Understanding the Times Part Three: So What?

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So what???

So what if we do not hear sermons on prophecy?

As long as we are focused on the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission, does it really matter that so many preachers ignore our hope for eternity?

Isn’t it enough that people come to know the Lord as their Savior? Why do we need to venture into controversial matters such as the Rapture? Will that not detract from our message of hope for the world?

While it’s common to hear such reasoning, is it really scriptural? Are there valid reasons for preaching and teaching about the Lord’s return . . . even at the risk of “upsetting” some Christians?

Yes! Absolutely!

Here is why I believe it is so essential that we teach, preach, and write about Jesus’ return for us.

All Scripture . . .

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Since “all Scripture” is “profitable” for our maturity, for our spiritual growth, why would we ignore such a large portion of it?

The topic of Jesus’ return, and all the events surrounding it, is second only to salvation as the most dominant theme in the New Testament.

There are an estimated 1,845 verses in the Bible that speak to Jesus’ return. Seventeen Old Testament books deal prominently with this matter while 23 of the 27 New Testament books of the Bible refer to Jesus’ appearing for His church, the Second Coming, and the events surrounding His return. Dr. David Jeremiah, my source for this information, states that the topic of Jesus’ return, and all the events surrounding it, is second only to salvation as the most dominant theme in the New Testament.

My question is this: if all Scripture is “profitable” for us, does it not stand to reason that prophecy deserves our attention? Why would the Lord give us so much information regarding His return if He intended our church to remain silent on the topic? He gave us the Bible to build up the church in the faith and teachings on His return and eternity are a key part of the message intended to accomplish that goal.

How does Paul conclude the sections in 1 Thessalonians where he deals with the Rapture? He commands his readers to use the good news of Jesus’ appearing to encourage one another (4:18; 5:11). Our hope is to be a means of comforting each other through the storms of this life.

The Lord did not inspire large portions of Scripture dealing with His return simply to satisfy the curiosity of scholars; He did so to give us hope and bring us to maturity in Christ. Prophecy is not there just for the sake of speculation, it’s essential for building us up in our faith.

Not only does Scripture emphasize the Lord’s return and our hope for eternity, it’s something Jesus emphasized as well.

Jesus Commanded Us to Watch for His Return

After answering His disciples’ questions regarding His return, what did Jesus command them to do?

He instructed them to “stay awake,” to be “ready” for His return (Matt. 24:36-44). He then told them a parable to encourage watchfulness based on the fact that He would return at a time in which His followers would not expect (Matt. 24:45-51). In other words, He could return at any time.

Can you see why the early church emphasized watchfulness and readiness for the Lord’s return? This awareness came straight from the words of the Savior delivered to the early believers through the teachings of the apostles, most of whom heard Jesus’ command to be watchful.

The Second Coming is in no way imminent. It’s not something we currently anticipate because many prophetic events must happen before Jesus returns and stands upon the earth.

Many assume the Matthew 24 passage to be an exclusive reference to his Second Coming. However, Jesus’ Second Coming will not surprise those of His followers who are alive at the time. We know Jesus will return to earth 1,260 days after the antichrist defiles the temple. Anyone living at that time, who understands Scripture, will know the day of Jesus’ return to the earth. They will know the day.

The Second Coming is in no way imminent. It’s not something we currently anticipate because many prophetic events must happen before Jesus returns and stands upon the earth.

It’s the Rapture that will catch many unprepared; that’s the event that Jesus says will happen at a time we do not expect, similar to a thief showing up in the middle of the night.

Furthermore, what were Jesus’ last spoken words to His church? In Revelation 22, he states three times that “I am coming quickly.” Some versions of the Bible translate “quickly” as “soon,” but word here more aptly describes the speed of an event rather than its nearness in time.

Jesus commands us to watch for His return to take us home. His final words to His church emphasize the need to be ready since when He comes for us, it will happen quickly, “in the twinkling of an eye.”

Jesus’ Soon Return Inspires Us to Serve Him

Many today argue that a focus on eternity diverts our attention from taking the Gospel to all the nations of the world. As a result, they emphasize obedience to the Great Commission at the expense of Jesus’ instruction to be watchful for His appearing to take us home.

They forget one thing. The same Jesus who commanded us to take the Gospel to the lost also instructed us to watch for His return; especially as we see the signs of the end of the age occur with greater frequency and intensity, as we do now.

It’s not an “either or.” Both represent obedience to Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples. In fact, I believe that an emphasis on eternity adds fervor to our passion to see people come to saving faith in Jesus.

C. S. Lewis said this regarding the connection between our hope and evangelism, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

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

Lewis blamed our lack of preoccupation with our eternal hope as the reason for our failure to impact the world around us.

I believe C. S. Lewis is correct in his assessment. I suspect Lewis would not have agreed with all my views regarding the Rapture. However, I agree with his recognition that an earthly perspective hinders our work in making disciples. It’s an eternal perspective that drives us forward in spreading the Gospel just as it did for the apostles.

Consider the example of Paul.

In Philippians 3:14 the apostle says this, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” I realize that some commentators believe this “upward call” is the call to salvation. However, why would Paul press forward toward something he already possesses?

I believe the “upward call” is the return of Jesus for His church. Just a few verses later, Paul describes believers as eagerly waiting with great anticipation of Jesus’ return for us. Does not this fit better with the prize that drove Paul forward?

Yes, the call of salvation is a wonderful reality for all who believe. The word “upward,” however, fits much better with a sense of going up into the heavens such as what we will experience at the rapture. I believe this was the imminent prize that ignited Paul’s passion for serving the Lord.

One common theme we hear today is the lack of giving among believers and how that limits the mission of the church to reach the lost with the Gospel. However, what do we expect when our preaching emphasizes this life to the exclusion of eternity?

During this past tax season I worked at an accounting firm. There I saw many tax returns with people putting large sums of money into their retirement accounts with very little allocated toward giving to churches or even to charities for that matter. It’s natural for those who have no hope in Jesus to do so. But what about believers? Are they not following this pattern as well?

Of course, it’s certainly wise to prepare for retirement. However, when pastors push the reality of eternity to the far distant future, then believers will naturally pour most of their expendable resources into preparing for their future on earth since that represents the only real hope they have before death arrives and eternity begins. It’s only natural to do so if retirement is our only immediate hope.

I confess that if I had believed there was no chance of Jesus coming in my lifetime, my pattern of giving over the past couple decades would have been much different. I would also have placed a greater emphasis on my final years on earth rather than my eternal retirement.

A focus on reaching the lost that ignores our eternal hope is self-defeating by its very nature. While some may press forward undeterred by a lack of understanding regarding the times in which we live, most believers who only hear an earthbound message of hope will soon fall by the wayside occupied with preparing for their future on earth rather than some far and distant eternity, which scarcely seems like a reality to them.

So why should we stress prophecy in our teaching and preaching?

  1. It’s a large part of the Scriptures given to build up followers of Christ in the faith.
  2. We obey Jesus by watching for, and thereby talking about Jesus’ soon appearing to take us home. We obey the Apostle Paul by using our hope of Jesus’ appearing to encourage others.
  3. An emphasis on eternity arriving at any moment energizes followers of Jesus to use their gifts, talents, and resources in the effort of making disciples of all nations.

I am not at all downplaying the necessity of evangelism and missions. I am saying that our anticipation of eternity is the fuel that drives the church forward in this regard. We will not get very far by draining the fuel out of this engine.

Eternity is the future tense of the Gospel we share with the world.

 

Why Such Silence in Our Churches?

Church in the woods

Why are our churches so silent on the matter of Jesus’ return? Jan Markell, in a recent article, noted that 90% of pastors do not preach or teach about the return of our King, the Lord Jesus.

It was not like this during the early days of the church. The sense of imminency for Jesus’ appearing spilled over from the pages of the New Testament into the early centuries of the church.

Today, we see signs of the approaching tribulation everywhere we look. Yet, few pastors even mention the Rapture, the tribulation, Jesus’ Second Coming, or the Millennium. Why do so few truly understand the times in which we live?

Pastor Tom Hughes of The 412 Church in San Jacinto, California recently wrote an article titled, “Five Reasons Pastors Don’t Teach Bible Prophecy.” Briefly, his reasons are as follows:

  1. They don’t understand prophecy
  2. They fear offending members of the church
  3. They sense it will scare people
  4. They fear people will stop giving
  5. They fear looking like fringe groups who take things to an extreme

I agree that these things play a role in the current silence regarding prophecy. However, I believe they are symptomatic of far deeper issues impacting the church today.

False Teaching

From the very beginning, Satan opposed prophetic teaching. By the time the ink was barely dry on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, false teachers delivered a message to the believers in Thessalonica contradicting what Paul wrote concerning the timing of Jesus’ return for His church.

In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul promised the young believers in Thessalonica that Jesus would come for them before the judgments of the “Day of the Lord” (see 5:9). I believe these judgments include the entire seven year tribulation, but that is a topic for another time. Almost immediately after the church read Paul’s first letter, false teachers caused a great panic among these believers by telling them the “Day of the Lord has come” (see 2 Thess. 2:2).

It took only a matter of weeks or perhaps months for Satan to attack our hope embodied in the rapture.

In other words, either they had missed the rapture or Paul was mistaken about the Lord’s return for His church. It took only a matter of weeks or perhaps months for Satan to attack our hope embodied in the rapture.

In his second epistle, Peter warned of false teachers who would arise denying the basics of our hope for Jesus’ return. “Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). Are not many today echoing this same refrain? Does this not sound like the day in which we live?

The current pervasiveness of false teaching on Jesus’ Second Coming should not surprise us. The Bible clearly warned it would happen. It started during the days of the apostles and continued on from there.

In church history, the first prominent naysayer concerning the promises of Jesus’ return was a man named Origen who lived in the early fourth century AD. Influenced heavily by the pagan philosopher Plato, he taught that the promised millennium would be a spiritual kingdom, not something tangible and visible. The Council of Nicea in AD 325 condemned his many wayward beliefs, which included reincarnation as well as the belief that everyone, without exception, would someday be saved.

Many false teachings regarding prophecy persist today and I believe this makes many pastors hesitant to talk about the times in which we live. Rather than become embroiled in controversy or appear extreme, they remain silent. Rather than offend people, they avoid the subject altogether.

As a result, many false ideas regarding Jesus’ return continue unchecked by sound scriptural teaching.  The lack of sound teaching about prophecy only serves to further the spread of false teaching.

A Failure to Recognize That We Are at War

The avoidance of teaching about the Lord’s return blinds many to another reality.

Many preachers correctly apply the message of our spiritual warfare to the battles of our everyday life and Satan’s attempts to derail our walk with Jesus. Yet few go beyond this struggle to talk about the prophetic implications of the devil’s geopolitical war against the Lord, Israel, followers of Christ, and God’s Word.

The battle is not between good and bad people, between political parties, or even between politicians we admire and those we do not. As Ephesians 6:12 makes clear, our battle is against demonic forces of varying powers, not flesh and blood. We have a target on our backs, an enemy raging about as a roaring lion seeking to stop Jesus’ soon arrival on earth and destroy us in the process.

Only a worldview through the lens of biblical prophecy offers any sense to the war that daily rages throughout the world.

Satan sees the signs of Jesus’ soon return and it should not surprise us that he is doing everything he can to prevent it. He tried to eliminate the Israelites before Jesus’ first coming; it makes perfect sense he would repeat his strategy with the Second Coming.

Satan knows Jesus will someday return to a restored Israel and his only chance at preventing this is to utterly destroy Israel. We see this in the current massive buildup of weapons aimed at Israel. Scripture describes a great battle in Ezekiel 38-39 where many nations come against Israel. However, God will intervene and rescue His people.

When Satan’s initial attempts to destroy Israel eventually fail, he will use his man, the antichrist, to attempt to stop Jesus’ return to earth. The coming world order will be the mechanism for this coming evil leader to attempt to kill all Jews along with all followers of Christ. We see his plans for this new world order everywhere we look.

We see it in the dramatic growth of the occult and open worship of Satan. We see it in the pictures of small children in agony after another attack of chemical weapons in Syria. We see it in scenes of Christians lined up to be executed. Alas, we also see it in refusal of many politicians from both parties to take a firm stand against the ghastly murder of the unborn and sale of their body parts.

We see it in the hatred toward both Jews and Christians sweeping through the world. This is all setting the stage for the arrival of the antichrist (1 John 2:18). A world aligned with God would never accept the evil designs of the coming world order. The devil must destroy biblical faith and the Judeo-Christian foundations of right and wrong if he is to accomplish his purposes through the antichrist.

As followers of Christ, we are caught up in a war we cannot ignore. An understanding of the times in which we live not only gives us insight into the war around us, but also gives us the courage to push back against the enemy.

A Failure to Recognize Our Place in God’s Redemptive Story

I believe the silence in our pulpits regarding prophecy results not so much from a lack of understanding of prophecy as it does from a failure to grasp the full extent of the glorious message of the Gospel. There is a future tense to the Gospel; one in which Jesus’ returns to earth, binds Satan, and sets up His righteous kingdom over all the earth.

As believers, we are born into God’s redemptive story. Of course there is an enemy. Have you ever read a great story where there was not an adversary, someone opposing the hero of the story? So often we enjoy great dramas not realizing they also speak to our struggles and ultimate victory over our greatest foe.

Of course there is an enemy. Have you ever read a great story where there was not an adversary, someone opposing the hero of the story?

So yes, we are at war and that is where the good news begins. John Eldredge compares our adventure to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo played a vital role in saving the world of his day from the evil Saran. Eldredge calls it living mythically; grasping the reality of the great adventure of redemption of which we are all a part.

The magnificent story of our redemption includes Jesus’ saving work on our behalf in the past as well as His current work inside us through the Holy Spirit. However, we are also saved in hope of a glorious future, in hope of the completion of our adoption into God’s family and the redemption of our bodies (see Rom. 8:24).

Our salvation points to the future. Is this not why New Testament believers lived in constant expectation of Jesus’ appearing? The Rapture represents the completion of Jesus’ saving work on our behalf when we receive our immortal bodies and are caught up to forever be with our Savior.

We are not simply spectators in God’s glorious redemptive program; we are active participants. The spiritual kingdom, on whose behalf we now engage as warriors, will someday become a glorious physical kingdom in which we will reign alongside Jesus.

We all play a role in this great undertaking. Our mere presence on earth restrains Satan’s plans for world dominance; or more precisely, it’s the Holy Spirit inside each one of us that now restrains the work of the coming antichrist. Our prayers . . . our prayers make a great difference in the battle into which we were born the moment we trusted Christ as our Savior.

Do you understand why Satan works so hard to keep believers from understanding the true nature of the battle and their amazing role in God’s glorious plan of redemption? Believers with eyes focused on earth-bound hopes are much less of a threat to his ultimate plans.

Things are not as they seem; there is a much greater reality than what we see with our eyes.

Just like the ending to Beauty and the Beast, the Lord will someday gloriously transform everything we see; He will make all things new. The coming transformation of God’s people and His creation will make the ending to Beauty and Beast seem rather dull by comparison.

A proper perspective of our place in the Lord’s redemptive story negates all the factors that keep many pastors from talking about prophecy. The subject may very well scare us at times; our role requires courage, faith, and a heart devoted to bringing God the glory due His name.

The call of Jesus, repeatedly echoed by His apostles, is to watch and be ready for His return (read Matt. 24:42-51). His last spoken words to the church in Revelation 22 also echo this same plea for readiness.

This perspective energizes our faith and determination to serve the Lord in making disciples of all nations.

Why did Jesus encourage both fervent watchfulness and a passion for reaching the lost? Why is it so critical that we hear both messages from our pastors and teachers?

Stay tuned . . . .

Our Enduring Hope

Alaska Sunrise

Life in this world so easily takes our eyes off the prize that awaits us in eternity. It’s so easy to become focused on our daily routines and our attempts to get ahead in this world, that we forget about our true and enduring hope.

A quick glance of the news headlines reveals many and varied views of hope. ISIS is attempting to bring about their version of the Muslim Caliphate while Iran hopes to spread their hope of the Caliphate throughout the world. People demonstrate everywhere an attempt to further their agenda of what they believe will bring hope to their lives and those around them.

The unifying theme of all that we see from a variety of religious and political vantage points is an attempt to bring about a utopia in this world with no thought of God or of eternity.

Before we blame everyone else for this mindset, let’s take a few minutes to think about how we all do this. It’s so easy to become totally absorbed with this life, preparing for our futures and retirement that we give very little thought to eternity, Jesus’ soon appearing, and to laying up treasures in heaven as Jesus taught us to do in Matthew 6:19-21.

If this life is anything, it is exceedingly temporary.

It’s certainly not wrong to prepare for retirement. But so often we forget that our retirement years are (or will be) but a vapor that we see on a cold day as we exhale. Just as it soon vanishes, so our lives here will quickly come to an end. If this life is anything, it is exceedingly temporary.

This is why I like to watch the sunrise in the morning; it reminds me that a new and glorious day is coming in which Jesus will reign over all of the world.

Preparing for our Eternal Paradise

Because of my tendency to put far too much hope in this life, the words of Paul David Tripp in his March 11 devotional spoke to my heart as I read them again this past Saturday. Even though I am writing a book on our hope, I still need to be reminded of the futility of living for this moment in time rather than for eternity.

I liked his contrast of outcomes: “Here’s the real-life, street-level issue: if you don’t keep the eyes of your heart focused on the paradise that is to come, you will try to turn this poor fallen world into the paradise it will never be.”[i]

Many world leaders have sought to establish their own version of a paradise in this life. Many people seek to do the same thing with their private kingdoms. Often, I find this same desire in my heart.

But just like a two year old boy demolishing a tower of blocks, events along with the passing of time have a way of annihilating all earthly hopes that are built solely on the shifting sands of this life without regard for Jesus or for eternity.

Signs that Point to Eternity

Tripp went on to point out how we all have a longing for eternity, for a lasting paradise, because it was put there by our creator. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has put eternity into each of our hearts.

Somehow, deep down, we all know there has to more than the world we see around us.

Somehow, deep down, we all know there has to be more than the world we see around us. “Our cries are more than cries of pain; they are also cries of longing for more and better than we will ever experience in this fallen world . . . All the things that disappoint you now are to remind you that this is not all there is and to cause you to long for the paradise that is to come.”[ii]

We all experience disappointment in this life. At times we all see our hopes dashed and come crashing down like a poorly constructed tower of blocks. In a way this is a good thing if it causes us to remember that our ultimate hope is not in this life. Our hope does not reside in the kingdoms we attempt to build for ourselves, but in our Savior’s eternal kingdom to which we as His followers already belong.

Tripp’s last bit of advice in his devotional for March 11 was this, “Live in hope because paradise is surely coming, and stop asking this fallen world to be the paradise it will never be.”[iii]

The trouble comes when we put all of our hopes in this life with no thought of eternity or of laying up treasure in heaven.

This life will end and so will all of our efforts to make this life a paradise. Those of us who know the Lord as their Savior will then begin experiencing the true and lasting outcome of our hope, eternal life where we will forever share in the all joys Jesus has in store for us.

Does that not sound far better than anything we can gain during our short temporary lives on earth?

It does to me; the challenge is to keep this vision before my eyes amidst all the ups and downs of this life.

___________________

[i] Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies – A daily Gospel Devotional (Wheaton: Crossway 2014), March 11

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid

A Confusion of Roles

fence-border

The anti-Trump sentiment has hit a fever pitch in recent weeks over his immigration policies. Even though President Trump’s initiatives differ little from the policies of other recent presidents, this has not stopped the fierce condemnation of his executive orders. Many forget that President Obama stopped all immigration from Iraq for six months in 2011 citing similar reasons for his travel ban that President Trump is giving for his actions.

I saw that over 100 evangelical leaders recently joined together in posting an advertisement in the Washington Post condemning President Trump’s temporary travel ban on immigrants from seven countries where terrorist activity is high.

On the other side, many other Christian leaders such as Franklin Graham and prophecy pastor JD Farag are voicing strong support for the temporary travel ban mandated by the President’s executive order.

Why is the Christian community so divided on immigration? Does Scripture give us any guidance in sorting out these various viewpoints?

What is going on here? Why is the Christian community so divided on this issue? Does Scripture give us any guidance in sorting out these various viewpoints? I believe it does.

The Role of Government in the New Testament

2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (NKJV). Since my early years of attending Awana, this verse has always stuck with me. In the original, the idea of “rightly dividing” Scripture is that of making a “straight cut.” It signifies handling God’s Word accurately.

I believe that the leaders siding with the opponents of Trump are not “rightly dividing” God’s word in that they are not separating the role of the government from that of us as followers of Jesus. They are confusing the role of civil authority with that of believers. Let me explain.

The Bible teaches that the primary role of government is to punish those who break the law and in so doing protect its citizens (Rom. 13:1-7). God entrusts human government with the responsibility of intervening when a crime is committed and gives it the right to punish the wrongdoer.

Our government leaders are entrusted with the responsibility to keep us safe. This is their primary task.

When government does it job correctly, its citizens enjoy a “peaceful and quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Is this not why we are commanded to pray for our leaders? Our government leaders are entrusted with the responsibility to keep us safe. This is their primary task.

Franklin Graham summed it best, “But we have to realize that the President’s job is not the same as the job of the church.” Government is chiefly responsible for protecting its citizens.  National borders are not some evil invention of humanity, they originate in God’s sovereign purposes for the nations of the world (see Acts 17:26).

Graham’s organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has provided relief for refugees in most of the nations listed on the travel ban. Their hospital outside Mosul in Iraq even cares for wounded ISIS fighters. But as he pointed out in a recent Facebook post, caring for them in Iraq is far different than allowing them to migrate to our nation.

Graham went on to also say this, “Taking time to vet who we’re allowing to enter America isn’t too much to ask—we need to know who they are. God does tell us to help the stranger and those in need; but God doesn’t tell us to expose our cities, homes, and lives to hostile people.”

The primary role of Government is to protect its citizens. The Lord calls believers to a far different task.

The Role of New Testament Believers

As followers of Christ, we are commanded to welcome strangers as well as show mercy and compassion to the hurting. We do not take our own revenge when wronged or if a crime is committed against us or someone we love. Instead, we forgive and place any resolution of justice in the hands of God alone and then with the civil authorities.

The evangelical leaders criticizing the immigration policies of President Trump cited the parable of the Good Samaritan as proof of their argument that we should welcome Muslim refugees to our nation.

The parable, however, speaks to our responsibility to minister for those we encounter in our daily walk. It says nothing about the function of government. Jesus’ words here speak solely to our duty as believers to care for the needs of the hurting that He brings our way. It’s a mistake to apply this to our government that has far different responsibilities.

I applaud the efforts of evangelicals who are ministering in Jesus’ name to the needs of the refugees who have reached our shores. They are acting as “Good Samaritans” to these people. They, along with Samaritan’s Purse, are obeying Jesus’ call to minister to the hurting both here and the Middle East. Many have come to know Jesus as their Savior as a result of these initiatives.

Much confusion results when we apply God’s commands to us as His followers to our government leaders who are tasked with much different obligations.

Are we as followers of Christ commanded to be welcoming to strangers and aliens? Are we to help those in need? Absolutely! This is what Jesus taught through the parable of the Good Samaritan.

This does not, however, imply that our government should open its borders to those who intend to harm us. Its first responsibility is to protect those within its God-ordained borders.

Much confusion results when we apply God’s commands to us as His followers to our government leaders who are tasked with much different obligations.

The Need for Further Discernment

As believers, we must also be discerning of what we hear even though such wisdom is increasingly difficult amidst the avalanche of “fake news.” It’s prevalent everywhere we look. I have all too often become agitated by something I read only later to find out that the story was false or misleading.

There are several things, however, that I believe are well-supported.

We know that refugees from those nations on President Trump’s travel ban have joined in terror attacks in France and Belgium. ISIS has made it clear it intends to enter our country posing as needy refugees. The FBI has already arrested several refugees in our country for their association with ISIS.

Many of the Muslims already here are seeking to impose Sharia Law upon us rather than accept the laws of our land. Sharia Law denies all the rights we currently enjoy because of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. The treatment of women under Sharia Law is both abominable and demonic.

The threat is real and we do need good measures for vetting immigrants who seek refuge in our country.

We are a nation of immigrants and we have derived tremendous strength from those who have come to our shores from other nations. This, however, has come about from those who have come lawfully to our country and then submitted to our laws.

Is our government really fulfilling its God-given purpose if it lets in those who seek to harm us and subvert our laws? Are we really wise to let in strangers who shout “death to America” and make no secret about their hatred for us? I do not believe so.

President Trump’s purpose in the travel ban is meant to accomplish two stated purposes. First, he is seeking to improve the current vetting process, which even the FBI director appointed by President Obama said was insufficient and not capable of keeping out the bad guys. Secondly, the President is seeking to make the process fair for Christians, who are by far the most persecuted group in the Middle East.

During the last year of President Obama, Christian refugees made up about one half of one percent of all the refugees from nations such as Syria. Why the shameful discrimination against persecuted believers? I am happy to hear that our President intends to correct this serious injustice.

Conclusion

Does Scripture place the same responsibility upon government and its leaders as it does upon us as followers of Christ? No. While our leaders in government do not escape responsibility for the justness of their actions, their primary purpose is to punish evil and thereby protect its citizens.

We may disagree on whether President Trump’s policies are necessary for our security and that is fine. Based on what I see here and in Europe, I believe his temporary travel ban is both wise and necessary. I pray it will result in a safer vetting process as well as the acceptance of many more Christian refugees seeking to avoid the brutality of ISIS.

Whatever the outcome of the debate, it’s comforting to know that our hope is solely in Jesus and in His return to take us home. My hope is certainly not based on the government always getting its policies correct nor my ability to always do what’s right in showing mercy to others. My hope is solely in Christ who died in my place that I might have eternal life. I would have no hope apart from Jesus.

Jesus will not fail us regardless of the turmoil we see around us every day. Even when everything we see disappoints us, we can know for sure that Jesus will remain faithful to His own forever and ever.

Never forget that He alone is our hope. He is coming soon to take us home! In the meantime, He will never leave nor forsake us. It does not get much better than that.

If you have never put your trust in Jesus as your Savior, please do so before it is too late.

Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus!

 

 

The Cure for Fake News

man-coffee-cup-pen

Fake news: it’s a term we hear every day and probably use ourselves. Whether you come from a liberal or conservative perspective, you likely accuse the other side of taking its cues from fake news.

To me, it seems as if many on both sides at times “bend the truth” or just plain lie to promote their agenda. I see many and varied Facebook posts with much discussion all based on what is later proven to be false. I myself have been guilty of getting agitated over what was later shown to have little or no factual basis.

If you are looking for a failsafe source of news, I do not have much to offer you. My default these days is to listen to what was actually said or discover what really happened rather than rely on what others report about what was done or said.

“Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!”

If, however, you are looking for timeless truth, I can help. It’s found in the words of Scripture. It was there that one particular verse seemed to jump off the page one morning this week. In Psalm 40:4, David says this: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!”

How does this verse and the rest of Psalm 40 speak to the matter of fake news? Let me explain . . .

The Blessing of Trusting Jesus

Escaping from maddening overflow of news begins with trusting the Lord Jesus. Notice the blessing that David pronounces for the person who puts his or her trust in the Lord.

In the context of Psalm 40, such faith implies both waiting and hoping (doesn’t it always seem to be that way?). The preceding verses describe deliverance from “the pit of destruction” or a “miry bog.” We do not know for sure the circumstances that led David to describe his troubles in such a way; we only know that he “waited patiently for the Lord” and He rescued him.

Most often my consternation at the news comes from anxious thoughts; from worrying that the misleading items so prevalent in the media might hinder what I want to see accomplished. It’s so easy for me to become agitated and forget that my hope is not in the outcome of anything in this world. It’s in waiting for and hoping in the Lord.

I trust the Lord who is sovereign over all the affairs of humanity. In Daniel 4, we see the Lord taking extreme measures to teach the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar that He was the one who gave him his kingdom. In the end, this king acknowledged God’s sovereignty as he bowed his head in praise to Him. Whoever is president of our nation at any given time was put there by the Lord for His purposes. It’s not always easy to accept this, but this is precisely what the prophet Daniel teaches us.

I am not at all saying that in light of God’s sovereignty we do not pray earnestly for our nation or that we do not strive, as the Lord leads, for what we believe is right. I believe God wants us to beseech Him in the matters we believe are important for our nation. I cannot explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and the fact that prayer changes things. I just know both are true.

I believe the Lord gives us different gifts and talents and along with that places differing passions on our hearts. However, as we move forward with God’s calling upon our lives we must always remember that our hope rests solely on Jesus and His return for us.

The outcome of  our striving never rests in earthly outcomes, but in the prize that awaits us at Jesus’ appearing to take us home to forever be with Him (Phil. 3:14-21). The Apostle Peter reminds us that our hope rests solely in the grace to be given to us when Jesus comes to take us home (see 1 Pet. 1:13). What we see around us will constantly change, but someday Jesus will reward our faithfulness to Him regardless of any earthly outcome.

We can trust our wonderful Savior; He will accomplish His purposes in His time.

The Psalmist promises a blessing for us when we relax, when we trust Jesus as opposed to chasing after the many misleading news items we see every day. We can trust our wonderful Savior; He will accomplish His purposes in His time.

The Firm Foundation of Scripture

The good news about trusting the Lord is that He has not left us in the dark concerning His ultimate purposes or our future. We have God’s very own word written especially for us.

Notice what David says in verse 8, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” When David wrote Psalm 40, the Law or the first five books of the Old Testament was his Bible.

On this side of the cross we have so much more. John 1:1 describes Jesus as the “Word.” He came to reveal the Father to us and to carry out the grand plan of redemption. In Hebrews 1:1-2 we read this, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . .”

We have a huge advantage over King David, we have the words of Jesus including what He spoke directly while on earth as well as what He revealed through His apostles after He ascended back to heaven. It’s called the New Testament!

I am often troubled by those who take Jesus’ words out of context or use them to acknowledge some of what Jesus taught while ignoring almost everything else He said. All of Scripture is God’s Word. All of the Old Testament looked forward to Jesus and the New Testament reveals Him as the living and resurrected Son of God. Not knowing Scripture can make us susceptible to fake news.

One article I recently read mishandled Scripture by applying verses that speak of our personal responsibilities as believers to the role of government. The Bible teaches that the primary role of government is to punish those who break the law and in so doing protect its citizens. Much confusion results when we take verses meant for followers of Christ and apply them to government entities.

Franklin Graham summed it best, “But we have to realize that the President’s job is not the same as the job of the church.” Government is chiefly responsible for protecting its citizens.

Much confusion results when we take verses meant for followers of Christ and apply them to government entities.

As believers, we are commanded to welcome strangers as well as to show mercy and compassion to the hurting. We do not take our own revenge when wronged or if a crime is committed against us; instead, we forgive and place any resolution of justice in the hands of God alone.

Government, on the other hand, is commanded to intervene when a crime is committed and punish the wrongdoer (see Romans 13:1-7). This does not mean it should not act with mercy when appropriate. In the Old Testament, God held nations accountable for how they administered justice. I believe America will someday face God’s severe wrath unless we put an end to abortion, but that is a topic for another post.

As believers, our part is to show compassion to those strangers or refugees who are here and perhaps help those who are fleeing from violence who do not reach our shores. Samaritans’ Purse has been quite active in helping Christians, Yazidis, and Muslims who are fleeing the violence in the Middle East. Many, as a result their help, have come to know the Lord as their Savior. We can help in a tangible way through this ministry.

Toward the end of Psalm 40, David proclaims God’s faithfulness, deliverance, and salvation in spite of his sinfulness (vv. 9-13). The psalmist, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saw the forgiveness of sins that would one day stream from Calvary. It’s Jesus’ death in our place that gives us hope amidst all the confusing news of our day.

Fortunately, our hope does not depend on us being sinless or spotless in our viewpoints, but in the One who died in our place in order to replace our sins with His perfect righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

We may be pulled in various directions throughout our days, but one thing remains constant: we can trust our Lord Jesus and the words of Scripture, which form a firm foundation for our lives. He is our life, our salvation, and will someday come for us.

For now we wait and hope, just as the Psalmist did long ago.

What is the best cure for fake news? Trusting our wonderful Savior as we rest in the promises of His Word!

A much better day is coming. Maranatha!

 

Paris Peace Conference Update

berlin-eu-european-union-federal-chancellery

A couple weeks back, I wrote about the fulfillment of prophecy before our eyes as it related to UN resolution 2334 and the expected January 15, 2017 peace conference in Paris. The world seemed intent on finally establishing a Palestinian state at the expense of Israel’s security.

Last Sunday, January 15, I watched for news on the Paris Peace conference. I expected a big splash announcing the outcome, but saw only scant references to it. At first, I thought the leaders of the nations were purposely downplaying the result of the conference only to surprise the world with a stunning resolution at the UN Security Council Meeting on January 17.

However, such was not the case.

The Peace Conference Flopped

Once the Paris peace conference started, there was much disunity, particularly from Britain and some of the Balkan countries who objected to the harsh language of the proposed statement.  In short, the conference flopped.

The conference’s final statement did not go beyond anything that was already stated in the December 23, 2016 resolution of the UN Security Council.  The final statement added nothing new to the discussion. The heralded meeting of nations failed to live up to all expectations. Discord rather than unity prevailed at the forum of nations.

According to Amir Tsarfati, the European Union could not even agree to support the weakened statement that did come out of the conference as Britain and some of the Balkan countries refused to vote for it.

What Happened?

God’s people prayed.

Between the December 23 UN resolution and the Paris meeting of nations, calls went out for believers to pray. Many Christian leaders sent out urgent appeals for prayer regarding the conference and the future of Israel.

James 5:15 states that ”the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” As Christians prayed, God thwarted the intentions of nations in Paris. Instead of recognizing Palestine as a nation and giving them old Jerusalem as well as Judea and Samaria, they failed to agree on anything substantial.

However, some might ask, “Weren’t you praying against what Scripture says will happen? Prophecy seems clear that the nations will divide Israel and that Jerusalem will be the focus of the nations at the end of the age.”

Indeed, as I mentioned in my previous post, the prophet Zechariah clearly spoke of a time when the world would be obsessed with Jerusalem (12:1-3). We clearly see this in all that has happened. In spite of all the atrocities happening in nearby Syria and the battle for Mosul, the nations are almost exclusively focused on Israel.

Yes, I agree that as Joel 3:2 indicates, the nations of the world will eventually succeed in dividing up Israel and will someday come against it in force to demand that Israel comply with their demands.

However, before this happens, the Bible says that something is also currently at work in the world holding back the evil planned against Jerusalem.

The Restrainer

Amir Tsarfati,* in his prophecy update after the Paris conference, pointed to the work of the Holy Spirit as the restraining force at work in France as a result of the prayers of believers all around the world.

I believe that 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 speaks of the restraining intervention of the Spirit during the last days. Paul recognized that “the mystery of lawlessness” was “already at work” (v. 7). The apostle went on to say that “he who now restrains it [the mystery of lawlessness] will do so until he is out of the way.”

Paul recognized, as did the apostle John (1 John 4:1-3), that the spirit of the antichrist was already at work even as he wrote. However, the person of the antichrist will not be revealed until the restrainer, the Holy Spirit, is taken out of the way (2 Thess. 4:7-8).

The Holy Spirit, residing in the members of the body of Christ, the church, is effectively thwarting the full measure of the “mystery of lawlessness” until the time is right for the unveiling of the antichrist and his treacherous plans for the world. I believe that when Jesus comes for His church, the restraint holding back the full designs of Satan will be lifted.

In the past several weeks, I believe we have seen this in operation. The “mystery of lawlessness” was at work in the passing of UN Resolution 2334 removing Israel’s legal right to east Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. However, God spread discord at the meeting of nations in Paris preventing further action, at least for the foreseeable future.

What will happen between now and when Jesus comes for us? I am not sure. We definitely see the rise of wickedness and violence in the world. Sometimes it seems as though the restraint of wickedness has already been lifted to some degree. It’s possible we may see further action taken against Israel before the rapture.

Pray and Wait

While we cannot know what might happen next or when Jesus will suddenly appear, in the meantime we wait for His return with much prayer.

We know God has a sovereign plan and prophecy will be fulfilled exactly as stated in His Word. We also know that prayer changes the outcomes of what happens around us. James said that our prayers matter, they “avail much.”

I believe Jesus is coming soon. In the meantime, we pray knowing that our prayers along with the restraining work of the Holy Spirit will make a difference.  When this restraining influence is out of the way, the world will, as Jesus said experience “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never shall be” (Matt. 24:21).

Prayer changes things. From our vantage point, it can change the course of history. From God’s perspective, He enjoys working through the prayers of His people to bring about His sovereign and preplanned purposes.

I believe this is what we are seeing today.

Jesus will return for us at precisely the right time. In the meantime, let’s keep praying, waiting, and watching, of course.

 

*Note: Amir Tsarfati is a former office in the Israeli army who speaks around the world on the subject of prophecy

An Eternity Worth Waiting For

wine-glasses-on-table

Despite being bound to a wheelchair as the result of a traffic accident, he was the most joyous, Spirit-filled believer I had seen up to that point in my life. I remember Paul Lundgren’s[i] overflowing joy as he sang about Jesus and his hope of seeing Him face to face. He spoke with excitement of eternity and of his hope of walking again, this time on streets of gold.

As a high schooler who prized involvement in sports (despite an overall lack of athleticism), his joyfulness amazed me. He could not do what I enjoyed doing the most and yet I had never before seen anyone so joyful or so in love with Jesus. Paul Lundgren knew his hope resided in eternity and as a result he could rejoice despite the paralysis in his legs. To this day I am still humbled as I recall his amazing perspective of life.

Isn’t this what our thrilling hope is all about? Isn’t this what we are waiting for? We have so much to look forward to in eternity. Jesus will return for us and we remain with him forevermore.

In recent posts, I have emphasized Jesus’ soon return for His church, especially in light of daunting current events. However, I thought it might be good to focus our thoughts beyond His appearing, to the eternity we will someday celebrate with Him.

Eternity

In his book Desire, John Eldredge quoted Pascal as saying, “Our imagination so powerfully magnifies time, by continual reflections upon it, and so diminishes eternity . . . for want of reflection . . . we make a nothing of eternity and an eternity of nothing.”[ii] Eldredge then expanded on that sentiment, “We make a nothing of eternity by enlarging the significance of this life and by diminishing the reality of what the next life is all about.”[iii]

We all fight this tendency, do we not? We focus far too much of our attention on this life rather than eternity. It’s far too easy to think of this moment as all we have, but so much of Scripture speaks of our life in eternity and the joy that awaits us there.

Let’s look at some verses from Isaiah 25:

6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples

    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,

    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

7 And he will swallow up on this mountain

    the covering that is cast over all peoples,

    the veil that is spread over all nations.

8     He will swallow up death forever;

and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,

    and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,

    for the Lord has spoken.

9 It will be said on that day,

    “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.

    This is the Lord; we have waited for him;

    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

What pictures come to mind when we think of eternity? Does feasting with the best wine and food imaginable match your picture of eternity? Do you envision a time with no more death, sorrow, suffering, pain, or tears? Do you see endless joy?

So often our eyes remain focused on this life that we miss our coming celebration when we are forever with our Savior.

Someday we will be the ones uttering the words of verse 9 above, rejoicing because being with the Lord will far exceed our wildest expectations. With sheer delight we will cry out, “This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” There is much emotion and excitement in these words. Someday we will express our overflowing gladness and forever celebrate with the One who saved us and gave us eternal life.

Someday we will be the ones uttering the words of verse 9 above, rejoicing because being with the Lord will far exceed our wildest expectations.

Our lives in eternity will not disappoint even our most imaginative or fanciful pictures of what we think it will be like. Jesus has great plans in eternity for me and for everyone who believes and thus hopes in Jesus, our wonderful Savior. Let that sink in a little more; the Lord not only has plans for our current lives, but also for when we reign with Him in the millennium and then for all eternity.

The Isaiah passage dispels our inclinations to dismiss eternity as nothing and solely focus on what we can attain in this life. We have so much to look forward to in eternity. Our future life will be marked with ever increasing joy and unimaginable blessings. We will rejoice in our great salvation as we realize its full extent. Our waiting will not be in vain.

I do not believe we will experience sadness over anything lost from this life. Jesus’ promise to “make all things new” brings wonderful assurance of the joy that awaits us (Rev. 21:5). We will not mourn the loss of our current life and the things we currently enjoy.

Our coming eternal joy will supersede all the things of this life and never fade away. The newness of eternity will never fade; we will always celebrate Jesus and all the wonders of our future lives.

The New Earth

My eternal focus did not include a restored earth until I read John Eldredge’s book Desire several years ago and began to think about the new earth of Revelation 21. Eldredge said this about it, “How wondrous this will be! Creation can be so breathtaking now. What shall it be like when it is released to it full glory?”[iv] I love to explore nature and enjoy all the wonderful views of the mountains, lakes, and oceans. Such enjoyment of nature will not be lost in eternity; creation restored to its full glory will be even more spectacular.

John Eldredge added this about our hope for a renewed creation:

Our search for the Golden Moment is not a search in vain; not at all. We’ve only had the timing wrong. We do not know exactly how God will do it, but we do know this: the kingdom of God brings restoration. The only things destroyed are the things outside God’s realm—sin, disease, death. But we who are God’s children, the heavens and the earth he has made, will go on. “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together” (Isa. 11:6 NIV). . . If all we’ve got are halos and harps, our options are pretty limited. But to have the whole cosmos before us—wow.[v]

Our view of eternity can be so terribly dull compared to what God has revealed about it. The new earth alone will be amazing beyond anything we can comprehend. Although we do not know everything of what our eternal existence will be like, what we do know is far more than enough for us to cease making “a nothing of eternity and an eternity of nothing” as Pascal urged us to do.

The grandeur of what lies ahead will be so much greater than anything we can ever conceive. We will forever have kingdom responsibilities perfectly tailored for us. We will not feel one second of boredom or frustration in eternity. The newness of eternity will never cease.

As our realization of the wonders of eternity and the new earth grows, our tendency to search for our “golden moment” in this life fades. It’s not that we quench our desires; it’s just that as John Eldredge stated in the above quote, our timing is all wrong. Everything we long for in our hearts is coming, but it’s in eternity rather than this life. Our hope as believers rests in the future Jesus is preparing for us.

Can you see what a powerful influence a focus on our eternal home can have on our daily lives?

This does not at all imply that we ignore this life and not enjoy what the Lord provides for us here. It’s just that we recognize our inner longings for unending joy and realize that such feelings point to eternity.

Can you see what a powerful influence a focus on our eternal home can have on our daily lives? If we know Christ as our Savior, this is our future. We will spend eternity in the most beautiful city imaginable with access to all the beauty of the new earth.

This is why Paul Lundgren could rejoice. He knew his paralysis was temporary; he looked forward to forever when he would walk again. Is this not our hope as well? We all look forward to a time when the heartaches and physical infirmities of this life will be at an end and we will forevermore be with our Savior.

[i] Paul Lundgren was a Christian singer from around 1970 with no relation to current singers with the same name. I heard him sing in Rockford, Illinois. He was not a widely known singer but sang in churches at least throughout northern Illinois at the time.

[ii] John Eldredge, Desire, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), p.110.

[iii] Ibid. pp. 110-111

[iv] Ibid. p. 119

[v] Ibid. p. 123

What is This “Christmas Spirit?”

reason-for-the-season

I must confess that I have enjoyed several of the Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel during the past few weeks. My wife and I watched them together; I think we are just romantics at heart.

With many of these movies, I can predict not only the outcome but also the sequence of events that eventually brings the unlikely couple together. Things rarely get resolved before the last seven and a half minutes of the movie. Despite knowing the ultimate outcome, they somehow hold my interest until the very end (although sometimes I would like to see more of the story after the couple finally realizes they are in love, but that’s just me).

One thing, however, has bothered me more this year than in previous years. Many of these movies emphasize the “Christmas spirit” as though that is of ultimate importance.

What is this “Christmas spirit” and why does it matter? Obviously, I do not expect these movies to end with a presentation of the Gospel message. That would be great, but perhaps not a logical expectation for Hallmark.

However, this phrase still leaves me wanting to hear more. What is this “spirit” without Jesus? Why would we even want to celebrate the holiday without emphasizing the life and hope the Lord gives to us?

Jesus is the Reason for the Season

Jesus is the reason for the season. This has been stated so many times that I fear we simply gloss over the words without taking them to heart. The truth embodied in this phrase is, however, at the root with my disappointment with the elevation of the so-called “Christmas spirit” that usurps the celebration of Christ’s birth as the sole purpose for the holiday.

Do you ever wonder why much of the world celebrates the birth of Jesus? There have been many men and women in history who have accomplished great things. We benefit from the sacrifices of many who gave their lives so that we could be free. It’s not that we demean their contributions or their service in any way; we just do not get our families together, give gifts, and celebrate their births.

But we do so with Jesus. Why is that?

One verse that has caught my attention more than once this past year is 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” What, you may ask, does this have to do with Christmas?

It has everything to do with it. If Jesus is still in the grave, there would be no such thing as Christmas, no holiday season, no gift exchanges, no feasting on good food . . . I think you get the picture. Jesus claimed to be one with Father. If He had remained in the grave, no one would have believed that He was God in the flesh. The church would not have even begun yet alone endured for two thousand years.

If Jesus is still in the grave, there would be no such thing as Christmas, no holiday season, no gift exchanges, no feasting on good.

Because Jesus rose from the dead and is alive, we have reason to celebrate His birth. He brought light, life, and hope into a dark world. He is truly the reason for the season, apart from Him it would not exist.

Without Jesus, the world would have remained a dark place, without hope and light and life.

Jesus is the Word that Became Flesh

The Gospel of John describes Jesus’ birth in this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father (1:1, 14).

Jesus’ birth represents God becoming flesh so that through His death on the cross we might inherit eternal life. John 3:16 says, “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 came to give us life; He walked out of grave to prove He alone can forgive our sins and bring us safely to heaven. This is why the angels proclaimed Him as “Savior” in announcing His birth (Luke 2:11). He is indeed the Savior of the world; there is salvation in no other name (Acts 4:12).

This sentiment has no ability to save us or deliver us from our sins. It gives us no reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth any more than other great people.

This is why it matters that we go beyond some feel-good “Christmas spirit.” This sentiment has no ability to save us or deliver us from our sins. It gives us no reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth any more than other great people.

The apostle John also tells us this in regard to Jesus’ arrival on earth, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). We have a choice. To reject the Savior is to spurn ones only chance of eternal life and thereby endure an eternity apart from the presence of God.

This is what Christmas is all about: it’s the Son of God becoming a man so that through His death we might have eternal life. It’s because of His birth, death, and resurrection that we have life and hope in the midst of a dark world filled with despair. Jesus is the only way to eternal life, the only path to the Father (John 14:6).

At Christmas, we celebrate the entrance of life, light, and salvation into the world. It’s so very much more than simply tradition or some fleeting warm fuzzy feeling of the season.

I’m not opposed to the spirit of celebration that surrounds Christmas each year; it’s just empty without a focus on Jesus and His message of salvation for the world. Without His words of life, this so-called Christmas spirit leaves us with no ultimate hope once the new year arrives.

If you do not yet know Jesus as your Savior, please call out to Him today. There are no preconditions for coming to Him apart from recognizing your need of forgiveness for your sins and your need of the life He freely offers to you. He changes us; we do not change to be acceptable to Him.

Does the Pretribulation Rapture Favor the “Lucky Few?”

dice

A common objection to the pretribulation rapture states that this position must be wrong because it provides a way for believers in the United States to escape persecution. If Jesus returns before the rapture, then Christians in America will be the “lucky few” in church history to escape violent opposition because of their faith.

I first heard this argument while attending seminary and dismissed it because it used human reasoning rather than the words of Scripture.

However, given the continued popularity of this sentiment, as voiced by the blogger I recently read, I decided to address this matter.

The intent of this post is not to prove the pretribulation rapture position, but rather to show why the need of Americans to suffer persecution is an invalid argument against it.

What is the Argument All About?

The blogger I mentioned previously makes the following point against the pretribulation rapture:

Third, with the Pre-Trib scenario, there is little or no reason to think the “last” generation of Christians will undergo anything resembling what all the preceding generations of Christians had to face in the way of persecution and trials. Does this point to a fair and impartial God? I believe this is inconsistent with Scripture and history, and it thereby allows for the immediate translation to heaven of a “lucky” few who will arrive on the shores of Glory with empty hands and perhaps relatively unchanged hearts.[i]

In other words, the pretribulation rapture cannot be true because it allows a “lucky few” number of Christians to escape persecution while all other generations of believers have had to endure it.

It’s Never Been Equal

In response, I would say that the violent persecution against the church, to which this blogger refers, has never been equal among churches in the same era or even across generations for that matter.

In Revelation 2-3 we see a wide variety of experiences regarding persecution. The church at Smyrna suffered greatly (2:8-11) while other churches experienced significantly lesser amounts of oppression. Jesus promised the church at Philadelphia that they would escape “the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to try those who dwell on the earth” (3:10). Presumably, other churches would experience this time of testing or persecution while they would not.

Does the fate of previous generations of the church in America imply God’s unfairness because they did not suffer open persecution for their faith? Absolutely not!

Many generations of believers in America have faithfully walked with Christ and died without experiencing the intense persecution to which the blogger refers. Does this imply God’s unfairness because they did not suffer such open persecution for their faith? Absolutely not!

As I said in my previous post, a huge difference exists between wrath and persecution. The same Jesus who said His followers would experience persecution for their faith in this life also promises to take His church out of the world before the wrath of the day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:1-9).

What About Christians in the Middle East?

The blogger’s argument only applies if the church exists just in the United States. If the biblical truths of the rapture apply to the church worldwide, then how are we to make sense of this line of reasoning?

Christians throughout the Middle East face torture and death for their faith. Muslim Jihadists routinely crucify and behead children as well as adults because of their love for Jesus.

Just this past week, Muslim extremists ignited an explosion at a Coptic church in Egypt; the bomb killed dozens of Christians. in Nigerian, Boko Haram has murdered thousands of believers and burned down countless churches. Never before in history has the church experienced such severe persecution as we see today.

Many in America also face opposition for their faith. Christian bakers have lost everything as a result of standing up for what they believe. The shooter in Oregon last year singled out Christians to be killed while sparing Muslims from death.

When applied beyond the orders of our nation, this argument against the pretribulation rapture falls apart. God’s Word must be the source for our theology, not the experience of a limited section of the church.

What Does it all Mean?

The Lord tests the faith of every believer. Regardless of our experience on earth, no believer will arrive in heaven “with empty hands and perhaps relatively unchanged hearts” as this blogger asserts. This is a hurtful assertion that contributes nothing to the argument for or against the pretribulation rapture.

Our hope for eternity, regardless of what we experience, is Jesus and Him alone. And, He is returning for us just as He promised He would do.

The Lord tests the faith of those who follow Him. I have yet to see an exception to this.

Our hope for eternity, regardless of what we experience, is Jesus and Him alone. And, He is returning for us just as He promised He would do.

Throughout eternity, Christians from a multitude of nations, with as many stories as people, will sing praises to God for how He delivered them through their times of suffering. Many will be martyrs for Jesus while others will have experienced lighter persecution by comparison.

Regardless, we will have one great theme in common. We will all ascribe glory to Jesus alone for His safe deliverance through all we experienced in this life. In that sense, we will all equally stand before the Lord empty-handed as regardless of what endure on earth. He will be the only One worthy of all our praise and adoration for bringing us safely home.

Or salvation comes solely by grace through faith; it’s never a matter of what we do or even experience that makes us any more or less worthy of eternal life or for God’s deliverance from His wrath.

His righteousness is all that matters now and forevermore!

Maranatha!!!

[i] John Miltenberge, Rapture

Is The Pretribulation Rapture a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card?

get-out-of-jail-free-revised

During the past year, the Lord called me away from my career as a financial analyst to pursue writing on a fulltime basis. His call began with a stirring of my heart as I saw the ridicule of the pretribulation rapture on Facebook and I felt a strong desire to defend my beliefs.

I am not a scholar. However, a careful and prayerful study of many passages in the New Testament over a period of many years has led to my deep conviction that the rapture happens before the start of the tribulation. I have studied opposing viewpoints as well.

I recently read a blog post arguing against the pretribulation rapture. In doing so, the writer made three common arguments, ones based more on human reasoning than on the Word of God. At first, I dismissed the post.

As I later reread the article, however, I felt compelled to answer his attacks on the pretribulation rapture. I have heard similar arguments over the past several decades; they are not new.  However, in the past I have not written out a response to them.

This is the time to do so.

I will respond to this article in a series of three shorter posts rather than one lengthy post.

A Get-Out-of Jail-Free Card?

The first argument of this blog post is that the pretribulation rapture offers believers a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” Here is his exact quote:

First, believing I won’t have to endure the awful end-times tribulation period, fosters in me an “early-out” mentality, in which I don’t need faith to live my life. Waving my get-out-of-jail-free card, all I need do is simply hang on, and hang out until my sudden extraction. How does this jive with Jesus telling us that all who believe, will ‘suffer persecution’ ? It doesn’t. Perhaps what He meant to say was, “All (but the last generation) would suffer persecution.” But that’s simply not what He said, and I always credit the Son of God to have said what He meant to say. Doesn’t wisdom begin with that? [i]

In other words, this writer believes that the pretribulation rapture offers believers an “easy out” of the persecution of the tribulation. Since the church is not experiencing opposition at the moment, in his opinion, our belief in the pretribulation rapture thus represents a desire to miss out on such oppression.

Persecution Versus Wrath

First of all, there is a significant difference between persecution and the wrath of God that will be poured out on sinful humanity during the tribulation. Approximately half of the world’s population will die in the judgments of the tribulation. This is not the “persecution” of the church; it is God’s judgment on the world to bring them, as well as Israel, to repentance.

No one who advocates a pretribulation rapture does so to escape persecution. It is God’s wrath we seek to avoid and understandably so. Who wouldn’t want to miss out on that!

We believe we will escape this wrath because the Lord promises us such a deliverance.

This is not an “early-out mentality” whatsoever. The Lord, through the apostle Paul, says the church will miss the pouring out of God’s wrath on the earth during the tribulation (1 Thess. 5:9). We believe we will escape this wrath because the Lord promises us such a deliverance.

The rapture is the promise of a ceasing of persecution for the church after which the Lord’s judgment falls on a Christ-rejecting humanity. This, I believe, is the message of 2 Thessalonians 1.

The Church Is Being Persecuted Today

Second, the writer’s point only makes sense for believers in America. For most believers in our world today, the rapture is most certainly not a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” Many believers across the world are experiencing fierce persecution; they have seen loved ones brutally killed by ISIS and have left all their belongings behind while fleeing for their lives.

What this blogger describes applies only to the church in America. It’s a totally invalid argument in almost every other nation of the world where believers are currently undergoing intense oppression.

Yes, Jesus says His followers should expect persecution and this is what we see in many places in our world and even to some extent in America. The tribulation, however, is God’s wrath poured out on a sinful world that refuses to repent. It’s far worse than “jail.”

As a defender of the pretribulation rapture, I am not looking for an easy out in regard to persecution. I may yet experience fierce opposition for my faith. Who really knows what we will face tomorrow?

I am, however, looking and waiting for Jesus to take me home before the coming period of wrath overtakes the world. That is a much, much different matter than an escape from persecution!

Our Great and Glorious Expectation

In Philippians 3:20 Paul wrote this, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word he used for “await” in this verse denotes “intense anticipation” and an “excited expectation” of a future event.  It implies a deep heart-felt longing for whatever is expected.

In this case, it’s the return of Jesus to take His church back to His Father’s house in heaven (John 14:1-3).

Paul characterizes believers as recipients of grace who as a result look for the “blessed hope” of Jesus’ appearing.

Titus 2:11-13 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Paul characterizes believers as recipients of grace who as a result look for the “blessed hope” of Jesus’ appearing.

I could cite several other verses from the New Testament that point to Jesus’ appearing as our immediate hope, our great and glorious expectation. Believers in the New Testament, regardless of their circumstances, eagerly awaited Jesus’ return.

We may yet face fierce persecution in the United States; we almost certainly will face dark times in our lives that will test our faith. We do not know where the path of following Christ will lead us

One thing is certain, Jesus is our hope. Our great expectation is that of seeing Jesus face to face. It’s a wonderful anticipation that brings hope and joy in the midst of the most painful of circumstances and calms our fears.

Our great expectation is that of seeing Jesus face to face. It’s a wonderful anticipation that brings hope and joy in the midst of the most painful of circumstances and calms our fears.

No where does the New Testament tell believers to await the pouring out of God’s wrath such as will characterize the entire seven years of the tribulation.

The pretribulation rapture is not a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” It’s the promised cessation of persecution for believers while the Lord judges a sinful world in order to bring them and Israel to repentance.

The pretribulation rapture is precisely what Jesus promises us through the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The same Jesus who tells us to expect persecution in this life also promises to deliver us from the wrath of the coming tribulation.

[i] John Miltenberger, Rapture