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Archive for the ‘Christian living’ Category

The Conversion of Paul

The Conversion of Paul–by Luca Giordano (1690), Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy

Only someone who has personally experienced the powerful, life-transforming love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ can boldly claim that nothing compares to the priceless gain of knowing him. Such a person was Paul the apostle (Philippians 3:8)

In a society in which he had some of the highest and most impressive academic, professional, and religious credentials and achievements, along with an esteemed family pedigree going back thousands of years to the founding of the Jewish nation, Paul was a rising star that burned brightly in his zeal to uphold the laws of Judaism and to persecute the followers of Jesus Christ.

All that changed as he travelled on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians and he encountered the risen Jesus in a dazzling blaze of light from heaven (Acts 9). As a result of his decision to follow and serve Jesus, he lost everything, and gave up every thing that previously mattered to him—his high standing in Jewish religious and political society, his credentials, and his thoroughbred pedigree (Phil 3:4-9).

Even his immediate and extended family probably rejected him, and since he was a Pharisee, it is likely that he was once married, but his wife might have died by the time of his conversion to Christ, or left him after his conversion (see Creasy and Burk).

Paul realized that all the things that he thought were important in his life before Christ were powerless to save him and bring him into fellowship with God. So he dumped them all as utter rubbish—excrement! (Phil. 3:8)

It was only through his faith in Jesus Christ that saved him and offered him the priceless gift of knowing Christ, and he declared:

For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that, somehow, I can experience the resurrection from the dead! (Phil. 3:9-11, NLT)

When Paul wrote about knowing Jesus Christ, he was not referring to intellectual knowledge alone; he meant the personal knowledge that comes from the most intimate relationship and union between two people—and he found that in Christ.

And as we, too, become one with Christ through faith and intimate knowledge of him, we experience the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, power that enables us to:

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 11.07.20 PM• Die to our sinful nature, so that we can live transformed for him and like him

• Share in his suffering and be comforted by him, so that we can comfort others in their sufferings

• Someday rise from the dead in new resurrected bodies, fit for eternity in God’s glorious Kingdom

And so like Paul, forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, we press on towards the goal of being all that Jesus Christ saved us for and wants us to be, and we strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Jesus Christ, is calling us up to heaven. (Phil. 3:13-14)

Until that glorious Resurrection Morning, we who have experienced the grace and forgiveness of our sins through the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, must choose each day how to live in gratitude to our Lord.

Gloria Gaither

Gloria Gaither

In that vein, Gloria Gaither, my sister alum from Anderson University, penned these words as a prayer and a hymn that capture her commitment to live for Christ. As you listen to the words and music performed by the Gaither Vocal Band in the video below, I hope that you will be inspired to live each day experiencing that priceless gain of intimately knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.

I Then Shall Live

I then shall live as one who’s been forgiven;
I’ll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.
I know my name is clear before my Father;
I am his child, and I am not afraid.
So greatly pardoned, I’ll forgive another;
The law of love I gladly will obey.

I then shall live as one who’s learned compassion;
I’ve been so loved that I’ll risk loving too.
I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges;
I’ll dare to see another’s point of view.
And when relationships demand commitment,
Then I’ll be there to care and follow through.

Your Kingdom come around and through and in me,
Your power and glory, let them shine through me;
Your hallowed name, O may I bear with honor,
And may your living Kingdom come in me.
The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor,
And may you feed a hungry world through me.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

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Please note: If you cannot open the video, click the title of the post to go to the actual blog site.

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When we pray for God’s blessings, most likely we envision people, things, and conditions that we believe will make us happy—loving relationships, close family and friends, good health, material things, financial assets, good jobs, successful careers, long life, and much more.

While Scripture includes some of those as blessings or rewards (e.g., Gen.15:1-3; Job 42:12-17; 1 Sam.2:20-21; Ps. 112), it more frequently refers to God’s blessings in spiritual terms or as a state of being in relationship to God or Jesus Christ.

In the priestly blessing that God gave Aaron to proclaim over the people of Israel (Num. 6:24-26), and later used as a benediction in Christian worship services, the blessing covers God’s people with his divine protection, pleasure, graciousness, favor, and peace.

When Jesus taught his disciples and followers about blessings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-11), he didn’t promise earthly prosperity, pleasure, or laughter. He promised a joyful, hopeful experience with God—independent of outward circumstances and things that we deem necessary for happiness. In fact, he taught that God blesses the poor in spirit, the mournful, the spiritually destitute, the persecuted, the oppressed, the unaggressive, the powerless, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the pure in heart.

And throughout the New Testament, God’s blessings are seen in terms of a happy state of being because of a believer’s relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—as in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

“How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we belong to Christ.” –(Eph. 1:3, NLT)

Paul goes on to name these spiritual blessings that become ours as followers of Jesus Christ:

• God loved us and chose us for salvation before the world began (1:4)
• God adopted us as his children (1:5)
• God regards us as holy and blameless (1:5)
• God lavished his kindness on us because we belong to Christ (1:6-8)
• God purchased our freedom from sin’s destructive dominance and forgave our sins (1:7)
• God bestowed on us spiritual insight, wisdom, and understanding to guide us through our new life with Christ (1:8; 1:17)
• God granted us an eternal inheritance in his Kingdom (1:11)
• God gave us the Holy Spirit as his guarantee that we belong to him and will receive our full redemption and future glory (1:14; Rom 8:23)

All of these blessings are ours to enjoy during this lifetime and are a foretaste of the eternal glory that we will enjoy in our heavenly realms (1:3; 2:6; 3:10) at our death or upon Christ’s return to establish his new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1).

So as we give praise and thanks to God for our present blessings of shelter, clothing, food, loved ones, health, jobs, and the many other things that help to make life enjoyable, let us not cling to them and take them for granted. They are not permanent. We could lose them.

And may we remember to daily give praise and thanks to God for all the spiritual blessings that are ours because we belong to Christ. Those blessings are permanent and eternal, and we can count on them!

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While Scripture passages such as Romans 8:31-39 assure us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, there is always the temptation for us to accept God’s eternal salvation in which our sins are forgiven and we are assured a place in heaven, yet be reluctant to go deeper in our walk with Jesus because he might demand too much of us in this life.

We enjoy the benefits of our Christian faith and participate occasionally in church events—Sunday services, Easter and Christmas celebrations, weddings, baptisms, funerals or memorials—but often avoid commitments that demand more of us than we are willing to give.

Unwilling to move out of our comfort zone, we give minimally of our time, our resources, and ourselves to God, the church, and to others, leaving the bulk of God’s Kingdom work to the very few dedicated souls among us.

To all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, he says, as he did to his disciples:

“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” (Luke 6:46-49; see also Matt. 7:24-27)

Jesus is not comparing Christians and unbelievers, but two types of Christians—those who listen to his teachings and obey them, and those who listen to his teachings but do not obey them.

What we do with the words of Jesus—especially his Sermon on the Mount teachings about the characteristics of being his disciples (Matthew 5-7)—determines how we respond to life’s hurricanes of crises:

• Obedience to Christ’s teachings creates a strong foundation that will withstand life’s crises.

• Disobedience to Christ’s teachings inevitably leads to major collapses amid life’s crises.

While life’s storms and hurricanes are sure to strike every one of us at some time or another, obedience leads to protection in the midst of these crises. Disobedience doesn’t.

When we read Matthew 5-7 and understand what Jesus teaches and what he calls us to become and to do as his followers, we soon realize that he is calling us to be a unique people whose values are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems.

For example:

• Jesus calls us to both care for people who are poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, and be willing ourselves to be poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, for to such belong the kingdom of God. However, those who are not poor in spirit—the proud, the self-assured, the powerful, the arrogant—are not in God’s kingdom.

• Jesus blesses those who are gentle, meek, and lowly. But the world rejects such qualities as weakness, and places no value on such people.

• Jesus teaches us to seek God’s praise. The world teaches to seek its praise.

• Jesus calls us to seek the Father’s eternal treasures. The world entices us with money, fame, and earthly success that soon fade.

• Jesus calls us to purity of heart and truth. The world persecutes the pure of heart and opposes the truth.

How seriously do we consider such teachings of Jesus? Do we see them as impractical in today’s fast-paced, complex, and sophisticated world? Do we see them as unrealistic? Irrelevant? Too hard?

Or do we, like Peter, consider Jesus’ teachings and respond, “Lord, you alone have the words that give eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Yes, through the love, grace, and mercy of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior, we have eternal life—now and forever. And yes, we have Jesus’ assurance that no one can snatch us out of his hands (John 10:28).

But we must never forget that not only do the words of Jesus give eternal life, they also contain many warnings to those of us who are prone to ignore them.

There is grace in “once saved always saved,” but there is also the caveat: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

The Christian journey, therefore, involves the duality of living with both certainty and caution; assurance of eternal salvation and warnings; balancing God’s gift of grace with our individual responsibility to live obediently in response to that grace.

This duality is expressed beautifully by the New Living Translation of Philippians 2:12-13 where Paul writes:

“Dearest friends, you were always so careful to follow my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”

May we embrace the duality of following Jesus as today’s disciples—assured of our salvation but always careful to live obediently with deep reverence and fear.

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Each week I have the privilege of praying for scores of individuals from our large congregation who send in their prayer requests, so I’m very aware of the range of difficulties that they face regarding sickness, financial worries, bereavement, unemployment, business setbacks, broken relationships, and more.

Among the prayers that I bring to God on their behalf is that each person will experience peace and joy in the midst of their difficulties.

Peace? Joy? In the midst of difficulties?

Yes!

The apostle Paul—who had more than his share of trials and tribulations, including numerous attempts on his life by enemies—experienced peace and joy in the midst of good and bad times, and he reminds us that:

* Faith in Jesus Christ brings peace:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1)

This is not peace in the sense of the absence of conflicts and difficulties in our lives, but God’s peace of mind and heart, of confident assurance in any and all situations. It’s a peace that fills our beings when we accept Jesus Christ as our savior and lord, for, in that moment, God forgives our sins and reconciles us to himself throughout this life and for all eternity.

* Faith in Jesus Christ brings joy, even in suffering:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation.” (Romans 5:3, 4)

It’s a joy that Jesus bestows on believers who earnestly seek him, a joy that comes from a consistent relationship with him in which he fills them with his joy, for even as he said to his disciples, he says to all his believers today:

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 14:9-11)

So, as we face the difficult periods and circumstances that each of us will inevitably encounter in our lives, may we not fear—no matter how frightening or hopeless things might seem—but may we put our trust in the risen Christ and experience his peace and his joy as we “run with endurance the race that God has set before us…keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.” (Hebrews 12:1b, 2)

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All Bible quotes are from the New Living Translation.

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