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 Not to Do the Will of God

Topical Scripture: Judges 11

The big news of the week was President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the US Supreme Court. For the next several weeks, we will learn a great deal about Judge Kavanaugh. Those who support his nomination will tell his story very differently from those who oppose it.

By contrast, one of the remarkable facts about Scripture is the objective transparency with which it tells its stories. A less honest biographer would have left Noah’s drunkenness out of his narrative and Bathsheba out of David’s. Not everything the Bible describes is behavior it prescribes.

A prime example is the judge we will meet this week. If you want to learn how not to do the will of God, study his example. Jephthah makes two mistakes that we are prone to repeat today. But we can choose to make his negative story into our positive story of faith today.

Where do you need to know God’s will today? Here’s what not to do, and thus by contrast, what to do.

Become a prisoner of your past (Judges 11:1–11)

Our story begins, “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah” (Judges 11:1). “Mighty” translates a Hebrew word meaning “powerful” or “brave.” This man was a renowned fighter of great reputation. What’s more, his father was Gilead, who was the head of their entire clan.

However, his mother was a prostitute. As a result, his brothers sought to disinherit him: “And Gilead’s wife also bore him sons. And when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, ‘You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman'” (v. 2).

As a result, “Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob” (v. 3a). “Fled” implies that he ran from them, perhaps indicating that they sought to kill him. He chose to live in the “land of Tob,” a pagan area east of the Sea of Galilee. “Lived” means to “settle down” or “make a place your home.” This decision may indicate that his mother was a Canaanite and that he fled to her relatives or acquaintances.

While he was there, “worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him” (v. 3b). “Worthless” translates a Hebrew description for someone who is impoverished and reckless. They “collected around him,” indicating that they joined him rather than him joining them. Apparently, they became a band of bandits together, taking advantage of Jephthah’s superior fighting skills and marauding in the region.

The story turns when “after a time the Ammonites made war against Israel” (v. 4). These were descendants of Ammon, living as a people east of the Jordan River. The threat was so severe that “when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob” (v. 5). This must have been humiliating for them, but their action further demonstrates Jephthah’s remarkable military skill and leadership.

The elders made Jephthah an offer: “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites” (v. 6). They were in essence asking him to take charge of their military but not serve as their judge or national leader. Jephthah agreed only if they would make him their ruler: “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head” (v. 9).

The elders were so desperate that they agreed (v. 10). So the people “made him head and leader over them. And Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah” (v. 11). The latter statement is interesting, since we have no indication that there was a sacred shrine at Mizpah. It seems that Jephthah took his vow of judgeship in the presence of the army encamped there, not before the Lord at his place of worship.

Note that at no point in this narrative did anyone consult the Lord. Not Jephthah’s family before they drove him away, or Jephthah when he fled to a pagan land. Not the elders when they faced the Ammonite threat or when they enlisted Jephthah to lead them. Not Jephthah when they came to him or when he entered the judgeship.

This is as secular a story as you are likely to find.

From this part of the narrative, we learn that if you want to fail the will of God, become a prisoner of your past. Decide that what you have been is all you can ever be.

And refuse to consult the Lord with your future. Follow your own initiative and make your own plan. Decide that you know best and follow your direction rather than the Lord.

But know this: self-sufficiency is spiritual suicide. Jephthah’s lack of submission to the will of God will cost him more than he can imagine. The same is true for us.

Bargaining with the God of the universe (vv. 29–40)

Jephthah tried to reason with the Ammonites, but they refused his call to compromise and peace (vv. 12–28). So he was forced to lead his nation into battle, and “the Spirit of the LORD was upon him” (v. 29).

This is a common Old Testament phenomenon. The same happened with Joshua (Numbers 27:18), David (1 Samuel 16:12–13), and Saul (1 Samuel 10:10). Through the book of Judges, we find the Spirit coming “upon” various leaders.

But this was a specific, one-time empowering by the Spirit for a particular purpose. In the New Testament, we find that the Spirit comes “into” us as Christians (1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 6:19–20) and never leaves us. This indwelling of the Spirit came as a result of Jesus’ atoning death for us.

In our text, the Spirit came “upon” Jephthah to lead and strengthen him. However, such empowering wasn’t enough for him to be confident of victory in the upcoming battle. So he made a horrible, tragic mistake: “And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (vv. 30–31).

Nowhere in Scripture does the Lord ask us to make such a deal with him. He is not a God we can coerce by bribery. He is not a peer but the Lord of the universe. We cannot bargain with his omnipotence. Nowhere did Jephthah pray before making this commitment to God, or he would have been instructed by the Almighty not to utter such a foolish vow.

Jephthah and the army then defeated the Ammonites (vv. 32–33). But when he returned home, “behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter” (v. 34).

Rather than focus on her plight, Jephthah focused on himself: “As soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me'” (v. 35a). His reaction transferred blame from himself to her, as though it was her fault that she came out of the house to greet him.

He explained: “For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow” (v. 35b). Note that he did not go to God with his dilemma. If he had, God would have made clear to him that this vow was not of God and that this father did not need to fulfill it.

Nor did Jephthah teach his daughter good theology. Her response, while noble, was also unbiblical and made without first consulting God. She said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites” (v. 36).

She asked only that she be allowed two months with her friends to “weep for my virginity” (v. 37), a request he granted (v. 38). The word translated “virginity” is better rendered “motherhood.” She was grieving because she would not live to bear children.

Then, “at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow that he had made” (v. 39a). As a result, Jephthah’s family line died with her. But her story lived on: “She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year” (vv. 39b–40).

To recap: Jephthah did not consult God before going into battle, even though the Spirit of God had come “upon” him to empower him. He did not consult God before making his rash vow with him. He did not consult God when his beloved daughter appeared before him. Nor did she consult God when learning of her fate.

Jephthah made a bargain with the King of the universe. This is always bad theology and a tragic way to relate to our loving Father.


Jephthah refused to ask God to redeem his past or to lead his future. As a result, he became one of the most tragic figures in Scripture.

It does not have to be so for us. Nothing you have done in the past is beyond God’s redemption in the present and providence for the future. What matters is not where you begin the race, but where you end. The key is to seek God’s will and purpose at every step along the way.

Robert McFarlane was Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor, a twenty-year veteran of the Marine Corps, and the architect of the Iran-Contra plan. When his plan failed, Mr. McFarlane resigned his position and later attempted suicide.

I heard him speak several years ago at the National Prayer Breakfast. He told our group his story. He described the incredible power he had achieved, the ladder to success he had climbed. But then Bud McFarlane told us with tears in his eyes that it was nothing. He got to the top, and there was nothing there. Only after he fell off that ladder did he discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall—that life really consists of loving God and loving people. Nothing else.

Then he discovered that God could redeem his past and use his present for a redemptive future. So, this man of such power and significance dedicated the rest of his life to telling his story and calling people to trust God with their lives.

You can follow the example of Jephthah or the will of Jesus, but you cannot do both.

How to Kill a Lion

Topical Scripture: Acts 5:1–11

These are actual label instructions on consumer goods:

  • On a Sears hair dryer: Do not use while sleeping.
  • On a bag of Fritos: You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.
  • On some Swanson frozen dinners: Serving suggestion: defrost.
  • On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding: Product will be hot after heating.
  • On the package of a Rowenta iron: Do not iron clothes on body.
  • On a Korean kitchen knife: Warning, keep out of children.
  • On an American Airlines package of nuts: Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts.
  • On a Swedish chain saw: Do not attempt to stop the chain with your hands.

Good advice, all.

There should be a warning over the doors of the church as well: “Warning: Christians attacked here.” That’s odd, isn’t it? But the Bible says as much: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

In our series on lessons from Peter’s life and ministry, we come today to one of the most unusual stories in the Bible. From it we learn the answer to the questions, How do we detect Satan’s attacks? What do we do when we do?

What did they do wrong?

“Ananias” means “one to whom Jehovah has been gracious.” “Sapphira” means “beautiful.” Both names proved to be ironic.

Verse one tells us that they “sold a piece of property.” Others have done this to help the poor and been applauded for their generosity. Now these two want that stage for themselves.

However, Ananias, with Sapphira’s full cooperation, “kept back part of the money for himself.” “Kept back” translates a word which means “to embezzle, to defraud”; sometimes in the New Testament it means simply “to steal” (Titus 2:10 NIV). He brings the rest of the proceeds and lays the money at Peter’s feet in a legal act of transfer.

The sin is not in the amount. As Peter makes clear, Ananias could sell anything he liked and give whatever he wished. The sin is in the intent to deceive: to make the church think he has sacrificially given the entire amount when in fact he has not.

But God doesn’t allow the attack to succeed. He always knows our attitudes as well as our actions. He reveals this deception to Peter, who calls Ananias to account for his sin. And in the instant that he hears his deception exposed, Ananias dies.

Then, three hours later, Sapphira comes in. Peter points to the money still at his feet and asks her, “Is this the amount you got for your land?” Her answer in the Greek is emphatic. She, too, lies deliberately; and the moment her sin is exposed she dies as well.

I know this text is harsh. The same God of grace whose power heals the sick and even the demon-possessed in the verses following, here allows or perhaps even causes, the death of these two church members. Perhaps they died of shock; perhaps God caused their deaths directly.

Most of us would see this crime as fairly benign. Those who would stone Stephen to death in two chapters were not punished as severely as this husband and wife. Saul of Tarsus participated in the persecution of multitudes of Christians and was never punished by God.

Why did they die?

Why so severe a penalty for these? If this was the proper consequence of their sin, why is it not the result of such deception today?

Ananias and Sapphira were punished for their deception with death, for one reason above all others: theirs was a cancer which would have crippled or destroyed the Christian movement. Their deception would not have stayed secret for long. Those who bought their land would likely make the sale price public or available, and the sale itself was a matter of public record. The church would eventually know that two of its honored donors had lied about their gift and motives.

As a result, the public witness of the church would have been impugned in the larger community. The credibility and integrity of the apostles and their leadership in this process of benevolence would have been undermined or destroyed. And such deception, left unpunished, would have encouraged the same sin in the hearts of others.

If they could deceive the Spirit, he is not truly Lord. Soon reverence for God and trust within the family of faith would be lost, and their community would be fractured.

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was nothing less than a ploy of Satan to attack the unity and heart of the church (v. 3). Left unchecked, this cancer would have spread throughout the body of Christ. As it was, the punishment Ananias and Sapphira faced led to the opposite result from that intended by the enemy: “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events” (v. 11).

How did Peter know?

One other question is common with regard to this story: how did Peter know of their sin? It is of course possible that he had access to the public records regarding their sale, though nothing about such knowledge is suggested in the text. The answer is found in one of the most significant statements about the Holy Spirit to be found in all the Scriptures.

In speaking to Ananias, Peter exposed the plot of Satan as a lie “to the Holy Spirit” (v. 3). Then he concluded, “You have not lied to men but to God” (v. 4). Later he asked Sapphira, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (v. 9). When we deceive the Holy Spirit, we deceive God, for he is the “Spirit of the Lord.” Here is proof of the absolute divinity of the Holy Spirit. He is God the Spirit, equal part of the Triune Lord.

And it seems clear from the text that this Holy Spirit revealed the sin of Ananias and Sapphira to Peter. He made the apostle a spiritual oncologist, revealing to him the cancer before it could spread further. In so doing, he made clear to all that he sees every heart and motive and will stop at nothing to keep God’s people pure. The “great fear” which seized the whole church was not a fear of Peter’s omniscience, but of God’s.

What does this story mean to us?

Let’s consider four life lessons from this significant story.

One: We should expect temptation.

Ananias and Sapphira have become leaders in the church. As such, they have even larger targets on their back. Satan wants to destroy the witness of every follower of Jesus, including every one of us today.

If Ananias and Sapphira had refused the temptation of the enemy, their story would have been very different. Scripture teaches: “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Submit, then you can resist and you will win.

Satan will not leave us alone. He will attack us until he wins or we win. The time to turn to God is now.

Two: Sin kills.

Every sin grieves the Lord and leads eventually to death (Romans 6:23). God’s warning to Eve in the Garden (Genesis 2:17) still applies to every sin and transgression.

Sometimes the consequences of our sin are less obvious at first than they were for Ananias and Sapphira, but they are no less real. The truism is nonetheless true: sin will always take is further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we wanted to pay.

Three: Every sin is known to God.

Our omniscient Father knows every motive, every thought, every word of gossip or slander uttered in confidence, every transgression. We must “keep short accounts” with God, spending time often in confession and cleansing. The Holy Spirit can use us to the degree that we are holy. Then he will work through us as he did through the Jerusalem church, to the glory of God.

Four: The time to repent is now.

Peter gave Ananias and Sapphira opportunity to confess their sin, but each refused. They did not understand the urgency of the moment and the priority of repentance.

Their story teaches us to respond very differently. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything in your life that displeases him and confess all that comes to your thoughts. Now claim his forgiving grace and step forward in his peace.


Travis Kauffman was jogging in Colorado recently when he was attacked by a mountain lion. At that point, according to experts, he did everything right.

He did not try to run away. That triggers the animal’s predatory instinct. Instead, when the animal pounced on him and grabbed his wrist in its jaws, he fought back.

He hit it in the head with a rock, then managed to get his foot on the mountain lion’s neck. He held it there until the animal suffocated. At that point, he ran three miles for help. Someone gave him a ride to the hospital, where he received twenty-eight stitches to his cheek, nose, and wrist.

As we noted earlier, Satan is a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Here’s what to do: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (v. 9).

What lion is attacking you today?