Saul, Paul & Jesus

The past couple of days I’ve been thinking about the Apostle Paul’s conversion experience.  You can read it in Acts 9, 22, or Acts 26.  My favorite is the Acts 9 section.  Up to this point, the Scriptures paint a picture of Saul of Tarsus as a man who was pursuing Believers with a Hitler-like deterimination. He would rip men and women from their homes, arrest them, and lead them back to Jerusalem, where he would probably kill them, as he had done before. If you were a follower of Jesus living anywhere near Jerusalem, you wouldn’t want to hear Saul’s knock at your door.  It would be like opening your door to Adolph Hitler.

But then something amazing happens.  On Saul’s way to Damascus, the Lord appears to him, speaks to his heart and mind, and Saul’s view of reality changes.  He now knows that Jesus is indeed Risen, and is the Lord of all, including him.  At that moment, Jesus saved Saul of Tarsus.  A man who wasn’t looking for Jesus. A man who was a violent persecutor of the Church.  A man who had blood on his hands. A man who deserved God’s wrath, yet recieved God’s grace. 

If you don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, then how do you explain Saul of Tarsus?  I can see you explaining away Peter and John, because they were with Christ during His earthly life, but how do you explain Saul becoming Paul? Here’s a man who had everything going for him, if anyone had reason for confidence in the flesh, Saul was it. 

He wrote later, “I myself have reasons for such confidence.  If anyone thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the trible of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church, as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.  But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes fcrom God and is by faith (Philippians 3:4-9).” 

In a matter of days Paul lost all things-prestige, power, his degrees, and probably his wife, yet he considered them all rubbish in comparison to knowing Christ.  The conversion of Saul of Tarsus is one of the major miracles in the New Testament, and there’s no other reason for it, other than the reality that Jesus is the Son of God.  He is divine. He has the power and the desire to save people. 

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Excellent Study Tools

default-header-imageI recently came across this article written by Pastor Mark Driscoll.  In it he lists 6 study essentials for Believers.

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The Witness @ The Well

Here is my latest teaching for TCF

http://feeds2.feedburner.com/blogspot/Uwik

 

Blessings

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Gleaning from another profession

I love this video of Francis Ford Coppola.  It’s about 10 minutes long, but it’s worth watching.  Notice how much detail and thought he gave to the book “The God Father.” What would the ramifications be if pastors, who actually have redeemed thinking gave the same amount of thought and detail to their work as Coppola does to his?

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Suicide & Survivors: Questions & Answers

This upcoming weekend, I have been asked to represent the “faith community” at the Rogue Valley Medical Center as they are hosting a Suicide Loss Conference.  I’m honored to do so, and so I’ve written a paper on suicide, and thought I would share it on the blog.

 

I remember the moment exactly; it was a peaceful Saturday morning.  My wife, Trea walked into our bathroom and said, “The paramedics called and they need you.”  A young man who I knew ended his life, and his young girlfriend was in the room, witnessed it, and wouldn’t speak to anyone but me.  The girlfriend kept telling the paramedics, “I just want to talk to Travis, please get Travis.”

Instantly, a family was in crisis, a small town was devastated and we were thrown into confusion.  Why did this happen?  Were there warning signs?  Was he depressed?  Questions flooded my mind as I drove to meet with this young girl.  As we sat down to talk, she went over every scene with me, in graphic detail describing this young man’s last moments. She described how he had been drinking, they had gotten into an argument, and he shot himself in the side of the head, while she watched.

Over the next few days I met with the family, met with around 40 high school students, and some staff, and to my surprise the thing they wanted to know more than anything else was, “What do the Scriptures say about it?  What happens to someone who commits suicide?”  Let’s examine each question.

 What do the Scriptures say about suicide?

Suicide is not an easy issue to discuss. It needs to be addressed, however, especially when considering on average, one person in the United States kills himself or herself every sixteen minutes, over 30,000 per year.[1]

We know that suicide is a serious sin because it goes against the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), and suicide is murder against oneself.  The commandment not to murder is built upon the fact that as humans we are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), and we are to reflect God’s character, and the God of the Scriptures is a life-giving God.  Therefore, suicide is a serious sin.  Like all other sins, suicide makes us legally guilty before God, and yet some sins are worse than others because of the degrees of devastation that they bring into our lives and into the lives of others. Also some sins cause God more displeasure than others.  This would be especially true of suicide because it is a repudiation and rejection of God’s gift of life.

Suicide has always been radical disobedience to our Creator-God.  Satan would love nothing more than to have God commit suicide (Matthew 4:5), yet he couldn’t get him to do it so he does the next best thing and that is to get God’s image bearers, humans beings to commit suicide….and so for that reason is it a particularly serious sin.

Dr. Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary states, “The distinction between degrees of seriousness of sin does not imply an endorsement of the Roman Catholic teaching that sins can be put into two categories of “venial” and “mortal.” In Roman Catholic teaching, a venial sin can be forgiven, but often after punishments in this life or in Purgatory (after death, but before entrance into heaven). A mortal sin (they say suicide is a mortal sin) is a sin that causes spiritual death and cannot be forgiven; it excludes people from the Kingdom of God.”[2]

 

Within the pages of the Old Testament we find several occurrences of suicide recorded as historical fact.

  • Abimelech (Judges 9:54)
  • Samson (Judges 16:28-31)
  • Saul (1 Samuel 31:1-6)
  • Ahithophel ( 2 Samuel 17:23)
  • Zimri ( 1 Kings 16:18)
  • Saul’s armor-bearer ( 1 Chronicles 10:5)

 

What is interesting is that in the Scriptures those who committed suicide weren’t judged simply upon their decision to end their life, but rather on whether they put their faith in God as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures.

Unfortunately, many Church fathers, in an effort to protect human life, went too far and publicly condemned those who had committed suicide.   In the year A.D. 452, the Council of Arles condemned suicide.  The Council of Orleans in A.D. 533 asserted that offerings were not allowed for those who committed suicide.[3] Thirty years later, in 563, the Synod of Braga banned the singing of psalms at the funeral of a suicide and said that the body of a suicide could not be brought into the church building as part of the burial ceremony.[4]  In 693 the Synod of Toledo barred individuals who had attempted suicide from receiving the Lord’s Supper for two months, during which time they were expected to repent of their sin.[5]

Thankfully, we in the evangelical, protestant tradition have placed more of an emphasis on letting Scripture speak for itself, and have taken a more redemptive approach to suicide. Again, suicide is radical disobedience against God, however, our salvation has never been based upon our ability to obey, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

What happens to someone who commits suicide?

When I spoke with the high school students after this young man’s death, this was their main question.  In the New Testament, we read the account of Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-5 & Acts 1:18, 24-25), and this one account has thrown many into confusion.  Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, after he realized he betrayed an innocent man, went off and hanged himself.  Later, in the Book of Acts, the physician Luke writes, “Judas left to go where he belongs” and the phrase, “where he belongs” is a euphemism for Hell.  Many have taken this passage and deduced that Judas was in Hell because he committed suicide.  Judas committed suicide, and he went to Hell, but not because he committed suicide.  Judas went to Hell, because when he died he did not believe in Jesus Christ (John 6:64 & 70).  Judas trusted in himself all along and when he realized he had sinned by betraying Jesus, he punished himself for his sin by killing himself.  He never let the Lord be the Lord at any point in their relationship.

If a person has placed their trust in the person and the work of Jesus Christ when they pass from this age into the next, no matter how they pass, they will be ushered into the presence of the Lord Jesus, because “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).


[1] American Association of Suicidology: AAS Suicide Data Page (based on 2006 statistics), website (http://suicidology.org).

[2] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Pg. 504, Zondervan, 1994

[3] Carl Joseph Hefele, A History of the Coucilsof the Church from the Original Documents, trans. William Clark (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1895), 3:171.

[4] Ibid., 4:187. –

[5] Carl Joseph Hefele, Concilien Geschichte (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder”sche Verlags-Handlung, 1873), 3:15.

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A Strong Witness

I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

PHILIPPIANS 1:20-21            

 My wife is extremely blessed, you see both sets of her grandparents love the Lord Jesus with everything in them, and have done a great job modeling Christ to her since she was a young child.   Recently though, we had to come to grips with the fact that we were in the final stages of her grandmother Polly’s life.  The cancer that has been waging war with her body for over 3 years, eventually won, and Polly went Home to be with our Lord.             

Two Christmas’ ago, while Polly was still with us, she got released from the hospital and was able to come home and spend time with her husband and her family.  One morning, the family decided to go for a visit and spend some time with Polly.  As we gathered around her bed and asked how she was feeling, and what the doctors were telling her, all Polly wanted to do was talk about the Lord, and what He was doing in her life and in the lives of those who she came into contact with.   We started to sing worship songs, first softly, and with each song our voices grew stronger.  We watched Polly lift her hands and praise the Lord.  It was an amazing moment for me.  To be able to witness a woman who is dying, her body failing, her arms so weak, praising Christ with every ounce of strength she had in her. It caused me to ask myself, “Lord, would I be praising you, if my body was breaking down and I knew my time with my family was almost up?”            

Polly’s attitude, echoed the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 1:20-21, “I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”             

Paul (and Polly) understood something about a life of purpose.  Much has been said and written lately about purpose.  Read over Paul’s words in Philippians.  He clearly had a purpose!  He clearly was carrying out a mandate.  Whatever it takes to help in the process of bringing glory to God’s name, Paul would do it.   What about you?  Can you say with a clear conscience that your purpose for living is to bring God’s Name glory, so that no matter by life or death, His name will be proclaimed? 

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