, weeping with us in our sorrow (v. 35). But more than that, Christ defeated sin and death by dying in our place and rising from the dead (1 Cor. 15:56-57).
Jesus promises, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). As believers in Christ we enjoy fellowship with our Savior now, and we look forward to an eternity with Him where there will be no more tears, pain, sickness, or death.
I like to watch birds at play, so years ago I built a small sanctuary in our backyard to attract them. For several months I enjoyed the sight of my feathered friends feeding and flitting about—until a Cooper’s Hawk made my bird refuge his private hunting reserve.
Such is life: Just about the time we settle down to take our ease, something or someone comes along to unsettle our nests. Why, we ask, must so much of life be a vale of tears?
I’ve heard many answers to that old question, but lately I’m satisfied with just one: “All the discipline of the world is to make [us] children, that God may be revealed to [us]” (George MacDonald, Life Essential). When we become like children, we begin trusting, resting solely in the love of our Father in heaven, seeking to know Him and to be like Him.
Cares and sorrow may follow us all the days of our lives, but “we do not lose heart. . . . For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Can we not rejoice, then, with such an end in view?
People post obituary notices on billboards and concrete block walls in Ghana regularly. Headlines such as Gone Too Soon, Celebration of Life, and What a Shock! announce the passing away of loved ones and the approaching funerals. One I read—In Transition—points to life beyond the grave.
When a close relative or friend dies, we sorrow as Mary and Martha did for their brother Lazarus (John 11:17-27). We miss the departed so much that our hearts break and we weep, as Jesus wept at the passing of His friend (v. 35).
Yet, it was at this sorrowful moment Jesus made a delightful statement on life after death: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (v. 25).
On the basis of this we give departed believers only a temporary farewell. For they “will be with the Lord forever,” Paul emphasizes (1 Thess. 4:17). Of course, farewells are painful, but we can rest assured that they are in the Lord’s safe hands.
In Transition suggests that we are only changing from one situation to another. Though life on earth ends for us, we will continue to live forever and better in the next life where Jesus is. “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (v. 18).
One of the most recognizable images in the US is the “HOLLYWOOD” sign in Southern California. People from all over the globe come to “Tinseltown” to gaze at cement footprints of stars and perhaps catch a glimpse of celebrities who might pass by. It’s hard for these visitors to miss the sign anchored in the foothills nearby.
Less well known in the Hollywood hills is another easily recognized symbol—one with eternal significance. Known as the Hollywood Pilgrimage Memorial Monument, this 32-foot cross looks out over the city. The cross was placed there in memory of Christine Wetherill Stevenson, a wealthy heiress who in the 1920s established the Pilgrimage Theatre (now the John Anson Ford Theatre). The site served as the venue for The Pilgrimage Play, a drama about Christ.
The two icons showcase an interesting contrast. Movies good and bad will come and go. Their entertainment value, artistic contributions, and relevance are temporary at best.
The cross, however, reminds us of a drama eternal in scope. The work of Christ is a story of the loving God who pursues us and invites us to accept His offer of complete forgiveness. The high drama of Jesus’ death is rooted in history. His resurrection conquered death and has an eternal impact for all of us. The cross will never lose its meaning and power.
In our family, March means more than the end of winter. It means that the college basketball extravaganza called “March Madness” has arrived. As avid fans, we watch the tournament and enthusiastically root for our favorite teams. If we tune in early we get a chance to listen to the broadcasters talk about the upcoming game and to enjoy some of the pre-game drills where players shoot practice shots and warm up with teammates.
Our life on earth is like the pre-game in basketball. Life is interesting and full of promise, but it doesn’t compare to what lies ahead. Just think of the pleasure of knowing that even when life is good, the best is yet to come! Or that when we give cheerfully to those in need, it’s an investment in heavenly treasure. In times of suffering and sorrow, we can find hope as we reflect on the truth that a pain-free, tearless eternity awaits us. It’s no wonder that Paul exhorts: “Set your minds on things above” (Col. 3:2).
The future God has promised us enables us to see all of life in new dimensions. While this may be a great life, the best life is still to come. It is a wonderful privilege to live here in the light of there.