JOHN PEARRELL: Heaven is a free gift God bestows on anyone who has faith in Jesus

On Monday of this week I had to perform a task that no pastor likes to perform -- I had to officiate a double memorial service for a family.

Death is never an easy topic. Back in 1976, as I was standing before my ordination counsel, the only question I could not answer was a question asking how I would explain death to a 7-year-old child. I was stumped. I had never really thought of it before.

The only answer I could give was an honest, "I don't know."

The minister who asked me that question, Rev. Charles Will, was kind. He gave me the answer to his own question. "Death is separation," he said. "Physical death is separation of the soul from the body and spiritual death is separation of the spirit from God."

Death is not a topic we like to think about, but it is one we must think about.

We, in America, have been engaged in one of the longest wars we have ever fought -- the war on terrorism. According to one online source, as of Aug. 18, 2012 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in the war stood at 5,696.

But you know, war does not increase the death rate. We have a tendency, I think, to think that in times of war the death rate soars, but that is not true.

Death is 100 percent in every generation. The chilling statistic is 1 out of 1 dies.

Rick Warren, in "The Purpose Driven Life," wrote, "The only time most people think about eternity is at funerals, and then it's often shallow, sentimental thinking, based on ignorance. You may feel morbid to think about death, but actually it's unhealthy to live in denial of death and not consider what is inevitable.

"Only a fool would go through life unprepared for what we all know will eventually happen. You need to think more about eternity, not less."

Often at a funeral someone will make this statement, "God only takes the best."

That is not true. God doesn't take "the best." He only takes those who have placed their faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

The Bible says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (John 3:16 18, NIV84).

And it reminds us, "We die only once, and then we are judged" (Hebrews 9:27, CEV).

Another misconception people seem to have is that death somehow is automatic entrance into heaven. That is not so.

When we die physically, we enter eternity. The Bible teaches that we will spend eternity in one of two places -- heaven or hell. What determines the place of our eternal existence is what we have done with Christ.

Jesus very clearly says, "So Jesus said again, 'I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever comes in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life -- life in all its fullness'" (John 10:7 10, GNB).

Space does not permit me to answer all the questions this column may have raised in your minds.

Let me simply conclude by stating that Heaven is not something we earn, but a free gift God bestows on anyone who will place their faith in the person of Jesus the Christ.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington and can be reached at www.gatewaycommunity.org.