Somehow you managed to swing it. You told your bosses how important it was for you to attend this funeral service. They had given you the weekend off, but the brass warned you to be back in your office by Monday. Every moment you were out of your office your firm stood to lose much wealth, and so did you. You’ve spent your entire career climbing the corporate ladder. An MBA from Princeton University helped get the ball rolling. You still had to pay your dues and bide your time as a newbie in your field. But as soon as your keen business sense was noticed by top management, things really started moving fast. Now, you’ve finally arrived. It makes you feel proud that you are the top talent for your agency, and they cannot do without you.
You took an aisle seat in a large modern building, secretly thankful that the church did not look like an old-fashioned chapel straight out of a Currier and Ives lithograph. You couldn’t take a Christmas card church, complete with a bell tower steeple. That brought to mind scary scenes from your childhood. But it is still a Baptist church, and this evokes feelings that had long been forgotten.
When you were eleven years old your parents had been in the middle of a horrendous divorce and mom was determined to deposit you in a bustling, loving environment. She believed it would bring you happiness at least one day out of the week, even if that happiness was against your will. So every Sunday your mother would dutifully hand you over to the Junior Church staff of Highland Baptist Church. The halls of the church seemed to be crawling with children of all ages. The well-intentioned adult shepherds would herd you into a multipurpose room where you would sing songs about Jesus and learn Bible stories.
All useless crap, now that you are grown up and living successfully in the corporate world.
You remembered that every Sunday you felt lonely. Lost and scared among all those singing bodies. You had a hard time making friends. You would rather have stayed home with your mother than endure this weekly torment. But mom insisted, and to make her happy, you went along with the plan. You grew up lonely with a lot of questions about God that mom couldn’t answer.
You met Katherine at the university in your sophomore year on the debate team. She peppered you with questions you couldn’t answer. She would not leave you alone, no matter how hard you tried to dodge her. She was somewhat of a tomboy. She wasn’t pretty in the candy box sense and you hadn’t been interested in getting a girlfriend. Just a friend. This one happened to be a girl, but you forgave her for that. She made you believe she could wrestle alligators. That was so long ago. It seemed like somebody else’s lifetime.
You find small comfort in the sight of the gold cufflink peeking out of the bottom of the sleeve of your well-made, navy blue business suit. It is evidence of your success. You examine the expensive watch around your wrist, but you’re beginning to nervously shift the crystal face and titanium links back and forth until you create a red mark on your wrist..
Your decision to take an aisle seat was pre-meditated in case you needed a way of escape. You know that if you let your guard down you could shred your reputation and cry like a baby. You shoot a glance behind you looking for the exit and your eyes make contact with the three close friends that are standing sentinel on either side of the casket, waiting for the service to start. Too late to get up and move now without embarrassing yourself. You nod an almost imperceptible greeting that is returned. The other three pallbearers are her dad and two brothers.
Her husband was obviously unable to bear the weight of the moment. From your vantage point you can see him sitting in the front pew of the church bent over. It looks like he would fall down if he stood up. The promise of his life had been stomped out.
You could feel the sorrow welling up in your throat as it thickens and you dive for the last two mints in your pocket. You realize you would have shown some foresight to have a bottle of water.
The whole incident had been such a freaking waste that you cannot believe that fate had choreographed such a tragic moment in time. And yet, here you all were. Here was your friend of fifteen years, laying in a silk-lined box, deprived of life in a moment of peak pride. Your mind mused sadly over what might have been.
She had married the love of her life three years ago in a phenomenal Mexican Riviera wedding. You and all the gang had been guests of honor, and the whole trip had been such a blast. And then Wham! Two weeks ago she proudly informed you and your tight group of hard-core professionals that she was leaving the corporate world for a baby. And quickly. Because Zachary was going to be born in four months, and she needed to have time to set up a nursery in her new house. She was getting ready to create a completely non-corporate schedule that would revolve around the baby alone.
Watching one of your best friends go gaga over a baby was inexplicable. You could not put this feeling of high anticipation for motherhood against a girl who swore that she would never destroy her career for a husband and children. Ever. Ever. And in the end a husband and a baby were not the threat to life and limb at all. They had been the promise of the perpetuation of the future.
That bright future ended when she intersected with a sixteen-year-old driver who had not even pretended to yield at a stop sign. The threat had been something unseen but deadly – social media. And it did not kill with a knife or a gun. It killed with virtual words. The teen plowed into the driver’s side of her BMW with catastrophic results. It took rescue personnel hours to extricate her from the crushed interior cage of the car. She died on the operating table after six hours of surgery. You heard that a valiant effort had been made by the doctors to take the child alive, but the baby could not be saved.
That afternoon, the car’s back seat was filled with baby paraphernalia that Katherine had just purchased from Neiman Marcus and every baby boutique she could hit that day. In your mind’s eye, you could imagine her wanting that one quick trip to the Starbucks for an addiction fix. Stopping for the few minutes it took to get something as normal and mundane as a caramel macchiato coffee seemed to have sealed her fate.
You were told that this sixteen-year-old idiot had been inattentively texting some brain-dead drivel to another friend. For the pursuit of nothing, this teen destroyed one of the only true friends you had ever had in your entire life.
Now, Katherine’s husband had nothing but an empty future to look forward to. He could marry again, but you did not think that he was going to. You heard that he had shut the door to the baby nursery and has not entered since the accident. He contacted a high-powered real estate company and now there was a big “for sale” sign in front of their brand new, amazing house that she was so proud of. It was obvious to everyone that he could not bear to live in it any more and was going to down-size dramatically to be alone with his grief.
The teenage driver had lived, miraculously. Lived to text another day. She was being charged with vehicular manslaughter for the two deaths she caused. What a mess she had entangled herself and her family in.
The organ music changed almost imperceptibly to something even more solemn, indicating that the service had started. Out of respect, the congregation stood and turned its attention to the back of the church. The highly polished oak casket borne by your somber friends passed by so close it felt as if you could have reached out and touched it. You were gratified that her family had chosen something that was simple but still beautiful. A huge spray of yellow roses topped its lids. Your girl was born in Texas, after all. Thankfully those lids are going to remain closed because of the car accident. You are relieved that you will not have to be left with the indelible image of someone you have loved for years with a sunken-in face covered in pancake makeup that is supposed to simulate life. That is, if she even had a face to look at.
You steel yourself. That was not a good thought to entertain. Keep calm. By now, you should feel like a veteran of the funeral service. Within the last year you had attended two other funerals. One for your uncle, who lived several states away and who you did not come into contact with that often. He was your father’s older brother. Your relationship with family members from your dad’s side was victimized by your parents’ divorce. And then, more recently, an acquaintance that did business with your company died of a heart attack. You had been friendly with him, but not friends. You congratulated yourself prematurely on the victory of conquering all feelings of fear of death. After all, you had faced down the enemy twice and tucked into big lunch afterward with your friends.
What you really had not given a thought to was that the casket would evoke such an overwhelming feeling of loss and such a desperate need to know where she went. You remember your ninth grade Physical Science class. Mr. Fischer taught an absolute – You cannot destroy matter or energy.
Matter is a physical substance.
Energy is power, like heat and electricity.
We are flesh and blood. Matter. We are also beings that run on electrical current. Energy.
If you put a log into a fireplace and light it on fire, it burns down. The log is still there, but its substance has been changed into heat and light, and the matter left over is ashes.
You are pretty sure that the energy source inside every human being at the point of death is not put out like a candle. It is finally released from its bondage to the body.
What had they tried to teach you in that Junior Church? Doesn’t the soul survive and go to heaven after the body dies? If so, then that meant she wasn’t really gone after all.
Okay. If that were true, she had to exist somewhere. Her body was in this box here, being prepared to go into the ground, and her power plant had ceased to function. But where is heaven?
Where was she? You can’t just snuff out the life of someone so full of vitality and the desire to live. Someone you felt was so vibrant, amazing and alive. Someone that the world needed in it. How do you just close a book like that before the last chapters are written?
The more you think about this, the more you’re sure that it’s true. It feels like you may have just had an epiphany. Maybe what you had learned was not crap after all. The soul lives on and goes to heaven . . . or . . .
The hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The soul lives on and goes to . . . hell?
Watching pallbearers slowly march a casket down an aisle in a church house is pretty horrifying, especially when they are carrying someone we love, and we know that we will not see or hear them again on this side. Their voice will never ring out at a party again. You will never hear their infectious laughter and a ribald comeback zinging through the room.
I experienced this intense feeling when a California Highway Patrol officer, who was a very good friend of my husband and mine, was in a minor motorcycle accident but suddenly died as a result of head trauma. No one suspected that he was critically injured, because he was up walking and talking immediately after sliding his personal motorcycle into the side of a vehicle at an intersection. He told the emergency crew that he was fine, and told the responding police officers that the accident was his fault. He had been visiting his mother and was in a hurry to get home. He apparently rolled through a stop sign, hitting a car broadside.
The next day I was told that he was in a coma and had been life-flighted to San Diego. Within hours, his family was making the horrific decision to take him off of life support . . . and then he was gone.
Gone. The life of the party had literally been wiped off the white board of life. I remember feeling that somewhere in the world a light went out. I couldn’t believe it.
He had a voice that rocked a dinner party. Our table would be popping with laughter, nonsense, politics, and interesting conversation. Always. You know what I mean. You can see everyone looking at your table, a little irritated, but really because they’d rather be sitting with your happy little group than their quiet, stuffy table party. Even if you were singing an interesting version of “Partridge in a Pear Tree.” We didn’t mind making a spectacle out of ourselves, although it never quite made it to the lampshade-on-the-head phase.
He had clear, sparkling, gray eyes, full of mischief and laughter. Dark hair cut short, of course. He walked with a CHP swagger. When he retired, he fanned out his severance checks like he was holding a good poker hand. A fist full of aces. He was talking about all of the things he and his family were going to do now that he had so much free time on his hands and the money to make it all happen. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars.
He never got the chance. He was dead within ten days of this jovial, spirited display of good fortune.
Twenty-five years ago, he and his wife attended our wedding in Coronado on New Year’s Eve, and even though he was not in our wedding party, he came in a tux. My memory adopted him into our wedding party. That tight little group of friends was in our honeymoon suite the night we married, ordering outrageously priced nachos from room service and threatening to never leave the conversation pit in the living room . . .
He died in 2010. He was given an official police burial. It was an intense and formal funeral. I couldn’t believe that a box could actually contain him. I couldn’t believe I’d never see him again.
I know we console ourselves and each other by saying, “He’s in a better place.” “She’s in a better place.” But truly, if God asked us to trade places, we would decline. I mean, come on, we leave a funeral scurrying away in relief. Glad that we got through it. We don’t really connect with the thought that one day, the person in the casket will be us.
I walked around for days asking him, “Where are you? Where did you go? What’s happening to you? Are you all right?”
I am wise enough to know that once that door is closed, it’s closed. Death is an absolute truth that all of us must understand, because we are hurling to that destination at a rapid pace. All of us.
James 4:14 “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.
For what is your life? It is even a vapour,
that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
You may love another person, and you may love them well. But you are ultimately responsible to God for your own life.
Sometimes He gives a person only months, or only a few years to live. He can call home a teen or a young adult who is 26 years old. A forty-year old dies on the operating table inexplicably. A sixty year old who seems to be in good health dies suddenly.
There is no time in your life that God cannot collect you. Remember, you will not live one moment past the time you have been allotted by Him. The date of your death is written in heaven. Only there is a stipulation – God can shorten that time because he is angry at an offender, or He can extend that time because he is showing mercy or approval.
Luke 12:20 “But God said unto him, Thou fool,
this night thy soul shall be required of thee:
then whose shall those things be,
which thou has provided?”
Did you get that? You are alive and sucking in air because, at His discretion, the Crown allows you to be alive. He does not like it when you brag about all of the amazing accomplishments you have done in your life without a mention of Him in your arrogance.
James 1:14-17 “but every man in tempted,
when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.
Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin:
and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
Do not err, my beloved brethren.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
and cometh down from the Father of lights,
with whom is no variableness
neither shadow of turning.”
The day of death for everyone is unknown to us. If we knew we were going to die today, we would be hiding under the bed, peeking out from underneath the dust ruffle. It becomes crucial for you to understand that we have received a manual from our Daddy on what He expects from us during this short life-time. It gathers dust on the shelf, unopened. Some households have never bothered to purchase that manual and have no idea what is in it. How horrifically dangerous to not know what is in those pages.
It’s called the Holy Bible.
In 1456, this manual was the first book off the newly invented printing press.
It is the parents’ moral obligation to teach their children how to live and how to die. We are afraid to scare our kids with the realities of life and death. We keep our kids home from funerals and shield their eyes from tragedy.
Some people think that death is the end. You go into the ground and it’s over. We simply cease to exist. That is a dangerous pre-supposition. This position should cause the person to investigate further. After all, if the person is right, and we go into the ground, so what? You lived clean all your life with no reward to look forward to, or you lived an evil life with no retribution to fear. In both cases, you died and ceased to exist. But if the person were wrong about the idea of going into the ground being the end , the ancient manual that we were given would testify against us.
So it would stand to reason that you had better be correct about your decision to turn away from Him. If it plays out as He says it will, after death, you will experience a review of your life and you are judged.
Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed unto men once to die,
But after this the judgment.”
From the time you are a little child to your adult years, you are told to live by the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You think this would probably be enough to get you into heaven. I’ve heard this many, many times. It is what most people think. They can bypass Christ and enter heaven by doing good works.
Titus 3:5 “Not by works of righteousness which we have done,
but according to his mercy he saved us,
by the washing of regeneration,
and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
v If you do not accept Christ, when you die, you will be judged by every law you have ever broken. Even if you have lived a good and honorable life.
v If you accept Christ, you are righteous in the eyes of God. You have clothed yourself in righteousness by your belief in Jesus Christ. You will not be judged under the law.
The first person that I use as an example may be someone good, who has tried to obey all the laws known and done good deeds. I understand that for some, you cannot comprehend why this person is not accepted by God. But what this person has done is reject the gift of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection openly, feeling that his own sacrifices and good life are sufficient enough to get him into heaven.
Isaiah 64:6 “But we are all as an unclean thing,
and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;
and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities,
like the wind, have taken us away.”
God will not tolerate the rejection of His Son. It is an insult to Him that you compare your good works to the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. Jesus’ death gives you and me absolution. Freedom from all the times we have broken the law.
There is another person that was not represented above. He does not believe there is a God and rejects Jesus Christ, or any form of life after death. He believes that when he dies, he goes in the ground. He can do whatever he wants without fearing justice.
You know this person. He lives his life as a little bastard. He makes everyone miserable. You could be married to him or her. He has lived his whole life screwing people out of money and has had a wonderful time doing it. He is very proud of the fact that he can make it out of the restaurant without paying the bill. If his kid has given yours a black eye, he is proud of Junior’s fighting ability and is waiting for you to come and make an issue about it so he can blacken your eye, too. This type is all around you, waiting to take issue with anything you say so he can start an argument and win it by the volume of his voice and sheer number of words battering you.
This person is not trying to do good works to get into heaven. He thinks that Christians are pushy, holier-than-thou types. Besides, doing good for others is for idiots that get taken advantage of.
He plays golf with you. He is the captain of your bowling team. He is the last thing you see before you turn out the light and go to bed at night.
When God calls him for the life review, this person has a problem. How is he going to justify this life that he has lived? He can’t. He has made it his life’s mission to rip people off. God is going to have this one bound and dragged away in chains. He is not covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 22:12-13 “And he saith unto him, Friend,
how camest thou hither not having a wedding garment?
And he was speechless.
Then said the king unto the servants,
Bind him hand and foot, and take him away,
and cast him into outer darkness,
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Christians are supposed to explain the plan of salvation to you, and some churches use their time and resources in service to God to do this. But many churches will barely even talk about Christ’s sacrifice and what it means. They sanitize God’s message to you so they won’t scare anybody. Pass the plate, please. Christians are so busy trying to affect the laws to make everyone as virtuous as they are, that they forget that God does not want to judge us under the law. Do you realize that if we were judged for every law that we have broken in our life, we are going to be found guilty by a heavenly court?
God’s message to all of us is simple – I love you. Please be ready when it is time for you to come home. I will welcome you if you are clothed in the righteousness of My Son, Jesus Christ.
There are laws that all heavenly beings, angels, and spirits, must obey. Your free will is inviolate. You are free to do as you choose, and even though God will do many acts in your life to try to steer you towards home base, He will not interfere if you decide to stop and play in the mud. You may decide you like mud, in which case, He will leave you in it until you die. Then, you have to account for what you have done with your life.
How many people have died just in the time it has taken me to type this missive?
How many have killed themselves?
How many murdered?
How many deaths from cancer and other diseases?
How many drunk driving accidents?
How many drownings?
How many heart attacks and strokes?
How many drug overdoses?
How many alcohol poisonings?
Ecclesiastes 9:12 “For man also knoweth not his time:
as the fishes that are taken in an evil net,
and as the birds that are caught in the snare;
so are the sons of men snared in an evil time,
when it falleth suddenly upon them.”
God has offered us mercy because He loves us. If He did not make a way for us to qualify for heaven, and extend His hand of mercy, He would hand us over to Satan to be led away in chains.
2 Corinthians 6:2 “. . . behold, now is the accepted time,
behold, now is the day of salvation.”
To obtain heaven you must do this simple task: Acknowledge to God that there is nothing that you could do that gives you the right to access heaven. Nothing. He offers entry free of charge, but at a great price to Himself. That is the death of his Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross.
He allowed His Son to be mocked, slapped, spit on, beaten so badly that you couldn’t tell He was a person, then murdered by a mob that would rather have torn Him apart than allow the Romans to put Him on a cross. Then God turned away from His Son while He was dying, leaving Him completely alone. God is sinless, and He could not look at His Son while the sin of the world passed onto Him.
God allowed Jesus to be a substitute for you. He suffered an agonizing torture and death, then a separation from the Father so that you would not have to suffer a permanent separation from Him in hell when you die. He paid for the laws that you have broken.
I know this is confounding, but it is also simple. God did not require you to climb Mount Everest. Christians have canned this confession into a little prayer. The truth is, you need to do almost nothing. You don’t need to get on your knees. You don’t need to put your hands together.
Romans 10:9 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus,
and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead,
thou shalt be saved.”
The thief on the cross next to Jesus said, “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
There’s no baptism. No christening. No confirmation. There are none of the trappings that organized religion has built around God’s simple plan of salvation. Just a true, pure belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If you fake being a Christian, you do it at your own peril.
John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotton son,
that whosever believeth in him should not perish,
but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world through him might be saved.
He that believeth on him is not condemned;
but he that believeth not is condemned already,
because he hath not believed in the name
of the only begotten Son of God.”
You do not have to darken the door of a church. You do not have to do anything, nor can you do anything, to attain the prize of heaven.
I do leave you with a warning. The Bible says, “Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth.” If you are adopted by Him into His heavenly family, you are now His son or daughter. Jesus is your brother. If you embarrass the family brand, you will be disciplined. God doesn’t really want crappy Christians for sons and daughters. God knows there are already plenty of them. Just watch and see what happens to them. They will be disciplined, or they don’t belong to him.
Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? It can be. I sure have gotten wacked a few times. The only thing that keeps me safe is that I love Him. But I am afraid of Him too. A healthy respect. He’s my Daddy, but He means business.
Today, your Daddy is offering mercy. Judging by how many people you’ve already seen be put into the ground . . . Tomorrow could be too late.
P.S. Recommended reading – A very slim volume that can be used to save your life, My Descent into Death by Howard Storm. Let’s start an open conversation about an important subject.