What is Truth?

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As I sat in class the first day, I begin to realize it was not what I expected. I should have dropped the course and signed up for another one. But I delayed in deciding upon an alternative and ended up stuck in the class.

Rather than a course dealing with the various methods of accounting as I expected, it ended up being about the philosophy of accounting. Later it morphed into a discussion of truth itself.

The professor asked us to read an article he wrote in which he asserted there was no such thing as objective truth. All truth statements were thus in one sense equally valid and perhaps also equally invalid in the same the way. No one belief system was better than another; objective truth could not be known.

In the next class period, I pointed out that such a statement contradicted itself. Wasn’t he making an objective truth statement while denying the possibility of such a statement? His statement itself was an assertion of objective truth; the very thing he said was impossible.

The teacher showed respect for my beliefs and allowed me to voice my many objections to his atheistic worldview although I did not sway him in any way toward a biblical point of view. We had some interesting discussions regarding the subject of truth for the rest of the semester as I realized my purpose for being in the class.

My class was many years ago, but the questions remains today: What is truth?

It actually goes back at least two thousand years, to when Jesus stood trial before Pilate. In response to the Lord’s assertion that he had come into the world “to bear witness to the truth,” the governor responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38).

The ancient Roman governor mocked the whole idea of truth. Even if truth had any value, which he doubted, what did it matter at that moment? What good was bearing witness to the truth if one was going to be crucified that very day? In Pilate’s eyes, he had the power; Jesus did not, so what difference did the truth make anyway?

Jesus is the Truth

Just hours earlier, Jesus had told His disciples this, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus not only came to bear witness of the truth, He claimed to be “the truth.”

This is a remarkably bold statement in many ways. Jesus claims to be the embodiment of truth as well as the only way of salvation. In contrast to my professor’s assertion, Jesus said objective truth indeed existed and more than that, He was it. The Word had become flesh and dwelt among us as the apostle John later asserted in his Gospel.

His statement also refuted the mocking of Pilate. Truth mattered because He was the only path to the Father and to eternal life. All other belief systems lead to death; only Jesus has the words of life and is the way to eternal life. He soon demonstrated why He could make such a bold claim.

Who else through all history has ever accurately predicted their death and the precise timing of their resurrection?

On the third day after being nailed to the cross, Jesus rose from the dead just as He said He would do. Has there ever been a greater confirmation of the truth of one’s own words? Who else through all of history has ever accurately predicted their death and the precise timing of their resurrection? No one has ever risen from the dead for that matter, apart from our Lord, let alone predicted it!

This is what sets true Christianity above all other belief systems. The grave is empty. Jesus is alive. His words are truth and of supreme value.

Why Does It Matter?

C.S. Lewis once said this, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

Our faith is of “infinite importance” because Jesus rose from the dead. His radical claim to be “the way, the truth, and the life,” the only path to eternal life is true because He is alive.

C.S. Lewis once said this, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

If Jesus had remained in the tomb, our faith would be false and of absolutely no value. Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people to be pitied.” The apostle told the believers in Corinth that their faith was worthless if Jesus had not risen from the dead.

In the next verse, however, the apostle asserts, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

The fact Paul knew that some of the witnesses had already died suggests he likely could name most of the 500 who had seen the risen Savior.

As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, most of the 500 people who saw Jesus alive after His resurrection were still around and able to testify to its validity (15:6). The fact Paul knew that some of the witnesses had already died suggests he likely could name most of the 500 who had seen the risen Savior.

So not only does objective truth exist, as validated by Jesus’ resurrection, it has infinite value. We dismiss it to our peril because Jesus is not only truth, but also the only true source of life.

If you have never put your faith in Jesus as your Savior, please do so before it is too late. We have become so familiar with the words of John 3:16 that they often lose their meaning when we read them. They do however, express the overwhelming value of the Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to see the Case for Christ. The movie shows the response of Lee Strobel to his wife’s decision to trust Christ. He was not happy, to say the least. He decided to use his skills as an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune to refute the claims of Christianity. He remained confident all the way through his intensive scrutiny of the facts that he could disprove the resurrection of Jesus and bring his wife back to his atheistic point of view.

For two years he dedicated himself to proving that the claims of Jesus were a sham and He was still in the grave. One morning, after remaining at work all night to review the evidence, he came home and uttered these simple words to his worried wife, “I believe.”

What makes the truth claims of Jesus stand far above those of my cynical professor? He rose from the dead just as He said He would do. He is alive.

And if He is alive, He is the only path of salvation. All the founders of all the world’s religions, philosophies, and belief systems are all dead. As such they offer no life, no hope . . . nothing at all, only death.

Speaking just weeks after Jesus’ resurrection the Apostle Peter uttered these words, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”[i] He confirmed the words of Jesus, salvation is only found in Christ.

In the same way the early church began to look for His return. For if Jesus said He was returning for them, they knew He would do what He said.

We also look for His return because based on His track record of truth, if He says He is coming to take us to His Father’s house, He is certainly going to do it. Of this there can be no doubt.

Maranatha! Our Lord come!

 

[i] Acts 4:12

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 that many 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 may 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. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:52, those who are alive at the time of His appearing will be changed “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?

Although some will disagree, 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. The word was used in the time of Paul of being called up to the stand to receive a prize for winning a race.

I believe Paul regarded the Rapture the imminent prize igniting his 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.

 

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 the true and living 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 about 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.

This forward looking vision to what Jesus is preparing for me in eternity has so often been the catalyst for healing in my soul. With this hope, this world would be a much darker place.

___________________

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

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid

The Cure for Fake News

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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!

 

What is This “Christmas Spirit?”

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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.

A Peanut Butter Sandwich with the Jelly

pb-sandwhich

I was startled by what I saw on my computer screen. It showed 47,444,396 views for the song I was listening to on YouTube. I had never seen such a high number, although other songs may very well have such a number or even exceed that total.

The immensely popular tune is Whom Shall I Fear by Chris Tomlin.

Chris Tomlin is an amazingly talented singer and I am never surprised by the popularity of any one of his songs. However, with the title, Whom Shall I Fear, I cannot help but believe its popularity relates in some degree so our search for hope, for something to relieve the anxieties so many of us experience.

We live in a society that breeds fear. If it does not come from the threats all around us, it pops up in the form of broken relationships, financial hardships, illnesses, and the setbacks of growing older.

Is there any relief? Is there any hope?

Yes, His name in Jesus. The Lord is our “strong tower” (Proverbs 18:10).

It’s our expectation of the future Jesus promises us that relieves so many of our apprehensions.

We Groan

We groan. Okay, I know this does not sound like a positive first step toward finding a balm for our worries, but stick with me.

In Romans 8:23 Paul says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” The Greek word for “groan” is sometimes used of the expression of a deeply felt emotion, a “sighing in the sense of longing for something.”[i]

What exactly are we searching for as we groan?

We know from Ephesians 1 that our adoption as sons and daughters into God’s family is complete as is our redemption (see Eph. 1:5-7).  It’s all a done deal; we need not worry about that anymore.

So why do we groan?

We cry out because we have yet to fully experience our adoption and the redemption of our bodies to the fullest extent. Recently, my a-fib acted up again and for two hours in the middle of the night I often groaned as my heart sometimes raced and at other times palpitated wildly.

I asked the Lord for relief, but in response He seemed to say this was necessary to teach me about remaining focused on my hope. If I was going to write about peace in the midst of turmoil, I needed to trust Him for peace in my soul even when my physical heart gave me much cause for alarm. So I groaned in hope of a better day.

We groan because the redemption of our bodies is not yet complete. We hope in spite of what we currently experience.

We groan because the redemption of our bodies is not yet complete. We hope in spite of what we currently experience.

We Hope

Paul goes on to say this in Romans 8, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?”[ii] Our hope is in what we do not yet see, that of Jesus completing our salvation in the sense that we will someday fully experience what we already possess by faith, our adoption into God’s family and the redemption of our physical bodies.

Notice that we are saved “in this hope” of someday seeing this completion of our salvation. Jesus’ return for His church, which we often refer to as the rapture, signifies our full experience of our salvation. The culmination of the Gospel message is Jesus’ appearing to take us home to His Father’s house as He promised in John 14:1-3.

I believe the catching up of the church to forever be with the Lord was a key part of the New Testament proclamation of the Gospel, not something to be taught to believers much later if at all.

Because we have lost sight of the future promises embedded in the Gospel, we sometimes act as though our salvation is totally complete and it’s up to us to follow all the principles of Scripture to somehow live out our redemption. We behave as though the completion of our salvation depends solely on us.

Can you see how this focus adds an enormous amount of stress to our lives? Every day, the futility of hoping in the things of this world hits us hard, but yet we do not lift up our eyes above the daily grind to the One whose hope will never fail us. Instead, we remain committed to making a better life for ourselves now instead looking up to all that is promised us after Jesus appears.

Even if we are somehow successful for a season in limiting the scope of the Gospel to our current lives, ultimately we cannot escape the futility of placing our hope in the moment rather than in eternity.

Even if we are somehow successful for a season in limiting the scope of the Gospel to our current lives, ultimately we cannot escape the futility of placing our hope in the moment rather than in eternity. Everyone’s health eventually fails. Divorce can strike despite our noblest efforts to prevent it. Finances can fail even after the wisest of planning. Medical science can only do so much.

Everyone experiences sorrow and frustration in this life at some point. No one is immune.

Oh, but a much better day is coming. This is why we groan as children of God. We know we were not created for simply a life of frustration and sorrow. There has to be more than what we see and there is.

This is the Gospel. We are saved in the hope of Jesus’ appearing to take us home. The rapture is the future tense of the message of salvation.

We Wait

Because our hope is sure, we “wait eagerly” for it. Despite not seeing it, “we wait for it with patience.”[iii]

No one likes to wait, but it helps when we wait for a sure thing.

With my a-fib, I am scheduled to undergo an ablation early next year that may or may not fix the issue, although my cardiologist assures me the percentage is quite high it will resolve my problems. So I’m waiting in hope this will fix the problem, but I cannot be absolutely sure it will do so.

When Jesus returns, I know with absolute certainty the matter will be resolved; I will have a brand new body that will never perish (see 1 Cor. 15:49-54).

When it comes to waiting for Jesus’ return, we wait in absolute certainty He will show up to take us home.  Paul David Tripp referred to our hope, which includes His arrival, as the “expectation of a guaranteed result.” Tripp went on to say:

It is being sure that God will do all that he had planned and promised to do. You see, his promises are only as good as the extent of his rule, but since he rules everywhere, I know that resting in the promises of his grace will never leave me empty and embarrassed . . . . So even when I am confused, I can have hope, because my hope does not rest on my understanding, but on God’s goodness and his rule.[iv]

Because our hope is secure we wait in confidence of what we will be in eternity. As Chris Tomlin sang, with Jesus in control, we have no reason for fear. The tragedies of life may overtake us for a season, but our ultimate hope never changes.

Jesus is coming to take us away to forever be with Him. It could be today or tomorrow or next month or next year or perhaps even further down the road.

As Paul said, we do not see our hope. We see signs of the fulfillment of prophecy all around us, but we do not see Jesus coming for us and will not until He appears.

While we do not see our hope at the present time, we know He will complete our salvation, bring us home to our Father in heaven, and complete the redemption of our bodies. There is no doubt about this.

The preaching of the Gospel without the promise of Jesus’ soon appearing is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the jelly, the sweet hope of His return.

[i] Colin Brown, editor, Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969) p. 423.

[ii] Romans 8:24

[iii] Romans 8:25

[iv] Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies – A daily Gospel Devotional (Wheaton: Crossway 2014), September 3

Thanksgiving Ramblings

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“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name.”[i]

Since this is my first Thanksgiving with a blog, I thought I would share some things on my heart in that regard. I have much with which to be thankful this season.

Of course I am thankful for my wife, my family, and all my extended family and friends.

There are a few other things, however, that occupy my thoughts today as I think of the coming holiday.

Living Waters

First of all, I am thankful for Jesus, the source of eternal life. He alone is life. That has been so easy to forget during the heated debates of the past few months.

One passage that jolted me back to reality was Jeremiah 2:11-13 and in particular verse 13, “. . . for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” The imagery of God’s Word is so rich, is it not? Who would ignore a reservoir full of fresh clear spring water to dig out a muddy hole in the ground that cannot hold any water?

While I remained mindful that Jesus was my only hope during this the past election season, at times it did not come across as clearly as I would have liked. As I reflect this morning, I see that putting one’s hope in any person or ideology or even in religion is the same as digging a porous hole in the ground thinking all the hopes you put into it will be there in the end. This never works out well. Such hopes eventually turn muddy and evaporate like water in a muddy pool.

It’s certainly not wrong to be passionate about things in this life. The problem comes when we forsake the Lord in the process and allow our ultimate hope to rest in anyone or anything other than Jesus.

In responding to the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus spoke these words, “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”[ii] How easy and equally foolish it is to put our hopes in the things of this world that ultimately disappoint. Only Jesus has the words of life. I have tasted the muddy waters of politics and it’s so refreshing to get back to my true source of hope and feel His life bubbling up inside my heart.

Jesus is the Word of God. He became flesh so that we might have eternal life. He is the fountain of living waters that will never fail to refresh us with life.

God’s Sovereignty

Another verse that comes to mind this morning is Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Notice that the Lord does not say that all things are good, but through the apostle Paul the Lord assures us that he is able to bring together all things for our good, although we frequently wonder how in the midst of our suffering.

In late August, issues with a-fib kept me awake for most of the night. I saw my cardiologist later the next day and he put me back me on a heart monitor for a month. Ugh! That was the last thing I wanted.

However, it was through wearing the monitor that my doctor discovered a flutter in my heart and saw my continuing issues with a-fib. As a result, he sent me to another cardiologist to talk about an ablation. That doctor ordered a stress test.

The stress test revealed an “abnormality” and that led to a cardio catheterization, which I had yesterday, Tuesday. My cardiologist found a blockage (85-90%) in one of the arteries in my heart and fixed it with a stent. If the blockage had remained undetected, it could have led to a heart attack or perhaps a stroke.

So what began as a miserable night struggling with a-fib led to the fixing of an issue that could have led to very serious health consequences if left undetected and untreated. God is so very good and He indeed works in mysterious yet wonderful ways!

While I am able to now see how God worked through a terrible night a few months back, often we do not see the purpose in what happens right away or even in this life.

Yet we know God is sovereign in all things and for that I give thanks this morning.

Hope

In June of this year I retired from my career as a financial analyst to pursue my love of writing. I felt the Lord leading me in this direction and in particular guiding me to write about our hope as believers for eternity. The lack of emphasis on the Lord’s appearing and future things became a growing burden of my heart and led to my decision. This remains a burden even as I write this morning.

I am not sure where this path will lead. I hope to eventually have books published, but this may not be what the Lord has in mind. Already through my writing the Lord has opened up paths to minister to hurting people in need of reassurance and hope. Maybe that will be the full extent of what He has for me.

Regardless, I am thankful for the hope I have in Jesus for His leading down this path. He is life, as I said earlier, and He is the sum total of my hope.  He will never fail in the promises He makes to all His children. He is coming soon to take His church up to His Father’s house in heaven.

There are a million “What ifs?” but only one hope, one source of life: Jesus is His name.

What if the blockage in my heart went undetected? What if something had happened before the catheterization? What if the Cubs had lost the World Series?  (Okay, I need to get back on point.) There are a million “What ifs?” but only one hope, one source of life: Jesus is His name.

Jesus is and will always be a spring of living water in my soul. What greater hope could there be other than that? What greater certainly for tomorrow could there be apart from our risen Savior? Who more deserving of all our thanksgiving and praise than our Jesus?

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[iii] That was true two thousand years ago; it is equally true today. Jesus is who He claimed to be and is coming again, just as He said. Jesus is the spring of living water; He is the way, the truth and the life.

Maranatha!

[i] Psalm 100:4

[ii] John 4:14

[iii] John 14:6

Leah’s Story

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The following is an essay written by Jessica Kleeberger, the sixteen year old great niece of my wife, Ruth. This is my first post from a guest writer. Her story fits well with a passion of my heart and I did not think I could express it any better than what she wrote.

Kim twisted in her seat to get a good view of the clock, tapping her fingers impatiently against the back of the hard plastic seat. Five minutes passed. Her eye fell on a magazine resting on a side table, and she began to flip through it indifferently. Here was a recipe for the ultimate brownie, there an article extolling the wonders of organic farming, next a promotion for a book with a rather nondescript cover…Ten minutes passed.

Kim, having little patience for the delay and even less for the typical waiting room publication, gave up looking at the magazine and reached for another at random in the stack. She suppressed a groan as she looked at the cover of a slender mother, dressed stylishly in a crocheted shawl and hugging a grinning child. Parenting. Just the thing she hadn’t expected, or wanted, when she had gone out for a celebratory date with Dylan. If only she had not joyfully flung all caution to the wind as she threw herself into his arms. Now parenting was just the thing she could be facing, if the pregnancy tests she had done at home had been correct. Fifteen minutes passed.

Finally, a woman with a white coat and bouncy step emerged from the hall, a clipboard and a sheath of papers cradled on her arm. “Kimberly Wilson?” she asked, pausing in front of her chair. “I have the results of your test.”

Yes, the results said she would be a mother, but she was not a slave to mere ink, contorted into the shapes of letters on a piece of paper. She had options, the nurse said- This was her body, her choice.

Kim thought of all the anti-abortion flyers she had read. They had said that the baby had a unique DNA pattern, the only one of its kind in the world. That life began at conception. She pushed the thoughts out of her head. The nurse was right: This was no one’s choice but hers.

“Take a few days to think about it if you like, dear,” the nurse said, patting her on the arm.

O0o

A few nights later, Kim was awakened by a rustle. She pried open her eye lids, heavy with slumber, and glanced around the darkened room. It was empty. The sound she had heard must have just been the house’s foundation creaking in the wind- she always had been a light sleeper, awakened by the least of nightly noises. She snuggled back down under her blankets, already drifting back to sleep. Her eyes popped open again when she felt something touch her shoulder, and, thinking she must be getting paranoid, she rolled her head over on the pillow to see what it-

“Aaargh!” she shrieked, rocketing up onto her knees and yanking her blankets around her. Only a wild, desperate grasp at her bed post saved her from falling backward off the bed. In front of her stood a shadowy figure, too small to be an adult but seeming almost too still to be a living child.

Kim lunged for the lamp on her nightstand. Her fingers missed the knob, brushing against the lamp, and she barely managed to catch it as it teetered on the edge of the stand. Taking a deep breath and willing her shaking fingers to cooperate, she steadied the lamp and turned it on. The child hadn’t flinched and was staring at her complacently, unstartled by Kim’s panicked flurry. It was probably just an illusion caused by glow of the lamp, but it looked as if the little girl’s eyes, glinting and shimmering like the reflection of starlight on a lake, were silver.

“You frightened me. How did you get in? Where are your parents?” Kim paused for breath, then blurted out, “And who are you?”

“A voice for those who do not have one. Or my little angel. That’s what my Father calls me.”

“A- voice?” Kim murmured, not believing her ears.

She smiled, but it was, Kim thought, a smile far too sad for such a small child. “My mom called me Leah, though. You can call me that.”

Then, although Kim’s stomach was still too slender to bely her pregnancy, Leah tiptoed up and kissed it. The touch of her lips, which felt like the feathery, light brush of angel wings, was swift and gentle, too innocent and reverent for Kim to be offended by it or repulse the gesture. “Hello, little guy,” Leah whispered.

Kim gaped at Leah. “How did you know I was pregnant? And how do you know it’s a boy?”

She shrugged. “He tells me.”

“Who’s He?”

“He is my heavenly Father, and he sent me to show you something.”

“Show me something? In the middle of the night?”

“Why not? Here.”

Before Kim could respond, the child was clasping her hand in a warm, gentle grip. The room with its familiar furniture, cluttered with keepsakes and trinkets, faded in front of Kim’s eyes and vanished.

“What’s happening? Leah, what have you done?” Kim cried, leaping to her feet and trying to yank her hand out of the child’s. Leah didn’t let go. “Shhh, just wait. It will be okay,” she murmured. “Look.”

Something about her quiet confidence made Kim obey, and she was startled to see herself reclining in a hospital bed, cradling a baby. She could see him perfectly- the blonde down on his tiny skull, the squinted eyes that opened to reveal pale blue slits, the tiny fingers curled into fists.

“Joseph,” Leah said softly at her side. Kim, eyes riveted on the scene, tore them away long enough to glance at the little girl. “Joseph?”

“Joseph. Your little boy,” Leah explained, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. “I can show you more.” She raised her hand and flicked her small fingers against each other, but she lacked the coordination to produce a crisp snap. Nothing happened. When her second attempt did not produce any better results, Leah let out a small, annoyed huff and moved Kim’s hand to her shoulder.

“Here, hold on to me.” She clapped her hands, and Kim found herself looking at a sandy haired toddler. Joseph again, Kim supposed.

His arms were crossed, and his lips turned up in a pout. She saw herself again, an expression of frustration and sadness evident on her own face. The baby had been cute, Kim reasoned, but it seemed parenting still cost more grief than it was worth. Then, Joseph’s face changed. She saw the childish anger fade from his eyes, and his lips trembled. “I sorry for being naughty, Mommy!” He flew into his mother’s arms, and she snuggled him close. “I forgive you.”

Watching, Kim could almost feel the warmth of the hug. Just as she was almost wishing she could experience the small arms wrapped around her waist and marvel at how much love the small limbs could give, Leah’s clap yanked her out of the scene and into another.

There was a boy leaning against a school wall, a backpack slung over his shoulder. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a small white bottle. He unscrewed the lid and raised a handful of pills to his mouth…

“Hey, Steve! Wait!” A voice called. A boy ran up to the wall, bending over and placing his hands on his knees while he panted for breath. The clear blue eyes, filled with concern, revealed what Kim had instinctively felt- This was an older Joseph. Joseph took a deep breath and flicked an unruly shock of hair- now darkening into a pale brown- off his forehead. “Steve, you don’t have to take those.”

“I can’t do it anymore, Joe,” the other boy replied shakily, and Kim thought she could see traces of tears in his eyes. “Nobody cares.”

“I do, Steve. You’re my friend, and I don’t want to lose you,” Joseph said softly, moving to place a hand on his shoulder. “I want to help, and I’m not going to leave you alone until you feel better. Come on, and we can talk to Mr. Benson. He can help. I’ll come with you.”

“I don’t know if this will work, man, but… thanks.”

“Anytime.”

What she felt was not a small amount of surprise, and to her amazement, there was also a thrill of motherly pride- pride in this boy whose compassion had saved a life and surprise that the small group of delicate cells growing inside her could do something so important. How might the world be different, she wondered, if all those fetuses had had their chance to save a life, to write a book, to give a speech, to love and give? Kim, wrapped up in the drama in the scene, almost didn’t notice Leah’s smile and whisper: “That was a good one, but I like this one, too.” She clapped.

Joseph’s hair was completely brown now- at least, what little of it Kim could see peeking out from under his graduation cap. His eyes, dancing with joy and tempered with solemnity, looked up and met Kim’s eyes for a moment. Not the eyes of the well-dressed Kim who stood in front of her son to accept roses and a hug from him- No, that woman was different.

She had changed from the Kim who sat in the doctor’s office contemplating whether not to abort a fetus. Yes, she had learned frustration, weariness, and self-sacrifice as only a mother could, but she had also known love, pride, and joy as only a parent could. Her son had changed her. And Kim wanted the change her hypothetical future counterpart had found- she coveted it. A tear rolled down her cheek.

“My son,” she whispered, then a sob escaped her lips. “I want my son. I want to give him a chance- And I need him to give me one.”

Leah squeezed her hand, and whispered, “You still have a chance.” She stared up at Kim, looking sympathetic and far more knowing about matters of life and death than Kim thought any child anywhere should look. Leah clapped her hands.

Kim bolted upright in her bed, breathing hard. She looked around for Leah, but there was no sign of a little girl- just the shadows cast by her curtains, the keepsakes from last summer’s trip to Washington, and the nest of blankets she was tangled in. And- inside of her- the most important thing of all: her son. It had all been a dream, but her choice was made.

She rubbed her stomach, feeling a closer connection to the tiny being inside her than she ever had before. Her choice would mean changing diapers and signing report cards, bandaging scraped knees and washing laundry as dirty as only a little boy can make it. It would not be easy, but it would be worth it. The little one inside her was potential. He was sleepless nights and tears. He was love. He was a human life. He was Joseph.

“I choose you, Joseph,” Kim whispered. “My son. I choose life!”

O0o

He was just as she had seen him in her dream- the blonde down on his tiny skull, the squinted eyes that opened to reveal pale blue slits, the tiny fingers curled into fists.

There was a knock on her door, and a woman poked her head inside the hospital room. “Hello, I’m Victoria. I volunteer here in the maternity ward, making hats for the babies. Can I give you one?” She held up a tiny, knitted blue hat.

“That’s so nice of you,” Kim smiled. “I would love one. Please, come in.”

Victoria tiptoed into the room, unwilling to disturb the baby.  “Oh, he’s precious,” she whispered.

Kim glanced up and was surprised to see tears in the woman’s eyes. Victoria looked up from Joseph’s face and met her eye. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said faintly, and offered a sad smile that Kim found strangely familiar but couldn’t place. “Your baby is just so beautiful, and this is my first day volunteering here.”

Her voice trembled, and she fumbled in her pocket for a tissue to dab her eyes. “I chose an abortion a few years ago, and I’ve regretted it ever since. That’s why I decided to start coming here to visit new moms- it’s my way of saying I’m sorry to my little girl, if she can see it looking down from heaven.”

At Kim’s confused look, she smiled through her tears. “No, scientifically I don’t know her gender, but I’ve always been sure in my heart that it was a little girl. Each year, I think of her and how old she would have been, what milestones she would have passed…”

Victoria’s voice trailed off, and Kim realized the woman had grey eyes, almost silver, which combined with her tears faintly resembled starlight reflected on a lake. When she smiled again, Kim recognized it.

“My baby would have been seven years old this summer,” Victoria murmured. “I call her Leah.”

Written by Jessica Kleeberger as “A pro-life persuasive Story.”

 

 

Desire Breeds Hope

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Before settling into my new calling as a writer, my wife Ruth and I decided to take a road trip to celebrate my retirement from a long career as a financial analyst. We greatly looked forward to our trip: to our stay at a bed and breakfast in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina and then to our time exploring Savannah, Georgia.

Before we left on our trip, Ruth and I spent much time thinking and talking about our vacation and what we would do. Our anticipation of hiking in the mountains, exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, and dining at seafood restaurants in Savannah increased our desire for the day to come when we would at long last leave on our trip.

When it comes to our glorious future, however, many churches remain mostly silent regarding our life to come. How can we eagerly await Jesus’ appearing and eternity if we seldom, if ever, hear about it?

“Bland assurances of the sweet by-and-by don’t inflame the soul.” John Eldredge

John Eldredge referred to this disconnect in his book Desire, “C.S. Lewis summed it up, ‘We can only hope for what we desire.’ No desire, no hope. . . . Bland assurances of the sweet by-and-by don’t inflame the soul.”[i] Later Eldredge added this statement regarding this connection of desire with our hope:

Whatever it is we think is coming in the next season of our existence, we don’t think it is worth getting all that excited about. 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.[ii]

Passing references to the fact that we possess eternal life do not impassion us, especially in America where so many of us enjoy comfortable lives. Without a vision of what to expect in eternity, it’s difficult to imagine heaven can be any better than our current existence with smartphones, widescreen TVs, and all the comforts this life can offer.

It’s The Specifics!

When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, he provided specifics of what America would look like with the ending of racism. His vivid picture of racial equality inspired a nation. If he had simply called for the ending of racism without his detailed vision of what it would look like, his message most likely would not have given so much hope to the crowd that day.

Likewise, it is the specifics of our spectacular hope that focus our hearts on eternity. As Eldredge noted, “bland assurances” of a distant eternity do not cause us to desire eternity nor do they give us hope.

Ruth and I grew in our excitement of our trip to the South as we talked about the specifics of what we would do on our vacation.

It’s the details of the Lord’s return for us, our roles in the upcoming millennium, and our eternal home that arise desire in our hearts for what is coming and magnify our hope.

We do not know all of the details of our immortal bodies, our roles in judging the world, or what our upcoming existence will be like. However, what Scripture teaches us about these things is more than enough to inspire us each day with desire, even longing for what lies ahead and generate hope in our hearts for Jesus’ appearing.

Hard Pews and Hollywood

Our desire for eternity is frequently deflated by popular misconceptions of what it will be like.

Many see eternity as an unending church service as John Eldredge also notes in his book Desire, “Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea of eternity is an unending church service . . . . we have settled on an image of the never-ending sing-along in the sky. . . . And our heart sinks.”[iii]

Of course we will sing and worship the Lord throughout eternity; I am very much looking forward to that. Scripture, however, also speaks of our reigning with Christ during the millennium and then forever. We will have thrilling kingdom responsibilities and forever enjoy a restored earth. We have an amazing future; one we can be excited about and celebrate!

Lonely believers sitting on clouds with harps and angels diving into icy rivers to earn their wings do not exactly thrill our hearts with thoughts of heaven

Hollywood does not help us in this regard with its rather depressing pictures of eternity. Lonely believers sitting on clouds with harps and angels diving into icy rivers to earn their wings do not exactly thrill our hearts with thoughts of heaven.

In 1 Corinthians 6:2 Paul asks, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” This sounds entirely different than hard pews or what Hollywood would have us to believe about heaven. That does much more to peak our interest than the bland pictures we often visualize in our minds.

The Ploy of Satan

While churches do not fill in the blanks regarding our eternal hope, Satan actively works to introduce teachings that destroy our hope and take our eyes off eternity. First, his false teachers generate so much controversy that many pastors stay away from the subject just to be safe.

Secondly, the teachings of many leave us straining to identify what hope is left for us. If all of the New Testament prophetic passages have somehow already been fulfilled and those in the Old Testament reduce to allegories of the church, where is our hope for the future? We are left with just hope of the “sweet by-and-by.”

Where is our ultimate hope, for example, if Revelation 19-22 has already been fulfilled as some teach today? Such teaching seriously undermines any desire for eternity and squashes all hope. We are left with no specifics of eternity and no reason to take our eyes off this life and desire something better.

Where is our ultimate hope, for example, if Revelation 19-22 has already been fulfilled as some teach today?

Scripture teaches that we possess an amazing and thrilling hope for all eternity; one that should excite us and focus our hope all the more on what is to come.

It’s understandable Satan would not want us to hear about the thrilling details of eternity since that would fill our hearts with hope and longing for Jesus’ appearing to take us home.

It’s not understandable, however, that so many pastors neglect prophecy and in so doing dampen the desire and thereby the hope of those in the pews.

As John Eldredge so aptly stated, “No desire, no hope. . . . Bland assurances of the sweet by-and-by don’t inflame the soul.” But once we hear what the Bible teaches about our hope, we cannot help but desire for what is to come.

Jesus is coming soon! The more we understand what that means for us the more we will desire His appearing.

[i] Eldredge, John, Desire (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), pp. 64-65

[ii] Ibid., pp. 110-111

[iii] Ibid., p. 111

The Rapture, What’s to Fear?

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What causes fear in us at times regarding the rapture? Does our apprehension arise from its abrupt nature or its unexpected timing? Does the unknown or the supernatural cause anxiety to rise within us? Perhaps we do not want our dreams for this life to end so soon.

I suspect many of us at times can identify with a least a few of the above reasons.

Does Scripture give us any help to relieve our apprehensions and hesitations? Is there a way to look at the rapture that sparks delight and hopefulness rather than dread or even disdain?

I believe there is.

One of the most comforting pictures of the rapture in Scripture is that of the bridegroom coming for his bride. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul purposely used language to invoke images of the Jewish wedding customs of their day when speaking of Jesus’ return for His church.

The Marriage Covenant

Jewish marriages in the first century AD began with the groom making a covenant with his bride. The groom “would drink a cup of wine with her which sealed the covenant and he would pay the bridal price for her to the father.”[i] The bridal price ensured that the groom would follow through on the covenant.

Do you see the similarities with what Jesus did for us in purchasing our salvation on the cross? He paid the price with His blood so that we, His church, might become His bride.

Jesus’ words regarding the cup of wine He drank with His disciples in the upper room resemble those spoken by a groom sealing the marriage covenant with his bride, “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood . . .’”[ii]

The drinking of wine from a cup and the announcement of a covenant both spark images of the Jewish marriage customs as well as point to fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies regarding the new covenant.

The Announcement

Once he confirmed the marriage covenant with His bride, the groom announced he was going to prepare a place for his bride in his father’s house.[iii] He would not see his bride until he completed his work on the honeymoon chamber and returned for her.

Once he confirmed the marriage covenant with His bride, the groom announced he was going to prepare a place for his bride in his father’s house.

Jesus’ words in John 14:2-3 mimic this announcement of the bridegroom, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

I believe Jesus purposely chose words to show how His actions resembled a groom leaving to prepare a place for his bride with a promise to someday return for her.

The Return of the Bridegroom

Similar to Jesus’ words regarding His return, the Jewish bridegroom returned later to take his bride back to the place he had prepared for her.

The Jewish groom enjoyed coming as a thief in the night to quickly snatch away his bride and take her back to his father’s house. He arrived at his bride’s home with much fanfare as his friends shouted and blew a shofar or trumpet to announce his surprise arrival. The groom then took his bride back to his father’s house for seven days.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul speaks of Jesus coming for His church with a shout or the “voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (v. 16). In John 14:2-3, Jesus stated that the purpose of His return for us will be to take us back to His Father’s house. There we will remain for seven years while the Great Tribulation takes place on the earth.

The Comforting Message for Us

The brides of Jesus’ day did not fear the arrival of the bridegroom. The bride looked forward to the surprise return of her bridegroom; this was an expected and exciting part of the wedding festivities.

This picture of the rapture provides much comfort for us because of the following reasons:

1. He’s preparing a place for us!

Jesus is now preparing a place especially for us. This is frequently overlooked in teachings regarding the rapture.

We can be sure this place will be amazing beyond anything we can imagine. Jesus is designing and preparing it with our specific needs and desires in mind. The best five star hotels on earth cannot compare to the place Jesus is getting ready for us.

The rapture represents Jesus return to take us to the place He has prepared for us. We can be sure this place will be amazing beyond anything we can imagine.

The rapture represents Jesus return to take us to the place He has prepared for us. Would not the brides of Jesus’ day eagerly anticipated seeing the place their grooms had prepared for them?

2. The Rapture is a groom returning for His bride!

While the element of surprise in the rapture may alarm us at times, it helps to remember this was part of the excitement for Jewish weddings of the first century AD. The groom was not coming to harm his bride, but to take her home to begin their exciting adventure together.

Rather than be something to fear or even dread, the bride joyously anticipated the day when the groom would snatch her away and take her to his home. Her groom’s surprise appearance represented a key part of the love story they would share for the rest of their lives.

So it is with Jesus’ return. He’s taking us away from this life to something wonderful, to an eternity full of wonder and amazement, which we will enjoy in new immortal bodies that will never be subject to illness, pain, gaining, or death. Jesus is coming as a bridegroom coming for His bride; it’s an act of love to give us a much better life than we can imagine.

3. The Rapture will lead to much celebration!

Once the bride and groom had spent seven days together, the feasting began. They joined their attendants, friends, and invited guests for a huge celebration of their wedding.

This is in our future as well. Revelation 19:6-10 describes the “marriage supper of the lamb” that occurs in heaven before we return to earth with Jesus. Just as with the marriage celebrations of Jesus’ day, I do not believe this will be just a sit-down dinner lasting a few hours; it will last several days, at least!

4. It’s the alternative that should be frightening to us!

Here is where the comparison breaks down a bit. During the seven days the bride and groom spent together in the honeymoon suite, the bride’s attendants and friends of the groom began celebrating.

During the seven years we are with the Lord in heaven, however, the Great Tribulation will occur on earth. Evil will flourish. Humanity will experience God’s wrath as a final call to repentance. It will be a time of great suffering and much death upon the earth.

Whenever I am tempted to fear the Lord’s return, I think of the alternative. We will be sooooo much better off being with the Lord than remaining on the earth. I believe the “sudden destruction” mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 happens shortly after the rapture.

It’s the alternative of Jesus not coming for us that should frighten us. Jesus is coming to lovingly take us out of this world before the terrible judgments and destruction of the tribulation.

Truly, it’s the alternative of Jesus not coming for us that should frighten us. Jesus is coming to lovingly take us out of this world before the terrible judgments and destruction of the tribulation.

Just as with a groom coming for his bride, the rapture represents Jesus’ love for His church. Will Jesus’ return surprise us when it happens? Most likely! Will He in love tenderly welcome us to the place He has prepared us? We can count on that.

The wedding imagery of the rapture helps us see it as an act of love rather than something to fear or dread. It’s meant to change our perspective, to help us look forward to Jesus’ return for us with excitement rather than anxiety.

When anxious thoughts of the rapture creep into your thinking, remember it’s not about striving to replace fear with hope but of looking forward to Jesus’ appearing as a bride getting ready for her groom’s arrival.

Jesus does not want us to be afraid of His return for us but rather eagerly anticipate it as the beginning of eternity or our time in paradise. He’s coming to rescue us out of this world and take us to a place of amazing beauty and joy, beyond all we can imagine.

[i] Winston, Joy, Jewish Wedding Ceremony, Article on the Rapture Ready Website

[ii] 1 Corinthians 11:25

[iii] Winston, Joy, Jewish Wedding Ceremony, Article on the Rapture Ready Website