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.

3 Compelling Reasons for Hope

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Jesus’ tomb is empty; it’s an established historical fact. All the attacks on Jesus’ resurrection come in the form of trying to explain the vacant grave. They do this because they cannot deny the reality that His body was missing from His tomb.

However, no one has ever been able to come up with a credible explanation for Christ’s empty grave. Jesus is indeed alive!

The resurrection matters so much to our faith because if Jesus did not walk bodily out of His grave, if His body was buried somewhere else in ancient Israel, then humanity has absolutely no hope.

The reality of Jesus’ resurrection matters to our hope in so many ways!

Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . .  If in Christ we have hope in this life only we are of all people most to be pitied.” Do you understand what the apostle is saying here? If Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith in Him is totally worthless and we are more to be pitied than anyone else in the world. Wow!

The reality of Jesus’ resurrection matters to our hope in so many ways!

1. The Resurrection Verifies Jesus’ Claims

I hear so many people say Jesus was a good moral teacher, but they deny most, if not all, the claims Christ made about Himself.

What would happen if I were to go through the area where I live making these claims?

  • That I was equal with God the Father
  • That I was the only way to God the Father and eternal life
  • That those who reject me will perish; they will end up in hell
  • That as God I had the ability to forgive sins
  • That after three days I would rise from the dead
  • That someday I would return to the earth in great glory with all the world watching

Would I be hailed as a great teacher after making such claims? Something inside me says, “No!” I would more than likely end up in the psych ward at the local university hospital under lock and key.

You cannot make the assertions Christ did without backing them up in a convincing and overwhelming way. Jesus’ resurrection did exactly that!

No one can make the claims listed above (all of which Jesus made during His ministry) and later be regarded as a fantastic teacher. It’s impossible.

You cannot make the assertions Christ did without backing them up in a convincing and overwhelming way. Jesus’ resurrection did exactly that!

2. The Resurrection Establishes Jesus’ Credibility

So many people say they worship and trust Jesus, but then state they do not believe so many of the things He said.

Suppose you are selecting a guide to take you on a three-day hike deep into a dense and dangerous wilderness territory. You have read Surviving in the Backwoods written by candidate A and although he said many things in his book that you like, you believe he got almost everything wrong about what it takes to survive in the wild. And on top of that, he has never ever hiked in the area you want to explore.

Would you hire him? Unless you feel a tad suicidal at the moment, probably not.

Is this not what so many do with Jesus? They believe He was wrong about the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, the Genesis flood, and the credibility of the Old Testament but claim to worship Him. I do not understand such logic. Why would anyone revere someone who in their mind was flat out wrong about so many basic aspects of their faith?

The resurrection verifies that Jesus is trustworthy not only in His claims about Himself, but in everything else He said. It also proves He is able to do the impossible.

3. Jesus Alone Is Able to Take Us Home

Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope because it demonstrates He is able to give us eternal life.

If I am alive when Jesus returns, He will change my earthly body into an immortal and imperishable one and take me to His Father’s house, to a place He has specially prepared for me. The same is true if I die before His appearing. It should be beyond obvious I cannot do any of this for myself once I am dead.

So, how can I trust Jesus to do the impossible in raising me from the dead and at the same time say his beliefs about the purpose of marriage, God’s creation of each of us as either male or female, and His views on morality and the sanctity of life are not only totally wrong but highly offensive? I absolutely cannot do that. Either Jesus is right about marriage and life or He is a fraud incapable of giving me eternal life or providing any hope in this life or in eternity. There is no middle ground.

If Jesus got these basic things totally wrong then He is still in a grave somewhere, is either a lunatic or a liar (if not both), and my faith is utterly in vain (at best). The tens of millions of people throughout history who died refusing to denounce Christ gave their lives totally in vain failing to denounce some liar who lived long ago.

Are you beginning to see why I cannot say Jesus was wrong about these controversial issues and still have an ounce of faith in Him?

Listen to the words of the apostle Paul again, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all those who have fall asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). This is where our hope rests!

Jesus is alive; He rose from the dead; His words are true regardless of what anyone says about them.

Because Jesus rose from the dead, we know that all His words are true regardless of how unpopular they are at the moment. Popularity does not establish credibility or truth; Hitler was incredibly popular in Germany during the 1930’s and early 1940’s. Now his name is an anathema everywhere on earth.

Jesus was the most unpopular person of His day. But today, two thousand years later, hundreds of millions of people trust Him to give them everlasting life because His tomb is empty. Jesus’ resurrection forever establishes his words as true and gives us an unfailing foundation for our hope. He is alive; He is coming again!!!

The resurrection is why we treasure the words of Jesus and trust Him. It’s why we possess an unfailing hope of spending eternity with Him.

It’s why we can have supreme confidence in His claims, words, and supernatural power.

He’s alive! He’s alive indeed!

What If Jesus Said “Relax Guys . . . ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. No Urgency to Share the Gospel

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

I don’t think so.

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

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

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

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

2. Less Motivation for Purity

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

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

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

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

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

3. We Would Never Start Looking for Jesus’ Appearing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maranatha!

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

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

Why the Bible Bad Guys?

Saul and Samuel
King Saul explains his disobedience to the prophet Samuel.

Several years ago, I discovered I could learn a lot from some of the shadier characters of the Bible. It was not that their examples were so stellar, most failed miserably. However, I have gleaned much from their bad examples over the years.

You may be wondering what in the world we can learn from such misfits and failures. How can they possibly help us in our walk with the Lord?

I’m glad you asked. To help you answer this question, I have picked a few of the characters as examples of what we might possibly learn.

1. King Saul – I learned the most from King Saul. His reasoning (AKA excuses) in 1 Samuel 13 for disobeying God gives us several clues as to where his thinking went awry. After looking at several of his excuses we see that in the end he trusted the sacrifice rather than God Himself.

How do we avoid the trap of elevating our religious behavior above our trust in God? It’s not easy especially when God makes us wait and wait and wait. Yes, I have certainly been there! King Saul helps us formulate a strategy for waiting, especially when we find ourselves in tough spots.

2. Esau – Esau sold his most prized possession for a bowl of soup. What was he thinking? Trading in a birthright for stew likely seems quite foreign to most of us, however, it’s easy to copy Esau’s approach to life in other ways. How do we avoid Esau’s egregious shortsightedness? Is there a way to avoid the urgency of the moment?

What about eternity?

3. Absalom – This guy must have been extraordinarily handsome for the Bible to make such a big deal of his appearance. Unfortunately, his anger left him hanging in the end, so to speak.

What caused the intense resentment that led to Absalom’s downfall? How does the Gospel help us deal with such growing bitterness, the type that eventually destroyed Absalom?

4. Joab – Joab is the most celebrated military general in the Old Testament. Yet, he possessed a character flaw: he was a cold-blooded killer. Okay, you are right, it was much more serious than a flaw in his personality.

I doubt anyone reading my book is likely to stick a sword into someone’s belly, but at times we all feel the frustration of dealing with someone who gets in the way of something we very much desire. A careful look at Joab helps us apply the message of James 4:1-4 to our lives. We do not have to kill someone to follow the errant path of Joab. We can cause serious harm to those around us in other ways.

That is why the lessons we learn from Joab are so important!

5. John Mark – This guy shows us failure does not have to be the last chapter in our lives (although it is the last chapter in my book). How does the story of John Mark encourage us to persevere even when we think we have blown it, failed, run our life into the ditch? Okay, I think you get the point. John Mark shows the mercy of God in giving us multiple second chances.

If you are willing to travel down some of the back roads of Scripture and dive into the lives of some of its more shady characters, my book Shipwrecked! Learning From The Bible Bad Guys is available on Amazon.com.

 

 

O Lord, How Long?

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It’s almost too much to bear. I want to do more; I want to do so much more but I do not even know where to start.

I hear about the evils of the horrific sex trafficking and wonder now how people can be so wicked. And yet, this practice (undoubtedly inspired by demons) rakes in untold billions of dollars every year as pedophilia becomes more and more accepted in our society, much in the same way homosexuality became increasingly accepted decades earlier.

A year or two ago I watched videos of Planned Parenthood executives boasting about the dismembering and selling of baby parts and thought, “Surely Congress will take action against this atrocity.” Instead, I watched as leaders of the Republican Party supported the continued funding of this vile organization with our tax money. A couple weeks ago, I saw Democratic Senators celebrate the defeat of a bill that would have at least stopped the wicked practice of abortion after twenty weeks. How can these things be?

I delayed posting this article because of the Florida school shooting.  My heart grieves for the families who lost loved ones and for the students who are scarred with memories of that day. Senseless and brutal killing fill our world in the horrors of abortion clinics, in the churches of Nigeria, Egypt, and Sutherland Texas, and with the nonstop killing propagated by terrorists throughout our world. And now, even in our schools.

So I write for the few that will read my ramblings, I pray for the Lord to intervene, I look to what Scripture says about the last days, and I wonder, “How long?” Is this not what the Lord said would happen before His return?

Perilous Times

I like the New King James Version reading of 2 Timothy 3:1, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come.” Then the Apostle Paul goes on to describe the people of the last days as “heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:3-4, ESV).

For all the evils I listed above to become so prevalent in our world, these things must characterize many people, do they not? For those involved in the sex trade, do they not need to be “brutal” and “treacherous” to say nothing of the strong demonic influence over them? Absolutely! Do these traits not also describe the doctors at Planned Parenthood who spend their days torturing and murdering precious little bundles of life?

The problem of violence in our world is a heart and spiritual one. The rejection of Jesus and His words has opened the door for increased violence and demonic activity. It will only get worse as our society turns more and more away from the promises of our Savior and continues to see life as a product of godless evolution rather than as a gift from God to be valued and cherished.

What Is the End of All This?

When I look at the evils and violence in our world I feel much like Habakkuk when he voiced this complaint to the Lord regarding ancient Judah, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence’ and you will not save?”

The Lord’s response to the prophet was basically this; He saw what was happening in Judah during the time of the prophet and would respond appropriately to the all the wickedness and violence.

God later gave Habakkuk a vision that I believe also applies to the Lord’s still future outpouring of His wrath upon sinful humanity. The Lord said this about what He would show to the prophet, “For still the vision awaits it appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Hab. 2:3). In other words, God would have the last word on things then, He will have the last word on all the evils that is happening in our world today.

To me, at times the Lord seems rather slow to respond to the wickedness and violence in our world, but I know His day is surely coming.  In the meantime, the Lord is graciously giving time for believers to wake up and watch for His coming and for those outside the faith to repent and become heirs of eternal life.

Back in the 1970’s as I read God’s judgments in the book of Revelation, I wondered what would cause the Lord to be so angry with humanity as to pour out His wrath in such a great and terrible way. As I look at the world around me today, that question no longer enters my mind.

Instead, I ask the same question that the Psalmist asked, “O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exalt?” (Psalm 94:3).

It’s not that I desire for God’s judgments to fall or for people to suffer; I do not wish these things on anyone. What I desire is justice for those who cruelly and viciously murder the unborn and for those who engage in all aspects of the vile behavior associated with sex trafficking.

The Lord will have the last word on all these things; count on it!

Scripture tells me two things in this regard. First, God will respond to the wickedness and violence in this world. Someday, perhaps soon, the Lord will have the last word on all these things. Count on it! And when He does they will wish they had never been born.

Second, many prophetic signs indicate that the day when the Lord pours out His wrath on sinful humanity is rapidly approaching. However, this day is being held back only by the Lord’s patience to give as many people as possible more time to repent. Jesus said earth at the time of His return would be like the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37-39). That was another time when God saw that “the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11). Does this not also sound like today?

Just as He intervened in the days of Noah, He will do so again. Please do not be like the scoffers of 2 Peter 3:3-9. Recognize the reason for His delay and watch!

I am thankful for the Lord’s patience with me and with humanity, but still I ask, “O Lord, how long?’

 

Shipwrecked!

Shipwrecked Cover

The above picture is what my first book will look like when Bold Vision Books publishes it sometime this spring, possibly as early as March.

Shipwrecked! is about learning from the mistakes of several Bible bad guys.

Life rarely goes as we expect. That’s why it’s so important that we learn to walk with the Lord and trust our loving heavenly Father before things go awry. Life caught several of our Bible bad guys “off guard” and instead of looking to God in faith, they turned away from Him and made terrible decisions. As we examine their lives, we learn how we can avoid their errant choices.

The last character in the book is John Mark. From him we learn that failure does not have to be the last chapter in our lives. John Mark overcame an early failure in ministry to be greatly used of God.

So that the readers of Shipwrecked! can easily find me, I am going to start using my name rather than “Eternity Versus the Moment” for my blog. The e-mails you receive from this blog will appear to come from me once this change is in place.

But don’t worry, while you may see a few posts about these Bible bad guys in the coming weeks, the emphasis of my blog will remain focused on eternity and our amazing and joyous hope of spending eternity with our Savior! We will be forever young!

I am excited about Shipwrecked! It’s my prayer that many will grow in their walk with the Lord as a result of reading this book and that several others will come to saving faith in Jesus.

Thank you all for your support and for following my blog!

Maranatha!!!

 

The Renewal of All Things

Animals

What will our lives look like when Jesus establishes His kingdom over all the earth? What will the coming renewed creation look like? Can we even imagine what it will be like for the Lord to make us completely whole in our bodies, spirits, and souls?

John Eldredge, in his latest book All Things New, seeks to answer questions such as these. He focuses on passages such as Matthew 19:28-29 and Revelation 21:1-5 that point to the wondrous and joyous renewal Jesus promises for all who know Him.

You might think it strange I would recommend a book that ignores the rapture and the tribulation (as he does) and settles for a singular purpose of encouraging believers regarding their eternal hope in Christ’s coming kingdom. I admit, at first I was a bit leery about the book since I am passionate about all of these things.

Yet, his wondrously comforting and hopeful message continually warms and excites my heart. At a time when many popular Christian authors deny the reality of Jesus’ kingdom and pastors preach about the Gospel without even mentioning eternity, John Eldredge’s book seems like a breath of fresh air to me. He unashamedly tells of the grandeurs and wonders that await us when Jesus’ kingdom arrives.

The author takes us beyond the woes and disappointments of this world by first concentrating on the renewal of all creation.

Renewal of Creation

John Eldredge writes about the renewal of creation as only a avid lover of nature could do. Throughout this section of the book, Eldredge lets his imagination run wild as he contemplates the wonders of the new earth. Here is a sample:

        What will waterfalls be like in the new earth? What of the giant sequoias or tender wildflowers? What will rain be like? And think of your special places; imagine what it will be like to see them in their glory. How sweet it will be to revisit treasured nooks and vistas, gardens and swimming holes again, see them as they truly “are” unveiled, everything God meant them to be. Part of what makes the wonder so precious is that while it is a “new” world, it is our world, the world dearest to our hearts, romance at its best.[i]

Imagine our increased enjoyment of the Rocky Mountains, for example, in bodies that will never wear out or grow weary!

Let your imaginations run free as well about the wonders ahead for us! Maybe we will walk among giraffes and other large animals. I would love that!

Forever Young and Whole

When Eldredge writes of our restoration, he goes beyond the immortal and imperishable bodies we will receive when Jesus comes for us (see 1 Cor. 15:50-55). He puts it this way in describing how we will be forever young, “Death is utterly swept away at the Great Restoration. And not only death, but every other form of sorrow, assault, illness, and harm we’ve ever known. You will be completely renewed—body, soul, and spirit.”[ii]

Did you catch that? It will not just be our bodies that will be completely restored and better than ever, but absolutely everything about us!

Eldredge goes far beyond our future immortal bodies to show how the renewal will encompass all the broken places and lingering wounds in our hearts.  There is so much more to our restoration than just the physical aspect.

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

Can you imagine what that will be like? I am not sure I can.

In Jesus’ kingdom, we will be made completely whole. All the things we struggle with on earth, all our fears, the anger, and resentment, Jesus will wondrously and forever remove. Think of it! Again John writes, “What tender intimacy is foretold when we are promised that our loving Father will wipe every tear from our eyes personally—not only tears of sorrow, but all the tears of shame, guilt, and remorse. That moment alone will make the whole journey worth it.”[iv]

As followers of Jesus, we possess an amazing future, a wondrous and joyous eternity. The heartbreaks, disappointments, and sorrows of this present world are temporal and fleeting. In eternity, Jesus will make all things new in our world including our souls, minds, and hearts.

It’s no wonder Satan does all he can to keep our focus on this life. Our enemy knows how a proper two-world perspective motivates us to live for our Savior. If he can keep us looking for joy solely in this life, he steals the joy and overwhelming comfort that comes from focusing our hearts on what Jesus promises us after this life.

C.S. Lewis aptly summed up our disconnect between this life and our coming eternal holiday in Jesus’ kingdom this way,

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[v]

I feel the same pull C.S. alludes to, that of elevating the things we see above unseen and eternal realities. However, as followers of Christ we look forward to a wondrous and joyous kingdom in which the Lord will restore creation to its original glory and make us completely whole in our body, spirit, and soul. What a day that will be!! It will be like a “holiday at the sea,” although I would prefer a lengthy stay at a remote mountain cabin alongside a cool flowing stream.

 

[i] John Eldredge, All Things New (Nashville: Nelson books, 2017), p. 69.

[ii] Ibid. p. 86

[iii]Ibid., pp. 93-94

[iv] Ibid., p. 95

[v] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Touchstone, 1975). p. 26.

Outliers, the Church, and the Rapture

Seagulls

As 2018 begins, I feel like an outlier. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines an outlier as “any person or thing that lies, dwells, exists, etc. away from the main body or expected place.”  In statistics, it represents an observation that significantly differs from all others.

This feeling of being an outlier comes from so many in the church today who regard anyone who is watching for Jesus’ return as being out of the mainstream. Even pastors who say they believe in the rapture rarely, if ever, mention it in their sermons. Several popular Christian authors and teachers today do not even believe that Jesus is coming anytime soon for His church or that there will even be a time of great tribulation on the earth as described in the book of Revelation.

What we hear instead of watchfulness for Jesus’ appearing is that the church must be about fulfilling the Great Commission as though that excludes all teaching about the rapture, the coming tribulation, the Second Coming, or the millennial kingdom.

I believe Jesus regarded His command to preach the Gospel as inseparably intertwined with watchfulness for His return. Let me explain why.

What Does the Great Commission Tell Us to Do?

Let me be clear, I absolutely agree that the church should be about fulfilling the Great Commission. It’s of utmost importance that we use our gifts and resources to take the Gospel to those who have not heard the good news of salvation. Teaching and building up other believers is an essential element of this as is going to other cultures or nations.

As Jesus stated in Matthew 28:20, “teaching” is also a key aspect of the Great Commission. Specifically, He said that we should instruct new disciples “to observe all that I have commanded you.” We fulfill the Great Commission when we help build others up in the faith through teaching them to obey Jesus and His words.

This is where I begin to sense that I am an outlier.  I often get the sense that while it’s okay for me to teach and write about future things, this has nothing to do with fulfilling Jesus’ commission to His church. Eschatology is something reserved for the seasoned believers, aka old ones, and pertains little to what is truly important in following Jesus. I could not disagree more!

What Did Jesus Command Us to Do?

Does Jesus’ instruction for us to teach all that He “commanded” exclude watchfulness for His return or should it be an essential part of what we teach in this regard? I believe it is the latter.

In Matthew 24:44 Jesus said, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” A little later He added this, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus not only commanded His disciples to be watchful and ready for His return but told two parables to emphasize His point. This was not something extraneous or unimportant to Him. Jesus spent considerable time telling His disciples to watch for His return.

Many assume that Jesus is talking about the Second Coming here, but that event does not fit with His commands for readiness and watchfulness. The Second Coming occurs after the tribulation and more specifically, three and half years after the antichrist defiles the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Why would Jesus encourage watchfulness for an event that could not happen until several other things took place?

Jesus’ emphasis suggests that His return could happen at any moment, which coincides with the rapture, but not with the Second Coming.

The Lord modeled an emphasis on eternity in His teaching.  He repeatedly stressed our hope of eternal life and promised to “raise up” those who believed in “the last day” (John 6:40). Martha, in her conversation with Jesus regarding the death of her brother Lazarus, displayed a certainly in a future resurrection that came from listening to Jesus teach (John 11:24).

The “kingdom” of which Jesus proclaimed consisted of both spiritual and future physical components. In Matthew 19:28-29 the Lord said this about His kingdom, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

Central to Jesus’ teaching was a physical kingdom where His followers would receive physical rewards for their faithfulness. His kingdom signified a time of renewal “of all things,” which certainly includes the physical world around us and the time when we as His followers will “inherit eternal life.” The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed throughout His time on earth included a physical “renewal of all things” such is what the apostle Paul talked about in Romans 8:18-25.

This hope carried over into the rest of the New Testament as the apostles repeatedly described believers as eagerly awaiting the appearing of the Lord (see Phil. 3:20-21; Titus 2:11-13; 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 John 3:2-3; and James 5:8-9). The New Testament church took seriously Jesus’ command to watch for His return as did the early church.

Jesus’ last recorded words to His church are “Surely I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20). The word translated “soon” depicts quickness of motion in the original Greek. In other words, Jesus is saying that when He returns He will come quickly. In other words, we need to be watching for His appearing just as He told us to do in Matthew 24.

Several Christian writers and leaders today do regard me as far out of step with the Great Commission. However, as I look at what Jesus proclaimed and commanded as well as at what the apostles wrote, I do not feel like an outlier any more.

I rather see myself as someone who is fulfilling the Great Commission in the way God has gifted and called me to do.

 

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

 

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Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

 

On December 6, 2017 President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on behalf of the United States. In addition, he announced his intention to move our nation’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This all has huge prophetic significance.

We ARE living in the days leading up to the tribulation and thus to Jesus’ return for His church before the start of that time. So many things point to this. If there ever was a time to watch for our redemption (see Luke 21:28), it is now.

Since Jerusalem is so much in the news now, let me begin to explain why this is so based on a prophecy regarding this city.

The Prophecy

In Zechariah 12:2-3 the Lord said this, “Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it.”

Through the prophet Zechariah, God prophesied some rather specific events that would occur in the last days. Here is a breakdown of what he predicted:

1. The nations of the world would become obsessed with Jerusalem. Do we see this today? Absolutely! Almost every world leader had something to say about the President’s recognition of Jerusalem; most condemned it. Turkey stated its intention to sever relations with Israel because of this (another prophetic sign of the end times to be discussed later.) Russia, Iran, and Turkey gathered their forces in Syria in order to support that nation and fight terrorism. Now, however, their focus is Jerusalem.

In anticipation of President Trump’s announcement, the UN general assembly voted overwhelmingly to dissociate Jerusalem from Israel. Jerusalem is the object of the world’s attention as no other city. Only a handful of nations recognize Jerusalem as belonging to Israel. The nations are indeed “staggering” as drunk people over Jerusalem just as Zechariah said they would do.

2. The nations will desire to move Jerusalem’s boundaries. When the Lord says he will made the city “a heavy stone for all the peoples,” He is referring to the intentions of the nations to move the boundaries of Jerusalem. In ancient times, people marked boundaries with large stones. Every peace plan put forward in the past several decades divides Jerusalem; they all move the boundaries of the city exactly as Zechariah said would happen in the last days.

Every peace plan put forward in the past several decades divides Jerusalem; they all move the boundaries of the city exactly as Zechariah said would happen in the last days.

3.  God will judge the nations who seek to divide Jerusalem. This Scripture further prophesies that the nations who seek to move the city’s boundary stones will be “severely hurt.” The King James Version says they will “be cut in pieces,” which gets to the heart of what God says He will do.

The United States has put forward several peace initiatives in the past several decades that all divide Jerusalem. Today, as a nation we are more divided both racially and politically than at any time in recent history. I have never seen such hostility between various groups in our nation; most everyone has felt this in some way or another.

Could the sharp divisions all around us be the fulfillment of what the prophet meant by “cut in pieces?” I believe it could very well be a part of it. It will be worse, however, should such a plan actually divide Jerusalem.

4. The Nations of the world will gather against Jerusalem. I believe this part of the prophecy refers to the battle of Armageddon at the end of the tribulation. With the intense focus of the world upon Jerusalem, it’s quite easy to envision this happening in the future. The nations of the world will eagerly join with the antichrist in seeking to destroy Israel and its capital, Jerusalem.

Why Jerusalem?

On the surface, all the fuss about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel seems absurd at best. David captured the city three thousand years ago and the Hebrews built the first two Jewish temples in Jerusalem. Archeology has confirmed Israel’s historic ties to Jerusalem again and again. The Old Testament Scriptures refer to the city over eight hundred times (including the mentions of Zion, a hill in the city). The Koran contains zero references to Jerusalem.

Why are Muslims rioting in response to President Trump’s announcement regarding Jerusalem? Why are so many nations in an uproar over it? What is the big deal about a country choosing its own capital? Every other nation on the earth has such a right.

Is it not because Jerusalem belongs to Israel? The rampant anti-Semitism that increases worldwide each week feeds into this frenzy. It’s also the place God chose for His dwelling place. Psalm 87:1-2 boldly proclaims, “On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.” No other city on earth is as dear to the heart of the Lord as Jerusalem. All of Psalms 87 proclaims the Lord’s great love for Jerusalem.

Second Chronicles 6:6 says, “But I have chosen Jerusalem that my name may be there . . . .” This is not only the city that the Lord loves, but the one He had chosen. Is it any wonder that the devil wants to take it away from His people?

The Jewish people, however, believe President Trump’s declaration is a sign that the building of the third temple is near. That is the opinion of Yehuda Glick, a prominent politian in Israel and member of the Temple Mount movement. He said, “The prophets’ words of prophecy are coming forth from the Bible and becoming facts right before our eyes.” He further compared President Trump to King Cyrus stating that his recognition of Jerusalem prepared the way for the third temple.

In my next article, we will examine why we believe there must be a third temple by the midpoint of the tribulation and how this also points to the nearing tribulation.

We cannot know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return for us. We can, however, recognize the signs of the time and realize this is the season; we are living in the last days of human history.

 

 

An Unshakable Kingdom

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

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

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

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

It’s the Kingdom of Jesus

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

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

It’s Physical, Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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