Every now and then, I step back and consider how quickly time has moved. It seems like just a few days ago that I first felt the Lord touching my life—but that happened when I was just a teenager! I remember reading a passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians one summer, and I began to see that the deepest purpose in life is to be like Jesus, who “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6). Instead, Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,” and “because of this, God greatly exalted him” (2:7, 9). I began to understand that God had a higher purpose for my life—a heavenly purpose.
That was in 1975, but it still doesn’t feel like it happened all that long ago! I’ve been married to my wife, Jeannie, for thirty-four years, and God has blessed us with five children and five grandchildren. But our life, which can look somewhat ideal, has been anything but perfect. We have struggled and had sorrows, as I’m sure many of you have had. A little over two years ago, we lost our fourth child, Kathleen, to heroin. She was only twenty-four at the time. On the morning after she died, I found next to her bed a note she wrote: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Even though she struggled with drug addiction, Kathleen loved Jesus and tried her best to stay faithful to him. Even though the evil one wanted to steal her life, both Jeannie and I took that note as a sign that God had rescued her in his great mercy.
Then, as if losing Kathleen weren’t enough, our oldest son, Peter, was diagnosed six months later with stage four cancer. (Don’t worry. Pete is still with us!) So for the past two years, Jeannie and I have felt both deep sorrow and the comfort of knowing that God is truly faithful and cares for all of his children. We cling to the fact that we are all citizens of heaven, and this truth sustains us. We weep that we can no longer hug Kathleen, but we rejoice knowing that Jesus humbled himself for all of us, including Kathleen. We miss her, but we rejoice knowing that God the Father is hugging her, and in time, by God’s grace, we will be able to hug her as well.
It’s this promise of our heavenly citizenship that we explore in this month’s issue. I am convinced that if the thought of heaven can sustain Jeannie and me, it can sustain all of us.
So if you have lost a loved one, hold on to this truth: you are a citizen of heaven, and our God is a faithful, loving God! If your loved one is in Christ in heaven and if you are in Christ through faith here on the earth, then you are at this moment close to your loved one because you are close to God.
May the love of God the Father strengthen us all until we see the Lord Jesus and our loved ones face-to-face.