What Happens Between Death and Resurrection?

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Death and dying is a subject on the minds of people from preschoolers to senior citizens. Some nine-year-old children were asked what they thought of death. “When you die, they bury you in the ground and your soul goes to heaven, but your body can’t go to heaven because it’s too crowded up there already.” “Only the good people go to heaven. The other people go where it’s hot all the time like in Florida.” “Maybe I’ll die someday, but I hope I don’t die on my birthday because it’s no fun to celebrate your birthday if you’re dead.” “When you die, you don’t have to do homework in heaven, unless your teacher is there, too.”

The more mature we become in our faith, the more we understand the difference between our convictions and our theology. The Apostle Paul struggled with that distinction. Our conviction is what we personally believe whether or not we can prove it or substantiate it. Our theology is what we believe that we can prove or historically verify.

This struggle is clearly evident in Paul’s writings on the issue of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. In the Seventh Chapter of First Corinthians, he writes and we find that struggle between theology and convictions. 1CO 7:6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. The issue is sexuality and a husband and wife. There is no ruling in scripture and Paul is uncomfortable is the direction that he feels compelled to go. 1CO 7:10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord). The issue is divorce. It is theology because Paul has scripture to back up what he is saying. 1CO 7:12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord). If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. There is no scripture but Paul has convictions.

I go through this struggle so that we can better understand Paul’s struggle with the resurrection. Paul’s conviction (what he personally believed) was that when we die that our spirit (our soul) will instantly return to Christ. (Philippians 1:21-24) For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (22) If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! (23) I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; (24) but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Clearly Paul’s conviction is that when his eyes close he will be with Jesus. After all Jesus did say to the Thief dying beside Him, LUK 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Even though as a Pharisee, Paul had been taught that there would be one great resurrection. Even Jesus echoed this belief of the Hebrews. (John 5:28-29) “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice (29) and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.

When the Apostle Paul sets down to write the small young churches in Asia Minor, about 30 years has elapsed between the writings and the ascension of Christ into Heaven. For a new Church, 30 years was a long time. When Paul rises to the front of the church they have one question, “When will Christ return?” Writing to Thessalonians, Paul says that it will be like a thief in the night. It will come at an unexpected time. To the Corinthians he likens death unto the unexpectedness of Christ’s return. “…we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye…”

But now Paul has a dilemma, he cannot just write what his personal conviction is, but must write his theology, of what he knows! Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. There was not to be fear in death nor was there to be sorrow. 1CO 15:54 “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

In First Thessalonians, Paul puts down his theology to the Church. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. Note that Paul meshes his Jewish teaching with his new understanding of the resurrection. Jewish teaching held that everyone (good and bad) went to Hades. On the cross, Jesus destroyed Hades. At that moment Heaven and Hell took there respective place. When Jesus descended into Hell, He gave an opportunity for everyone who had never heard the good news. God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep. Paul doesn’t like using the word “dead.” For the Christian they are only “asleep.” According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. Now we are talking about group number 2. These are the ones still in the graves. All believers who have died from the time of Christ’s resurrection up and until Christ’s return. Paul sees the details of that “great resurrection” this way: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. The graves give up all the dead, their spirits. (1Corinthians 15:51-53) Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. The believer that is alive, will be called to Christ. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

Christian Pruning

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Grampa and granddaughter were sitting in her room when she asked, “Grampa, did God make you?” “Yes, God made me.” he answered. A few moments later, she asked “Did God make me?” Again the answer was “Yes.” She looked in the mirror for awhile, then said, “You know, God is doing a whole lot better work lately.”

During the football season, the college bookstore at Iowa State puts a big sign in the window saying “Kill Kansas” or “Whip Washington” or something like that, depending on the name of the upcoming foe. In 1983, just before Iowa State was devastated 72-29 by the nation’s top-ranked team, the wording was altered a bit. The sign read: “Maintain Dignity Against Nebraska.”

It is a loving parent that tries to change the wayward child. God is so involved in our lives. The vine and the branches holds important symbolism for the Christians relationship with God. The illustration of the vineyard goes back to Isaiah, ISA 5:1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard…. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and David use the illustration of the vine and the branches. The vineyard was a golden symbol used on the front of the Holy Place in the Temple in Jerusalem.

We are not lost in the symbolism that Jesus refers to Himself as the true vine. Spiritual life is only found when it is connected to the “true vine.” The root is God. The main steam was the “chosen people.” We as Christians have been “grafted” onto that vine.

Have you ever been to a vineyard? I visited a vineyard in southern Indiana at a winery. There, at the very beginning of spring, what amazed me was how bare the vines looked. Beneath every vine there was a large pile of branches, the results of winter pruning. How ruthlessly these grape growers cut their vines! Yet the cutting is essential for a good harvest and healthy vines.

We sometimes miss how rich in meaning Jesus’ comparison of the vineyard to the Christian, really is. Growing is unavoidably associated with pruning. The branch that isn’t growing is pruned to help it to grow. Every branch that does bear fruit God prunes to make it bear even more. God works to develop the best in God’s creation.

God’s pruning takes two avenues. Sometimes God allows the world to do the pruning. Job was a classic example of God allowing the world to do the pruning. Job was a good and righteous man except for one problem, pride. Pride is a very serious flaw. PSA 10:4 In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. So God allows Satan to put Job to the test to prune the pride out of his life.

Look at what Job had: He had seven sons and three daughters,this was an especially close family. His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes (parties). They would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This man loves his family and has great pride in them. A messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” He owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen
and five hundred donkeys. This is a man who has great respect and pride because with his hard work and knowledge, look at what he has done! A messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword….”The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants…. “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off.
They put the servants to the sword….a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. At least Job has his health. …afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. When the pruning was over Job was a better man.

Sometimes God does the pruning Himself. The Lord sent Nathan to David. “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb. David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ `Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you….But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.”

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

One Missing Day In Time

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One of the longest piano compositions is “Vexation” by Erik Satie – the whole performance lasts 18 hours, 40 minutes. The first reported public performance, in September, 1963 in New York City’s Pocket Theater, required a relay of ten pianists. A New York Times critic fell asleep at 4 a.m., and the audience dwindled to six. At the conclusion, a sado-Masochist shouted, “Encore!”

Time is an important commodity to all of us. The Rabbi told me about a man who got up to leave during his service. “Where are you going?” he asked him. He said, “To get a haircut.” The Rabbi asked, “Why didn’t you get it before?” He said, “I didn’t need one then.”

In the middle of a service and just before the sermon, one lady in the congregation remembered she had forgotten to turn off the oven at home. Hurriedly she scribbled a note and passed it to the usher to give to her husband who was in the choir. Unfortunately, the usher misunderstood her intention and took it to the pulpit. Unfolding the note, the pastor read aloud, “Please go home and turn off the gas.”

Harold Hill, former president of the Curtis Engine Company in Baltimore, Maryland and a former consultant in the space program shared a discovery that his company had made in assisting the Space Administration. It seems that they were trying to determine the position of the planets for future space launches. In order to know where the planets will be in the future, you have to know where they have been in the past. They feed into the computer all known locations and their dates as recorded in history. According to Mr. Hill, the measurement of the planets and their courses was off by one day. Where the movement of the planets were located in known ancient times, did not match with the planets of today. One of the team (a Christian) remembered reference to the sun standing still in the Bible.

There are in the Old Testament two accounts where time has been stopped.
Impossible you say! For He who created time, it is not impossible.

The first and oldest account is found in Joshua. Five Amorite kings band together to drive out the Hebrew people. When the battle begins God set “hail” on the Amorites and killed a great number of them, more than the Hebrews killed. On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: “O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” The prayer request is that time would stand still until the battle was over.

There are those who think that verses 12-14 actually occur before verse 11. The real sequence of events is that the Hebrew army traveled all night to Gibeon. In the early dawn, the Hebrew’s attacked the Amorites. With the sun and the moon stilled they waged the battle all day and beyond since time was halted. God cleans up after the battle with the hail storm. Note the concluding phrase, “JOS 10:11 more of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.”

So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. “Jashar” means “the upright.” We no longer have the book and know very little about it. The Book of Jashar is also mentioned in Second Samuel 1:18, and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. The “middle of the sky” was noon. “About a full day” was not a complete 24 hour period of time. Very possibly 23 hours and 20 minutes.

Our second account of the change of time comes from Second Kings 20. Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, “What will be the sign that the Lord will heal me and that I will go up to the temple of the Lord on the third day from now?” Hezekiah had been very ill. In fact, God had warned Hezekiah to “get his house in order.”

However, after listening to Hezekiah’s prayer, God changed His mind. Isaiah answered, “This is the Lord’s sign to you that the Lord will do what he has promised: Typical response, “Prove it!” Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?” This account reminds me of the story of Gideon. Let me put the fleece on a second time and this time….”It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,” said Hezekiah. My word, if he doesn’t die, he will know that the Lord has spoken. “Rather, have it go back ten steps.” Then the prophet Isaiah called upon the Lord, and the Lord made the shadow go back the ten steps…. As if any of us could make time move forward faster.
Now we move back.

Each “step” is a minute of time. When we move the clock back ten steps we lose 20 minutes. Ten minutes for the loss of time and ten minutes to relive that which is lost. Between Joshua and Second Kings we find the full missing day.

Beyond the fact that these two accounts are miracles, they reveal the great power of God. Time has no bearing on God. It is important to us for some reason that God had to create the universe in six days. As if God wouldn’t be God if it took God a million years. But among us can even create such a thing much less live that long?

2PE 3:8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

Thankful Praise

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A tourist was visiting a village in Mexico where a hot spring and a cold spring were located right next to one another. This natural phenomenon proved to be very helpful to the women who brought their laundry, for they could boil their clothes in the hot spring, then rinse them in the cold spring. The tourist commented to his guide that the people must be very thankful for this convenience. The guide replied, “Not really. They grumble that Mother Nature provides the water but no soap.”

I visited a lady whose son was dying. He was a very young man and the cancer was very painful. She said, “I can’t give thanks to God for this.” She had always been a gracious lady who had lived a very blessed and thankful life. We understand what she is talking about, for the Bible says, Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

We understand that the Bible doesn’t say, “…for all circumstances….” We know that Paul’s words are “…in all circumstances….” However, it is difficult to say, “thank you God that he is dying.”

Frederick Buechner tells about a rare occasion when he was spending the evening with his beloved mother at her New York City apartment. Just as they sat down for a carefully planned meal, the phone rang. The call was for him. A close colleague called from the airport. His parents and pregnant sister were in a serious automobile accident and all were in critical condition. His colleague wanted him to come to the airport and be with him until the plane took him to join his injured family. Buechner told his friend that he was not sure he could leave and suggested that his friend call back in ten minutes. Buechner’s mother did not want him to go; nor did he himself. He was torn between his selfish comfort with his mother and the guilt over the pain of a friend. His colleague called back and said he did not need Buechner to come to the airport – he said he was feeling better. Buechner was able to stay with his mother without making any further decision. But he had been faced with the reality of life: “…my friend’s broken voice on the phone was a voice calling me out into that dangerous world not simply for his sake, as I suddenly saw, but also for my sake.” He concludes: “The shattering revelation of that moment was that true peace, the high and bidding peace that passes all understanding, is to be had not in retreat from the battle, but only in the thick of battle.”

The secret of contentment is the realization that life is a gift not a right. (Luke 17:12-18) As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

The modern American seldom pauses to give thanks for the simple blessings of life. One reason is that we are used to having so much. We simply assume that we will have all the good things of life. Another reason is that it hurts our pride to be grateful. We do not want to admit that God is the Provider of all good things. We are simply His stewards. Being thankful requires humility and faith in God. When we have these, we can be grateful.

Gratitude is from the same root word as “grace,” which signifies the free and boundless mercy of God. Thanksgiving is from the same root work as “think,” so that to think is to thank. John Henry Jowett said: “Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.” Gratitude can be a vaccine that can prevent the invasion of a disgruntled attitude. As antitoxins prevent the disastrous effects of certain poisons and diseases, thanksgiving destroys the poison of faultfinding and grumbling. When trouble has smitten us, a spirit of thanksgiving is a soothing antiseptic.

Sometimes we lose sight of just how good and gracious God is to us. It was not easy for the Church to live in Thessalonica. The Jews in Thessalonica even ran Paul out of town. Now the Christians had to go on living in this environment.

Eight-year-old Frank had looked forward for weeks to this particular Saturday because his father had promised to take him fishing if the weather was suitable. There hadn’t been any rain for weeks and as Saturday approached, Frank was confident of the fishing trip. But wouldn’t you know it, when Saturday morning dawned, it was raining heavily and it appeared that it would continue all day. Frank wandered around the house, peering out the windows and grumbling more than a little. “Seems like the Lord would know that it would have been better to have the rain yesterday than today,” he complained to his father who was sitting by the fireplace, enjoying a good book. His father tried to explain to Frank how badly the rain was needed, how it would make the flowers grow and bring much needed moisture to the farmer’s crops. But Frank was adamant. “It just isn’t right,” he said over and over. Then, about three o’clock, the rain stopped. Still time for some fishing, and quickly the gear was loaded and they were off to the lake. Whether it was the rain or some other reason, the fish were biting hungrily and father and son returned with a full string of fine, big fish. At supper, when some of the fish were ready, Frank’s mom asked him to say grace. Frank did — and concluded his prayer by saying,
“And, Lord, if I sounded grumpy earlier today it was because I couldn’t see far enough ahead.” No doubt much of our complaining is because we “can’t see far enough ahead.”