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Posts Tagged ‘Resurrection’

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.

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A recent series of text messages from a family member asking me about the rapture – an event in which God would suddenly snatch away into the clouds all Christians from earth before the end-time atrocities of the Antichrist – led me to reexamine what the Bible teaches about the subject.

The idea of the rapture was first introduced by Puritan preachers Increase and Cotton Mather in the 1700s, followed by theologian John Darby in the 1800s, then popularized in the 1970s by Hal Lindsey in his book, The Late Great Planet Earth, and by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in their Left Behind series of books in the 1990s. It is also a doctrine by some evangelical preachers and denominations based on their interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, but also of Matthew 24:27-31; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; and Revelation 20:4. (Wikipedia)

According to their interpretation of these passages, Christians will be snatched away to be with Christ in heaven before the tribulation happens, leaving behind unbelievers to suffer under the worldwide tyrannical and destructive rule of the Antichrist for seven years. Christ will then return to punish the Antichrist and his followers, and rule the earth for a thousand years, before pronouncing final judgment on all who have ever lived. This is known as the pretribulation rapture or premillennialism (before the one thousand years of Christ’s rule).

Besides pretribulation rapture, there are variations of beliefs on when the rapture will occur – midtribulation, prewrath tribulation, partial tribulation (all three happening during the tribulation), and post tribulation in which the rapture occurs at the second coming of Christ. (Wikipedia)

But 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 shows that the apostle Paul was writing about the resurrection of the Christian dead at Christ’s second coming (the first coming being his birth in Bethlehem). The Thessalonian Christians were worried about what would happen to their fellow believers who had already died before the return of Christ, so Paul assured them that:

“We who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.” (1 Thess. 4:15-17, NLT)

I’ve highlighted key phrases that are important in comparing the other scripture passages with the above Thessalonian passage. For example, the phrase “caught up” in verse 17 was translated in the Latin manuscript as rapiemur, derived from raptus and raptura (a kidnapping, a carrying off, taken away). This Latin translation came from harpagisometha (caught up or taken away) used in the Greek version of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, while a shortened form, harpazo, is also used in Acts 8:39, 2 Cor. 12:2-4, and Rev. 12:5. (Wikipedia)

The Matthew 24:27-31 passage lists some of those same phrases and gives us a specific time when Christ will return – after the tribulation.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt. 24:29-31, ESV)

So, along with Matthew specifying the time of Jesus’ second coming as happening immediately after the tribulations, the similarities in these two passages include:

• The Lord or Son of Man returning from heaven or coming down in clouds from heaven

• His arrival will be announced with loud trumpet sounds from his archangel and angels

• He will gather his elect – Christians both living and dead, with the dead raised first – and take them up into the clouds

These similarities are also seen in the 1 Corinthian 15 passage which adds one key phrase – the last trumpet:

“ But let me tell you a wonderful secret God has revealed to us. Not all of us will die, but we will all be transformed. It will happen in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, the Christians who have died will be raised with transformed bodies. And then we who are living will be transformed so that we will never die. For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die.” (1 Cor. 15: 51-53, NLT)

The last trumpet is important because it links all three passages and their trumpet references to Revelation 11:15 (in which the seventh and last trumpet will announce the second coming of Jesus Christ) and Revelation 20:4 in which Christ resurrects the Christians martyred during the tribulation, and reigns with them (and the rest of his elect) for a thousand years.

So, these passages from I Thessalonians 4, Matthew 24, 1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 11 and 20 are unified in showing:

• Christ’s return occurring immediately after the tribulation

• He will come down in clouds from heaven

• His arrival will be announced with a seventh and last trumpet blast from his archangel and angels

• He will gather his elect – Christians both living and dead – and take them up into the clouds (in the same way that he was taken up at his ascension)

• His elect, including Christians martyred during the tribulation, will rule with him for a thousand years

There is one more passage – Matthew 24:40-41 – that is used by the rapture proponents to describe the snatching away of believers into heaven:

“Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.” (NLT)

But this passage must be interpreted in light of the preceding verses 37-39 in which Jesus teaches that his second coming will be like in the days of Noah when the people did not heed Moses’ warning about the coming Flood and went about living life as usual. When the Flood came, it “took them away” or “swept them away,” depending on the various translations. It is this destructive sense that one must interpret the phrase “one will be taken” in verses 40 and 41. The ones that are left behind are the ones that are saved from destruction, as were Noah and his family.

The doctrine of the rapture, as an event in which God will suddenly snatch away all Christians from earth before the tribulation of the Antichrist, is a misinterpretation of these scriptural passages and, therefore, is not biblical.

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The movie, Heaven Is for Real, opens today in theaters all across America and I would encourage everyone to go and see it. Back on July 6, 2011, I wrote about how the book, on which this film is based, impacted my wife and me, so I am reposting that account here today. Grace and peace to you all, and may your hope and assurance of a heavenly reality be rekindled and strengthened.

*****

I was shopping at Costco recently when I stopped by the book section and spotted the book Heaven Is for Real, about a little boy, Colton Burpo, who underwent emergency surgery for a misdiagnosed appendicitis that nearly took his life just short of his fourth birthday. His story had been featured on several recent TV programs, so I bought the book and read it in one sitting.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 9.42.29 AMWhen Colton made it through surgery, his family was overjoyed at his miraculous survival, but they were surprised and astonished during the following weeks and months as he began to detail his extraordinary experience of going to heaven during surgery.

He described leaving his body while under anesthesia during surgery, and described exactly what his parents were doing in separate parts of the hospital while he was being operated on. He described being in heaven, meeting people whom he had never met in life, sharing events that happened even before he was born, and described details about heaven that matched the Bible, even though he had never read the Bible because he had not yet learned to read.

One of the events in the book that affected me deeply was when Colton’s father, Todd, described the evening when Colton came into the living room and stood in front of his mother, Sonja, and said to her, “Mommy, I have two sisters.”

His mother replied that he had only one, his older sister, Cassie, but Colton was adamant. “No, I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?”

“Who told you I had a baby die in my tummy?” asked his mother.

Colton explained that when he was in heaven a little girl ran up to him and wouldn’t stop hugging him. “She did, Mommy. She said she died in your tummy.”

Todd and Sonja were very surprised, for two years after Sonja gave birth to Cassie, she became pregnant with a second child, but miscarried two months into the pregnancy. Eleven months later she gave birth to Colton, but neither Todd nor Sonja had ever told their son about the miscarriage, figuring that he was too young to understand.

Seeing his mother’s bewildered expression, Colton assured his mother, “It’s okay, Mommy. She’s okay. God adopted her.”

“Don’t you mean Jesus adopted her?” Sonja said.

“No mommy. His Dad did!”

Sonja was overwhelmed to learn that the baby had been a girl, and asked Colton a number of questions, including what she looked like (answer, like Cassie, but with dark hair like Sonja’s) and what her name was.

“She doesn’t have a name,” replied Colton, “You guys didn’t name her.”

“You’re right, Colton, we didn’t even know that she was a she,” Sonja said.

At this point, I paused in my reading as tears began to stream down my cheeks. I went into the living room and asked my wife, Diana, to read the four pages describing Colton’s account of meeting his sister in heaven.

While Diana read the pages, I went back into my study and my tears came freely as I thought about our own experience losing two babies to miscarriages.

I had been married twice before meeting Diana, and had produced two daughters from the first marriage and a son from the second. When I married Diana, she was 37 and had never been married nor had she ever had a child. She was hoping that we would have children, but I had been unwilling to have any more children.

But three years later I relented and we decided to try to have a baby. We were joyful when we learned that she was pregnant and for the next two months we lived in anticipation of this addition to our family. But after these two months the baby miscarried. The cause—fibroids in the uterus.

We tried again, she conceived, our hopes rose, but again the same thing happened. For the second time, Diana was devastated by the news, and mourned the losses for months.

After Diana finished reading the four pages, she came into my study and I could see that she, too, had been crying quietly. We hugged for a long while, until Diana said, “I’m glad that I named our babies.”

“You did? I don’t remember. What were their names?” I asked.

“Katherine Elizabeth Coy and Andrew Daniel Coy. The doctor told me that the first baby was a girl, and even though we didn’t know for sure the gender of the second baby, I felt very strongly that it was a boy.”

She paused for a while, and then added, “Even then I knew without a doubt that some day we’ll meet Katherine and Andrew in heaven!”

What was it about reading Colton’s experience meeting his sister in heaven that moved Diana and me so profoundly?

We had always believed that young children who die—including both wanted and unwanted unborn babies—have a special place in heaven. Though there is no direct Scripture passage to support this, a passage such as Psalm 139: 13-16 inspires us to believe in a heavenly Father who loves and cares for us, and has a plan for each of us, even from as early as our beginnings in the womb:

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.” (New Living Translation, NLT)

Though we had always believed that we would be united with our babies and other loved ones in heaven, reading the eyewitness account of Colton moved us emotionally and joyfully, and intensified our faith that we would some day meet and recognize our children, Katherine and Andrew.

Most comforting to us is our belief that Katherine and Andrew, along with Colton’s unnamed sister and all the other named and unnamed babies are okay, for Jesus’ Dad adopted them!

Best of all, are Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:14, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (NLT)

******

Here’s a movie trailer for Heaven Is for Real:

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None of us has escaped those passages of life during which we are troubled, confused, drained of all vitality and direction, or plagued by self-doubt and ineffectiveness.

Recently I have been suffering from writer’s block as I try to work on both a novel and this blog. Among the doubts that seem to be blocking my efforts to write are: Am I good enough? Do I have anything significant to say? Will people read what I write? Will my writing inspire people to journey with Jesus Christ? Will my life or my work for Christ matter?

I was therefore encouraged when I came across I Corinthians 15:58:

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord’s work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (New Living Translation, NLT)

This verse comes at the end of the 15th chapter in which the Apostle Paul responds to critics who claim that the resurrection of Christ is a lie and that the Christian faith is empty and useless.

Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth that:

• The resurrection was factual—that Jesus was crucified and died for our sins, that he was buried in a tomb, that God raised him to life on the third day, that he was seen by Peter and the disciples as well as over 500 people, including James, the brother of Jesus, and Paul himself. (I Cor. 15:1-10)

• Because Jesus was raised from the dead, all who are related to Jesus by faith will also be raised from the dead. (verse 22)

• Because Jesus overcame death and ascended into heaven with a new heavenly body, all who are in Jesus Christ will also be resurrected with new bodies fit for his heavenly kingdom. (verses 42-53)

• Because of Jesus’ resurrection, death is no longer a source of dread or fear for those who follow him, for he has defeated death and gives us hope and assurance for life beyond the grave. (verses 54-56)

For all these reasons, Paul insists that nothing we do is useless in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have each been called to share the good news of his life and resurrection in all areas of our lives, and we should not be discouraged during those passages of life when we are troubled, confused, drained of all vitality and direction, or plagued by self-doubt.

Instead, Paul encourages us to be strong, steadfast, and enthusiastic in all that we do—for it is by remembering and celebrating Christ’s resurrection that we find meaning , strength, and reason to face the challenges of our lives.

We should not worry about the results of what we do for Christ, for that’s up to our Lord. Our responsibility is to be obedient to the Lord and to the tasks or call that he has given each one of us.

It is enough for us to be assured that nothing that we do for him is useless or in vain.

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Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011, was exactly 34 years since I came back home to the Lord.

As a teenager in Jamaica, I had first committed my life to Jesus Christ in 1961, and later attended seminary to study for the ministry. After graduation, I married my high school sweetheart and served as a pastor of a circuit of churches before immigrating to New York with my wife and baby daughter in 1969.

But my marriage ended in divorce, and with our denomination unwilling to employ me as a divorced pastor, I found myself adrift in New York City far from the anchors of family, friends, and home church that I had left behind in Jamaica.

As a new single man in New York, and feeling rejected by church leaders, I found a new career and growing recognition in the publishing field—and the sudden availability of women. After being sheltered in the church during my teens and my twenties, I soon succumbed to the allure of New York City’s swinging singles culture and promiscuous lifestyle.

This continued for several years, even when I moved to Los Angeles to study and work in the film industry. During all this time I stopped going to church and my attitude towards God was one of aloofness in which I gave God the cold shoulder. And I nursed a lingering hurt and resentment towards the leaders of my former denomination.

Despite this, I found myself attending Easter service for the first time at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in 1977. The small chapel was packed with worshipers, choir, and musicians, and from the very start of the service I felt that something was different.

I don’t recall much of what the minister, Dr. Donn Moomaw, preached about, but I remember that soon after I took my seat I became aware of God’s powerful presence, love, and joy in that room.

In particular, I felt God’s love for me, and I had an overwhelming sense of his forgiveness for my cold attitude and rejection of him, my anger and resentment towards the church leaders, my promiscuity, and my attempts to seek and embrace the sinful allures of society. There was no feeling of condemnation from him, just his welcoming presence and invitation to come back home.

And that’s when my tears began to flow freely throughout the service and my hard heart and emotions softened and melted.

As I sat through that service of celebration for the risen Christ, unable to sing along with the congregation because of the inner emotions churning within me, I thought of past Easters in Jamaica and the intimacy of celebrating the sacraments on Maundy Thursday nights, especially the washing of feet, and I sensed the Lord saying to me, “You came to Hollywood to pursue fame and fortune as a film director, but are you willing to be a lowly servant for me?”

I remembered the solemn Good Fridays in Jamaica, the holiest day of the year, when all commerce ceased on the island and many Christians contemplated the Stations of the Cross as we journeyed meditatively along the Via Delorosa, the Way of Sorrows, the route that Jesus took from his condemnation before Pilate to his crucifixion on the cross and his burial in a borrowed tomb. And with that remembrance, I suddenly felt the weight and guilt of my sins and backsliding, and sensed the Lord reminding me of how much he loved me enough to have suffered and died for my sins.

Amid my tears and remembrances, I began to tune into the theme and tone of the Easter service in the chapel that morning—celebrating the resurrected Jesus Christ. By the time the choir and congregation stood to sing the final hymn, the roof-raising celebratory “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” I could only stand and bow my head in submission and silent prayer to my heavenly Father, asking him to please accept me back from my prodigal ways. “Father,” I cried silently, “forgive me. I’m ready to come back home.”

I left the chapel that morning, clutching one of the Easter lilies that ushers had given out, and I returned to my apartment in Westwood. That afternoon, I called my friends and lovers and told them of my recommitment to following Jesus Christ and that my life had changed.

Much has changed in the intervening years. I remarried, and now have three grown children and four grandchildren, and have served God through a variety of careers. I continue to worship at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, which outgrew its small chapel and is now housed in a large sanctuary that serves several thousand members and visitors each week.

In fact, we have grown so much that for the past few years we have been celebrating Easter in the Hollywood Bowl where approximately seven to nine thousand people join us in worship.

So, it was with a grateful heart that over the past few days, this former prodigal son joined Christian brothers and sisters during Holy Week and participated in celebrating Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday in our sanctuary, then went over to the Hollywood Bowl where we raised our voices in praise to our Risen Christ.

It is my prayer and expectation that many other prodigals—sons and daughters—found their way home to our heavenly Father at Easter–wherever in the world they were.

*****

Clicky

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