It’s All About Me

Pawn and king

The apostle Paul begins his list describing the characteristics of people who make up the “perilous times” of 2 Timothy 3 with the phrase “lovers of self.” Does this not sum up the Facebook generation? For many, posting is all about drawing attention to themselves, their lives, and their opinions. It’s all about making them look good. I have not been immune to this temptation myself.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a response to a Facebook post and later regretted it. I discovered too late that my reply was a mistake and misunderstood. I soon realized that any attempt to explain my words would only make matters worse and increase the anger of the responses I had already received.

While such self-promotion as I exhibited has been around ever since the time of Paul, it describes our current day more than ever before. Part of the current day problem is that everyone now has many more opportunities to express their feelings and ideas in an anonymous way without having to answer for anything they say.

What also makes matters far worse today is that so many have replaced a love of God with love for themselves.

A multitude of books and psychoanalysts today encourage people to love themselves and express everything that come to their minds. This, they claim, is the essence of a healthy emotional state. The disastrous results of such encouragement manifest themselves in broken relationships, quarrels, a lack of trust in people as well as in what we read, and a total lack of respect for the opinions of others.

Let’s begin by looking a little closer at why Paul chose this trait first in describing “perilous times.”

Lovers of Self

“Lovers of self” is the first characteristic that Paul lists in 2 Timothy 3:2-5 and as such it sums up well all the qualities that follow. In his commentary on 2 Timothy, William Barclay states that this “self-loving” is “the basic sin, from which all others flow.” He went on to say that once a person makes self the center of everything, “human relationships are destroyed, obedience to God and charity to men both become impossible.”

People today place everything in their lives ahead of their devotion to the Lord and make themselves the center of their universe.

This becomes evident through the other items on Paul’s list such as pride, a lack of “self-control,” “conceit,” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Such an inward focus of life is the capstone of many of the ills that beset people today. People today place everything in their lives ahead of their devotion to the Lord and make themselves the center of their universe.

When such self-love defines a person, many other problems ensue including his or her inability to effectively relate to other people or to worship God in any meaningful way. It also leads to depression and increased anxieties when people do not respond to us in the way we would like.

The Antidote Begins with a Renewed Mind

How do we counter this tendency of focusing our dependency inward rather than upward?

The Holy Spirit changes our thinking; He is the one who makes our thoughts God-centered rather self-centered.

I believe it starts with remembering that as believers we have the powerful Holy Spirit living inside us. When we walk with the Spirit, we experience victory over the lure to see ourselves as the center of our universe (Rom. 8:1-11). Later in Romans, Paul describes the transformation that takes place in us as the renewing of our minds (12:2). The Holy Spirit changes our thinking; He is the one who makes our thoughts God-centered rather self-centered.

I love the verses that follow in Romans 12:3-8. Self-loathing is not the antidote to self-centeredness. Rather, as the Spirit renews our thinking we increasingly see our gifts, and talents as something bestowed upon us for the purpose of serving others, particularly those in the body of Christ. These special abilities come from the Lord, not us, and as such they are not a cause for boasting in ourselves.

We are to have the mindset of verse 3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” The gifts and ministries the Lord gives to us vary greatly, but they all come from Him and the same Spirit for the purpose of building up others in the body of Christ or reaching the lost.

The Lord never intended for us view ourselves as superior to fellow believers because of our gifts or based on the degree to which the Holy Spirit manifests Himself through us. Instead, He intended our focus is to be God-ward with our thinking constrained by how we can serve and bless others.

We do not need someone to teach us how to love ourselves; that comes naturally. We do need, however, the power of the Holy Spirit to look for ways we can benefit others with the gifts and abilities He has given to us.

This is not a “poor me” or false humility. It’s certainly not self-hatred.

This is not egotism or self-centeredness. It’s giving all the credit to the Lord for all He gives to us and does through us.

Instead, it’s looking at our lives as God does. It’s putting Him first rather than ourselves and serving others with gifts the Spirit entrusts to us. It’s being confident, not proud, recognizing that our competence in ministering to others comes solely from the Lord (2 Cor. 3:4-6).

We can be confident because of the gifts God gives to us and the working of the Holy Spirit through us to bless others. This is not egotism or self-centeredness. It’s giving all the credit to the Lord for all He gives to us and does through us.

 

Available for Speaking

I am writing for anyone who might be interested to let you know of my availability for speaking at your church beginning in December 2017.

I have a degree from Talbot Theological Seminary and six years’ experience as a senior pastor. More recently, I retired early from a career as a financial analyst to write fulltime. The “Who and Why” page of this blog describes my passion for writing and speaking as well as my qualifications.

I have a book set for publication next year entitled Shipwrecked Lives. This book examines the poor decisions of many minor biblical characters and what we can learn from their failures. My talks on King Saul have been popular in the past; I could speak on one of the characters from this book.

Additionally, I have written a book on future things called The Thrill of Hope. This book shows why our hope of eternity matters so much for our daily lives, particularly in the areas of relieving anxieties and healing wounds of the past.

Apart from looking to their future hope, believers often become attached to the things of this world where disappointments add to their fears of what might be ahead. I am passionate about the specifics of our eternal hope and present a two-world perspective that helps Jesus’ followers endure the many frustrations of this life.

I live in Eastern Iowa and am looking for opportunities in Iowa, Northern Illinois, southern Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

If you are interested, please contact me at my e-mail address: Jonathanbrentner@yahoo.com or through this blog. I will let you know my open dates and work to schedule a date that will work for you.

Premillennialism and the Reformation

1529MartinLuther

This coming October 31st marks the five hundred year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. These 95 Theses became the foundation of the Protestant Reformation, which for many restored the biblical ideal of justification by faith and thereby the purity of the Gospel message.

As Luther studied Scripture, he saw that God justifies sinners solely by faith apart from any good works on their part. This challenged centuries of tradition within the church that added human merit to God’s grace as a requirement for salvation.

Both Luther and Calvin rejected the allegorical or symbolical method of interpreting Scripture that, along with human tradition, had introduced error into the churches’ teaching on justification by faith, a doctrine critical to our faith.

Luther replaced the allegorical way of looking at God’s Word with two principles of biblical interpretation, which made Scripture the final authority of all matters of faith and practice and made the Bible a commentary on itself. The later became known as “Scripture interprets Scripture.”

These two principles became the basis for a literal approach to Scripture through which Luther as well as Calvin corrected the errors of the church that had added works to the obtaining of salvation.

They did not, however, apply this literal method of interpretation to the passages dealing with future things.  When biblical scholars did so after them, they overturned the long-held Amillennialism of the church; a belief based on an allegorical approach to prophecy. Let me explain what happened after the Reformation.

The Reformers and Amillennialism

Amillennialism is the belief that God has rejected Israel as His people and as such, the church now fulfills “spiritually” the kingdom promises made by the prophets in the Old Testament. As the term suggests, Jesus does not return to restore the kingdom to Israel or reign over the nations for a thousand years. Instead, he comes back at the end of the age to judge humanity and bring in the eternal state.

Although both Luther and Calvin condemned the allegorical method with Calvin going so far as to call it “satanic,” neither challenged the allegorical interpretations that supported the Amillennialism of their day.

Why did this disconnect exist between how the reformers interpreted passages of Scripture relating to salvation versus prophetic passages? Why did they continue to follow an allegorical interpretation when it came to prophecy despite their clear denunciation of such a method?

Their defense of justification by faith alone was enough of a battle and one that desperately needed to happen first.

I believe God intended for the reformers to bring the church back to a true scriptural understanding of the Gospel without the added burden of also reforming errant beliefs regarding the end times. Their defense of justification by faith alone was enough of a battle and one that desperately needed to happen first. God knew He had enough time to correct other beliefs also based on an allegorical method of interpretation.

Did the Reformers fail in regard to eschatology? No, I believe that their two key methods of interpretation became the foundation for Premillennialism as biblical scholars after them applied their literal approach to prophecy.

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton, born a century after Luther died, undertook an extensive study of the books of Daniel and Revelation during the later years of his life. Newton’s commentary on these books, Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, was published six years after his death. In his book, Newton expressed his belief that Israel would someday be a nation again predicting it would happen before the tribulation and the return of Jesus to establish His kingdom on earth after this great time of suffering upon the earth.

Isaac Newton further stated that the study of prophecy would intensify during the latter days of human history as the time of Jesus’ return drew closer. He believed the Lord would reign for a thousand years in Jerusalem thus literally fulfilling kingdom prophecies found in Daniel and Revelation.

Newton applied the Reformers’ literal method of biblical interpretation to the books of Daniel rather than the allegorical approach that had been in place for over a thousand years. Did he consciously follow their biblical interpretative methods? We do not know that for sure.

We do know Newton let Scripture speak for itself and as a result his beliefs closely mirror those held by Premillennialists of the past 150 years. While Newton receives much attention for his predictions of when things would occur, once you look past that you see someone who rejected the time honored way of allegorically interpreting the books of Daniel and Revelation.

Later Church History

This pattern of applying the literal method of biblical interpretation to prophetic passages became more widespread in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As conservative scholars used Scripture as their sole source of beliefs and allowed Scripture to interpret Scripture, the church returned in large measure to the Premillennial viewpoint that dominated the first three centuries of the church.

Although Luther and Calvin did not apply their literal interpretative methods to prophetic portions of the Bible, when others did it resulted in the beliefs that God would once again restore Israel as a nation, the temple would be rebuilt, there would be a terrible time of tribulation upon the earth, and Jesus would return after that time to set up His kingdom.

These same principles also helped establish the belief that Jesus will come for His church before this time of tribulation upon the earth. Contrary to popular belief, John Darby came up with his pretribulation rapture idea from his study of the nature of the church; he saw that it did not fit for Jesus to allow His church to endure the wrath of the tribulation.

The view that Jesus would return for His church before the tribulation exploded in popularity as many Bible teachers took a literal approach to the words of Scripture. This view dominated evangelical churches from the late 1800’s until the past couple decades. Sadly, this view had faded lately as pastors in large numbers have abandoned teaching on this subject.

While perhaps many would disagree with me, I see a link between the biblical interpretation methods of Luther and the rise of premillennialism. Isaac Newton rejected the same allegorical approach as did the Reformers and came to the same conclusions as the premillennialists who followed him a couple centuries later.

Luther’s rejection of the allegorical method restored the biblical doctrine of justification by faith of Paul and the early apostles.

Newton’s rejected of the allegorical method resulted in the restoration of premillennialism, which was dominant in the first three centuries of the church.

 

 

The Reformation and the Gospel

Luther 95 Theses

This coming October 31st marks the five hundred year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. These 95 Theses became the foundation of the Protestant Reformation, which for many restored the biblical ideal of justification by faith and thereby the purity of the Gospel message.

Earlier in 1517, a friar by the name of Johann Tetzel began selling indulgences in Germany as a mean to raise funds for the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. By purchasing an indulgence, one could gain the release of a sinner from purgatory or help ensure one’s own salvation. For example, if someone suspected that Uncle Joe was not quite ready for heaven when he died, dropping several coins into the box carried around by Tetzel would remedy that situation by instantly delivering Uncle Joe from purgatory into heaven.

Luther condemned this practice of indulgences, the subject of several of his 95 Theses. It’s easy to see why he objected to such manipulation of the people.

Justification by Grace Along with Works

In the Roman Catholic Church of Luther’s day, justification had become a lifelong process through which one received grace through the church and its sacraments that enabled him or her to do the good works necessary for salvation.

Can you see how such teaching would create much uncertainty regarding one’s final status before God? How could anyone know if they had been faithful enough in avoiding sins so that God would pronounce them righteous or justified at the end of their life?

The priests of Luther’s day must have dreaded seeing him walk into their confessional booths.

This is why young Luther spent hours at a time confessing his sins to a priest. He believed that getting into heaven that he confess all his sins and live as good a life as possible. As a result, he meticulously and fervently confessed everything he thought might even possibly be a sin. The priests of Luther’s day must have dreaded seeing him walk into their confessional booths.

Justification by Faith Alone

As Luther studied Scripture, he realized that God did not base our salvation on a combination of grace and personal merit. He saw that our justification, or our righteous standing before God, did not result from a lifelong process of resisting sin and doing good works, but rather took place the moment we place our faith in Jesus.

The word the Apostle Paul used for justification denoted a judge in his day pronouncing a not guilty verdict upon the accused person standing before him. Sinners, like the person standing trial, are declared righteous once and for all time. It’s not something that happens over time.

Justification takes place the instant we call out to the Lord in saving faith, not at the end of our lives. In Romans 5:1, Paul says “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Our right relationship with God comes instantly; He declares us righteous the moment we believe.

The Apostle Paul often emphasized that God saves us totally by grace through faith apart from any merit of our own (see Titus 3:4-7 and Eph. 2:8-9). Good works come after our adoption into God’s family, not before.

Luther based his revolutionary teaching at the time solely on Scripture. An allegorical interpretation of God’s Word had begun centuries earlier as a way for some to view Old Testament prophecy symbolically. As a result, those who interpreted the Bible in such a way viewed the Old Testament promises of a kingdom for Israel as something the church fulfilled spiritually.

Unfortunately, this allegorical way of understanding Scripture later eroded the purity of the Gospel as it opened the door for church tradition to contaminate biblical beliefs, especially those pertaining to salvation.

A Literal Interpretation of Scripture

Both Luther and John Calvin condemned such allegorical interpretations and the adding of human tradition to the teaching of Scripture. They brought their followers back to a literal way of interpreting God’s Word through two key principles.

The elevation of the Bible as supreme in all matters of faith became a key factor in restoring the sound scriptural teaching of justification by faith apart from good works.

The first such principle was that of “sola Scriptura.” This signifies that Scripture alone is our sole source and supreme authority when it comes to all matters pertaining to faith and practice. For the reformers, this meant that the Bible was sufficient for all spiritual matters and thus took precedence over all the traditions of the church and the teachings of all previous popes.

This elevation of the Bible as supreme in all matters of faith became a key factor in restoring the sound scriptural teaching of justification by faith apart from good works.

Secondly, Luther emphasized “Scripture interprets Scripture” as essential for interpreting the Bible. This precept stresses that all of Scripture is God’s Word and as such does not and cannot contradict itself. Scripture thus acts as its own commentary.

A section of the Bible where the meaning is clear can and must be used to interpret a related section of Scripture where the interpretation is less evident or open to several differences of opinion.

These principles of interpretation advocated by Martin Luther and the other Reformers forever changed the course of church history and remain the standard for biblical interpretation for most Protestant churches today.

These two principles of interpreting Scripture in a literal way had another significant long-term impact on the teaching of the church, one that did not appear until well after the time of the Reformers. This later result of interpreting Scripture literally will be the topic of my next article celebrating the 500 year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.

Can anyone guess what this future impact might be?

 

What Difference Does It Make?

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“What difference does it make?” Hillary Clinton made this question famous during her Senate questioning of what happened during the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi. Although she did not regard the questions she faced as important, I am sure the answers mattered to those who had lost loved ones in the attack.

Many ask similar questions in regard to future things. What difference does it make what I believe about the Lord’s return? Does it really matter if I am watching for it or not? People have been waiting centuries for Him to come again. Should I look for it to happen anytime soon or in my lifetime?

What difference does it make what I believe about the Lord’s return? Does it really matter if I am watching for it or not?

These issues have led to much indifference even among believers regarding the Lord’s return. Many are not watching for it while some do not believe it will happen any time soon if at all.

Does living with an expectancy of Jesus imminent appearing really matter? Absolutely!

Let me explain.

The Importance to the Lord of Such Anticipation

Even though Jesus knew there would be a lengthy delay, He instructed His followers to both watch and be ready for His return (Matt. 24:42, 43: 25:13). Throughout the New Testament, we see this same posture of waiting and expecting that He could appear at any moment (Rom. 8:23; Titus 2:11-13; 1 Pet. 1:13; James 5:8-9). The early believers followed Jesus’ command to watch for His return.

Would Jesus have commanded us to do something if it was not important to Him? Why would Jesus ask His followers to look for His return as something that could happen at any time if it was a useless exercise in futility? I do not think so.

Readiness for His Jesus’ appearing is something important to Him and beneficial to us as well.

The Benefits for Us of Such an Outlook

I see several benefits for us in the New Testament of living with perspective that Jesus could return at any time. Such anticipation:

Kindles purity in our lives – After writing about Jesus’ appearing the apostle John added these words in 1 John 1:3, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” The prospect that Jesus could return at any moment kindles purity in us; it causes us to be much more mindful of walking in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we have victory over sin.

If you truly thought it was possible that Jesus could return tomorrow, would it make a difference in how you live? Of course it would. You might change your mind regarding what movie or TV show you watch tonight. Your thoughts as you go to bed would be different. You would be eager to resolve any conflict with your spouse or deal with unforgiveness toward someone in our life. You would be more conscious of using your gifts and abilities to serve the Lord.

You would want to be ready to meet Jesus!

Keeps a two-world perspective alive in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:16-18) The apostle Paul endured much suffering as he preached the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, yet he never lost heart. As he compared eternal realities with the temporal things of this life he said this, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul’s two world outlook focused his attention on the joys and glory ahead for him in eternity as he endured his beatings, scourging, imprisonments, and shipwrecks.

Without the hope of Jesus’ soon return, we would soon lose our anticipation of heaven. The things of this world would take on much greater importance compared with the wonders of forever.

Encourages us in the midst of suffering (1 Pet. 1:3-6) In writing to believers suffering under the weight of persecution, the apostle Peter immediately reminded them of their “living hope” and of their inheritance that was “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for” them (1 Pet. 1:3-4). He reminded them of the substance of their hope. Regardless of what they experienced on earth, they had a glorious reward waiting for them in heaven at the end of their suffering.

Motivates us to use our spiritual gifts in making disciples (Phil. 3:14-21) – I believe Paul’s determination to press forward in His service to the Lord came from his anticipation of Jesus’ soon return. I believe this was the “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14) that he further described in verses 20-21.

CS Lewis said this about such an outlook: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since because Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

Keeps the hope of a better day before us Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” The focusing of our thoughts on Jesus’ soon return constantly reminds us that a better day is coming, one in which all sorrow, death, and mourning will be things of the past.

The focusing of our thoughts on Jesus’ soon return constantly reminds us that a better day is coming, one in which all sorrow, death, and mourning will be things of the past.

While most all believers hope for this glorious future day, the sense of imminency in Jesus’ return keeps these things in sharper focus. This also works to minimize the frustrations and disappointments of this life as we realize that a much better day is coming. Setbacks in this life are just temporary; an eternal day is just around the corner. A time of unending joy awaits us with Jesus’ appearing!

Results in a special reward – 2 Timothy 4:8 refers to “the crown of righteousness” that the apostle Paul says is for “all who have loved his appearing.” Our longing for Jesus to return will be rewarded even if we do not see it in our lifetime.

Yes, there are days when I start to wonder, “What’s the point of watching for Jesus to come? I have been waiting for such a very long time!”

It’s then the signs of the approaching tribulation remind me that the time is indeed short. The fires, famines, rumors of war, earthquakes, and increasing talk of the coming new world order all tell us that Jesus is coming soon. The signs around us are increasing exponentially with each pass week.

“How can it be much longer until Jesus whisks us away to heaven and the tribulation begins?”

We will experience endless joy beyond our imagination throughout eternity.

If you are experiencing sorrow, feeling hopelessness, or facing opposition or heartache because of your faith, do not give up hope. Keep your focus on the better day that is coming for all of us who are in Christ. When Jesus comes for His church, He will give us imperishable resurrected bodies and we will be with Him forever with bodies that will never age and never again experience pain or sickness. We will experience endless joy beyond our imagination throughout eternity.

Keep looking up; a much, much, much, better day is just ahead. Such anticipation makes a significant difference in how we view our lives.

 

The Silence of the Shepherds

Sheep and lake

What comes to your mind when you think of a shepherd? For me, it’s wise guidance and protection. I see the shepherd guiding his sheep to a calm, clear lake for a refreshing drink of water and at other times fighting off the attack of a wolf. Perhaps this is why the Lord frequently refers to the leaders of His people in this way.

This is also the reason that the silence of so many Christian leaders and pastors regarding future things troubles me so deeply. A number of outstanding teachers and writers either do not believe in Jesus’ return for His church or just never mention it. For me, it’s sad to hear messages on texts that bring up our future hope where the preachers do not mention eternity or the joy that awaits us there.

This morning, the words of Proverbs 10:28 spoke to my heart anew, “The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” If such anticipation brought joy back then, how much more should it lighten our load now? And why, then, are so many churches quiet about the great joy ahead for us in glory?

I see two key reasons why pastors should loudly proclaim the specifics of our future bliss rather than ignore the matter altogether or settle for vague references to the “sweet by and by” that fail to stir our hearts or encourage us in the midst of sorrow.

Jesus Commands Us to Watch and Be Ready

In His Olivet Discourse as recorded in Matthew, Jesus commands us not only to be ready for His coming, but to watch for it (see 24:42, 44; 25:13). We see this watchfulness all throughout the epistles as the apostles taught those new in the faith to eagerly wait for Jesus’ appearing (see 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Thess. 1:8-10; Titus 2:11-13; and Phil. 3:20-21 as examples of this). The apostles instilled in their new converts an eager anticipation of Jesus’ return to take them home; a hope that endured long past their time.

The Didache, which means “teaching” in the Greek, is a brief document that was popular during early centuries of the church. In chapter 16 of The Didache we read this, “Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come.” Is this not the same imminent hope taught by the apostles? Of course it is.

Yes, there are many voices still today drawing our attention to the wonders of Jesus’ return, but most followers of Jesus have to go outside their local churches to hear messages regarding the imminency of their hope.

The present day emphasis on the Great Commission is excellent. The church must always be seeking to bring others to Jesus and to build them up in the faith. This is a given. We obey the Lord when we use our spiritual gifts, talents, and resources to further His kingdom around the world as well as to teach and build up believers He puts in our paths. These are all aspects of obeying Jesus’ command.

For the apostles, such obedience included instilling in their new converts an eager anticipation of Jesus’ soon return, as we have seen. Jesus told his disciples to teach those new in the faith to “observe all that I have commanded you” (see Matt. 28:20) and from this flowed, among other things, teaching them to eagerly await Jesus’ appearing.

Many pastors today ignore what was for the apostles an essential part of the Gospel message they proclaimed.

Things are different now. Those who stress reaching all the nations with the Gospel rarely, if ever, mention our future hope. Many pastors today ignore what was for the apostles an essential part of the message they proclaimed. As a result, the hope of new believers remains earthbound lacking the joyful anticipation of what lies ahead.

Not only does this silence of shepherds ignore Jesus’ commands, it also exposes their flocks to great dangers.

Sound Teaching on Our Biblical Hope Prevents Doctrinal Error

In Ephesians 4:11-14, Paul says that Jesus gives the church specially equipped leaders such as “shepherds” and “teachers”  both for unity and so that believers will “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” This is precisely what we are seeing in the church at large today . . . in a negative way.

The dearth of sound teaching on our eternal joy has resulted in believers being “tossed” every which way by false teaching. In recent years, some teachers have begun to falsely proclaim that Jesus has already returned just as He promised in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation.  Such a message has led many unsuspecting believers astray into error and misleading expectations.

Tragically, once these false teachers trap believers in their deceitful web it takes much more prodding, teaching, and the work of the Holy Spirit to enable them to escape than it would have taken for teachers to have established them in sound biblical teaching from the beginning.

It requires much more effort to help believers escape from false teachings than it does for solid biblical teaching to effectively shield them from it. This seems to be especially true in regard to future things as so many hold on to proof texts ignoring scores of other verses that contradict their errant interpretation.

Sound biblical teaching on future things safeguards believers from the many erroneous winds of doctrines blowing about in our day.

Do you see why sound biblical teaching on future things is so necessary? It safeguards believers from the many erroneous winds of doctrines blowing about in our day. It gives them a basis to resist the lure of false teachers who twist Scripture and lead many away from the joy of biblical hope.

This is why I write. This is why I am so grieved for believers who hear so little about the specifics or the scriptural basis of the glorious wonders that await them in forever. I desire to get the word out, either through teaching, speaking, or writing, to followers of Christ who are sadly looking only to the things of this life to bring them lasting purpose and joy.

It’s time to look up, is it not?

Jesus said this in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Jesus says now is the time to watch for His appearing.  Shouldn’t the shepherds of local flocks, those called to lead us, be echoing the words of our Lord? It’s not that the things they emphasize are bad, far from it; it’s just that their neglect keeps the focus of so many believers on the things of the earth rather than eternity where their ultimate and lasting hope resides.

Where are your eyes today? Is your ultimate hope on the things of this life or are you looking forward to your eternal inheritance reserved in heaven just for you (1 Pet. 1:3-5)?

 

A  Crisis of Hope

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Photo by Pol Sifter

“We appear to be suffering a great crisis of hope.” Those words, written by John Eldredge in his September 2017 newsletter, aptly sum up our nation today.

Despair has replaced hope in the lives of so many. Two-thirds of deaths caused by guns are suicides; many of these are older men who see no reason to continue living. The incidents of suicide overall are going through the roof. Addictions to drugs and alcohol are ever present problems in our nation that grow worse each passing day.

Even among Christians, we see an abandonment of hope. Many have tossed aside beliefs cherished for decades in favor of earthbound expectations that do little to relieve the apprehensions of life or the disillusionments of failed expectations. It’s no wonder that many believers experience many of the same problems as those in the world who possess no expectation beyond this life.

Those who look to the things of this world for satisfaction soon discover that life often thwarts their deepest desires. We do not have to look far to see their fury; it’s readily apparent everywhere on social media where angry venting often rules the day.

The Dangers of Anger

In an age of information overload, unless we hide in a cave all day we will all see things that irritate us or perhaps raise our blood pressure to unsafe levels. We read about injustice, listen as the media proclaims lies as truth, and watch as evil prevails where good should have triumphed. The apostle Paul recognized that at times we would feel such indignation when he wrote “be angry and do not sin.”

However, notice how Paul ends his instructions regarding anger in Ephesians 4:26-27, “. . . do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”

The danger for all of us, regardless of what we believe, comes when we hold on to our anger and let it fester within us. Scripture says that when this happens, we give an opportunity for the devil to work his destruction in and through us.

In my book Shipwrecked Lives (planned for publication next year), I tell the tale of Absalom who allowed anger to destroy his life. He had good reason for his rage, but rather than deal with it in a healthy manner he allowed bitterness to take root and flourish inside him. In the end, 20,000 soldiers died as a result of his rebellion against his father, King David. Absalom, described as the most handsome man in all of Israel, died hanging from a tree as soldiers threw spears at him.

I realize that for all those reading this post, anger will not lead to death or murder as it did with Absalom. However, wrath can be destructive in our lives as well as the enemy of our souls skews our thinking, ruins relationships, and causes a host of health problems that stem from holding on to anger for lengthy periods of time.

The Path of Hope

There is a much better way than the path of anger, frustration, and despair. Hope!

Biblical hope is not positive thinking as some might think of it. You may be planning an outing this weekend with the hopes that you will see sunshine and clear skies. It may rain all day, or worse, despite your hopes for good weather. Our hope is so much more certain than this.

In his newsletter, John Eldredge describes biblical hope this way, “When I speak of hope I mean the confident expectation that goodness is coming. A rock-solid expectation, something we can build our lives on.”  Such hope never ever disappoints us; Christ’s unfailing promises guarantee it.

Amidst the frustrations of life, Jesus has set before us the wonderful path of hope. I love the words of Proverbs 4:18, “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” We know from the New Testament that the righteous are not the “do-gooders” around us but those who know Jesus as their Savior and walk by the light of the Gospel.

Regardless of the outcome of our lives here on earth, this hope will never let us down. If the Lord takes us home through death sooner than we would like, we will be in His presence and experience all the wonderful joys of heaven. If Jesus comes for us today or in the near future, we will instantly possess immortal bodies and be with the Lord forevermore.

No one, upon arriving in heaven, will wish that Jesus had delayed the rapture a little longer.

Disappointment and biblical hope are true antonyms; they never go together. No one, upon arriving in heaven, will wish that Jesus had delayed the rapture a little longer.

1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “. . . he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” The apostle, writing to believers suffering amidst great persecution, pointed them toward their heavenly “inheritance” that was secure and waiting for them. This is one of the wonderful purposes of the promises Jesus makes to us regarding eternity, they comfort us and bring light to our paths regardless of our circumstances.

I remember listening to an elected official speak on the radio as I was driving my car one day many years ago. I felt anger building inside me as he continued to speak (his words distressed me, to say the least). Finally, in frustration I switched to a Christian music station. The song playing at that moment was God is in Control by Twila Paris. As I relaxed and even felt a smile come across my face, I realized that this was no coincidence. The Lord knew I needed the relief that came from remembering His sovereignty.

God is wondrously in control of everything. That’s how we know our hope will never ever fail us or disappoint us. The glories of eternity, immortal bodies, and joy beyond what we can now imagine await us just on the other side. It’s a sure thing; as the Apostle Peter said, we cannot lose the “inheritance” Jesus is preparing for us.

When we feel indignation bubbling up inside us, it’s then we must remember where our ultimate hope lies. It does not rest in people or in a world careening toward the terrible years of the Great Tribulation. It does not rest in politicians who will fail us many more times than not. Our hope remains secure in Jesus who will satisfy us forever with the wonders of eternity.

Our hope remains secure in Jesus who will satisfy us forever with the wonders of eternity.

Doesn’t focusing on the biblical promises of eternity sound a whole lot better than holding tightly to our anger, which only wreaks havoc within us with bitter or vengeful thoughts?

Jesus offers us unfailing, “rock-solid,” ever-satisfying hope. He offers us the wonderful freedom of His love and a promise of eternity that will be joyful beyond what we can imagine. This glorious journey begins with Jesus’ appearing to take us home to His Father’s house in heaven (John 14:2-3).

Do not let anyone change the focus of your ultimate hope to temporal realities of this life that can never satisfy you. Why stay earthbound in your focus when Jesus is coming to complete your adoption into His family and redeem your bodies (Rom. 8:23)? As Jesus followers, we will live forever with Him in a place where sorrow, pain, death, and tears will no longer exist (Rev. 21:4).

 

Are These Perilous Times?

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The news of the Las Vegas massacre shocked me. I watched with great sadness as updated news bulletins increased the death toll seemingly each hour on Monday morning. How could someone be so evil as to murder innocent so many people he did not know? How could he gun them down as though he was a gamer shooting lifeless images on a computer screen?

The pictures of those killed, now appearing on news sites, are almost too much for me to bear. I see the smiling faces and wonder about the grieving families left behind.

Are these the “perilous times” that the Apostle Paul described in 2 Timothy 3? Are we in the “last days?” I think so. Paul’s mention of “last days” in this passage refers to the time just before the end of this age. While the evil people he described in the opening verses of this chapter existed in his day as well as in every era since then, the sense is that they will be especially numerous at the end of human history with their behavior much more intense, or fierce, than in previous times. I believe this is what we are seeing today.

This Is a Sign of the Last Days

In 2 Timothy 3:1 Paul says this, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (KJV). I used the King James Version here because the phrase “times of difficulty,” as in the English Standard Version, does not capture the harshness of the word in the Greek.

In Matthew 8:28, the word in the original depicts the fierceness of the two men possessed by demons. The text says that they were “so fierce that no one could pass that way.” They were “violent and dangerous” men as the commentator William Barclay describes them. The word also denotes someone as “hard to approach.” The brutal nature of these demon possessed men made it impossible for anyone to deal with them in any normal way.

Does this not bring to mind the scene in Las Vegas? Although the suspected shooter did not appear to be violent leading up to the assault, he somehow possessed the vileness to carry out the vicious attack. I believe the characteristics of the two demon possessed men of Matthew 8 apply to anyone who would massacre and injure so many people. We see the work of the devil in all such violence such as was certainly on display during this latest tragedy.

Barclay also described the menacing last times of 2 Timothy 3:1-5 as “a kind of last tremendous assault of evil before its final defeat.” All throughout the world we see daily terror attacks with similar death and destruction. The devil knows his time is growing short and is fiercely and savagely attacking all that is good. This came to full fruition in Las Vegas, did it not? This brutal attack has the fingerprints of Satan all over it.

Although the authorities have not yet announced the motive for the killing, I firmly believe ISIS was behind it. In Amir Tsarfati’s prophecy update after the tragedy, he provided many convincing reasons for this conclusion. I do not think the shooter could possibly have carried out his tragic attack without help. He appeared innocent enough so he could procure the weapons, but could not have planned and carried this out alone.

Are You Ready?

What does the terrible tragedy in Las Vegas tell us? I believe it primarily reminds us that we need to be ready. If you know the Lord as your Savior, this means watching for Him to return as Jesus instructed us to do in Matthew 24:42-44. If we are in Christ, we know we will see Him either through death or meeting Him in the air. We need not be afraid of the day in which we live; we are secure in Him regardless of what comes our way. Personally, I am hoping to meet Jesus in the air.

If you do not know Him, please call upon His name while you have opportunity. As demonstrated by what happened in Las Vegas, life on this earth is ever so uncertain. We do not know if we will have tomorrow; but those who know Jesus as their Savior can rest in His promise of eternal life come what may during their time here on earth.

Jesus said this in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus is the only path of salvation available to men and women. He will, however, give eternal life to all who call upon Him believing that He will forgive sins and save them from the wrath that is coming (see Romans 10:9, 13).

Are you ready for eternity? Are you resting secure in Jesus?

Stay tuned for more studies on the characteristics listed in 2 Timothy 3 . . . .