He’s in a better place.
We say that when someone dies, as though that makes it all better. In some ways, it does. For the child of God – the believer and follower of Jesus Christ – this is most certainly true. When you watch someone you love battle through waves of invading pain, imprisoned in a bed somewhere with shackles of plastic tubes dripping precious little relief into their tired veins, you know this not where they want to be. Not how they want to be. Not who they want to be.
As she breathes her last and it is finished, we know that the Resurrection and the Life has taken His child in His arms and carried her to the front door of His Father’s House. Without a glance or thought He walks her past the divine dumpster of wheel chairs, hearing aids, half-empty medicine bottles and yes, miles and miles of those plastic tubes.
And unlike that death bed she left, she’s not alone. His Son and His son step forward in the Front Foyer of a palace of many mansions, filled with the sounds of myriads of former sufferers now turned righteous revelers, the Wedding Banquet to end all wedding banquets, the Feast of Victory marked by saints and angels singing joyous songs of glorious praise to the One who paid for it all. The One who brought them all here. The One who seemingly moments ago whispered to each one of them, “Today you will be with me in paradise!”
The only tears are tears of joy. It’s true. It’s all true. Everything He said. Everything He promised. Everything and everyone made new. She, he, they are all in a better place.
But we’re still here. They’re not. That’s a grander canyon of separation than one little platitude can cross.
It’s not just the reality of death, though, that casts its shade on this side of eternity. Around here we live with lessness: hopelessness, helplessness, lovelessness, worthlessness, faithlessness, godlessness, fatherlessness, and less – and we are surrounded! We are bombarded with division and depression, violence and vitriol. The consequences of choices from people whose worldview extends no further than their own fingertips result in a place no one really wants to be. Add in destructive forces like cancer and dementia, and before the rooster crows twice we wish we were someplace else.
Harry Chapin (distant relative to our own Praise Team Leader Hunter Chapin) once wrote a song called, “A Better Place to Be,” in which the story of his two rather broken down characters arrive at this thought: “If you want me to come with you, then that's all right with me. Cause I know I'm going nowhere, and anywhere's a better place to be.”
Does it have to be like that? Do we?
We can surrender to the nihilism of a crappy life surrounded by crappy people. Then we’ll watch all our joy and meaning drip out until the bag is empty, abandoning the projects and purposes appointed to us by One who doesn’t wait for death in order to make a difference.
In Him is life, starting now, with a gift from God so gracious and glorious it is meant to be shared with those who wish they were anywhere by here. The point of Scripture and of faith itself is not to go to heaven, but to come to Jesus. The major obstacle to that communion is that we’re still the near-sighted, self-appointed demigods with no depth perception.
So He comes closer, right up to us, to fully open our eyes and our hearts and our minds and our lives to what this place can truly be, when He is with us. When Christ is IN us, and we are IN Christ, rather than keeping Him at a distance.
Once He has crucified our Old Self and resuscitated our New Self – recreated to be His mouth and hands for the sake of all those living in lessness – He repurposes us to make this place a better place to be. We worship no creature nor creation, but He calls us to be His caretakers of each, so that through us, He might introduce the broken around us to a better way in a better place, as a foretaste of the Feast to come.
The recipients of His grace become distributors thereof, so that we help make this a better place.
We make this a better place by replacing condemnation and condescension with encouragement and edification. Disagree if we must, but we don’t have to destroy in the process. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph. 4:19).
We make this a better place when we get over ourselves. We’re on at least our third generation of narcissists, who believe the universe revolves around what they want, how they feel, what they think, and if you dare to challenge or deny, you must hate them. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 2:3-5).
We make this a better place when we affirm God’s founding gifts of marriage and family. We live in a culture that continuously erodes and demolishes those divinely designed institutions, by changing the definitions and conditions beyond recognition. But we do not have to participate in that destruction. “Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’? So they are no longer two but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Mt. 19:4-6).
Such things take commitment, courage, and accountability – three fundamental truths the current culture despises. And we cannot change anything by tweets or votes, but only through repentance and faith – one soul at a time – as mercy and grace flow to us from the Cross of Christ.
God has laid our His formula for a better place, but I have no pretensions that huge hordes of the walking dead are suddenly going to embrace it. In the meantime, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil – nor disease, nor disability, nor plastic tubes - for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4).
That’s what makes this a better place. For now.
Pastor Steve Kline was installed as Senior Pastor at SHLC on May 25, 2014, after serving 12 years as Senior Pastor at Zion in Wayside, WI. He was ordained in 1992 and previously served congregations in Pulaski and Hales Corners.