What’s Your Destination?

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It seemed so simple. We would send our letter and earnest check for our new home in Illinois via certified mail. Our purchase contract for our new house allowed several days for the check to arrive.

After double-checking the address my realtor had provided, I took the letter to the post office in North Liberty, Iowa on March 30. The kind young man at the counter gave me the tracking information and said our check would be at its destination in Rockford, Illinois on Monday, April 2. I felt confident the check would arrive on time.

On April 2, I entered the tracking information only to discover that our certified mail was in the small town of Wellman, Iowa. After the tracking remained unchanged for a couple days, I went back to the North Liberty post office to find out what happened.

A helpful lady at the post office discovered that our mail had gotten stuck to another piece of mail that was headed for Wellman and had ended up there as well. She assured me that my letter had been sent back to Cedar Rapids, Iowa (the main hub in our area) and would soon arrive at its destination in Rockford.

The tracking, however, remained unchanged for four and a half days. Who knows what sights and sounds of America our letter and check enjoyed during this time?

Eventually, I wrote another check this time sending it via UPS, not the post office. Because we needed to make sure it got there by April 9, our realtor said to do this so we could be certain of its arrival.

Shortly after walking out of the UPS facility, our initial mailing mysteriously showed up again on the United States Mail tracking site. It was in Palatine, IL. This brought some relief knowing it was not hopelessly lost or the check in the wrong hands. At this point it seemed likely that the title company would now end up with two checks.

Clearly, this piece of mail had a love for Iowa and just refused to remain anywhere else.

After experiencing the wonders of a couple post offices in the Chicago suburbs, our mailing inexplicably found its way back to Cedar Rapids for a third time on its adventurous journey. After that, it went back to Wellman; no one can explain why it ended up back there. Clearly, this piece of mail had a love for Iowa and just refused to remain anywhere else.

Is not this experience like so many of our hopes and expectations for this life? Despite all our anticipation, they never quite fulfill their promise or take us to the place we hoped they would.

I am not saying that all earthly hopes disappoint us, not at all. However, even when the dearest of our dreams come true for us we eventually realize they are only temporary just like the rest of our life here on this earth.

This is why our hopes for eternity can bring us so much joy and relief. A joyous and eternal destination awaits for all who know Jesus as their Savior. We will not be disappointed.

When Jesus appears, He will give us wondrous glorified bodies that will no longer be subject to the pains and aging of this life. Revelation 21:4 promises that we are headed for an eternity where Jesus “will wipe away every tear from their [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore . . . .”

Unlike the check the check I sent that seemingly would have endlessly toured the Midwest never arriving at its destination, Jesus will not fail to bring His followers to their intended destination, the joyous and wondrous place He is now preparing for us. He is surely coming to take us home, perhaps very soon!

We can absolutely count on Him to fulfill our hopes beyond what we could ever imagine. He will not fail to get us to our appointed place and despite the seeming delay in His appearing, He will be on time.

What is your ultimate destination? Who or what are you counting on to get you there?

 

 

What If Jesus Said “Relax Guys . . . ?

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Perhaps one of the more perplexing matters in the New Testament is the sense of imminent expectation regarding the Lord’s return.  We see this all through its pages.

Jesus said, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). Jesus instructed His disciples to expect His appearing at any moment.

All through the epistles, we read of the New Testament saints eagerly watching for the Savior’s appearance (see Rom. 8:23; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; and Titus 2:11-13). It’s clear that those who read the apostles’ letters anticipated Jesus’ return at any moment, too.

Yet, 2,000 years have passed since then. How do we understand Jesus’ command the expectancy of the New Testament saints?

What if we look at it from another perspective? What if . . . ?

What if Jesus had said this to His disciples? “Relax guys; it’s going to be a very long time until I return. It may be one or two thousand years before the world sees me again.”

What would have been the consequences if Christ had told His disciples of the long delay in His return with no need to watch for His imminent appearing?

1. No Urgency to Share the Gospel

With such a mindset, do you think the apostles would have been so determined to spread the Good News of salvation throughout the world? Would they have turned it upside down?

I don’t think so.

C. S. Lewis said this about the eternal perspective that motivated the apostles:

“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.”[i]

The minds of the apostles and others who followed them were fixed on eternity because of their awareness that Jesus could return at any moment.

When Jesus’ return ceases to be an imminent possibility, His followers stop thinking about “the other world,” or eternity, and their urgency to share the Gospel diminishes. I am not saying that all evangelism ceases; just that for many it becomes less of a priority.

2. Less Motivation for Purity

The apostle John said this about the impact of Jesus’ imminent return upon our lives, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he as pure” (1 John 3:3).

I realize that many other motivations exist that lead to a holy life, but the thought that Jesus could back at any moment heightens our resolve to walk closely with Him. I have found this to be true in my own life.

Of course, we do not earn our salvation. Scripture is clear on that matter.

However, when we live as though at any moment we might find ourselves in Jesus’ presence, it has an impact on our walk with Him and our service to Him. How can it be otherwise?

In Matthew 24:45-51, Jesus addressed what would happen with those who saw His return as a far distant reality. The behavior of most might not be as extreme as with the person in Jesus’ parable, but the point is clear. When people start believing Jesus is not coming back for a very long time, if ever, it ceases to be the motivation for faithful service Jesus intended it to be.

3. We Would Never Start Looking for Jesus’ Appearing

If the church has started out with the knowledge Jesus was going to delay his return by one or two thousand years, how would anyone know when to start watching for his appearing? What would be the key to change from passivity to actively anticipating his arrival? How would we know to start looking for the rapture?

For the prospect of Jesus’ appearing to motivate and comfort believers of all ages, it has to be an ever present possibility. Once we put it off to the distant future, it ceases to be our hope and fails to encourage us in the midst of suffering. It causes the things of this life to grow in importance as we look to the temporal things of earth for comfort rather than eternal realities.

Jesus commanded us to watch and be ready for His return because He knew without it, the results among His followers would be disastrous. We see this all through church history.

Did Jesus deceive us? Absolutely Not! All the saints who have gone before us are now enjoying the glorious joys of eternal life in the presence of their loving Savior and someday will be reunited with their earthly bodies.

For us, it means that the Lord’s patience has resulted in our salvation and the anticipation of a joyous eternity beyond our wildest imaginations.

No one in the past who died waiting for Jesus’ appearing was ever disappointed when Jesus welcomed them into glory.

No follower of Jesus today will feel an ounce of disappointment when the day comes for the trumpet to sound and we see Jesus welcoming us home! It will be oh so worth the wait.

Maranatha!

Note:  This was inspired by JD Farag’s prophecy update on March 18, 2018.

[i] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Collins, Fontana Books, 1955), p. 116. Quoted in Hot Tub Religion, p. 90

Forever Young, Forever Whole

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“Who is this guy with the wrinkles and droopy skin?” I asked myself as I stretched in front of a mirror at the gym (in a room with lights that revealed everything!). I looked every bit my age and for a moment I felt depressed.

Then I remembered Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” I think this is becoming one of my favorite verses! Even as believers, we have so much more to hope for than what this world can offer us even in the best of circumstances.

A little later in the chapter the apostle expanded upon our spectacular hope in verses 51-53, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”

Forever Young

In 1 Corinthians 15:42-55, the apostle describes our new future bodies that we will receive when Jesus comes for us, His true church. Whether we have died in Christ or remain alive in Him at the time, our hope is the same. Jesus will change our bodies into wondrously imperishable and immortal ones. They will last forever no longer subject to the rigors of the clock.

Gone will be all the signs of aging I saw staring back at me in the mirror that day. I believe Christ will restore our bodies to what we looked like in early adulthood. He will not only erase all the signs of aging, but also all the scars and physical infirmities we have incurred during the course of our lives. We will have bodies like Jesus’ glorious resurrected body.

This means no more flu! This has been a particularly awful season for flu and a host of other sicknesses. Most people have either gotten sick with the flu or know someone they love who has succumbed to it. The good news about our new bodies is they will never again suffer with any sickness or infirmity.

Forever Whole

In a post last week, I quoted John Eldredge as saying this, “We are all traumatized and fragmented; no one passes through this vale of tears without it. And our Healer will make us whole again. . . . Think of it—to be whole hearted. To be filled with goodness from head to toe. To have an inner glory that matches the glory of your new body . . . .”[i]

Along with our glorious bodies, Jesus will also give us an inner wholeness or soundness such as we have never experienced.  Think of it, absolute and total emotional, spiritual, and mental wholeness! Total wellness from head to toe, inside and outside!

In Revelation 21:4-5 we read, “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. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Death, tears, and sorrow will all be things of the past.

In eternity we will be free from the presence of sin and all its ravages that have wreaked havoc in our lives on earth in one way or another. We will be complete experiencing sinless perfection throughout our being.

As a young pastor many years ago, I suffered greatly as the result of the actions of others along with my own foolish mistakes. It took a long time for the Lord to perform His healing work on the all the wounds stemming from those years of brokenness.

Although the Lord has restored my life and healed past wounds in truly miraculous ways, I still identify with Eldredge’s words regarding the trauma and fragmentation we all feel to some extent even as beloved children of God. I long for the complete wholeness that Jesus will give me someday in the resurrection!

Like a clock with no hands, time will no longer matter to us. We will be free from all its limitations!

Forever young, forever whole! Can you understand why Paul said that if our hope resides solely in this life “we are of all people most to be pitied?” If this life is all we have, we would have no hope at all.

However, when we look at what the Lord promises us, is not our expectation of eternal joy more than we can fully grasp in this life?

Like a clock with no hands, time will no longer matter to us. We will be free from all its limitations!

Spend some time today trying to imagine what your future life will be like without any of the ravages of sickness, aging, and emotional brokenness. What will your life be like with an imperishable body free from all the constraints of time?

 

[i] John Eldredge, All Things New (Nashville: Nelson books, 2017), p. 86.

 

Scandalous

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Do you remember when Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now, came out? I remember that many pastors criticized its emphasis on this life over eternity.

And yet, despite their harsh criticism of Joel Osteen, many of them preach a limited Gospel that stresses its benefits for the here and now. It’s all about the joy and hope for this life with only vague and passing references, at best, to the amazing glory that awaits us in forever.

Is it not our unmerited assurance of eternal life that makes the Gospel truly scandalous? In 1 Corinthians 15:19 Paul said this, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” I would guess that all Bible-believing pastors would wholeheartedly agree with Paul in this regard about our future resurrected life, but their sermons often sound like sanctified versions of Your Best Life Now.

Blessings for Now

I am not at all saying we should overlook our current blessings; they are significant. Ephesians 1:3 says that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” The verses that follow describe some of the many blessing we now possess highlighted by our “redemption though his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (v. 7).

Our salvation and all its accompanying blessings come by grace apart from any contribution on our part (Eph. 2:8-9). This is fantastic news and cause for much celebration and praise.

However, if the benefits of salvation by grace alone do not extend beyond this life, is such a message truly scandalous? If the purpose of the Gospel is only for us to have better mental health, improved family relationships, victory over addictions, happier marriages, and better management of finances, are we really better off than the rest of the world? The apostle Paul would say no!

God’s Kindness for all Eternity

I believe that Ephesians 2:7 is one of more overlooked verses in all of Paul’s epistles. It says this, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” This is the future tense of the Gospel.

The truly scandalous aspect of the Gospel is that God takes sinners like us, saves us from an eternity in hell solely on the basis of His love, mercy, and grace, and then promises us an eternity where He will continually show His kindness toward us forever and ever.

On the surface, we might think this applies to the Old Testament heroes of faith. We would expect such wonderful news for Abraham, Daniel, and the apostles. But no, this applies to all of us who know Jesus as our Savior. God takes us, who were once alienated from Him and enemies by nature, and forgives all our sins, applies the very righteousness of Jesus to our account, makes us His own dear children, and then promises us an amazing eternity where He will continually lavish His grace and kindness upon us.

Now that is scandalous. Who would die for ones enemies, make them heirs of a glorious kingdom, and show them with kindness forever?

This is why preaching that ignores the specifics of our eternal hope irks me, to say the least. I am not asking that pastors and teachers always agree with me on the timing of the Lord’s return, but that they realize the truly scandalous aspect of the Gospel is what God promises us for all eternity. Ignoring our hope of possessing immortal and imperishable bodies focuses believers on earthbound hopes rather than the wonders ahead for them at Jesus’ return.

Ignoring our hope of possessing immortal and imperishable bodies focuses believers on earthbound hopes rather than the wonders ahead for them at Jesus’ return.

Gospel-centered living in this life does not mean that we will never struggle financially, or that we will never see difficult times, or that our spouses will never leave us. A semi-truck may run over us tomorrow. The amazing aspect of the Gospel is that we have an amazing and glorious eternity ahead of us regardless of anything that could possibly happen to us in this life.

Life does not end with our death. Jesus’ saving work on our behalf saves us from hell and gives us an eternity of joy with resurrected bodies that will never grow old or get sick. And all this comes solely as the result of grace, God’s unmerited favor toward us.

Yes, the Lord does richly bless His children in this life. There is no doubt about that. But eventually our temporal blessings will fade away. Our eternal inheritance, however, will last forever. He will show us his kindness throughout eternity.

Yes, verses 8-9 of Ephesians 2 are important and wonderful verses. But do not forget about verse 7; without the blessings of eternity our salvation is incomplete and as Paul said, makes us “of all people most to be pitied.” There is a future tense to the Gospel.

 

An Unshakable Kingdom

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Is there anything around us today that we could describe as “unshakable?” Politicians, movies stars, and leaders continually prove that they are frail human beings just like everyone else.

Instability defines our world. Wars and continual threats of war add to the instability of our world. I cannot remember a time when there has been so much talk about the devastation that natural disasters could cause. For years, economists have warned that our national debt in America could lead to dire consequences.

However, because of the promises of Scripture we can rejoice and give thanks even though everything around us is falling apart. Here is what the author of Hebrews said, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus offer up to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28). Our hope is not in our broken down culture, but in an unshakeable kingdom that is not of this world but is coming to this world with the Second Coming of Christ.

So what is this kingdom and why does it make us so secure?

It’s the Kingdom of Jesus

Colossians 1:13-14 tells us that as saints, God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” This is the first aspect of the good news: as believers we already belong to Jesus’ kingdom with all our sins, past, present, and future, completely forgiven.

This gives us security regardless of what we encounter in this violent world. The worst persecution cannot change our standing in Jesus domain.  And, as Paul proclaims in Romans 8:31-39, absolutely nothing can separate us from Christ’s love. We are forever secure in Him.  Even death cannot alter our standing in Jesus’ marvelous kingdom where we share in all His blessings (Eph. 1:3) and inheritance (Rom. 8:17).

It’s Physical, Too

If we look at the context in Hebrews 12 of our “kingdom that cannot be shaken,” we see that the author is describing a future shaking that will result in just God’s kingdom remaining intact (vv. 26-27). The Old Testament reference to this coming tribulation upon the world is Haggai 2:6-9 where the prophet tells of a future time of great shaking upon the earth after which the treasures of the earth will flow into Israel resulting in a temple even more glorious than the one Solomon built. Haggai further prophesies that this will also be a time when the Lord brings peace to Israel.

So not only are we as believers forever secure in Jesus’ domain, but we rejoice in the hope that someday His kingdom will be real and tangible. And not only that, Jesus’ kingdom will be secure with no sign of scandal or intrigue. The coming King will establish it in righteousness. Isaiah 32:1 says, “Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in peace.” Does this not sound so much different than what we see in our world today? Jesus will rule over the earth and as God, it will be impossible for Him to lie!

Revelation 19:11-20:6 describes Jesus’ glorious return in great power to set up a kingdom on the earth that will last for one thousand years. This is more than an abstract doctrine or a hope that only applies to the people of Israel. This represents our future as well as coheirs with Jesus (Rom. 8:17).

There with our immortal and imperishable bodies, we will reign with Jesus enjoying more blessings than we can even imagine.

It’s in this secure kingdom that we will see the purposes for all we endured in this life, both good and bad. We will understand why we suffered and why the Lord led us down paths that brought joy and affliction. There with our immortal and imperishable bodies, we will reign with Jesus enjoying more blessings than we can even imagine.

This Thanksgiving season, we can give thanks that in a world becoming more unstable by the day our hope rests in an unshakable kingdom. We are secure now, regardless of anything that can happen to us before Jesus comes for us. Later, we will be secure forever in a kingdom where we will someday live free from all death, sorrow, suffering, pain, and tears.

Such a two-world perspective does not mean that we live solely for the world to come, but that we recognize that our ultimate hope does not rest in the things of this world or even our dreams of a better life.

It’s when our hope becomes earthbound that troubles magnify our fears and suffering becomes all-consuming. When we live with an eternal focus, however, we live in the reality that a glorious day is coming when Jesus will take us home to be with Him and later establish his righteous and holy rule upon the earth.

 

An Ordinary Life

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Thomas Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. He became a believer at the age of 27 and a Methodist preacher at the age of 36 despite a lack of formal training for the ministry. Unfortunately, after only a year poor health made it impossible for him to continue as a pastor.

He later opened up an insurance office in New Jersey where continued ill health limited his income for the remainder of his life. He once said this regarding his humble circumstances, “God has given me many wonderful displays of his providing care, which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”

As he looked back, he saw God’s faithfulness though all the disappointments and frustrations as well as in His unfailing provision for him.

Inspired by Lamentations 3:22-23, he wrote the words to the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” in 1923. He sent his poem to his friend William Runyan who added music to the words. The hymn became popular in churches throughout America after Billy Graham started using it in his crusades.

Unlike the story behind the song “It Is Well with My Soul,” Thomas Chisholm wrote this song toward the end of what he regarded as an “ordinary” life. As he looked back, he saw God’s faithfulness though all the disappointments and frustrations as well as in His unfailing provision for him.

After receiving direction to do so, I have spent the last few weeks adding more of my story to a book I am writing. This has stirred up many memories of the dark times in my life. I remembered walks late at night crying out to God in the midst of great personal pain. My time of affliction was long and filled with much despair.

I remember reading Lamentations 3:22-39 during this time and wondering if I would ever see the Lord’s compassion again or the end to my grief.

Now, however, as I look back at how the Lord rescued me from my trying circumstances and healed the deep wounds of my heart, I celebrate His faithfulness.

After I finished the task of adding my story to the opening chapters of my book, I listened to “Great is Thy Faithfulness” on YouTube. As I reflected on the words, I felt like every phrase of this hymn applied specifically to me. I especially liked the words, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” The Lord gave me strength even at times when I did not even realize it and faithfully renewed my hope of eternity when my outlook for this life seemed so dim.

God has been exceedingly faithful to me in bringing me through all my ups and downs. He has brought me to a place of rest that I could not have imagined twenty years ago. Where would I be without His unfailing goodness to me?

Although Chisholm may have regarded his life as ordinary, God has used the words he wrote to bless millions. His testimony of God’s faithfulness through the everyday messes of life has resounded through the church for many decades.

We never know how the Lord can use our lives. Even through what might seem mundane to us, He can use our experiences and testimony in ways we cannot imagine. When he wrote “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Chisholm may have thought his words would drift into obscurity as have the many other poems he wrote. He likely could never have imagined the lasting impact of what he penned so long ago.

God’s plan for our lives even extends beyond the here and now.  In eternity, we will see the full end of God’s faithfulness as we see His purposes for all we endure on earth. In His hands, each unique (and even ordinary) story will fit perfectly into a beautiful and amazing kaleidoscope that will bring Him glory forever.

There we will continue to celebrate and sing of God’s great faithfulness for thousands of years to come.

We will fully understand just how much the Lord can use ordinary lives. It’s what lies at the end of our paths that matters the most.

 

How Long?

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As I reflect on the Sutherland Springs shooting this past Sunday, the word “brutal” comes to my mind. In 2 Timothy 3:2 the Apostle Paul says that people will become “heartless, unappeasable . . . brutal . . . treacherous, reckless” during the last days. Is this not what we are seeing throughout our world to an ever increasing degree?

Do not all these traits sum up someone who would walk into a church and slaughter 26 innocent people including small children? Does this terrible act of violence not confirm Paul’s words of the “perilous times” we would see before Jesus’ return?

Although we do not understand the shooter’s ultimate motive, we know he had threatened his mother-in-law who attended the church. We also know that he was an atheist who mocked Christians stating that all “people who believed in God were stupid.” Did his antagonistic mindset toward believers contribute to the killing of so many of them? It seems likely to me. Why kill so many innocent people out of anger for just one person?

In his prophecy update on Sunday, Pastor J. D. Farag spoke of how Satan knows that his time is short and is stepping up his evil and murderous activity. I believe the shooter in Sutherland Springs was demon possessed and the killing stemmed from Satan’s rage against God people. The devil used his hatred to inflame not only the rage of this shooter but also to instill in him a total lack of pity for those he killed.

We see these types of attacks on Christians all throughout the world. A couple weeks ago, ISIS viciously attacked and killed 128 Christians in the Syrian town of Qaryatayn as they fled the city. Boko Haram and his men continue to brutally kill Christians by the hundreds in Nigeria. Do you remember the bombs that killed many Coptic Christians in Egypt during their Palm Sunday services earlier this year?

Brutal and Reckless

According to William Barclay, the word Paul used for brutal in 2 Timothy 3 “denotes a savagery which has neither sensitiveness nor sympathy.” It refers to a fierceness of character that displays a lack of human sympathy or feeling in its treatment of others. Does this not describe the shooter in Las Vegas as well? In both cases, these killers acted without the least bit of compassion toward their victims.

The word reckless in this passage describes someone falling headlong into something; it later came to define someone pursuing evil with great passion.  Barclay says this about it, “It describes the man who is swept on by passion and impulse to such an extent that he is totally unable to think sensibly.” This certainly fits with the demonic rage the Sutherland Springs shooter exhibited.

Jesus said that what we are seeing throughout our world today would happen in the last days just before His return.

In describing the end times Jesus said this, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another” (Matt. 24:9-for 10). Jesus said that what we are seeing throughout our world today would happen in the last days just before His return.

The Lord Sees

Long ago, the prophet Habakkuk complained about the “destruction and violence” he saw in Israel. Like today, he saw that the wicked often triumphed over the righteous so that “justice” was “perverted” (Hab. 1:3-4). The Lord’s response, in summary, was that He saw all the violence and perversion of justice. Because of evil rampant in Judah at the time, he would send the Babylonians to judge His people. They later came and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple taking many of the people captive back to Babylon.

Jesus is near to us in our pain; He never leaves or forsakes those of us who know Him.

The Lord sees the atrocities of our time. He also looks with compassion upon all our suffering; He deeply feels the sorrow of the survivors in Sutherland Springs. In Psalm 34:18 David said this, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Jesus is near to us in our pain; He never leaves or forsakes those of us who know Him.

Just as in the days of Habakkuk, the Lord will someday respond to the violence and great wickedness we see around us in the world. He sees the countless babies murdered in our abortion clinics. He sees the deadly rampages of sick evil men. He sees a culture that has lost its way and fallen into all sorts of deviant behavior. At just the right time, Jesus will totally destroy the kingdom of darkness responsible for all this rebellion against Him.

Is this not why the coming time of tribulation described in Scripture will result in so much devastation? Jesus will have His day. After exacting judgments on sinful humanity and the domain of Satan, He will return with unimaginable power and glory. His kingdom will someday fill the earth with righteousness and justice. He will reign for a thousand years and then forevermore.

We Have Hope of a Better Day

We have hope; this life is not all we have. Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul had already suffered greatly when he wrote this. Later, Nero beheaded him. Even so, he regarded all this affliction (and martyrdom) as “not worth comparing with” all the wonders and joys that awaited him in eternity.

A much better day is coming. In eternity, God “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” (Rev. 21:4).

Jesus sees all our tears and someday will replace them with exceeding joy.

This picture is a far cry from our current experience, from the headlines of our day. Yet, this is our hope because we belong to Christ. The suffering and death of this current world is just a temporal fleeting reality. In God’s eternal day, we will see His purposes behind all that we suffered on earth. Jesus sees all our tears and someday will replace them with exceeding joy.

Yes, the brutality we witnessed in Sutherland Springs was horrific; I cannot even begin to imagine the horror of being in that church when the shooter arrived. Jesus, however, saw all that happened and not only is He comforting the victims in heaven, He will wipe out all such evil in His kingdom and then forevermore.

Revelation 6:10 gives voice to the martyred tribulation saints in heaven, “They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” I wonder if the recently martyred saints in our world are saying something similar before God’s throne in heaven.

Those of us still in shock due to the violence we see in places such as Sutherland Springs ask, “How long before you come and take us home, O Lord? How long before you bring your justice to this wicked, violent, and rebellious world? How long before you establish your righteous rule over the nations of the earth?”

Jesus last words to His church were “Surely I am coming soon.” To which John added, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

Is this not our hope? Someday Jesus will correct all the wrongs of our current world; those who know Jesus will rest with Him forever experiencing sweet relief from the suffering and pain of this life.

How long until then?

Maranatha!!

 

Prison to Paradise

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During our visit to Savannah, Georgia last year, my wife and I came across a painting, La Parabola, at the Telfair Academy for art. The painting, shown above, depicts the entire life of a woman in two separate panels. I felt a sense of sadness as I initially studied the painting.

Cesare Laurenti (1854-1936), who painted La Parabola in about 1895, intended his work to depict the progression of “human life . . . The race toward pleasure, until clouds of weighty thoughts and sorrow come to disturb the serenity of the young soul.” On the left panel, we see a young girl racing toward adulthood and the joys of romance. On the right, we see images of the same woman ever advancing in age toward death.

Is this not why our hope matters so much? If this painting represents the totality of our existence, we have no hope.

But because of Jesus, such is not the case. He is alive and we will be with Him, perhaps soon. This is the resurrection hope of 1 Corinthians 15; all believers will someday have an immortal body just like His.

So, you might ask. What is the big deal? Don’t all believers see this? Yes . . . and No.

So many believers today live as though this world is all they have. They live their lives inside the one-world perspective of Laurenti’s painting seeing only their slow and painful progress through this life. They voice a belief about heaven, but it fails to impact their lives. Without a focus on Jesus’ return and life with Him in eternity, the hopes of so many believers becomes earthbound, wrapped up solely in worldly outcomes that often lead to despair.

A One-World Outlook

The problem with living with such a one-world outlook is that it offers no vision of the joys of eternity. It’s like a prison from which one cannot escape. Sure there are many good experiences along with the bad as we progress through life, but without a heartfelt anticipation of the excitement of eternity, we remain trapped in life’s slow progression not unlike what is depicted in the painting by Cesare Laurenti.

It’s when we lose sight of the non-ending joy ahead for us that our losses become unbearable, our fears overwhelming, and our frustrations with life greater than we think we can bear.

Years ago, experienced the futility of living life in just such a way. As a young pastor, I welted under the weight of tragic circumstances that entered my life. Even though I loved to teach about future things, I still lived with a one-world perspective. When my life turned upside down, to put it mildly, I lost sight of forever. I lived as though only this life mattered.

I longed for earthly success at the expense walking faithfully with the Lord with a focus upon what He had for me both here and forever.

My response to the turmoil in my life demonstrated that my hope had not reached my heart. I was not yet living with a two-world outlook on life. I longed for earthly success at the expense walking faithfully with the Lord with a focus upon what He had for me both here and forever.

A Two-World Perspective

It was when I took the two-world perspective of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 to heart that the Lord began His work of healing in my heart. I finally understood the truth of Paul’s words in Romans 8:18 that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”

As I grasped the importance of the unseen eternal realities versus my temporal pursuits, my fears became far less daunting and my frustrations with life eventually faded away. My losses were very significant, but when I weighted them against the glory of eternity and God’s eternal purposes they diminished both in scope and importance.

Beginning with Jesus’ return for us, we have a hope more wondrous than we can imagine.

I finally saw the futility of living as though everything depended on what happened to me in this life or on what I could accomplish. So what if I got all that I wanted? Did it really make a difference from the standpoint of eternity or two thousand years from now? How could that compare to living a life of trust dependent on Jesus? What will matter the most in eternity when I stand before the Lord?

Beginning with Jesus’ return for us, we have a hope more wondrous than we can imagine. This is why New Testament believers looked forward to Jesus’ appearing to take them home with such great anticipation. This lifted their gaze upward in the midst of great persecution found comfort and encouragement to continue taking courageous stands for the Lord.

We find this eager anticipation all through the New Testament.  In Philippians 3:20 Jesus said, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The sense here is of eagerly anticipating Jesus’ return as in 1 Corinthians 1:7 as well.

In Titus 2:13 Paul describes believers as “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Jesus’ return is our blessed hope. We will someday share in His resurrection life. Jesus is our blessed hope; He is coming to take us to be Him (John 14:1-3).

Our hope matters. This is why Satan does everything he can to take our eyes off of it. First, he introduces false teachings into the church that focus believers solely on earthly dreams. If Jesus has already returned, as some false teachers proclaim, then what do we have to look forward to? Are we not back to living bound to the ups and downs of whatever comes our way locked into a one-world perspective?

Second, if the devil cannot dissuade us through such false ideas, he does all he can to take our eyes off the great joy ahead for us. He will keep our focus on the prison of this life rather than the joyous paradise that awaits us.

The Path to Paradise

Years ago, John J. Davis wrote a commentary on Genesis called Paradise to Prison. The title, of course, depicts the effect of sin on the human race. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in paradise, the Garden of Eden. Sin entered the world and along with it death. Adam and Eve did not die right away, but became trapped in the path toward death with no escape. They found themselves imprisoned by their rebellion against God.

It’s Jesus, however, who turns our prison into a sure hope of dwelling in paradise forever.

We are not any better off for knowing Christ if an eternal and resurrected life is not in our future.

Paul said this, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Why? If we have no hope beyond our current lives, we remain trapped in the prison of sin and death that entered the world with Adam and Eve. We are not any better off for knowing Christ if an eternal and resurrected life is not in our future.

But such is not the case; in Jesus this is precisely the sure outcome of His salvation.

Jesus is the only way to this eternal life, to the paradise that awaits us beyond the here and now. He is the reason we can endure all our afflictions and setbacks. We know a better day is coming. We will spend eternity with Him experiences joy beyond what we can imagine.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Are you looking forward to paradise after death? Jesus died a cruel death on the cross so we could receive eternal life. He rose again confirming the validity of all His promises.

If you have not yet done so, please turn to Him before it is too late. He is waiting for you!

 

 

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).

 

Was Life Ever Meant to Be Fair?

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Obsession. I think that in many ways this describes the day in which we live. People become obsessed with an idea, interest, desire, or emotion and soon it dominates social media and the news as it consumes everyone’s attention. Everyone reading this post likely knows the nature of the current obsession.

I admit that the sight of NFL players disrespecting our flag and nation greatly distresses me; I do not like it. But I also see a greater danger in the ridiculous proportions to which this controversy has grown.

People all around us are hurting and suffering; life is not easy.

It’s taking our attention away from what really matters. People all around us are hurting and suffering; life is not easy. Current day obsessions from whatever the source do not help anyone; they only further divide already bitter and angry people.

The Lord never promises us that everything will be fair or just in this life; however, He promises us something much, much, much better than that. . . .

Hope

Hope in Jesus. This is where our focus belongs. I was drawn to Romans 8:18-25 this morning.  If anyone, apart from Jesus that is, had reason to complain about life being unfair, it was the Apostle Paul; he suffered greatly for the cause of the Gospel. Notice, however, his perspective in the midst of his great affliction, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us’ (Rom. 8:18).

Wow! It was hope of a better day that kept Paul looking upward in the midst of his tribulation-filled life.

Paul said that it’s not only creation that currently groans awaiting a better day, but we also groan in our hope of Jesus’ appearing, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). Paul endured the bitter unfairness of life because he knew a better day was coming, one in which his adoption in God’s family would be made wonderfully complete and he would possess an immortal body that would forever enjoy the delights of eternity.

Sadly, so much focus rests on this life, even in most churches.  Notice, however, Paul’s words in verse 24, “For in this hope we were saved. . . .” Hope in Jesus’ return for us is a key part of the Gospel; it’s the future tense of the Gospel. It’s the substance of our hope that both sustains us in this life and points us to a glorious future.

There was a time in my life when amidst great suffering I foolishly lost sight of my hope and became angry with God because of the unjust treatment I felt I had received.

Now, however, I recognize God’s loving hand in all I endured as well as my extreme foolishness for doubting His unfailing love for me. It was my hope in the Lord’s sure promises of a better day, along with His direct deliverance and healing, that eventually changed my perspective.

Paradise

Jesus promises us something infinitely better than a fair or just or even a comfortable life. He has graciously given us eternal life and someday, when He returns, He will take us home to be with Him forever and ever. This will be glorious beyond anything we can now imagine and will more than make up for the suffering of this life.

Yes, there is great joy in walking with Jesus in this life as He comforts us in sorrow, calms our fears, heals our wounds, strengthens us to meet the challenges of the day, and gives us peace in the midst of storms. An even greater joy, however, awaits us at Jesus’ return as we will experience His presence more fully and wonderfully than ever before. What we experience now in our walk with Him is simply a foretaste of what is coming.

Anger and bitter dissatisfaction with life crosses all divides, which is why we need a hope that does the same.

It’s not just NFL players; I see frustration, anger, bitter dissatisfaction with life, and hopelessness everywhere I look (often it’s on Facebook or Twitter). It crosses all divides, which is why we need a hope that does the same. The Lord’s invitation of life is open to all.

Paradise is coming for all who know Jesus as their Savior; but this never-ending time of fullness and satisfaction will never happen this side of eternity no matter how hard anyone tries to make it happen. It’s simply impossible; it cannot happen.

If you have never put your faith in Him, please do so before it is too late. Apart from Christ, any hope you have in this life or for the next will surely vanish like a vapor.

Life on earth ends, but Jesus offers life both now and forever. He offers hope in the midst of despair and deliverance from the wrath that is to come.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Is your trust in Him alone and nothing else for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life?