Heaven is Better than Earth

Topical Scripture: Psalm 16

Wynter Pitts died recently in her sleep at the age of thirty-eight. She left a husband and four daughters.

Her uncle is Dr. Tony Evans, the brilliant pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and an international speaker and author. At a service last weekend, he and his family discussed Wynter’s sudden death. One of his sons asked him why he keeps going in the face of such tragedy.

Dr. Evans responded: “Because I believe what I preach. I do believe she’s in a better place. I do believe in the sovereignty of God. I do believe in the goodness of God. I do believe. And because I believe, I do keep going.”

Where do you need to “keep going”? Let’s find hope for hard times in a surprising place.

“My flesh also dwells secure”

As Psalm 16 begins, David has “taken refuge” in his Lord (v. 1). The Hebrew could be translated, “fled for shelter.” The verse depicts a person facing an approaching storm or army and running into a refuge he knows will protect him.

He trusted in the Lord as his shelter because he knew, “I have no good apart from you” (v. 2). This despite the fact that he was king of the nation and one of the most powerful people on earth.

As a result, he treasures the “saints in the land,” the people of God, more than any of his other possessions (v. 3). He knows that they, not his wealth or fame, are eternal. And he knows that the “sorrows” of those who trust in other gods “shall multiply,” so he refuses to worship or trust in them (v. 4).

Instead, he has made the Lord his “chosen portion” and his “cup,” the one who holds his “lot” (v. 5). These terms refer to his personal possessions in life. He knows that he has a “beautiful inheritance” from the Lord (v. 6).

And he knows that all of this comes from the One who gives him counsel and instructs his heart in the night (v. 7). He has set the Lord at his “right hand”—a warrior typically carried a shield in his left hand and his spear or sword in his right. David trusts in God as his sword for victory and life.

Now we come to the climax of his praise: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure” (v. 9). Why? “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (v. 10). “Sheol” is an Old Testament term referring to “death” or the “grave.”

As a result, David can say: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (v. 10). He knows the “path of life” and the “fullness of joy” today. And best of all, he knows that he will experience “pleasures forevermore” when he is at the “right hand” of God in heaven.

When I was in high school, my youth minister gave me the best single piece of advice I’ve ever received: Always remember the source of your personal worth.

Because Jesus rose, we will rise

Psalm 16 is one of the most frequently quoted psalms in the New Testament.

Preaching to the massive crowds at Pentecost, the apostle Peter quoted David’s testimony, then explained:

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses (Acts 2:29–32).

Paul also cited Psalm 16:10 to declare the resurrection of Jesus. Speaking at Pisidian Antioch during his first missionary journey, he quoted David’s statement from a thousand years earlier. Then he made this statement:

For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption (Acts 13:36–37).

So, we see that David’s statement was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus. The New Testament adds that Jesus’ resurrection is God’s promise of our resurrection as well:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die'” (John 11:25–26).

“Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).

“God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:14).

Because Jesus would not “see corruption” (Psalm 16:10), neither will we.

Streets of “pure gold”

So far, we’ve explored the interesting fact that David made a statement about his future resurrection that was fulfilled by Jesus a thousand years later and guarantees us that we will be raised from the dead as well. But you already knew that Christians live forever with God in heaven. You already knew that because of Easter, you will be raised from the grave into his perfect paradise.

Here’s why this fact is so relevant and urgent for us today: It turns the cultural values of our day upside-down.

You and I live in the most prosperous era in human history. Consider some examples:

  • Life expectancy at birth in 1800 was 39 years; it is 79 years today.
  • In 1949, Popular Mechanics made the bold prediction that someday a computer could weigh less than a ton. An iPad weighs 0.73 pounds.
  • Median income has nearly doubled since the 1950s. The size of median houses has risen 34 percent.
  • In 1960, 10 percent of American homes had air conditioning. Today it’s 89 percent; the 11 percent that don’t are mostly in cold climates.
  • Almost no one had a refrigerator in 1900. Today they sell cars with refrigerators in them.
  • The average new home now has more bathrooms than occupants.

Our world has become so prosperous that it’s hard to want to leave. By contrast, we’ve grown up picturing heaven as a boring place where we play harps on clouds or sit in church for eternity. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There’s an entire sermon series here, but let’s be brief:

  • David stated, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
  • In heaven, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
  • Jesus said, “Blessed is everyone who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15 NIV).
  • We have perfect understanding in heaven: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
  • You and I have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).
  • In short, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NLT).

The Bible says that the streets of heaven are made of “pure gold” (Revelation 21:21). The precious commodity that is the basis for our entire monetary system is like concrete in paradise.

“These are the things that make it hard to die”

What does the fact that we will not “see corruption” mean for us today? In short, death is not an enemy but an invitation.

When earth seems more attractive than heaven, it can be hard to live for heaven on earth. It can be hard to make earthly sacrifices for the sake of heavenly results and rewards. It can be hard to see death as victory and the grave as the path to glory.

A pastor was asked by a wealthy church member to say a prayer of blessing over his new mansion. He said to the man, “These are the things that make it hard to die.”

Soledad Alamino passed away last Monday. You did not have the privilege of meeting Soledad unless you’ve been to Cespedes, Cuba, or happened to meet her on one of her trips to the US. Because our ministry partners with her husband and family and I’ve been to Cuba so many times, it was my privilege to know her well.

And to know that she was one of the most powerful intercessors, courageous believers, and empowering leaders I’ve ever met, anywhere in the world.

She died Monday after a three-year battle with cancer, a malignancy that would probably have been cured if she had not been in Cuba. When I got the news Monday night and told Janet, her immediate response was profound: “We are grieving only because we don’t see what she sees.”

When Soledad took her last breath here, she took her first breath there. She stepped from pain and suffering into reward and glory. She exchanged this broken planet for God’s perfect paradise. She has been completely healed. And for her, it will only be a moment before she sees us again.

Soledad Alamino could live so courageously on earth because she wasn’t living for earth.


I have been privileged to travel several times to Oxford University to teach a doctoral seminar for Dallas Baptist University. Each time, our group stands at a painted gold cross in the middle of a road. In my opinion, it is one of the holiest sites in all of England.

It was the mid-sixteenth century. Queen Mary was attempting to take England back to the Catholic Church. Protestants by the hundreds were martyred, among them two men named Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer.

On October 16, 1555, Ridley and Latimer were lashed to the stake in the center of Oxford University and set afire. The gold cross in the road marks the spot where they were executed.

As the flames rose, Latimer shouted to Ridley, “Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.”

On my last trip, we also visited the church Nicholas Ridley pastored before he was martyred. There we were shown a candle that stays lit every hour of every day of every year. It never goes out. They call it “Ridley’s candle.”

What candle will you light today?

How to Face the Future

Topical Scripture: Psalm 22

I recently came across a list of ninety-eight of our most common phobias. I didn’t know about “ephebiphobia,” a “fear of teenagers” (though I understand it, having raised two of them). I’m glad not to have “glossophobia,” a “fear of speaking in public,” or “gynophobia,” a “fear of women.”

It turns out, experts have ranked the top ten phobias of all time. Our number one fear is arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. This despite the fact that only four people each year die from spider bites in the US. (By contrast, six people die each year from their pajamas catching fire.)

What about the future is worrying you today? What problem, decision, or challenge are you facing?

You’re right to be concerned. No financial professional can guarantee that their advice will keep you from losing your savings. No physician can be sure their medical practice will preserve your health. No one can guarantee that you will have even another day beyond today.

So, if you’re looking for faith to face the future, there’s only one source you should trust.

How David predicted Jesus’ death

As you know, Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). His words are a direct quotation from the first verse of our text.

Since books (papyrus scrolls) were rare and very expensive, the culture of his day was oral, meaning that people were able to remember and recite large quantities of literature from memory. When Jesus called out this verse, those at the cross would remember the rest of the psalm, just as if I were to quote in a sermon, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” the congregation could finish the lyric, “that saved a wretch like me.”

As we will see, Psalm 22 is a remarkable foreshadowing of Jesus’ crucifixion, with stunning detail and descriptions rendered a thousand years before Calvary. I believe that Jesus caused the crowd to call this psalm to mind so they would be able to see the degree to which his death fulfilled biblical prophecy.

Here are some of the scenes they would have seen as they remembered David’s prediction from a thousand years earlier.

Mocked by the people

“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!'” (Psalm 22:7–8). In Matthew 27 we read of Jesus’ crucifixion: “The chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now'” (vv. 41–43).

None of the religious leaders would have intentionally fulfilled Scripture in this way, making David’s prediction even more remarkable.

The manner of his crucifixion

David continued: “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). He could not have been speaking of crucifixion, since this gruesome form of execution was first employed by the Persians five centuries after he wrote this psalm. He probably described “dogs” who attacked his hands and feet with their teeth or spears. But his picture describes Jesus’ crucifixion perfectly.

The next verse: “I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me” (v. 17).

Since Roman crucifixion typically led to asphyxiation as the body’s weight crushed down on the lungs, the victim would use his arms to pull up his body. However, nails driven through the wrists (the more typical form of crucifixion) severed the nerves, making such relief impossible.

The victim would then use his legs to support his body. When the soldiers were ready for the victims to die, they would break their legs with a heavy mallet called the “crucifragium.”

This is the practice behind John’s record:

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs (John 19:31–33).

His clothes divided by soldiers

In another detail that was fulfilled at Calvary, David wrote, “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18). The soldiers fulfilled this declaration at the cross: “When they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots” (Matthew 27:35). Again, the soldiers would never have intentionally fulfilled David’s prediction, making it even more astounding.

Nor could Jesus have arranged for these fulfillments. He could not have persuaded the religious authorities to mock him or the Romans to leave his bones intact or divide his garments while he was on the cross. These actions clearly demonstrate the prophetic nature of his death and the fact that God knew a thousand years before Calvary how his Son would die for us.

It is no surprise that David would end his remarkable psalm this way: “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (vv. 30–31).

David was more right than he could know. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10–11). And the God who is sovereign over the future will be sovereign forever.

Divine sovereignty and human freedom

As we have seen, Psalm 22 precisely predicted and pictured Jesus’ death a thousand years later. It foresaw crucifixion, a manner of execution that had not even been invented. It foresaw actions that Jesus’ enemies would never have taken to fulfill its predictions, behavior he could never have arranged beforehand.

If the Lord knew such details a thousand years ahead of time, can we trust that he knows our future as well? Consider these statements from God himself:

  • “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).
  • “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come” (Isaiah 46:10).

You may be wondering: If God knows the future, do I have freedom to choose? Am I a robot subjected to his sovereignty with no free will of my own?

The fact that God knows the future does not mean that he chooses it. He is not bound by time. “Tomorrow” is as real to him as “today” is to us. The fact that he can see something does not mean that he always chooses it.

You can watch people acting around you today, but that doesn’t mean that you chose their behavior. You can watch people sit down in a restaurant, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that you chose their seats.

God sees tomorrow as we see today. That doesn’t mean that he always chooses all that happens. For instance, he is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But clearly, not all “reach repentance” (cf. Revelation 20:15).

God’s will is best for our future

The fact that God knows the future does not mean that we have no freedom. But it does mean that God’s will is the best path to our ultimate destination. He knows where he is leading us and uses every day to prepare us for his purpose. His Spirit is something like a GPS system that leads you turn by turn in ways you may not understand at the time. But it is taking you the best way to your destination. You may not understand his leadership at the time, but you can trust that it is always for your best.

That’s why Scripture encourages us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

God’s will is best for our present

And his omniscience means that his will for the future is best for the present as well. Every step we take toward our ultimate destination is the best step for us today.

Remember the Macedonian vision by which God called Paul westward to Philippi. The apostle had no idea he was bringing the gospel to what we call the “Western world.” He didn’t know that he was evangelizing what we know as “Europe.” He didn’t even know that the church he would start at Philippi would become his favorite congregation and the recipient of the timeless letter we know as the Book of Philippians.

He just knew that God was calling him. Every step he took was the best step for that day and the best step for eternity.

In the same way, God will lead us through Scripture, reason, circumstances, other people, and our own intuition. He will lead if we will follow. In fact, he wants us to know his will even more than we do. If we’re not sure what he wants us to do, we may simply ask him. If we don’t receive an answer, it’s because we’re not willing to obey what we hear.

When I was a youth minister in my first church, one of my jobs was changing the church sign beside the road. I have no idea why this was my responsibility, but it was. The pastor would come up with a short, pithy statement I was to put up in six-inch letters.

I’ll always remember this one: “If you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved.”


What about tomorrow worries you today? What decision, challenge, or opportunity do you need help in facing? The God who knew every detail of his Son’s death a thousand years before it happens loves you so much that he sent that Son to die for you. Jesus would do it all over again, just for you.

Henry Blackaby: “If you know that God loves you, you should never question a directive from him.”

Do you know that God loves you?

Touching the Face of God

Topical Scripture: Psalm 8

It’s been an interesting week for Mother Nature. The longest lunar eclipse of the century occurred nine days ago, though people in North America were unable to see it. Mars was closer to Earth last week than it has been since 2003. It won’t be closer to us for another 269 years.

The Moon and Venus were amazingly proximate to each other last month. And next Saturday, we’ll be treated to a partial solar eclipse, followed by the Perseid Meteor Shower next Sunday and Monday.

While the skies have been fascinating, the news from nature on the ground has been heartbreaking.

This week, there were sixteen active wildfires burning across California. One story was especially devastating: a man went to a doctor’s appointment, leaving his wife and their two great-grandchildren at home. A wildfire came up the hill to their back door. They called him for help, but he couldn’t get back in time. He was on the phone with them when the fire consumed their home and killed them.

From the floods on the East Coast to the extreme heat in the southwest and severe storms in the Midwest, the weather has been catastrophic. When the world God made turns deadly, it’s hard not to fault its Creator. If your new car breaks down, you’ll blame the manufacturer. Unfortunately, nature doesn’t come with a warranty.

We know that we live in a fallen world (Romans 8:22), that natural disasters didn’t happen in the Garden of Eden. But the Bible is filled with times God intervened in the world he made, from parting the Red Sea to parting the flooded Jordan River to stilling the Sea of Galilee. When he doesn’t intervene today, we ask why and wonder how we can trust him with the storms in our own lives.

The miracle of creation

Psalm 8 begins: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (v. 1a). “Lord” translates YHWH, God’s personal name that he revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14). “Our Lord” translates Adonai, God’s collective name as ruler of all people and creation.

In other words, he is both our personal God and our universal King.

His “name” denotes his character. In this case, his character is “majestic” (the Hebrew means “magnificent, splendid, powerful”). It is so “in all the earth,” not just in Israel. In a time when people believed in territorial deities who ruled specific nations or areas, David knew that his God was the true Lord of the world.

Let’s think about the world God rules for a moment.

If we were standing at our planet’s equator, we would be spinning at a thousand miles an hour. (On the poles, we would be standing still but turning in a circle.) Wherever we are, we are on a planet that is traveling through space at 67,000 miles an hour.

Life on Earth ranges from bacteria so small that 13,000 of them would fit inside a single strand of human hair to redwoods that grow more than three hundred feet tall. And our God made all of that.

What’s more, he is Lord of the entire universe: “You have set your glory above the heavens” (v. 1b).

Imagine yourself outside on a clear night in the country. You may see a few hundred stars, but that’s out of several hundred billion in our galaxy.

And there are one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. As telescope technology in space improves, that number is likely to double to about two hundred billion. Not stars or planets, but galaxies.

Scientists estimate that there are one billion trillion stars in the observable universe. (That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.) And that number will increase as we can see further into God’s heavens.

Your Father made all of that.

The miracle of man

Now David turns his attention to us: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (vv. 3–4). It’s an excellent question.

Compared to the rest of his creation, we are amazingly fragile creatures. A human baby is completely defenseless, compared with ducks that can swim and horses that can walk shortly after birth. We are also the only species that sins against our Maker.

As Mark Twain observed, “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.”

Nonetheless, as David continues, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (v. 5). Here he refers to angels who dwell above us in heaven.

God has crowned us “with glory and honor”—the phrase could be translated, “impressive splendor.” We are indeed impressive and splendid.

Your blood vessels, if connected in a straight line, would circle the globe four times. If your DNA were uncoiled, it would stretch from Earth to Pluto and back. There are more connections in your brain than stars in the Milky Way galaxy. There are 5,000 times more cells in your body than there are people on the planet.

In addition to making us, God made the world for us: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas” (vv. 6–8).

“Sheep and oxen” refers to domesticated animals, while “beasts of the field” points to wild animals. We are over the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea, and all that lives in the oceans. Animals, birds, fish—all are under our dominion.

According to a 2011 count, the natural world contains 8.7 million species of life. There are 18,000 species of birds, more than 5,000 species of mammals, and more than two million species of marine life. God placed us over all of this.

We have done nothing to deserve any of this.

Our place in God’s creative order is not the result of our merit, but his favor. He has given us the intellectual and physical abilities to fulfill his created purpose for us. We can no more take credit for our mastery over beasts, birds, and fish than we can take credit for our height or eye color. All is by his grace.

The miracle of grace

Then our Father demonstrated his grace even more miraculously. Not just by making our world or by making us, but by entering our world as one of us.

His Son left his throne in glory for our crown of thorns. He left the worship of angels for the ridicule of crowds. The One who made all of life chose to die.

The sinless Son of God became sin for us, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Now, because of his grace, we can have not just life but eternal life. We can live not just on this fallen planet but in his perfect paradise. We can know God not just as our Creator but as our Father.

All is by his grace.

What does the creative, miraculous, gracious love of our Father mean for us in a world filled with disease and disaster? It means this: we have a choice to make: we can choose to see our Creator through the prism of what we don’t understand about his creation, or through the prism of what we do understand about his creation.

We can lean into the disasters and diseases in our fallen world and hold God responsible for them. We can do this, even though the world is broken because of the Fall and human sin, not because of his providence (Romans 8:22). Since we don’t understand why he allows the storms of our world, we can decide not to trust him with the storms in our lives.

Or we can lean into the wonders and majesty of creation and glorify their Creator as a result. We can measure what we don’t understand by what we do understand. We can decide that a God who can make bacteria so tiny that 13,000 can fit into a human hair can care for us. We can decide that a God who can make a body with enough DNA to stretch to Pluto and back can design our lives. We can decide that a King who rules a universe with one billion trillion stars can rule us.

When we do, we’ll say with David: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”


John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was a young pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, killed in action during World War II. Among his effects was found this poem:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbled mirth

of sunsplit clouds—and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and

swung—high in the sunlit silence.

Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting winds along,

and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air,

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue, I’ve topped

the windswept heights with easy grace,

Where never lark or even eagle flew.

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod the high

untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

So can we.