The Vending Machine Approach

Vending Machine

Have you ever thought of God as a vending machine? Oh, this may not have been your conscious thought at the time, it wasn’t with me, but you believed if you behaved in a certain way the Lord would bless you with a trouble-free life or reward your service in some way. The money goes into the machine and out comes the blessing you desire or perhaps think you deserve.

That was me as a young pastor. Although I truly loved the Lord at the time, I possessed a faulty view of what it meant to walk with Him.

I expected God to bless me because of my behavior and when that did not happen I spiraled deep into despair in the midst of extreme adversity. Yes, the events in my life would have caused much distress without my faulty view of God, but my “good behavior in and blessings out” approach to walking with the Lord led to so much additional pain at the time as well as a loss of hope in my future.

As I studied the lives of several Bad guys of the Bible, I found that King Saul of ancient Israel approached God in precisely the same way. To my dismay, I discovered I was like him in many ways.

This is why I wrote Shipwrecked! There is so much insight we can gain from looking at where King Saul and other bad guys of the Bible went astray.

I also saw the danger of relying on religious behavior versus trusting God and His character. It did not end well for Saul who thought his sacrifice would deliver Israel from the Philistines rather than the God he was disobeying at the time.

This is why I wrote Shipwrecked! There is so much insight we can gain from looking at where King Saul and other bad guys of the Bible went astray. They dealt with the same emotions we feel and through their negative examples teach us the importance of not letting those feelings dictate our thoughts and actions and thereby shipwreck our lives.

For us as New Testament saints, they remind us of applying the Gospel to our everyday lives ever mindful of all the Lord has done for us in completely and forever obliterating all our many sins.

Shipwrecked! is available on Amazon.com and on the Bold Vision Books website. You can also order the book through your local Barnes and Noble book store.

A sample from my book Shipwrecked! can be found on the “Shipwrecked!” page of my blog, now titled Our Journey Home.

Please stay tuned as several exciting upgrades are on the way for my website during the next month.

What Brings Us Joy?

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Do you ever have times when a line from Scripture jumps out at you and cannot get past it in your thoughts? One morning this past week was such a time. As I was reading in Proverbs 10, the first line of verse 26 struck me in such a way. It says, “The hope of the righteous brings joy.”

Our hope brings us joy; the anticipation of Jesus’ appearing and all that He has promised us for all eternity.

It’s the specifics of our hope that inspire me when I get out of bed in the morning. They are the reason I am able to joyously look beyond the impact of aging on my body. They are the reason I still feel young at heart and enjoy silliness, laughter, and having fun. Christ has redeemed the inner me and given it eternal life. Time is irrelevant to my spirit; my inner being does not have to age along with my body.

This is why something deep inside me groans when preachers gloss over biblical references to Jesus’ appearing to take us home or when popular authors ignore the matter altogether. Are they not doing a disservice to the body of Christ by keeping the hopes and joys of their audience pinned to the things of this life? I believe so!

A glorious day of redemption is coming (see Rom.  8:23-25). It’s the time we receive our glorified bodies and experience total wholeness not only physically but also emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. It’s when we will be forever free from the very presence of sin.

I cannot wait until I have the opportunity to preach again and excitedly proclaim the joy that comes from focusing on our hope of Jesus’ return to take us home, to the place He is specially preparing for us (see John 14:1-3). What wonder awaits us when we return with Him to earth and experience the incredible joys of the kingdom?

Can we even imagine the excitement of reigning alongside Christ with physical bodies like His?

Yes, our hope should bring us incredible joy. We should be jumping up and down with excitement.

Please Note: I am going to be updating my blog soon with a new title: Our Journey Home. The emphasis will still be on a two-world perspective and include our walk with God in anticipation of unending joy and glory.

 

What’s Your Destination?

Destination3

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?

 

 

Prophetic Rumblings 2018

The post below is by Terry James who is an author, speaker, and co-administrator of the Rapture Ready website. I thought you might enjoy his thoughts on the year ahead.

Terry James Prophecy Line

The Devil at 4 O’Clock is a 1961 movie starring Frank Sinatra and Spencer Tracy. It involves three prisoners who are brought to an island in the South Pacific. The prisoners are to help evacuate a colony of children with leprosy from the island, which is on the verge of exploding because it is one enormous volcano.

The ground quakes constantly. Ominous rumbling in the background makes clear the urgency to evacuate. All on the island are doomed who are not removed in time.

This is one of my favorite movies. I have thought about it over the years, have even included it in writing these commentaries and in books. The analogy can’t be missed. Planet earth is a volcanic island in the vast sea of the cosmos. Rumblings that are increasing and the quaking that is being felt makes the diligent student of Bible prophecy from the Pre-Trib perspective…

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End Times . . . or Just The Way It Has Always Been?

Signs

Do you remember the song “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band? This popular tune made it all the way to number 3 on the Billboard charts during the summer and fall of 1971. The refrain concludes with the words, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, sign, sign, sign.”

Now that I have that song firmly ensconced in your mind, I will move on to a different type of sign that I see everywhere I look. These multiple signs point to the coming tribulation and the end of the age.

I believe there is something radically different about what we are now witnessing today in our world.

Many today ignore these signs believing that our day is no different than any other previous time in history.  I beg to differ with this sentiment. I believe there is something radically different about what we are now witnessing today in our world.

The signs we see today differ in many ways from any previous time in history. We see it in the exactness with which Old Testament prophecies are coming alive before our eyes. We see it in the increased intensity and frequency of the signs Jesus gave to us. We see it in the great number of signs that all point to the rapidly approaching tribulation.

Consider the following examples.

The Alliance of Russia, Iran, and Turkey

Ezekiel 38 predicts a latter day invasion of Israel led by a coalition of Russia, Iran, and Turkey. It’s almost as if the prophet was reading news stories from just last week. On November 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Turkish President Erdogan met together at the Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi to discuss the future of Syria, where all three have a significant military presence. They have no intent of leaving, only that of increasing their power in the nation.

This public display of harmony between all three nations is exactly what we would expect ahead of the battle of Gog and Magog in light of Ezekiel 38-39. Such unity signifies, for example, that if Israel attacks Iran the other countries would respond as well. Russia made that clear a couple weeks ago and now Turkey is also a part of this alliance.

It’s possible that this accord could dissolve and their armies could leave Syria. However, it’s much, much more likely this indicates that the assault against Israel predicted by Ezekiel could become a reality in the coming months or years.

Why Would They Attack Israel?

The next question is this: why would they attack Israel? Are we seeing events that could spark the war of Ezekiel 38? Yes!

The Times of Israel this week reported the warning Benjamin Netanyahu gave to Syrian President Bashar Assad. He said that if he allows Iran to set up a permanent military presence near Damascus, Israel will intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war. Is this a serious threat? Absolutely! Netanyahu will attack if Iran continues to build up its forces so close to his nation’s border.

Satellite images confirm that Iran is setting up a large military camp near Damascus, just thirty miles from the Israeli border. The warning by Netanyahu this week is just one of many he has made regarding the expanding Iranian presence so close to Israel.

Do you see how this could lead to a much greater conflict? With Russia and Turkey now so closely aligned with Iran, they would certainly join in responding to the attack along with the other Muslim nations mentioned in Ezekiel 38 who seize the opportunity to take part in destroying Israel.

The prophet says that God will allure Gog, the head of Russia, into the battle because of the spoil he could gain from the invasion (Ezek. 38:12). Until recent years, Israel has never possessed the type of wealth that would interest her enemies. Now they do. Israel possesses a large deposit of natural gas just off her shore and a massive reservoir of oil under the Golan Heights.

These are exactly the two things Putin desires and needs to help his flailing economy. Furthermore, possession of Israel’s oil would greatly enhance his standing as the world’s new “energy czar,” a title Putin recently appropriated for himself. Do you see the preciseness of Ezekiel’s prophecy in these events? I could write for several more pages about how the nations are lining up exactly as Ezekiel predicted.

Wars, Wars, and Wars

On Tuesday of this past week, North Korea launched a missile many believe is capable of reaching any city in the United States. They also have a hydrogen bomb that is capable of totally destroying cities anywhere on the globe.

Yes, we have always heard threats of war throughout history, but the current ones differ in intensity such as not seen since the cold war. With North Korea possessing such deadly weapons, tens of millions could die instantly in a war with them. With so many nations possessing nuclear warheads, the threat of potential devastation is something the world has never seen before now. Not only does this fulfill Jesus’ words regarding wars (Matt. 24:6-8), but also the potential for all humanity to die (24:22).

Besides the daily threats of wars and even rumors of WW III starting soon, numerous wars are already in progress. At this moment, there are 17 wars taking place with at least one thousand deaths in the past 12 months. That number jumps to 45 if we make the minimum deaths one hundred in number.

The Shaking

Jesus said that earthquakes of increasing frequency and intensity would mark the last days before His return (Matt. 24:7). Not only would they resemble birth pains in this regard, they would occur in a wide variety of places.

Is this not what we are seeing today? Earthquakes are becoming much more numerous than ever before in history and occurring with greater intensity as well. In the past seven days, there have been 130 earthquakes in the world with an intensity of 4.0 or greater. An earthquake occurred in Dover, DE of all places just this past week.

California has seen a dramatic increase in minor earthquakes during the past month and as many as one hundred in just the past week. This has intensified fears that the long anticipated major earthquake could occur quite soon, perhaps within weeks.

Scientists expect we will see a significant increase in catastrophic earthquakes during 2018 due to an ever so slight slowing of the earth’s rotation, this added on to their already historic frequency and intensity.

This trend of more frequent and severe earthquakes will continue on into the tribulation.

One World

During the tribulation, the antichrist will setup a one world government supported by a one world religion. Do we see evidence of this happening today as never before? Absolutely!

The UN 2030 agenda calls for precisely such a world order by the year 2030. Almost every world leader supports this goal as do the major banking powers in Europe. The leaders of both major political parties in America agree with this strategy, which is why they bitterly oppose the “Make America Great” strategy of President Donald Trump, which has temporarily interfered with their plans.

Pope Francis has been quite vocal in the past several years calling for both a new world order as well as a one world religion. Never before in history have we seen a high ranking religious leader calling for such a government or for all faiths to unite as one such as prophesied for the coming tribulation.

Yes, this has been building for a long time. But now, as never before, everything is ready for the implementation of this new world order.

Technology

The advances in technology make it entirely possible now for the coming antichrist to control buying and selling throughout the world. Some companies are already implanting chips in their employees such as what will happen worldwide during the tribulation.

One commercial shows a man walking through a grocery store, filling his pockets with various items, and walking right out the door. At first you think he is a shoplifter, but then the security officer tells him he forgot his receipt. Chips on him and his purchases instantly recorded the payment from his account for everything he purchased.

With the advances in artificial intelligence, it’s becoming increasing possible for someone to control all buying and selling worldwide from one central location. We have never before seen such capability to fulfill the words of Revelation 13:15-18.

The advances in artificial intelligence are mind boggling. One person recently started a new religion to worship it. This has the word tribulation written all over it!

There is a great difference in the signs we see today of the approaching tribulation.

There is a great difference in the signs we see today of the approaching tribulation. I have just scratched the surface of all the prophetic indicators that this time of great turmoil upon the earth could start at any moment. The preciseness of prophetic fulfillment abounds as well as the increase in frequency and intensity of the signs just as Jesus said would happen at the end of the age. This all points to the soon return of Jesus for His church, which I believe will occur before the tribulation, which seems to be much closer than many realize.

I admit that I also struggle with what is happening in our world. On the one hand, the signs seem so strong that I wonder if we will even see Christmas this year before Jesus comes for us. On the other hand, I know He could hit the pause button, give people more time to repent, and as a result we may see more holidays before Christ appears.

Are you ready if Jesus should come today? Is your trust for eternal life solely in Jesus and His saving work on your behalf? With all the indicators pointing to His soon return, you may not have tomorrow. Can you really take the chance that Jesus will delay His arrival any longer?

 

 

 

What About Jesus?

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Many people today do not believe in a millennial kingdom. They believe Jesus will return at a distant future time, judge humanity, and bring in the eternal state.

We refer to those to teach such a view as amillennialists because they do not believe in a future kingdom in which Jesus will rule over the world seated upon the throne of David. They believe God rejected Israel after His people spurned and crucified His Son. As a result, the church now fulfills the kingdom promises made to Israel, but in a spiritual and allegorical sense rather than in a literal way.

While I strongly disagree with these teachers regarding God’s rejection of Israel, there is something I believe they overlook. They fail to consider the Old Testament promises made to the Messiah that are separate from the ones God made to Israel.

In order to be an amillennialist, you must negate Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus as well as God’s promises of a future kingdom for Israel.

The Promise of The Father

In Psalm 2, The Father promises the Son all the nations of the world as His “heritage.” Beginning in verse 7 we read, “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.’” The Father makes this pledge to the Son independent of His everlasting covenant with Israel.

The rest of Psalm 2 makes it clear that this is not a spiritual reign, but a physical reign over actual nations with kings. Verse 9 states, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” This does not sound like His headship of the church to me. The Psalmist is warning the kings of the earth to “serve the Lord with fear” (vv. 10-11). The Father promised His Son an actual government with authority over all the rulers of the earth.

If you deny the reality of the millennium, how do you deal with God the Father breaking His promise to His Son that He would receive such a kingdom?

If you deny the reality of the millennium, how do you deal with God the Father breaking His promise to His Son that He would receive such a kingdom? I do not think you can do that.

Does this not also explain Satan tempting Jesus with the “kingdoms of the world” in Matthew 4:8-11? He offered Jesus a shortcut to what the Father had already promised Him. Why tempt Jesus in this way if He had no aspirations for or promises about ruling over the nations of the world at a future time?

A Child Who Would Rule

Almost every believer is familiar with Isaiah 9:6-7. We hear these verses read every year around the time of Christmas and if we listen to Handel’s “Messiah,” we hear the words put to glorious music.

We celebrate the fulfillment of the first two lines of the prophecy, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” We regard Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem as the exact fulfillment of these words.

Without the millennium, several of the promises regarding the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6-7 are now null and void.

Most people, however, give little thought to how Jesus might fulfill the promise that someday this “child” would be the head of an actual “government” sitting upon ‘the throne of David.” The rest of the passage speaks to Jesus being King over a real, physical kingdom. If Jesus literally fulfilled the first two lines of this prophecy, why do some believe He will not literally fulfill the rest of the passage? Where do we draw the line between taking the words of the prophet literally and figuratively in in this passage?

Without the millennium, several of the promises regarding the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6-7 are now null and void. Remember, this is a prophecy regarding the Messiah, not Israel. If we deny a future kingdom to Israel, what do we do Isaiah’s prophecy that the Christ would someday sit on the throne of David as the head of an actual government?

Jesus as Judge

In ancient Israel, the king acted as both ruler and the ultimate judge of the land presiding over the most difficult cases. Do you remember King Solomon deciding the case between the two women who both claimed the living baby? This is an example of how the ancient kings took on the role of a magistrate.

Keeping this in mind, here is what Isaiah also prophesied regarding Jesus, “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth, and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Isa. 11:3-4). The prophet gives us a clear picture of Jesus acting as a judge over all the earth.

This is not a picture of a future judgment; this is the Christ fulfilling His role as ruler over all the earth doing what such a king would do. Like the kings of old, He is administering justice on behalf of his subjects.

This passage does not fit with Jesus’ headship over the church. It also does not match with anything He has done since His resurrection. These verses from Isaiah 11 look forward to a time when Jesus will be the Supreme Ruler over all the earth administering justice and righteousness for all people.

King Over All the Earth

Zechariah 14:9 says this, “And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.” If we look at the context of Zechariah 14, it’s clear that this reference is to a physical kingdom with Jesus reigning over the nations of the world from Jerusalem.

While the context assumes a restored and repentant Israel, Zechariah directs these words to the Messiah; He alone is the subject of the prophecy. He will someday be king over all the earth and hold all the nations accountable to Him, just as we see later in the chapter (vv. 16-19).

Why do I believe in a literal millennium? Why am I a premillennialist who believes that Jesus will return after the tribulation to set up His rule for a thousand years?

To deny a literal millennium, one has to say that the Father will break His promise to the Son and that the prophecies of Jesus ruling over the nations of the earth are no longer valid.

First of all, I believe that all the Old Testament promises made to Israel remain intact. God has not rejected His people (Rom. 11:1) with whom He made an everlasting covenant (Psalm 105:8-11). But, that is the subject for another article.

Secondly, God the Father, through the prophets, promised that His Son would reign over the kingdoms of this world. Psalm 2 goes even further by stating that the Father would someday give the nations of the world to His Son as His “heritage.”

To deny a literal millennium, one has to say that the Father will break His promise to the Son and that the prophecies of Jesus ruling over the nations of the earth are no longer valid.

God has to break both His promises to Israel and to Jesus if there is no future kingdom over which Jesus will rule.

God will keep His promises to His Son as well as to Israel; there will be a millennium!

 

Premillennialism and the Reformation

1529MartinLuther

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reformers and Amillennialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaac Newton

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

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

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

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

Later Church History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Silence of the Shepherds

Sheep and lake

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

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

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

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

Jesus Commands Us to Watch and Be Ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound Teaching on Our Biblical Hope Prevents Doctrinal Error

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time to look up, is it not?

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

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

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

 

A  Crisis of Hope

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Photo by Pol Sifter

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

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

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

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

The Dangers of Anger

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

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

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

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

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

The Path of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Are These Perilous Times?

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

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

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

This Is a Sign of the Last Days

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Ready?

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

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

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

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

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