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Ten biblical truths about the afterlife

This is the first in a series of excerpts from “What Everyone Should Know About the Afterlife,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.

Three-year-old Colton Burpo had a near-death experience (NDE) while on the operating table. When it was over, he described his “three minutes in heaven” in vivid detail, including encounters with Samson, John the Baptist, and Jesus, who had sea-blue eyes and owned a rainbow-colored horse.

Colton’s father, a Wesleyan pastor, believes the lad’s experience was real because he shared it with “the simple conviction of an eyewitness.”

You may read Colton’s story in Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, which ruled the best-seller list for 44 weeks. Millions of people have devoured the book, watched the youngster’s appearances on TV shows, and viewed the major motion picture based on his story.

Less popular but equally intriguing are books about NDEs in which people “die” for brief periods and experience the horrors of hell. To Hell and Back by cardiologist Maurice Rollins, for example, tells us that hellish NDEs have to be recorded and verified immediately after the person “returns” or the horrifying memories are repressed.

In any case, stories like Colton’s appeal to our desire to know more about the afterlife.

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The Christian’s resurrected body

Memphis Belle is one of the most celebrated aircraft of World War II. Named after the girlfriend of chief pilot Robert Morgan, the lumbering B-17F Flying Fortress carried the first U.S. crew to complete twenty-five combat missions over Europe before returning to America, where the airmen were hailed as heroes during a three-month tour to sell war bonds and raise morale.

Based in England, Belle coursed through flak-filled skies over France and Germany in 1942-43. The ten-man crew battled Nazi fighter planes while delivering their payloads before returning to base through the same threatening skies. 

The crew’s survival through more than two dozen missions was rare indeed. In all, the Army Air Forces lost thirty thousand airmen in battles against Nazi Germany. During the heaviest fighting, U.S. bomber-crew airmen had a one-in-four chance of survival.

The plane’s exploits were featured in a 1944 documentary and retold a generation later in a major motion picture.

For a time after the war, however, Memphis Belle sat outdoors, neglected, until an ambitious restoration project began, requiring more than one hundred workers and thousands of hours to scrape paint, bend metal, and fabricate parts. 

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The letter to the church at Laodicea

Rev. 3:14-22 – To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Originator of God’s creation says: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth.  Because you say, “I’m rich; I have become wealthy, and need nothing,” and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, and white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me. The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. (HCSB)

The wealthy city of Laodicea lies 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia on the road to Colossae. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 62 and rebuilt by its wealthy citizens without the help of the state. Laodicea is a banking center and a producer of glossy black wool from which clothes and carpets are fashioned. The city also is host to a famous medical school that produces a salve for treating ailments of the eye. A massive wall rings the city. Three marble theaters are located here and, like Rome, Laodicea is built on seven hills. There is no evidence that Paul ever visits the city, but he expresses great interest in it (Col. 2:1-2; 4:16). The city’s water supply originates in hot springs six miles away. In its travels through the aqueduct to Laodicea, the water becomes tepid, providing a fitting backdrop for Christ’s letter to the church here, which lays claim to being the most notorious of the seven churches in Asia Minor.

Christ’s self-description: Jesus calls Himself “The Amen” (v. 14). The word “amen” appears nine times in Revelation and numerous times in other Scriptures, but this is the only time it is used as a title or name. It is a Hebrew expression of strong affirmation meaning “so be it.” More than 20 times in John’s Gospel Jesus prefaces His remarks with the words, “Amen, amen.” Paul writes of Jesus, “For every one of God’s promises is ‘Yes’ in Him. Therefore the ‘Amen’ is also through Him for God’s glory through us” (2 Cor. 1:20). As the Amen, Jesus speaks and His words are as true as His divine nature; what He speaks always comes to pass.

He also identifies Himself as “the faithful and true witness” and “the Originator of God’s creation” (v. 14). Drawing from John’s description of Him as “the faithful witness” (Rev. 1:5), Jesus emphasizes not only that He speaks the truth but that He is the truth (John 14:6). The name “the Originator of God’s creation” in no way implies that Jesus is a created being or came into existence at any time. The Greek word translated “Originator” or “Beginning” is arche, which carries the idea of “active cause.” Paul instructed the Colossian church to share his letter with the church at Laodicea. If his instructions were obeyed, then believers in Laodicea would have been familiar with Paul’s description of Christ as Creator: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn [Greek prototokos, pre-eminent; not protoktisis, first-created] over all creation; because by Him everything was created … all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:15-16).

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The letter to the church at Philadelphia

Rev. 3:7-13 – To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: The Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens says: I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close. Take note! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying – note this – I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and they will know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown. The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God – the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God – and My new name. 13 Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. (HCSB)

Twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis is Philadelphia, built by King Attalus Philadelphus of Pergamum. “Philadelphus” is similar to the Greek word philadelphia, meaning brotherly love, which occurs seven times in the New Testament. Known for its agricultural products, Philadelphia also is situated on a geological fault and therefore prone to earthquakes. In B.C. 17 a major earthquake destroys Philadelphia, Sardis and 10 other cities. Its location is crucial, however, as it sits on a main route from Rome to the East and therefore is called “the gateway to the East.” It also is known as “little Athens” because of its many pagan temples.

The city hosts one of only two churches – the other being Smyrna – for which Christ has nothing but unvarnished praise. While the city’s good name preceded the church, the believers in Philadelphia no doubt enhance its reputation because of their love of Christ and love for one another. “But it is not enough to love God and our fellow believers; we must also love a lost world and seek to reach unbelievers with the Good News of the Cross,” writes Warren Wiersbe. “This church had a vision to reach a lost world, and God set before them an open door.”
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The letter to the church at Sardis

Rev. 3:1-6 – To the angel of the church in Sardis write: The One who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars says: I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God. Remember therefore what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their clothes, and they will walk with Me in white, because they are worthy. In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. (HCSB)

Sardis is located 30 miles southeast of Thyatira and is an important commercial city situated on a major east-west trade route. Key goods produced there include jewelry, dye and textiles. From a religious perspective, Sardis is a pagan city with a temple to Artemis, the ruins of which still remain. Archaeologists also have located the ruins of a small Christian church building next to the temple.

Sardis is said to be the chief city of Asia Minor in John’s day and perhaps the first city in that part of the world converted to the preaching of John. It also may have been the first city there to abandon Christianity and come to ruin. Christ’s stern message is not completely in vain, however, for we know of the second-century bishop Melito who distinguishes himself with piety and learning. Even so, the local church does not endure, nor does the city; only a village called Sart remains today among the ruins.
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