Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

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.

******

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

Read Full Post »

In my last post, I reported that Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a pregnant 27-year-old Christian Sudanese mother, is awaiting execution because she has steadfastly refused to deny her faith in Jesus Christ.

But Meriam is not alone in her willingness to remain faithful to Jesus Christ, even if it means being killed. Recently I saw gruesome online videos showing Muslim extremists slaughtering men who had left the Muslim religion to follow Jesus Christ—scenes captured succinctly by Hebrews 11:35b-37a:

But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. Some were mocked and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed by the sword.” (NLT)

How do we account for the fact that these former Muslims—living in “closed” countries where the Christian Gospel is forbidden and not known—are willing to die for Jesus Christ?

As I reported in a previous post (http://wp.me/p1fMZH-dI), Jesus has been appearing to many of these Muslim men and women in dreams and visions in such undeniable and powerful ways that once they accept him as their Savior, their faith in him becomes unshakeable—for they experience him as real, living, and encouraging amidst the persecution.

Would you and I—we who live in “open” and free societies where the Christian Gospel is preached and followed—deny our allegiance to Jesus in order to save our lives?

It is easy for us to say that we’d never deny our Lord, but until we are faced with the actual threat of death, we really don’t know how we would respond.

While the vast majority of us will never face such extreme situations and life-or-death decisions, are we denying Jesus in other ways?

Are we denying him by hiding our Christian faith at work…at school…from people…or in the way we operate our businesses?

Are we denying him by giving more importance to people and things over him—to our love of money and material things…to building financial security…to seeking popularity and fame…to getting ahead in our careers…to putting our families before him…and to chasing our dreams at all cost?

While our faith in Jesus Christ has not been tested so far by the threat of death as have our Christian brothers and sisters in Muslim societies, many of us take our faith lightly or for granted, and we chip away at that faith in countless, seemingly benign ways through compromises here and there.

Is our faith genuine? Has it taken root in the good soil mentioned in Jesus’ parable of the four soils (Matthew 13:1-23)?

Or is it rooted in the rocky soil that “represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But like young plants in such soil, their roots don’t go very deep. At first they get along fine, but they wilt as soon as they have problems or are persecuted because they believe the word.”? (13:20-21)

Or is it in the thorny ground that “represents those who hear and accept the Good News, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life and the lure of wealth, so no crop is produced.”? (13:22)

I pray that none of us will ever be forced to make a life-or-death decision over our allegiance to Jesus Christ. But if we find ourselves in such a position, I pray that we will trust him to sustain and empower us to remain faithful in life and in death.

In the meantime, may we remember our Christian sisters and brothers around the world, some of them at this very moment offering the ultimate gift—their lives—to express their allegiance to Jesus their Lord.

Pray for them daily, especially for Meriam who gave birth to a baby girl in a Khartoum prison hospital wing on May 29.

And thanks to those of you who are among the more than 849,000 who have so far signed the petition to the Sudanese Government to free Meriam.

Grace and peace.

 

*****

Read Full Post »

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 3.39.14 PM

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)

*****

All Bible quotes are from the New Living Translation.

Read Full Post »

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 12.05.34 PM
I recently watched with fascination as Nik Wallenda walked across a high wire 1,500 feet above the Grand Canyon floor without a safety harness. And as he inched his way across the empty span of nearly five football fields, he constantly thanked and praised Jesus.

Nik, a Christian, is a seventh generation member of the Wallenda family of high-wire performers, and began walking the wire at age four.

But could you or I accomplish such a feat? After all, have we not believed or quoted Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”? (King James Version, KJV)

When the Apostle Paul penned those words to the Philippians, did he mean that Jesus Christ would grant us superhuman abilities to accomplish anything we imagine?

Could we use that verse to affirm our way to earthly riches, as proponents of the “prosperity” gospel try to do?

Many believers quote Philippians 4:13 and try to apply it to their lives without fully understanding the context in which the Apostle Paul wrote it.

He was imprisoned in Rome and was writing to Christians at the church in Philippi to encourage them to be joyful and contented in every circumstance because of their faith in Jesus Christ, even when things went badly for them. He also wrote to thank them for their financial gift to him in prison, and added:

“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need. But even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.” (Phil.4: 11-14, New Living Translation, NLT)

The “everything” or “all things” refers specifically to Paul’s ability to be contented and joyful in all circumstances that life threw at him. Because he relied on Christ to strengthen him and supply his needs, he could be thankful and joyful:

• Whether in times of plenty or times of great need, in feast or famine
• Whether preaching the Good News in prison or on the outside (Phil. 1: 3-7; 12-14)
• Whether living and suffering for Christ or dying for him (Phil. 1: 20-24; 27-30)

His was a joyful acceptance of Christ’s will and provision for him in every aspect of life.

And that should be our attitude in our journey with Christ—finding in his will equal contentment and joy whether in wealth or poverty, sickness or health, fame or obscurity, failure or success, marriage or singleness.

Can we do all things? Only those things that are within Christ’s will and plan for us, in which case he will give us the strength and resources to do them. He does not give us superhuman abilities to accomplish anything we want if they do not serve his purpose or are not in his best interest for us.

The Apostle James warns about self-confidence and rushing ahead with our own plans and desires without regard for God’s will:

“Look here, you people who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you will be boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16, NLT)

Solomon expressed this succinctly when he wrote in Proverbs 17:9, “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” (NLT)

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 8.01.04 PMOn Sunday, June 23, 2013 I saw Philippians 4:13 and Proverbs 17:9 lived out over the Grand Canyon as Nik’s years of training and planning proved successful when the Lord guided his steps safely across that high-wire.

Nik became the first human to tightrope across the Grand Canyon, and a worldwide television audience of millions saw and heard him thank and praise Jesus Christ.

Can I accomplish that same feat? As of now, no, because so far it doesn’t seem to be in God’s plan, training, or mission for me. And I am certainly okay with that.

 

 

******

Read Full Post »


Screen Shot 2013-01-06 at 5.18.25 PM

Paul’s encouragement to the Philippian Christians to work out their own salvation (Phil. 2:12) might seem as if he were encouraging them to earn salvation through their works—their own efforts and good deeds.

This would appear to contradict his statement to the Christians in Rome, to whom he emphasized salvation through faith:

“Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith . . .” –Romans 3:27-28 (New Living Translation, NLT)

However, there is no contradiction, for while it is God who creates a desire in our hearts for him (Phil. 2:13), and offers the gift of salvation to us through the sacrificial life and death of Jesus Christ, it is we who must believe in Jesus and participate in the fulfillment of our salvation through him.

James, the brother of Jesus, certainly sees no contradiction when he says, “I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.” (James 2:18, NLT)

Paul sees salvation as a process that occurred in the past, continues in the present, and will be completed in the future:

Past:

“It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!” –Ephesians 2:5

“God saved you by his special favor when you believed.” –Ephesians 2:8

Present continuous:

“I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God.” –1 Corinthians 1:18. (NLT)

Past & Future:

“And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s judgment. For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.” –Romans 5:8-9 (NLT)

Since we have been saved, are being saved, and will experience God’s complete salvation when Christ returns to establish his eternal Kingdom, Paul encourages us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling—or as the NLT translates it:

“. . .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.” —Phil. 12b-13

This is not the fear and trembling of a slave cowering under a brutal master, but the reverence and awe of a grateful person whose sins have been forgiven by a loving God, but who knows only too well how prone the human heart is to stray from that loving God. It is a healthy fear of disappointing God, for as Robert Robinson wrote in the third verse of his hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O, take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.

If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit how easily our hearts and desires tempt us to wander away from our Savior. This should create in us an earnest and reverent fear—not of losing our salvation, for that cannot be lost (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:31-39)—but a fear of losing the joy of our salvation and disappointing the God who loves and redeemed us.

This is the kind of fear and trembling with which King David pleaded to have the joy of his salvation restored after he strayed from God over his adultery with Bathsheba:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a right spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me again the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to sinners,
and they will return to you.”
–Psalm 51:10-13 (NLT)

It is this awareness and reverent fear that should keep us daily working to complete the process of our salvation, ever more careful to put into action God’s saving work in our lives. Paul gives several ways in which we can work out our salvation:

• Obey God with deep reverence and fear, for God is already working in us the desire to obey him—and gives us the power to do what pleases him. (Phil. 2:13)

• In every thing we do, stay away from arguing and complaining, especially in our churches (Phil. 2:14a)

• Live morally clean, innocent lives so that no one can criticize us because of sin or evil in our lives (Phil. 2:14b)

• Let the light of Christ shine brightly through us in the way we live (Phil. 2:14c)

• Hold firmly to the Word of Life, the Scriptures—so that we can be examples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all around us (Phil. 2:16)

• Live in the full joy of the Lord, for he is coming back soon (Phil. 4:4-5)

• Don’t worry about anything. Instead, we are to pray about everything, telling God what we need, and thanking him for what he has done, for in doing so, we’ll experience God’s peace (Phil. 4:6-7)

• Fix our thoughts on what is true, honorable, and right, things that are pure, lovely, and admirable (Phil. 4:8)

As we begin these opening days of 2013, may our lives be filled with the joy of working out our salvation with fear and trembling. And may this beautiful hymn inspire us as we continue on our journey towards full salvation.

Read Full Post »

“God, please kill my parents!”

I was sixteen when I uttered that prayer in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I was in the midst of my teenage rebellion and I hated my mother and stepfather, so when they drove off across town to visit friends, I asked God to kill them in a car accident!

Hours later when they returned, I was disappointed that God had not answered my prayer.

I was not a Christian then, but even Christians are sometimes disappointed in the ways in which God responds to prayers.

Our pastor recently shared a true story of a group of Christian women who, while on a retreat in the mountains, decided to hike to the top of a nearby peak during the afternoon. However, a fierce rain and lightning storm blew in suddenly while they were on the peak. Fearing that they would be struck by lightning, they prayed repeatedly that God would stop the lightning, but the lightning continued as they made their way back to the retreat center. They were greatly disappointed that God did not answer their prayers when their lives were in danger.

But another group of women was rejoicing at the center. They, too, had been caught in the storm and had been trapped in a river ravine where the rising waters of a flash flood threatened to sweep them away to their death. It was so dark that they prayed that God would show them a way to safety out of the ravine, and God answered their prayer by providing lightning that illuminated a path to safety!

To the women in the ravine, the series of lightning was an unexpected miraculous answer to prayer.

But God also answered the prayers of the women on the mountain peak, for although they prayed specifically for the lightning to stop, their real, unexpressed prayer was, “God, please don’t kill us on this mountain!” And God didn’t.

It’s been said that God always answers prayers—sometimes with a “yes,” sometimes with a “no,” and sometimes with a “not yet.” Obviously, God’s answer to me that day in Belfast was a definite “No!”

It was a “no,” because it was a prayer asking that harm be done to someone.

It was a “no” because it was being asked out of hate.

It was a “no” because it was being asked by a boy who did not understand who God is.

And it was a “no” because God wanted to give my parents and me time to one day discover how much he loved us and wanted to bless us with eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Less than a year later, I found forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ, and I soon began to pray for the salvation of my parents.

My prayers were answered fifty years later in August 2010, when I had the privilege of praying with my mother as she committed her life to Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, my prayers for my stepfather were not answered in the way I hoped, for he died seemingly rejecting Christ.

And the prayers of many others for the healing of loved ones, even for babies and children, have sometimes gone unanswered, leaving families and friends disappointed, bewildered, and angry at God.

Such disappointment is often intensified when those who prayed did so in faith (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24), in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14), and with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6-7).

So how do we pray in a way that does not leave us disappointed?

Several passages have guided me over the years on how to pray, and the one thing that they have in common is the emphasis to pray for something if it is in line with God’s will, in harmony with God’s will, or if it is the will or purpose of God.

The first is Matthew 6:10 in which Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven.”

The second is a pair of passages (Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42) that describe the scene in which Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and he knew that he would be crucified the following day. He told his heavenly father that he did not want to go through with the crucifixion, but then added, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (New Living Translation, 2007, NLT)

The third is Romans 8:26-27 (NLT) where the apostle Paul, knowing how confused we can become about praying, tells us:

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s will.

And recognizing that even when the answer is not to our liking (think of Jesus accepting his crucifixion), Paul assures us that “ . . . we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Verse 28)

The fourth passage is 1 John 5:13-14 (NLT), where the apostle John states:

I write this to you who believe in the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. And we can be confident that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will. And if we know he is listening when we make our requests, we can be sure that he will give us what we ask for.

Only when we are committed to truly seeking to live in line with God’s will and purpose—and not our own—will we not be disappointed in how God answers our prayers, for we know that whatever happens, God causes everything to work together for our good.

It’s then that we’ll be confident that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will.

****

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: