What if we truly believed Jesus abolished death?

“Who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

You are going to love this.

If death has been abolished, then some would say we seem to be stuck with the proverbial “dead man walking.”  The corpse appears very much alive and the grim reaper persists in taking down a fair to middlin’ number of victims every day.

But stay with me here a moment.

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” said Paul in I Corinthians 15:26.

So, has death been abolished or not?

I’m indebted to a couple of old books for some insights worth their weight in gold. One is a biography of J. B. Phillips and the other is a quote from a book Mr. Phillips wrote.

J. B. Phillips (1906-1982) was an Anglican pastor and scholar, who during World War II began translating Paul’s epistles into everyday language for the young people with whom he was working. Letters to Young Churches was eventually published to great acclaim, encouraging Phillips to give the same treatment to the whole of the New Testament. The result was the wildly successful New Testament in Modern English, popularly known as the Phillips New Testament. This was followed by a dozen or more books, several becoming best-sellers. (Phillips was also a friend of C. S. Lewis, who encouraged him in his translations and writings.)

The wonderful thing is that God used  Mr. Phillips in spite of his physical sufferings and used the suffering to refine him. The result was a life of fruitfulness which continues to this day, long after he has left us.

In his book Your God is Too Small, published when his fame was at its height and his popularity on both sides of the Atlantic seemed boundless, Phillips talks about Second Timothy 2:10, God having “abolished death.”

His insights are treasures.

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Heaven: One surprising thing we will do there

A friend gave me a small reminder of what Heaven is going to be like.

I was having lunch with Pastor Michael and Jane Perry after the morning services in the First Baptist Church of Moss Point, Mississippi, where they serve. We got started talking about families or football or something, and they said Jane’s father–now in Heaven–was the biggest Alabama fan on the planet.

“He had Bear Bryant pictures all over the house,” she said. “He’s gone but they’re still there.”

That’s when I related my little tale of the 1980 game between Bama and Mississippi State. As I began talking, Michael started smiling. I said, “Have I told you this story?” He said, “No, but I remember the game. Go ahead, and I’ll tell you when you finish.”

Okay. The story—

We had driven from our home in Columbus, MS, to Jackson for the game. Alabama had a 17-game winning streak going and State was a perennial doormat for the Southeastern Conference. Even though we liked both teams–Columbus is located between both universities on U.S. 82–we were rooting for Bama that day.

When the game ended, the score was State 6, Alabama 3.

Three hours later, arriving home and pulling into the driveway, we saw people inside our garage. Several of our neighbors were painting a large sign for my house, no doubt rubbing in the loss.

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Ten reasons I believe in Heaven

“Heaven is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.”  –Stephen Hawking

I’m afraid of the dark.

If we’re talking about the endless kind of darkness that offers no light anywhere, no hope ever, and nothing but nothingness, who among us would not panic at the thought of that?

I expect people like Mr. Hawking simply find the idea of Heaven too good to be true, and thus conclude that it must be a product of man’s delusional yearning for “pie in the sky by and by.”

And yet, there are solid reasons for reasonable people to believe in the concept of a Heavenly home after this earthly life.  Here are some that mean a lot to me.  By no means is this list exhaustive.  It’s simply my thinking on the subject.

One.  Jesus believed in Heaven.   In fact, He claimed to be a native.

The Lord said to Nicodemus, “No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there, even the Son of Man.” (John 3:13).  No one knows a place like a native.

Jesus told the dying thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  (Luke 23:43).  So, wherever we go when we die, it’s a paradise.

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Everyone has his own idea about heaven

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.  That they may rest from their labors….  (Revelation 14:13)

My friend Bob was dealing with a difficult family situation.  Bob was getting up in years and his health was poor.

At one point he said to me, “I can’t wait for heaven.”

I agreed and said, “They don’t call it ‘rest’ for no reason.”

I’m remembering when I was a kid, we would sometimes hear a ditty called The Big Rock Candy Mountain. We enjoyed its silliness and thought nothing more of it.

It turns out that during the Great Depression, that was the hobo’s national anthem, of a sort.  And it gives us his own unique picture of paradise.

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Waiting on the Lord may be the hardest thing we are asked to do

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength….  (Isaiah 40:31)

I waited on the Lord and He inclined to me and heard my cry…. (Psalm 40:1)

So, wait on the Lord.  Be strong. Let your heart take courage.  Yes, wait on the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)

Are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?  (Mark 14:37).

It takes time.

God has all the time in the universe.

Throw away your watch and your calendar, follower of Jesus.  You’re on heavenly time now and nothing happens on your schedule.

I suspect most of us are like the fellow who prayed, “Lord, give me patience–and give it to me right now!”

You’ve been praying for a loved one. And you don’t see an answer.  You keep praying.  For years, you pray and wait and hope.  Then the one you were praying for is in a traffic accident and killed.  Clearly, God never answered your prayer.  You are devastated. So disappointed.  Your faith in God wavers.  You’re so unsure any more.  What is the point in praying and in trusting?

And then one day, years later, something happens.

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The remedy for “ain’t it awful” preaching

“We preach Christ….God’s power and God’s wisdom” (I Corinthians 1:23-24).

Rick Warren says a lot of what pastors are feeding their people is “ain’t it awful” preaching.

Couple of years back, guest preaching in a church, before I rose to speak, a member of the flock with “a gift for continuance,” as a friend put it, addressed the congregation on the latest Supreme Court ruling concerning marriage.  The lady was upset, and she had a bad combination: strong convictions and the gift of gab. She went on and on about the sad state of affairs in this country.

Ain’t it awful.

To hear her tell it, the country is going down the tubes, the Supreme Court is out of hand, our freedoms are all in peril, the end is near, and God’s people are in huge trouble.

She said that and then sat down.

I had to follow it.  Moments like that, you do not envy the preacher.

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Two huge things we will learn in Heaven

“So, you were the one praying for me!

Tara Edelschick was brought up the daughter of a secular Jew and a lapsed Lutheran.  She learned to be fairly self-sufficient, went to a great college and married a super guy.  “Weaker souls might need a god,” she thought at the time, “but I needed no such crutch.”

That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.

Oh, my.  Talk about a double whammy.  Life suddenly took a tragic turn, blindsiding the unsuspecting young woman.

Many would never have recovered from such a blow.

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If there is no hell

“Joe,” Walt Grayson messaged me, “you need to get to know Gordon Cotton, retired curator of the Old Capitol Museum, Vicksburg.”

Walt Grayson, a friend of fifty years or more, is an institution in Mississippi television, as he covers the state with reports on fascinating people and unforgettable places.  Amazon will tell you how to purchase his books.  Anyway…

“You remember Daniel Pearl? Reporter for the Wall Street Journal who was killed in Pakistan following 9/11.”

I said I do indeed.

Pearl was researching something and he and Gordon spent a lot of time talking on the phone. They talked about everything, not just history. Including religion. And one day, Daniel Pearl told Gordon he did not believe in hell.

Gordon Cotton said, “If you don’t believe in hell, then where is Sherman?”

That became the headline for Pearl’s article in the Wall Street Journal the next day.

That is a reference to General William Tecumseh Sherman whose “March to the Sea” helped to bring the Civil War to a close by killing untold numbers of southerners and destroying their property. When he said, “War is hell,” Sherman spoke as a practitioner of the art.

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Why Heaven requires new songs

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood…” (Revelation 5:9).

John must have been fascinated by the sights and the sounds of that heavenly vision.

They started small.

At first, he was treated to a heavenly quartet. The four angelic beings–were they seraphim?–of Revelation 4:7-8 burst into song, calling out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.  Who was and is and is to come!”

This was no little chorus they dropped into the Lord’s throneroom.  We read, “They do not rest day or night, saying (this)” (verse 8).

Imagine that. An endless song.

These long-winded, six-winged angels with angelic voices take us back to Isaiah 6 where similar creatures are calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts. The whole earth is filled with His glory.”

I heard a preacher say that two huge lessons are given here: One, the holiness of the Lord (His “otherness”) is a bigtime truth, and two, the Lord has no trouble hearing the same words of praise coming at Him continuously.

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Get ready, Heaven. Here we come!

And so shall we ever be with the Lord.  –First Thessalonians 4:17

F. W. Myers, author of a famous poem called “Saint Paul,” once asked a woman whose daughter had died what she thought happened to her soul. She said, “Oh, I suppose she’s enjoying eternal bliss–but I wish you wouldn’t speak to me of such unpleasant subjects.”

In A.D. 125, a Greek by the name of Aristides spoke of “a new religion called Christianity.” In a letter to a friend, he described this unusual faith. “If any righteous man among these Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort the body with songs of thanksgiving, as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”

As a result of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Peter wrote, believers have been reborn to “a living hope.” (First Peter 1:3) Our hope for the future involves a resurrection of our own, followed by an eternity in heaven.

We who follow Jesus are hemmed in by no small ambitions.

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