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?

 

 

The Nightmares of Yesterday

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As I drove away I thought, “My faded memories of yesterday are real, not just bad nightmares from so long ago.” I had gone back to the town and to the church building where I was the pastor many years ago. I remembered my high hopes and great excitement for the new ministry opportunity. I absolutely loved being a pastor and desired to accomplish great things for the Lord. Everything in my life suddenly turned upside down while there, however, rivaling any bad dream of my past.

I also felt a deep sense of peace and calmness in my heart on my way back home. Yes, the trials were exceedingly painful and severe, but the Lord had delivered me through all of them. The restoring process was quite long, but Jesus has healed me from all the wounds and resulting fears and panic attacks.

During the long healing process, I wrote the story below for myself, to focus my thoughts on the future rather than on what had happened in my past. Perhaps this is why biblical prophecy remains such a passion of mine; it continues my focus on the future.

Here is what I wrote about 25 years ago:

____________________

The Land of What Will Be

The past is a lonely place. We so often journey to this land by ourselves, relive its memories in the solitude of our minds, and linger there, thinking about what might have been.

This barren land of What Might Have Been bears a striking resemblance to Neverland where Peter Pan fled to escape reality. Like boys refusing to grow up, we so often refuse to let go of the faded dreams of our past, now only a faint memory. We tenaciously hold on to the past not realizing that there is only air in our hands. I know; I have visited this deserted isle many times.

Our stay in the land of What Might Have Been is risky. There the pirate of our souls attacks us with his sharp arrows:

“You fool! You should have known better.”

“HA! You got what you deserved.”

“You are the guilty one!”

“It’s all your fault, you know, you should have seen it coming.”

And on it goes in the land of What Might Have Been. No overgrown boy in tights flies to our rescue in this realm. We are there seemingly all alone, feeling the pain, shouldering the burden, and soaking our pillows with tears.

Failed plans, broken relationships, crushed dreams, and telephone conversations with old friends can all take us back to this desolate isle where hard as we might try, nothing changes.

There is another land, however, called What Will Be. It’s a joyful place. Those burdened with the past rarely feel the great joy and happiness of this brighter shore.

Two Men on a Journey

There were two men, however, who with help were able to leave the barren land of What Might Have Been and experience the joy of the land of What Will Be.

As we join these men traveling to their home in the early evening, we notice their heads hanging low. They are despondent, like many of us at times. As tears run down their cheeks, they rehearse the events of the past few days. The one who was to save their nation had been killed, put to death as a common villain.

“If only . . . . If only he had lived. What would it have been like? Freedom from bondage. A safe home for our people. If only he were still alive. Can you imagine how great that would be?”

As they languished in the land of What Might Have Been, a familiar stranger approached from behind and asks, “What are you guys talking about?”

“Are you the only one in this country who does not know what has happened these past several days, how Jesus of Nazareth was betrayed and put to death?” they reply. “Now, to make matters worse, women have visited his tomb and reported that it is empty. They say an angel told them that He is alive. What could have happened to the body?”

Undaunted, the stranger becomes their teacher explaining the ancient Scriptures to them. “The prophets clearly foretold that the Messiah would have to suffer first, and then enter into His glory,” He tells them. Beginning with Moses, he then proceeds to give them a course on Old Testament prophecy far surpassing all that had ever been given since that time.

As the two men approach their home, they feel their hearts burning with hope. They invite the stranger in for supper; and there, as He gives thanks and breaks the bread, they recognize Him.

“This is our Master. He is alive! He has risen from the dead! He is here, in our home, eating at our table!”

As soon as these disciples recognized Jesus, He vanished. Immediately, they got up and raced back to Jerusalem, their feet barely touching the ground.[1]

Our Call to Hope

The same Savior who brought hope and joy to those saddened travelers so long ago knows all about our shattered dreams, crushed hopes, and troubled hearts. He comes alongside us in our pain and feels all the pangs of our loneliness.

Yet He also stands at the edge of the desolate land of What Might Have Been and bids us to leave this desolate territory.

It is not a call to fame and fortune, at least not in this life. We may discover that our circumstances do not change. They may even get worse. The disciples who reveled in the resurrection that first Sunday long ago would face years of persecution for their faith. Except for John who suffered banishment, they would all be put to death for proclaiming the resurrection.

What, then, is the appeal of the land of What Will Be? Hope!

This is not, however, the type of anticipation we think of when we express a desire that the weather will be sunny and warm tomorrow. It may storm all day or even snow.

This hope is certain. Our future joy is just as sure as Christ’s resurrection, which guarantees it with absolute certainty for all those who know Him.

But how does this hope sustain us?

The Example of Jesus

Jesus Himself gives us the best illustration of how it works.

First, consider all that He endured. Betrayed by a trusted companion. Condemned in phony and illegal trials, although He had never done anything wrong His entire life. Denied by a close friend. Beaten, whipped, and mocked by the very men He had created. Nailed to a cross, the cruelest form of execution ever imagined. Scoffed and ridiculed while gasping for air on a cross full of splinters. And worse of all, separated from His beloved Father in heaven.

How did He survive all that? What kept Him from losing His mind? How was He able to forgive and reach out to others in midst of such cruel torture?

Hebrews 12:2 explains how He did it, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Can you imagine a joy so great as to carry someone through all that torment, grief, and agony? Jesus could.

And the good news is that He is willing to share it with us. On the night He was betrayed, Jesus spoke of His home in heaven (the place of joy that sustained Him on the cross) and promised His followers that He would return to take them to a special place He was preparing for them inside that home.[2]

The glory of this future gathering in heaven caused the Apostle Paul to proclaim that the sufferings of this life were really nothing compared to the joy and splendor we will experience in eternity.[3] (If you think Paul had an easy life, read II Corinthians 11:23-33.) Jesus revealed to Paul that the future joy of eternity would make his enormous earthly afflictions seem small in comparison.

Our Eternal Hope

Our hope is this: Jesus has shed His own blood so that we might possess eternal life and enjoy a future joy far beyond anything we can imagine here on earth. And He has risen from the dead to demonstrate that this is no pie in the sky promise. It is real. It is certain. He is coming again.

Will we return to the land of What Might Have Been in a vain attempt to recapture failed dreams? Will we put our ultimate hope in earthly tomorrows that hold no certain promise except that they themselves may someday become candidates for the bleak realm of What Might Have Been?

Will we let Jesus transform our grief into joy as we look forward to the tremendous joys of eternity awaiting all who know Him as their Savior?

Or, will we place our trust in the One who has cancelled all the charges against us and promised us a certain and secure future, one that even the worst of circumstances on earth cannot destroy? Will we fix our eyes on eternity and let that gaze be our strength in a troubled world? Will we let Jesus transform our grief into joy as we look forward to the tremendous joys of eternity awaiting all who know Him as their Savior?

We have a choice. We can remain in the land of What Might Have Been and let the enemy of our souls ravage us with his relentless charges. Or, we can put our lives in the hands of a loving and gracious Savior who longs for us to experience the love, forgiveness, and joy He so freely offers to all who trust Him. The land of What Will Be is real and a place of overwhelming joy and all-encompassing hope.

____________________

This forward gaze to eternity sparked considerable healing in my life in the years after I wrote this story. This is one reason I am so passionate about writing about our hope. It’s not just a matter for theologians to debate, it’s something that redeems our troubled past, relieves our fears of the future, and gives us an unfailing hope for what lies ahead. This is why I write about our thrilling hope; it’s so much more than theology to me!

Where is your ultimate hope today? Does it rest in this troubled and chaotic world or in Jesus and His promises of a glorious eternity?

    [1]Luke 24:13-35

    [2]John 14:2, 3

    [3]Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17, 18

I Know Him

I know Whom2

During the past several weeks, I have been writing about the resurrection and what it means regarding our beliefs about Jesus, His authority, His teaching, and His views of Scripture. I believe this represents a missing link both in the church and in our nation today. So many want to claim Jesus as a good teacher, but yet fail to believe what He says about so many things. Many Christians worship Him while at the same time expressing disbelief in many of His teachings.

A couple weeks ago, an old hymn came to my mind called I know Whom I Have Believed by Daniel W. White. The song reminded me of another reason why I trust the words of Jesus; it’s because I know Him. I have absolute confidence in my risen Savior, the One I have walked with for so many years.

Jesus said this in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” For years, I thought this referred exclusively to some sort of inner calling; I sometimes wondered if I was missing out on things He was saying to me.

We hear His voice as we read Scripture and know it is him speaking to us.

Then I realized that this verse refers to His voice regardless of how it comes to us. It includes the conviction inside our hearts that His words are true. We hear His voice as we read Scripture and know it is him speaking to us. Yes, the resurrection confirms His divinity and authority, but there’s still that inner witness of the Holy Spirit testifying to the truthfulness of His words as we read them in the Bible.

He Keeps His Promises

The words to the chorus of I know Whom I Have Believed come from the King James translation of 2 Timothy 1:12 where Paul says, “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” Other versions see this as the Lord keeping the Gospel message He had entrusted to Paul.

Regardless of the translation, the words point to the fact that the Lord keeps His promises. It’s curious that all the verses to the song start out with “I know not” signifying things we may not fully understand or know. We do know, however, the object of our faith and we are “persuaded” He is able to keep all the promises He has made to us. That’s the essence of our hope, is it not?

He’s Coming Again

I like the words to the last verse: “I know not when my Lord may come / At night or noonday fair / Nor if I walk the vale with Him / Or meet Him in the air.”

We may not know when He is coming, but we know for sure that Jesus is returning for us someday.  So much has occurred since this song was written in 1883 to make us believe the Lord may come for His church quite soon. But as the song says, whether we die beforehand or meet Him in the air, our hope is unshakable and unfailing. He’s coming again.

The Lord keeps His promises; He is returning to take us home just as He promised us in John 14:1-3.

Recent events have highlighted the uncertainties of this life. The devastation and flooding wrought by Hurricane Harvey shows how quickly the things around us can perish. The violence on the streets of many cities makes us wonder how much longer our nation can endure with such deep divisions. When I look at the scourge of abortion and the imposing of transgenderism upon our young children, I wonder how much longer the Lord will hold back His judgment upon our country.

Come what will around me, “I know whom I have believed.” That’s more than enough for me.

There are many things I do not know. Life is uncertain. But I do know the object of my faith and I know He will keep all the loving promises He has made to me and will not fail to take me home someday.  Come what will around me, “I know whom I have believed.” That’s more than enough for me.

 

A Story of God’s Faithfulness

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Irma Jean Wessels was a friend of my mom while I was growing up in Rockford, Illinois. I had not thought of her for many years until last Sunday when our pastor read Luke 18:28-30 as a part of his sermon. There, in response to Peter pointing out his sacrifice in following the Savior, Jesus responded with these words, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

I am not sure if I heard Miss Wessels talk about this passage in our home or in public, but these words certainly came true in her life as she later recounted. Let’s start from the beginning of her story (based on what I remember).

In the mid 1950’s she was the principal of the grade school where I would later attend. My father was actively involved with the school board of this country school and that is likely where her connection to my family began. God called her to serve as missionary to India and she was already overseas by the time I started grade school.

Knowing that she was single, one day I asked my mom if she ever had a boyfriend. I guess I was just curious. My mom said that she was in love once, but her boyfriend did not feel the same calling to serve as a missionary. Irma Jean remained faithful to her calling although it must have been difficult to leave for India all alone. She felt some sadness, but, I am getting ahead of the story.

Once on the field, things changed dramatically in her location in India. A revolution in Tibet brought many refugees into the area where she was stationed, including a large number of Tibetan orphans. The mission organization under which she served decided to start a boarding school for these orphans. Because of Miss Wessel’s experience as a principal, she became head of the new school.

In the years that followed, she had a remarkable impact on the children who came under her care. Many came to know the Lord as their Savior and her loving devotion to them even caught the attention of the Dalai Lama of Tibet who formally recognized her service in educating these children.

Many came to know the Lord as their Savior and her loving devotion to them even caught the attention of the Dalai Lama of Tibet who formally recognized her service in educating these children.

I remember attending a PTA meeting at the grade school I attended. Back on furlough, Irma took up the entire time telling the parents about her time as a missionary in India. As the former principal of the school, she had the opportunity to share her story of what had happened and about all God was doing for these Tibetan children.

She later brought one of these orphans to the United States to train at a Bible school so he could later return and minister among his people. Since I was close in age to him, I spent a day with him while Irma Jean and her mom visited with my mom.

But how, you might be wondering, does her story relate to Luke 18:29-30? Miss Wessels later recounted how she felt sadness as she arrived in India. Because she remained unmarried, it seemed unlikely she would ever have any children of her own. It was not long, however, before she became a surrogate mother to scores of Tibetan children.

These verses came vividly to life for her one day as she was teaching several Tibetan girls how to sew. She suddenly realized that the Lord had given her an abundance of children. When she left for India, she thought she was giving up hope of ever being a mother. God, however, rewarded her with many more children than she could ever have imagined. He turned her sadness into great joy.

I have long since lost contact with her. I know that after many years of leading the school for these children she returned to the states and became active in missions at home. She also married later in her life.

While we look forward to rewards in eternity for our faithfulness, it’s not beyond the love and grace of our Father to reward us in this life by giving us a taste of the joys that will forever be ours once Jesus returns to take us home to be with Him.