A Ticket To Ride

Gregory Buck Welch

Gregory Buck Welch

“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.” 

 Desmond Tutu

I always wondered why, at funerals, they preached at you about accepting Jesus. It really irritated me. I didn’t want to hear it. You know, I still don’t want to hear it, but now I understand. And, now, I know why it is important. You see there is one fundamental difference between Christianity and the other major religions in the world, and this one difference is what makes Christianity so important, but it’s an importance that you’re not likely to discover unless you experience the tragedy of losing someone you love.

On Valentine’s Day of 2013, just last week, my 18 year-old nephew was killed in a tragic car accident. And, although I have been a “believer” for many years, the real truth of Christianity – the bottom line, the “Good News” escaped me.  It wasn’t until I lost Greg that the importance of the Christian faith became a reality to me.  I will see him again, he is in a better place and I don’t have to do anything to get there. I don’t have to be anyone I’m not.  I don’t have to do anything in particular. I don’t even have to love God, although we are told we must. He loves us anyway even if we are incapable of returning that love. His love is not conditional and has given me a free gift.  He gave me a “ticket to ride.” And, He has one for you too.

In the other major religions of the world, the afterlife is conditional. In the Hindu and Buddhist faiths you are born into an endless cycle of reincarnation with each new birth position conditional on your performance in the previous life. If you had been a good boy or girl you moved up the ladder with the eventual reward of achieving Nirvana. Yet even that state of being is not Heaven it is merely assimilation into the great “cosmos” of being like being a rain drop in the great ocean of creation. If you do not use your earthly life for good, well…you could end up in some not-so-nice reincarnation like maybe living life as a cockroach or a flea-covered rat.

If you are Muslim or Jewish your position in the afterlife is also conditional on your behavior in this life. You will either end up spending your life in Paradise or in Hell depending on how well you followed the Seven Pillars of Faith or the Ten Commandants (respectively). Only in Christianity is a place in Heaven guaranteed, free of charge, free for the taking.  Jesus came, He died and He rose again and this is what He offers to anyone who wants it. It is free. It has no strings attached is not conditional on behavior or performance, or even your ability to return His great love.

However, this does not mean that you can live your life like Hell on earth and expect to get away with murder in the afterlife. Christians are expected to obey the same Ten Commandments and live up to even higher standards than other faiths in order to draw others to the faith. Unfortunately most do not do this and therein lays a major problem with Christianity. People preach one thing and live another, and people who see this behavior don’t believe the real truth that they are forgiven and free. I mean, how can you live like hell on earth and expect a reward in Heaven? It doesn’t make sense to our limited ways of understanding. But, it doesn’t have to be logical to be truth in God’s world. It just is.  Because God who is love, loves us enough that He sent His son to resolve the problems, to answer for our inherent inability to live good lives; to pay the “ticket’s” price.

Another major problem with the Christian faith that prevents people from believing its message are its missionaries; people who have done much damage to the world and its cultures in the name of Jesus. It is not necessary to live, talk, walk and dress like the “white man” to become a Christian. But history is replete with bad examples of missionaries who have forced their way of life on others without regard or respect for the beliefs and traditions of those they were “ministering” to. I am sorry, this is just wrong, very wrong, and I apologize for all the harm done that can never be undone. Unfortunately, it continues to this day.

For example, my church sponsored some missionaries to Mongolia. We sat at dinner one night as they were visiting and sharing some stories about the native peoples. They were laughing and making fun of their customs and culture. Then the man said, “They only want what we can give them. They don’t want to hear about the Gospel.”  I could only shake my head in disbelief. Of course, the native Mongolians don’t want to hear the Gospel – the Good News – from you. You don’t love them. You don’t respect them. You don’t have anything they really need. They don’t want to hear about “the ticket to ride” because who wants to ride with someone who makes fun of them, who does not respect them and who only wants to change them. Not me, not ever!

You probably have some questions by now. Like why do they do this? Why would they treat others this way? Well, it seems to me that they have lost sight of the true message of the Gospel. They have gotten trapped in the rules instead of the love. God, the Creator, is our Father. By His loving thoughts we were created. He loves us and like any good parent He wants our happiness and doesn’t want to see us hurt. So, like any parent, He laid down some laws. Don’t steal it will make someone mad and you will get hurt. Don’t cheat on your spouse. It will make someone mad and you will get hurt. Don’t kill. It will make someone mad and you will get hurt. Don’t put your hand in the fire. It will hurt.

It is easy to focus on these rules. They are concrete. They have answers. Don’t do this and you will be good, you will have a good life. You will be secure because you are now in control. It is harder to focus on God’s free love. It doesn’t make sense. It is not conditional, cannot be earned. It is out of our control and thus harder to accept and deal with. It is much easier to think that we can control God’s love by our behavior, i.e. if I obey the rules, I will have a good life, I will be blessed. The Gospel – The Good News – is that God loves us regardless of what we do here on earth. Our “ticket to ride” is not based on our actions but on the actions of Jesus on the cross. He paid the price and gave us a free ticket to heaven.

I want to see my loved ones again. I do want to spend eternity living with them in true peace and happiness with no more tears or pain. I want that “ticket to ride.” So I go on believing and accepting my faith as gospel, as the “Good News” of life after death, and I will gently tell anyone who wants to listen about it so that they might also share in the “Good News” of life after death in Heaven with their loved ones for eternity.

If you want to live forever, in freedom, in love with life and all its wonderful mysteries and with all those you love, there is a free ticket waiting for you. The price has been paid and all you have to do is accept it.

“I am still in the land of the dying; I shall be in the land of the living soon. (his last words)”
― John Newton

(Dedicated to Gregory Buck Welch – 6/30/94 – 2/14/13)

All Dogs Go To Heaven….Or, Do They?

Photo by: Collin Key

“Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

Mark Twain

STOP!!  If you think I am going to answer this question, then quit reading right now because you will be disappointed. Better brains than mine, better educated people, and more learned Biblical scholars have attempted to answer this question, and not succeeded, and neither have I. Unless you have been to Heaven and lived to tell about it, you cannot say for sure what happens there. However, you can have a well-developed and well-founded opinion, and I would just like to add my to the mix and hope it provides you with some insight.

I once heard  Joni Eareckson Tada speak about animals not having souls, and therefore not being in heaven to greet us. She quoted  this verse from Ecclesiastes,  “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” Eccl 3:21 – KJV She implied that this difference of direction meant that there would be no animals in Heaven. I tend to disagree with this strongly, as did many of her listeners.  She later retracted this statement.

However, when I look at the verses that precede this verse, one things becomes clear, not only do animals have spirits but they are, according to Scripture, quite similar in that they both are created by God and destined by God for other things. Ecclesiastes 3:19 states, “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.” – Eccl 3:19 KJV As I mentioned above, I am not a Biblical scholar, I have no training in Greek, Latin or Hebrew. Yet, to my simple mind the message seems pretty clear. All of God’s living creatures breath, die and are destined for other places. There is some debate on what those places might be, and therein lies the heart of the problem.  If animals do have spirits, as Scripture states, where do they go after death.

If you are a Hindu or a Buddhist, or a Native American you are raised to believe that animals have spirits or souls unlike European/Western Christianity where animals are, or were, considered simply an inferior life form. For example, in the Hindu faith all living creatures have an Atman, or soul, and that this soul is continually evolving growing and changing from one incarnation to the next. The Buddhist believer basically agrees with this but also believes that animals possess a spark of the “Divine” and can teach humans many things by their example of gracious living. Most Native American Nations also believe in the spirit or soul of the animal with many tribal religions calling upon animal spirit guides to help them as they walk upon this earth.  Even Islam and Judaism believes that animals have souls, although they do disagree as to their final destination. Which brings us back to the question of are there animals in Heaven.

Lots of people like to use the verse from Isaiah about the lions lying down with the lamb to provide Scriptural support for the view that animals will be in heaven. However, I am not so sure this particular verse applies. It reads, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” Isa 11:16 KJV. However, when you look at this verse in context with its neighbors it tends to lend itself more to an interpretation of the events during the Second Coming of Christ, or what is called, “The Millennial Kingdom.” A thousand year period of peace and happiness on earth where Christ rules as king.

In my mind, there are two strong verses that support the existence of not only animals in heaven, but the souls of our beloved pets as well. Both of these verses can be found in the Book of Revelations, which is interesting as it speaks specifically of the “End Times” and of the existence an d nature of Heaven. The first verse reads, “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.” Rev: 19:11. Okay, so here we go. John has a vision of Heaven and he sees Jesus on a white horse. How could this be if there were no horses in Heaven? Now, it could be argued that if they had Hummers or other motorized vehicles in those days, John might have seen Jesus arriving in a jeep, or a tank, or an airplane.  However, they did have carriages, chariots, camel caravans and other means of transportation, and John did not see Jesus sitting in one of those. Instead, he saw him astride a horse. I find this interesting and it tends to lend credence to the argument that there will be animals in Heaven.

However, the most compelling argument, and the one that most people know is the verse in Revelations that speaks about no more tears. It reads, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”Rev 21:4 For many people, this is all the proof that is needed. No more tears, no more pain, no more death. Heaven simply will not be Heaven if it does not contain the souls of all our beloveds including our pets.

To give Joni credit, when she retracted her statement, she did agree that Heaven in order to be Heaven must include replications of our pets so that the pain of their passing would no longer exist. However, I am willing to take it one step further and say that, “We will see all our love ones in Heaven including our pets for our God is a good God and He desires more than anything else to fulfill the desires of the hearts of His children.”

I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness. If it takes my dog being there [in Heaven], I believe he’ll be there.

Rev. Billy Graham