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

inside_empty_tomb

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!

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?

nature-people-girl-forest-12165

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?’

 

Scandalous

cross-sunset-sunrise-hill-with words

Do you remember when Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now, came out? I remember that many pastors criticized its emphasis on this life over eternity.

And yet, despite their harsh criticism of Joel Osteen, many of them preach a limited Gospel that stresses its benefits for the here and now. It’s all about the joy and hope for this life with only vague and passing references, at best, to the amazing glory that awaits us in forever.

Is it not our unmerited assurance of eternal life that makes the Gospel truly scandalous? In 1 Corinthians 15:19 Paul said this, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” I would guess that all Bible-believing pastors would wholeheartedly agree with Paul in this regard about our future resurrected life, but their sermons often sound like sanctified versions of Your Best Life Now.

Blessings for Now

I am not at all saying we should overlook our current blessings; they are significant. Ephesians 1:3 says that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” The verses that follow describe some of the many blessing we now possess highlighted by our “redemption though his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (v. 7).

Our salvation and all its accompanying blessings come by grace apart from any contribution on our part (Eph. 2:8-9). This is fantastic news and cause for much celebration and praise.

However, if the benefits of salvation by grace alone do not extend beyond this life, is such a message truly scandalous? If the purpose of the Gospel is only for us to have better mental health, improved family relationships, victory over addictions, happier marriages, and better management of finances, are we really better off than the rest of the world? The apostle Paul would say no!

God’s Kindness for all Eternity

I believe that Ephesians 2:7 is one of more overlooked verses in all of Paul’s epistles. It says this, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” This is the future tense of the Gospel.

The truly scandalous aspect of the Gospel is that God takes sinners like us, saves us from an eternity in hell solely on the basis of His love, mercy, and grace, and then promises us an eternity where He will continually show His kindness toward us forever and ever.

On the surface, we might think this applies to the Old Testament heroes of faith. We would expect such wonderful news for Abraham, Daniel, and the apostles. But no, this applies to all of us who know Jesus as our Savior. God takes us, who were once alienated from Him and enemies by nature, and forgives all our sins, applies the very righteousness of Jesus to our account, makes us His own dear children, and then promises us an amazing eternity where He will continually lavish His grace and kindness upon us.

Now that is scandalous. Who would die for ones enemies, make them heirs of a glorious kingdom, and show them with kindness forever?

This is why preaching that ignores the specifics of our eternal hope irks me, to say the least. I am not asking that pastors and teachers always agree with me on the timing of the Lord’s return, but that they realize the truly scandalous aspect of the Gospel is what God promises us for all eternity. Ignoring our hope of possessing immortal and imperishable bodies focuses believers on earthbound hopes rather than the wonders ahead for them at Jesus’ return.

Ignoring our hope of possessing immortal and imperishable bodies focuses believers on earthbound hopes rather than the wonders ahead for them at Jesus’ return.

Gospel-centered living in this life does not mean that we will never struggle financially, or that we will never see difficult times, or that our spouses will never leave us. A semi-truck may run over us tomorrow. The amazing aspect of the Gospel is that we have an amazing and glorious eternity ahead of us regardless of anything that could possibly happen to us in this life.

Life does not end with our death. Jesus’ saving work on our behalf saves us from hell and gives us an eternity of joy with resurrected bodies that will never grow old or get sick. And all this comes solely as the result of grace, God’s unmerited favor toward us.

Yes, the Lord does richly bless His children in this life. There is no doubt about that. But eventually our temporal blessings will fade away. Our eternal inheritance, however, will last forever. He will show us his kindness throughout eternity.

Yes, verses 8-9 of Ephesians 2 are important and wonderful verses. But do not forget about verse 7; without the blessings of eternity our salvation is incomplete and as Paul said, makes us “of all people most to be pitied.” There is a future tense to the Gospel.

 

Our Wonderful Creator

Creation Pic

Last night I saw an extraordinarily good documentary called Genesis: Paradise Lost that was both informative and rich in proof of the Genesis account. I highly recommend this movie, which may be playing in a theater near you this coming Thursday night, November 16.

Throughout the movie, scientists with PhD’s in their field explained how science confirms the words of Genesis 1-11. For me, this movie bolstered my faith. It was not that I had doubts beforehand, but hearing and seeing all the evidence strengthened my confidence for asserting what I believe. We have a rational faith that correlates well with science for which we can be bold and not back away when others disagree.

I left the theater with a new appreciation for our wonderful Creator and His amazing handiwork displayed everywhere we look.

The computer graphics brought Genesis one to life in a way that made we wish I could have been there to witness God’s creative work. I could sense how the Lord must have greatly enjoyed creating all the animals of the sea, air, and land and then watch as was they swam, flew, and ran.

For believers who have questions about how Genesis and science come together, this is a must see movie.

For believers who have questions about how Genesis and science come together, this is a must see movie. It will help relieve nagging doubts about creation resulting from a public education that emphasizes naturalism, evolution, and our supposed descent from apes.

As the movie emphasized, it all comes down to Jesus and what we believe about Him. Our belief in Jesus and His words tie directly into our view of creation.

Back in July I posted an article titled “Jesus and the Book of Genesis” where I showed how Jesus validated many of the events in Genesis, including creation and the flood, as well as the people in Genesis, including Adam and Eve. The link to that post is: https://jonathanbrentner.com/2017/07/18/jesus-and-the-book-of-genesis/. This movie further demonstrates how one cannot hold on to atheistic naturalism and believe Jesus at the same time. Genesis explains why we need a Savior.

There is so much evidence in nature for creation and the flood that one has to willfully overlook it to maintain an atheistic approach to life. 

In 2 Peter 3:1-6, the apostle Peter predicts that in the later days scoffers would arise who would deny both the return of Jesus and the worldwide flood of Genesis. It’s interesting that the text says they will “deliberately overlook this fact” (v. 5). After last evening, I can see why Peter chose those words. There is so much evidence in nature for creation and the flood that one has to willfully overlook it to maintain an atheistic approach to life.

“How does believing in creation and the flood relate to Jesus’ return? you might ask. They both signify that we are accountable to God.

The bad news is that no one possesses the needed goodness to stand before a holy God. Jesus summed up the demands of God’s law with these words, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). That excludes all of humanity, no exceptions apart from Jesus who lived the perfect life that we could not.

In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus died on cross to take upon Himself our sins. As the apostle Paul later described it, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins so that in Him we might receive the needed holiness to stand before our Father in heaven.

That is the good news. If we put our faith in the work of Christ on our behalf we receive eternal life. Romans 10:13 says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The book of Genesis presents us with a choice. If one rejects the Genesis account of creation, this leads to the conclusion that one does not need a Savior. Such thinking reflects a tragic and eternally fatal mistake of accepting atheistic naturalism (and the evolution of man) over believing the words of Jesus.

Those who recognize their need of a Savior and turn to Jesus in faith receive His righteousness and inherit eternal life.

The evidence for the Genesis account points to Jesus. Do not delay if you have not yet put your trust in Him.

For additional information:

There is also a documentary on Netflix called Is Genesis History? Together with the movie I saw last night, these two movies display the best in scientific proof for not only creation and the flood, but also of a young age for the earth.

 

 

The Reformation and the Gospel

Luther 95 Theses

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

Earlier in 1517, a friar by the name of Johann Tetzel began selling indulgences in Germany as a mean to raise funds for the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. By purchasing an indulgence, one could gain the release of a sinner from purgatory or help ensure one’s own salvation. For example, if someone suspected that Uncle Joe was not quite ready for heaven when he died, dropping several coins into the box carried around by Tetzel would remedy that situation by instantly delivering Uncle Joe from purgatory into heaven.

Luther condemned this practice of indulgences, the subject of several of his 95 Theses. It’s easy to see why he objected to such manipulation of the people.

Justification by Grace Along with Works

In the Roman Catholic Church of Luther’s day, justification had become a lifelong process through which one received grace through the church and its sacraments that enabled him or her to do the good works necessary for salvation.

Can you see how such teaching would create much uncertainty regarding one’s final status before God? How could anyone know if they had been faithful enough in avoiding sins so that God would pronounce them righteous or justified at the end of their life?

The priests of Luther’s day must have dreaded seeing him walk into their confessional booths.

This is why young Luther spent hours at a time confessing his sins to a priest. He believed that getting into heaven that he confess all his sins and live as good a life as possible. As a result, he meticulously and fervently confessed everything he thought might even possibly be a sin. The priests of Luther’s day must have dreaded seeing him walk into their confessional booths.

Justification by Faith Alone

As Luther studied Scripture, he realized that God did not base our salvation on a combination of grace and personal merit. He saw that our justification, or our righteous standing before God, did not result from a lifelong process of resisting sin and doing good works, but rather took place the moment we place our faith in Jesus.

The word the Apostle Paul used for justification denoted a judge in his day pronouncing a not guilty verdict upon the accused person standing before him. Sinners, like the person standing trial, are declared righteous once and for all time. It’s not something that happens over time.

Justification takes place the instant we call out to the Lord in saving faith, not at the end of our lives. In Romans 5:1, Paul says “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Our right relationship with God comes instantly; He declares us righteous the moment we believe.

The Apostle Paul often emphasized that God saves us totally by grace through faith apart from any merit of our own (see Titus 3:4-7 and Eph. 2:8-9). Good works come after our adoption into God’s family, not before.

Luther based his revolutionary teaching at the time solely on Scripture. An allegorical interpretation of God’s Word had begun centuries earlier as a way for some to view Old Testament prophecy symbolically. As a result, those who interpreted the Bible in such a way viewed the Old Testament promises of a kingdom for Israel as something the church fulfilled spiritually.

Unfortunately, this allegorical way of understanding Scripture later eroded the purity of the Gospel as it opened the door for church tradition to contaminate biblical beliefs, especially those pertaining to salvation.

A Literal Interpretation of Scripture

Both Luther and John Calvin condemned such allegorical interpretations and the adding of human tradition to the teaching of Scripture. They brought their followers back to a literal way of interpreting God’s Word through two key principles.

The elevation of the Bible as supreme in all matters of faith became a key factor in restoring the sound scriptural teaching of justification by faith apart from good works.

The first such principle was that of “sola Scriptura.” This signifies that Scripture alone is our sole source and supreme authority when it comes to all matters pertaining to faith and practice. For the reformers, this meant that the Bible was sufficient for all spiritual matters and thus took precedence over all the traditions of the church and the teachings of all previous popes.

This elevation of the Bible as supreme in all matters of faith became a key factor in restoring the sound scriptural teaching of justification by faith apart from good works.

Secondly, Luther emphasized “Scripture interprets Scripture” as essential for interpreting the Bible. This precept stresses that all of Scripture is God’s Word and as such does not and cannot contradict itself. Scripture thus acts as its own commentary.

A section of the Bible where the meaning is clear can and must be used to interpret a related section of Scripture where the interpretation is less evident or open to several differences of opinion.

These principles of interpretation advocated by Martin Luther and the other Reformers forever changed the course of church history and remain the standard for biblical interpretation for most Protestant churches today.

These two principles of interpreting Scripture in a literal way had another significant long-term impact on the teaching of the church, one that did not appear until well after the time of the Reformers. This later result of interpreting Scripture literally will be the topic of my next article celebrating the 500 year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.

Can anyone guess what this future impact might be?

 

The Silence of the Shepherds

Sheep and lake

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

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

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

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

Jesus Commands Us to Watch and Be Ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound Teaching on Our Biblical Hope Prevents Doctrinal Error

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time to look up, is it not?

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

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

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

 

A  Crisis of Hope

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Photo by Pol Sifter

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

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

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

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

The Dangers of Anger

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

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

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

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

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

The Path of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Was Life Ever Meant to Be Fair?

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Obsession. I think that in many ways this describes the day in which we live. People become obsessed with an idea, interest, desire, or emotion and soon it dominates social media and the news as it consumes everyone’s attention. Everyone reading this post likely knows the nature of the current obsession.

I admit that the sight of NFL players disrespecting our flag and nation greatly distresses me; I do not like it. But I also see a greater danger in the ridiculous proportions to which this controversy has grown.

People all around us are hurting and suffering; life is not easy.

It’s taking our attention away from what really matters. People all around us are hurting and suffering; life is not easy. Current day obsessions from whatever the source do not help anyone; they only further divide already bitter and angry people.

The Lord never promises us that everything will be fair or just in this life; however, He promises us something much, much, much better than that. . . .

Hope

Hope in Jesus. This is where our focus belongs. I was drawn to Romans 8:18-25 this morning.  If anyone, apart from Jesus that is, had reason to complain about life being unfair, it was the Apostle Paul; he suffered greatly for the cause of the Gospel. Notice, however, his perspective in the midst of his great affliction, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us’ (Rom. 8:18).

Wow! It was hope of a better day that kept Paul looking upward in the midst of his tribulation-filled life.

Paul said that it’s not only creation that currently groans awaiting a better day, but we also groan in our hope of Jesus’ appearing, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). Paul endured the bitter unfairness of life because he knew a better day was coming, one in which his adoption in God’s family would be made wonderfully complete and he would possess an immortal body that would forever enjoy the delights of eternity.

Sadly, so much focus rests on this life, even in most churches.  Notice, however, Paul’s words in verse 24, “For in this hope we were saved. . . .” Hope in Jesus’ return for us is a key part of the Gospel; it’s the future tense of the Gospel. It’s the substance of our hope that both sustains us in this life and points us to a glorious future.

There was a time in my life when amidst great suffering I foolishly lost sight of my hope and became angry with God because of the unjust treatment I felt I had received.

Now, however, I recognize God’s loving hand in all I endured as well as my extreme foolishness for doubting His unfailing love for me. It was my hope in the Lord’s sure promises of a better day, along with His direct deliverance and healing, that eventually changed my perspective.

Paradise

Jesus promises us something infinitely better than a fair or just or even a comfortable life. He has graciously given us eternal life and someday, when He returns, He will take us home to be with Him forever and ever. This will be glorious beyond anything we can now imagine and will more than make up for the suffering of this life.

Yes, there is great joy in walking with Jesus in this life as He comforts us in sorrow, calms our fears, heals our wounds, strengthens us to meet the challenges of the day, and gives us peace in the midst of storms. An even greater joy, however, awaits us at Jesus’ return as we will experience His presence more fully and wonderfully than ever before. What we experience now in our walk with Him is simply a foretaste of what is coming.

Anger and bitter dissatisfaction with life crosses all divides, which is why we need a hope that does the same.

It’s not just NFL players; I see frustration, anger, bitter dissatisfaction with life, and hopelessness everywhere I look (often it’s on Facebook or Twitter). It crosses all divides, which is why we need a hope that does the same. The Lord’s invitation of life is open to all.

Paradise is coming for all who know Jesus as their Savior; but this never-ending time of fullness and satisfaction will never happen this side of eternity no matter how hard anyone tries to make it happen. It’s simply impossible; it cannot happen.

If you have never put your faith in Him, please do so before it is too late. Apart from Christ, any hope you have in this life or for the next will surely vanish like a vapor.

Life on earth ends, but Jesus offers life both now and forever. He offers hope in the midst of despair and deliverance from the wrath that is to come.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Is your trust in Him alone and nothing else for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life?