318) Pie in the Sky When You Die (part two)

   (…continued)  Years ago I visited an elderly lady named Hilda in a nursing home.  In her last days she would often be heard singing the old hymn I’m but a Stranger Here, Heaven is My Home.  She would sing that hymn over and over again, from memory, even though it had not been in her church’s hymnals for over 50 years (perhaps because the hymnal editors weren’t interested in such ‘pie in the sky’ religion).  Hilda’s time here on this earth was nearing the end, and the promise of that heavenly home was all she had left.  So she would go on and on, singing those great old words to sustain her faith and her hope.  She’d sing:


Lyrics by Thomas R. Taylor, 1836; Music by Arthur S. Sullivan, 1872.  Hear it at:


I’m but a stranger here, Heav’n is my home;
Earth is a desert drear, Heav’n is my home.
Danger and sorrow stand round me on every hand;
Heav’n is my fatherland, Heav’n is my home.

What though the tempest rage, Heav’n is my home;
Short is my pilgrimage, Heav’n is my home;
Time’s cold and wild wintry blast soon shall be over past;
I shall reach home at last, Heav’n is my home.

There at my Savior’s side Heav’n is my home;
I shall be glorified, Heav’n is my home.
There are the good and blest, those I loved most and best;
There, too, I soon shall rest, Heav’n is my home.

Therefore I murmur not, Heaven is my home;
Whatever my earthly lot, Heaven is my home;
And I shall surely stand, there at my Lord’s right hand.
Heav’n is my fatherland, Heav’n is my home.

     The words of this great hymn reflect a Biblical approach to life.  This perspective is very different from the usual philosophy these days, a far cry from the ‘I only live once so I have a right to be happy’ attitude.  That attitude usually ends up spreading far more misery than happiness.  The hymn teaches us to take an eternal view of things, enabling us to better handle life’s temporary setbacks and disappointments.  The long view gives us the courage to simply do what is right, whether or not it makes us happy for our few short years here.  One need not be so desperate to get it all and have it all this time around.  Instead, one can say, “This job, this marriage, this ruined health, this life, (or whatever) isn’t what I had in mind… but I am just a stranger here, heaven is my home.”

     There is an interesting connection between the stories of Joe Hill and Hilda.  The song about ‘pie in the sky when you die’ was popular during the Great Depression.  Hilda was a young wife and mother at that time, and a Christian.  Unlike those Christians Joe Hill sang about, Hilda was well know in the area for being one who would always give a meal to a hobo, even though she had her own family to feed.  Her farmhouse was along a road where many hobos traveled, and many would stop in and ask for a meal.  None were refused by Hilda, because Hilda believed in Jesus, and Jesus had something to say about helping out those in need.  Joe Hill wrote that song as a slam against Christians, and I do not doubt that some of the people he encountered were just as he described.  There is truth in the charge that some Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.  But most Christians are not like that.  Look around whenever there is trouble, and usually you will see Christians and Christian organizations helping those in need.  The Lord who prepared our heavenly home is the same Lord who created this world and has given us this life, and He told us to take care of each other while we are here.  It is often those who have a lively hope for the world to come, that are the best at helping others in this world, doing so out of gratitude and obedience to God who provides for us in both worlds.  Hobos Joe Hill and Utah Phillips were probably fed on more than one occasion by those very Christian people they ridiculed in their music, people like Hilda.


     Joe Hill’s reference to the Salvation Army as the “the ‘starvation’ army” is quite unfair.  They, better than anyone else, do feed the hungry and clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless.  The Salvation Army members give their lives for the well being of others, as do many Christians in many denominations.  

     I am reminded of a comic strip.  First frame:  Two people are complaining about the church.  “What a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites,” they say, “Church people are intolerant, self-serving, and are always asking for money.” Second frame:  The same two people are standing by the open door of an empty refrigerator, saying, “We are out of food, what do we do now?”  Third frame:  Both say together, “I know, let’s go to the food shelf at the church.  They always have plenty to give us.”


     John Wesley worked tirelessly well into his 80’s.  When he was younger he had an interest in art, but throughout his life Wesley’s work as an evangelist left him no time for hobbies.  Once, a friend was telling him about some interesting things he had seen at an art gallery.  Wesley responded, “I too have a relish for those things, but ahh, there is another world.”


Psalm 23:6  —   Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and then, I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Hebrews 11:1  —  Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:13, 16  —  All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised;they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth…  They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.


While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyelids close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
–Augustus Toplady

310) Heaven Must Be There

     Sigmund Freud in The Future of an Illusion argued that all religion is based on an illusion, and, that the nearly universal hope for some kind of life after death can easily be explained as wishful thinking and nothing more.  His argument was that people have always been afraid to die, and so as man evolved around the world, every culture invented gods, religions, and beliefs about eternal life as a way of dealing with this fear.  But now, says Freud, modern rational man can no longer hold to such illusions and will soon abandon them.

     C. S. Lewis had a much different approach to this.  Lewis was a brilliant professor at Oxford and Cambridge, and his towering intellect was respected by friend and foe alike.  He frequently debated other faculty members in both of those world renowned universities, and colleagues recall him losing only one debate.  C. S. Lewis was educated to think in a purely rational and logical way, and that led him at an early age to abandon his faith in God.  He remained an atheist until into his 30’s when with his strictly logical, but open mind, he took another look at Christianity.  After a long process of thought and study, he became a believer in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

     Lewis then spent a great deal of time explaining Christianity and responding to the many intellectual challenges to the faith.  He had a response to Freud’s dismissal of the religion as mere wish fulfillment.  Lewis asked a simple question: If all people everywhere wish for something, should that be viewed as proof that what is wished for is not there, or, is it perhaps proof that it is there?  In Mere Christianity Lewis wrote:

     The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  A baby feels hunger:  well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim:  well, there is such a thing as water.  Men feel sexual desire:  well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.  If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.  I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.

     This is just a small part of a much larger argument and it does not prove the truth of Christianity, but it certainly provides a powerful reply to Freud’s simplistic dismissal of the faith as mere wishful thinking. Wishful thinking? Of course! We wish for all kinds of things that we were created to need, and God has provided for those needs.

     In previous meditations I have described our longing for a better place, and, a place where we are not always running out of time.  I have referred to Ecclesiastes 3:11 which says that God has placed ‘eternity in our hearts.’  I described the Christian belief that this longing for a better place goes all the way back to creation itself, where the story says Adam and Eve were created to live in the perfect garden of Eden where they were free to eat from the tree of life and never die.   That is the perfection and eternity we were created for, and that is what is behind our longing for a better place with more time. 

     Today’s song describes this very thing.  It is not from the 60’s or 70’s, and is not nearly as well known as most of the others.  It’s called Heaven Must Be There and is from a 1984 album by the Eurogliders, an Australian group. The song rose to #2 in Australia and to #21 in America.  We have longings and desires that this world can never fulfill, so ‘heaven must be there,’ said C. S. Lewis and the Eurogliders.  The song gives a nice description of our heart’s deepest longings, and even has a reference to the Garden of Eden.  However, a Christian would not say “I don’t wanna live in this place.”  Rather, we can be grateful for God’s promise of the life to come, while still being grateful to God for the many blessings of this life and world.

HEAVEN MUST BE THERE  by the ‘Eurogliders’


Oooooh! Ooh I want to find a better place
Oooooh! Ooh I’m searching for a better place
Oooooh! Ooh I’m tired of living in the sand
Oooooh! Ooh I’m searching for a better land

Heaven, must be there
Well, it’s just got to be there
I’ve never, never seen Eden
I don’t wanna live in this place

Oooooh! Ooh I’m always trying to escape
Oooooh! Ooh I never know which road to take

Oooooh! Ooh I want to find a better place…  I’m searching for a better place…


Genesis 2:8  —  Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.

Genesis 3:23-24  —  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

Ecclesiastes 3:11  —   He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.


Our heavenly Father, we pray that you would save us from every evil to body and soul, and that at our last hour you would mercifully take us from the troubles of this world to yourself in heaven; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

–Paraphrased from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism explanation to the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer

306) Carrie Underwood and St. Teresa of Avila

     Today’s song is not from the golden age of Rock and Roll, but is a 2010 Country Music hit.  This is My Temporary Home was written by Luke Robert Laird and Zac Maloy, and was recorded by Carrie Underwood.  Underwood grew up on a farm in Oklahoma.  She was a college student in 2005 when she won the ‘American Idol’ competition.  Judge Simon Cowell predicted from the start that she would not only win, but would go on to be more successful than all the other ‘American Idol’ champions.  He was right about that, and she is now one of the top female vocalists in the country, both in country music and pop music.


Don’t miss seeing this award winning video at:


Little boy, 6 years old
A little too used to bein’ alone.
Another new mom and dad, another school,
Another house that’ll never be home.
When people ask him how he likes this place…
He looks up and says, with a smile upon his face,

Refrain: “This is my temporary home
It’s not where I belong.
Windows and rooms that I’m passin’ through.
This is just a stop, on the way to where I’m going.
I’m not afraid because I know this is my
Temporary Home.”

Young mom on her own.
She needs a little help, got nowhere to go.
She’s lookin’ for a job, lookin’ for a way out,
Because a half-way house will never be a home.
At night she whispers to her baby girl,
“Someday we’ll find our place here in this world.”  Refrain

Old man, hospital bed,
The room is filled with people he loves.
And he whispers don’t cry for me,
I’ll see you all someday.
He looks up and says, “I can see God’s face.”  Refrain

This is our temporary home.


     St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was a Spanish nun, author, mystic, and reformer.  In her writings she often encouraged believers to remember that this earth is only our temporary home, our time here will pass quickly, and then we will live in the perfection of heaven, our eternal home.  She compared life in this world to a miserable night in a cheap hotel, encouraging us to endure our sufferings here with courage, knowing that in the morning of the resurrection we will be on our way to something infinitely better.  Following are a few quotes from the writings of Teresa, mostly from her classic devotional work The Interior Castle.

 Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

Hope, O my soul, hope.  You know neither the day nor the hour.  Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience turns a very short time into a long one.

To have courage for whatever comes in life
– everything lies in that.

God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.

Christ has borne with thousands of foul and abominable sins which you have committed against Him, yet even they have not been enough to make Him cease looking upon you.  Is it such a great matter, then, for you to avert the eyes of your soul from outward things and sometimes to look at Him?

The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love.

Be gentle to all, and stern with yourself.

The closer one approaches to God, the simpler one becomes.

Thank God for the things that I do not own.

In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel. 


Hebrews 11:13-14…16  —  All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own…  They were longing for a better country– a heavenly one.

II Corinthians 4:16-18  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.


Give me, O Lord, if you will, the prayers to offer you;
Or let me know dryness.
Give me, O Lord, an abundance of devotion,
Or if not, then barrenness.

In you alone, Sovereign Majesty,
I find my peace,
What do you want of me?
Yours I am, for you I was born:
What do you want of me?  

–St. Teresa of Avila

305) A Hound Dog’s Savior (part two)


James Alfred Wight (“Alf”)/pen name James Herriot  (1916-1995)

     (…continued)  Then one day Mr. Herriot saw Mrs. Donovan and the dog.  The dog was now a fine looking, healthy and strong Golden Retriever.  The vet could hardly believe it was the same animal.

     “Mrs. Donovan,” he said, “You have worked wonders with that dog.  I am amazed.”  And Mrs. Donovan proceeded to tell him about the care she had lavished on the dog right from the beginning.  There were the many baths with her special shampoo, and then there was the careful feeding after a lifetime of hunger, along with the daily exercising, and then at night, a special place for the dog to sleep right in Mrs. Donovan’s very own bedroom.  And of course, there were countless hours of gently combing out that hopelessly matted hair.  The dog received constant love and attention and affection from Mrs. Donovan, and it clearly paid off.  The dog was as healthy as any Mr. Herriot had ever seen.  That was the beginning of many happy years for that dog as Mrs. Donovan’s pampered pet.

     As James Herriot thought about this woman and her dog, he was struck by the dramatic change that came into that dog’s life.  All that dog knew for the entire first year of its life was darkness, deprivation, loneliness, neglect, hunger, and filth.  It had never experienced anything else, and it had no way of even knowing how deprived and miserable it was.  And then, one day that dog was taken out from all of that, and in an instant that dog was transported into an entirely different life; a life of care and good feeding, light and exercise, and constant loving companionship.  What a tremendous and wonderful transformation that must have been for that dog!  And to think, if Mrs. Donovan had not been standing outside that door, the dog would have been put to sleep without ever knowing any of that love or concern.  She saved that dog.  Mrs. Donovan was, we might say, that dog’s Savior.

     In the first chapter of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul praises his Savior, and our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Paul says Jesus chose us, and he has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing.  In verses seven and eight, Paul says we have received redemption through Christ’s own blood, through which we have received the forgiveness of our sins, and by that Christ has lavished on us the riches of God’s grace.  Lavished is the word in verse eight.  Along with that, God has worked out everything for us, guaranteeing our inheritance in eternity.  It is in Christ our Savior that we know the truth, have our hope, live in his love, and know the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us.  Blessing upon blessing, lavished upon us, who, without Jesus, would have nothing and be without hope.

    James Herriot’s story of that Golden Retriever a wonderful image of our life and hope in Christ Jesus, our Savior.  That dog had two lives:  the miserable life in that shed before Mrs. Donovan, and then the wonderful life after she lavished her care upon him.  And we also, according to God’s Word, are promised two lives:  the life we live now, here on this earth, and, the life in heaven with God.  And though our lives here are usually not as desperate as that dog’s life in that old shack, we do all get our share of misery, and, just like that dog, we don’t know anything else.  At a very young age, we learn to expect that life is filled with danger, disappointment, illness, sadness, and death.  When something bad happens, we might even say, ‘Well, that’s life!’  That’s all we know, and even on our best days and in our happiest times, we know it won’t last.  We know it can all be gone in an instant.  One day in our future, it most certainly will all be gone.  But that’s life, right?

    But, says Jesus in John chapter 14, someday “I will come back to this place for you, and I will take you to MY heavenly home, so that where I am, you may be also.”  And what a change that will be for us.  Paul had a vision of that wonderful place and wrote that it will be far more wonderful than anything we could ever even imagine here.  It is, he wrote, far beyond what any eye here has ever seen, or any ear has ever heard of.  In 2 Corinthians chapter nine Paul refers to this surpassing grace of God, and then words fail him and he bursts forth in praise saying, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

     James Herriot said that when he first saw that dog it seemed content.  It seemed very accepting of its poor condition, having not ever known anything else.  We also cannot even imagine a life without danger and death and fear and sadness always threatening, always lurking around every corner.  The apostle John had also been given a vision of heaven, and in the book of Revelation he described it as a place of no sadness, no tears, no grief, and no death, a place where God himself will live right with us.  It is in this hope that Paul could write those enthusiastic words of praise in Ephesians, thanking God for all the wonderful blessings that he has lavished upon us and will lavish upon us.

     This life is also a gift of God, and God gives us many good days here.  There may even be days we are so richly blessed that we may not even feel the need for these future promises of God.  In those good times we may be tempted to forget all about God, and say like that old beer commercial, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”  But we do know that not all days will be like that.  There will be other days when everything seems dark and hopeless, and your life is full of misery and grief and pain, and you feel like ‘nothin’ but a hound dog.’  On those days remember that we are, in many ways, like that poor dog in that old shack, but there is a another whole world prepared for us.  One day, our Savior will come to get us and take us to that place.  And on that dying day we will have no more to fear than that dog had to fear Mrs. Donovan untying him and gently taking him from the only home he had ever known.  A whole new and wonderful life was awaiting that dog; and a life beyond imagining awaits us.


Ephesians 1:7-8  —  In him (Christ Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace, that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

II Corinthians 9:15  —   Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Ecclesiastes 12:1…7   —  Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”…  and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.


Let our chief goal, O God, be your glory, and to enjoy you forever.  –John Calvin

304) A Hound Dog’s Savior (part one)

YOU AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT A HOUND DOG  performed by Elvis Presley at:


You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog
Cryin’ all the time.
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog
Cryin’ all the time.
Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit
And you ain’t no friend of mine.

Well they said you was high classed
Well, that was just a lie.
Yeah they said you was high classed
Well, that was just a lie.
Yeah, you ain’t never caught a rabbit/cut a record
And you ain’t no friend of mine. (3x)

     This song was written in 1952 by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, a couple of 19 year-olds just getting started (the same duo that a few years later wrote Yakety-yak, Don’t Talk Back.).  Dozens of artists have recorded it over the years, the most famous being by Elvis Presley in 1956.  That record stayed on top of the charts for 11 weeks, and helped launch Presley’s rise to fame.  It is #19 on the Rolling Stone magazine list of top the 500 hits of all time.  It is a fun song, with no deep meaning to the words, and it has very little to do with what I want to say next– except that I am going to be talking about a hound dog, and this is the best hound dog song I know.  First, a story…

     James Alfred Wight was a country veterinarian in Yorkshire, England from the 1940’s to the 1980’s.  He was a wise man who had keen insights into the personalities of the animals he treated, and, into the personalities of the humans who owned them.  He was also a great storyteller and wrote several best selling books about his experiences using the pen name James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, etc.). In one of his books he tells the story of a certain Mrs. Donovan, the town busy-body.  She had her nose into everything, knew everything about everybody, and was always around whenever something happened.  She also was quite sure that she knew more about dogs than anyone; certainly more than some over-educated and under-experienced young veterinarian.  So she was, for James Herriot, a pain in the neck.  She knew even before he did when a dog was sick, and she was always there eager to sell her own home remedies, especially her special dog shampoo, which she said would cure practically anything.  And she never hesitated to say a bad word about Mr. Herriot, criticizing his every move.

     One day, a policeman called Mr. Herriot to assist him on a case of animal neglect.  The vet arrived at a rundown farm place that he had never seen before.  The house looked as if it were ready to fall in on itself, and out back was a little shed that was in even worse shape.  Inside the dark and smelly shack was a malnourished dog, little more than skin and bones, covered with a tangled mess of dirty and matted hair.  It was a Golden Retriever that the vet guessed to be about a year old.  He figured that the poor dog had been chained there, on a short leash, for its entire life.  A hollowed out spot in the dirt floor was where the poor dog had been lying, in the dark, day and night, without care or attention.  “How can anyone treat a dog like this?” Mr. Herriot asked the police officer.

     The officer said, “We were called out here this morning after the old lady in the house died.  She was an invalid and her son seems to be not quite right in the head.  He’d throw some food out to the dog when he thought of it, but he apparently didn’t think of it very often.  There doesn’t seem to be much hope for this dog anymore, and besides, who would want it?  I suppose, Mr. Herriot, you might as well put it out of it’s misery.”

     “Yes, I suppose so,” the young vet replied reluctantly.  Just then, out of the corner of his eye, Mr. Herriot saw Mrs. Donovan, standing out in the yard, straining to hear every word.  “How does she find out everything so fast?,” he wondered, annoyed more than a little bit at her constant presence and interference.  But then he had an idea.  Not letting on to Mrs. Donovan that he had seen her, he turned to the policeman and said, “Officer, I’ve heard about a lady in this very town who has a special shampoo that will work wonders on any dog.  Do you think we ought to let her have a look at it?  For all it has been through, the dog still has a strong heart, and it is young, so there is maybe a chance.”  The vet had no confidence at all in Mrs. Donovan’s special healing shampoo, but he had no doubt about her love for dogs.  Her whole life was given to caring for dogs, and she was still grieving the recent death of her own little dog.

     “Maybe there would be a chance,” said the officer, “but I don’t think anyone would even want to touch this filthy creature, let alone take it home and shampoo it.”

     “But I will! I want to!” said Mrs. Donovan, bursting into the shack, filled with pity for the poor creature.

     “Oh, Mrs. Donovan,” said the vet, “what a coincidence.  I was just speaking about you.  I was wondering if your special shampoo and potions could do anything for this poor dog.  Would you like to have a go at it?”

     “Of course I will,” she said, already gently untying the rope that had held the dog for so long, and out the door they went.

     The vet did not see the dog or Mrs. Donovan for several weeks.  He thought it especially strange when he did not even see her in the front of the crowd that had gathered at the scene of a minor car accident near her home.  He was very anxious to know how the poor dog turned out.  He had confidence in her care, but the dog was in tough shape, and he wondered if it survived.   (continued…)


Psalm 104:24…25b…27  —  How many are your works, Lord!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures… living things both large and small…  All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time.


All things bright and beautiful, 
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all…

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well. 

Cecil Frances Alexander  (1818-1895)


A PRAYER FOR THE ANIMALS  by Albert Schweitzer

Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends, the animals.
Especially for animals who are suffering; for any that are
lost or deserted or frightened or hungry;
for all that must be put to death.
We entreat for them all Thy mercy and pity,
and for those who deal with them, we ask a
a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.
Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals,
and so to share the blessings of the merciful.