How Long?

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As I reflect on the Sutherland Springs shooting this past Sunday, the word “brutal” comes to my mind. In 2 Timothy 3:2 the Apostle Paul says that people will become “heartless, unappeasable . . . brutal . . . treacherous, reckless” during the last days. Is this not what we are seeing throughout our world to an ever increasing degree?

Do not all these traits sum up someone who would walk into a church and slaughter 26 innocent people including small children? Does this terrible act of violence not confirm Paul’s words of the “perilous times” we would see before Jesus’ return?

Although we do not understand the shooter’s ultimate motive, we know he had threatened his mother-in-law who attended the church. We also know that he was an atheist who mocked Christians stating that all “people who believed in God were stupid.” Did his antagonistic mindset toward believers contribute to the killing of so many of them? It seems likely to me. Why kill so many innocent people out of anger for just one person?

In his prophecy update on Sunday, Pastor J. D. Farag spoke of how Satan knows that his time is short and is stepping up his evil and murderous activity. I believe the shooter in Sutherland Springs was demon possessed and the killing stemmed from Satan’s rage against God people. The devil used his hatred to inflame not only the rage of this shooter but also to instill in him a total lack of pity for those he killed.

We see these types of attacks on Christians all throughout the world. A couple weeks ago, ISIS viciously attacked and killed 128 Christians in the Syrian town of Qaryatayn as they fled the city. Boko Haram and his men continue to brutally kill Christians by the hundreds in Nigeria. Do you remember the bombs that killed many Coptic Christians in Egypt during their Palm Sunday services earlier this year?

Brutal and Reckless

According to William Barclay, the word Paul used for brutal in 2 Timothy 3 “denotes a savagery which has neither sensitiveness nor sympathy.” It refers to a fierceness of character that displays a lack of human sympathy or feeling in its treatment of others. Does this not describe the shooter in Las Vegas as well? In both cases, these killers acted without the least bit of compassion toward their victims.

The word reckless in this passage describes someone falling headlong into something; it later came to define someone pursuing evil with great passion.  Barclay says this about it, “It describes the man who is swept on by passion and impulse to such an extent that he is totally unable to think sensibly.” This certainly fits with the demonic rage the Sutherland Springs shooter exhibited.

Jesus said that what we are seeing throughout our world today would happen in the last days just before His return.

In describing the end times Jesus said this, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another” (Matt. 24:9-for 10). Jesus said that what we are seeing throughout our world today would happen in the last days just before His return.

The Lord Sees

Long ago, the prophet Habakkuk complained about the “destruction and violence” he saw in Israel. Like today, he saw that the wicked often triumphed over the righteous so that “justice” was “perverted” (Hab. 1:3-4). The Lord’s response, in summary, was that He saw all the violence and perversion of justice. Because of evil rampant in Judah at the time, he would send the Babylonians to judge His people. They later came and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple taking many of the people captive back to Babylon.

Jesus is near to us in our pain; He never leaves or forsakes those of us who know Him.

The Lord sees the atrocities of our time. He also looks with compassion upon all our suffering; He deeply feels the sorrow of the survivors in Sutherland Springs. In Psalm 34:18 David said this, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Jesus is near to us in our pain; He never leaves or forsakes those of us who know Him.

Just as in the days of Habakkuk, the Lord will someday respond to the violence and great wickedness we see around us in the world. He sees the countless babies murdered in our abortion clinics. He sees the deadly rampages of sick evil men. He sees a culture that has lost its way and fallen into all sorts of deviant behavior. At just the right time, Jesus will totally destroy the kingdom of darkness responsible for all this rebellion against Him.

Is this not why the coming time of tribulation described in Scripture will result in so much devastation? Jesus will have His day. After exacting judgments on sinful humanity and the domain of Satan, He will return with unimaginable power and glory. His kingdom will someday fill the earth with righteousness and justice. He will reign for a thousand years and then forevermore.

We Have Hope of a Better Day

We have hope; this life is not all we have. Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul had already suffered greatly when he wrote this. Later, Nero beheaded him. Even so, he regarded all this affliction (and martyrdom) as “not worth comparing with” all the wonders and joys that awaited him in eternity.

A much better day is coming. In eternity, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Jesus sees all our tears and someday will replace them with exceeding joy.

This picture is a far cry from our current experience, from the headlines of our day. Yet, this is our hope because we belong to Christ. The suffering and death of this current world is just a temporal fleeting reality. In God’s eternal day, we will see His purposes behind all that we suffered on earth. Jesus sees all our tears and someday will replace them with exceeding joy.

Yes, the brutality we witnessed in Sutherland Springs was horrific; I cannot even begin to imagine the horror of being in that church when the shooter arrived. Jesus, however, saw all that happened and not only is He comforting the victims in heaven, He will wipe out all such evil in His kingdom and then forevermore.

Revelation 6:10 gives voice to the martyred tribulation saints in heaven, “They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” I wonder if the recently martyred saints in our world are saying something similar before God’s throne in heaven.

Those of us still in shock due to the violence we see in places such as Sutherland Springs ask, “How long before you come and take us home, O Lord? How long before you bring your justice to this wicked, violent, and rebellious world? How long before you establish your righteous rule over the nations of the earth?”

Jesus last words to His church were “Surely I am coming soon.” To which John added, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

Is this not our hope? Someday Jesus will correct all the wrongs of our current world; those who know Jesus will rest with Him forever experiencing sweet relief from the suffering and pain of this life.

How long until then?

Maranatha!!

 

Prison to Paradise

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During our visit to Savannah, Georgia last year, my wife and I came across a painting, La Parabola, at the Telfair Academy for art. The painting, shown above, depicts the entire life of a woman in two separate panels. I felt a sense of sadness as I initially studied the painting.

Cesare Laurenti (1854-1936), who painted La Parabola in about 1895, intended his work to depict the progression of “human life . . . The race toward pleasure, until clouds of weighty thoughts and sorrow come to disturb the serenity of the young soul.” On the left panel, we see a young girl racing toward adulthood and the joys of romance. On the right, we see images of the same woman ever advancing in age toward death.

Is this not why our hope matters so much? If this painting represents the totality of our existence, we have no hope.

But because of Jesus, such is not the case. He is alive and we will be with Him, perhaps soon. This is the resurrection hope of 1 Corinthians 15; all believers will someday have an immortal body just like His.

So, you might ask. What is the big deal? Don’t all believers see this? Yes . . . and No.

So many believers today live as though this world is all they have. They live their lives inside the one-world perspective of Laurenti’s painting seeing only their slow and painful progress through this life. They voice a belief about heaven, but it fails to impact their lives. Without a focus on Jesus’ return and life with Him in eternity, the hopes of so many believers becomes earthbound, wrapped up solely in worldly outcomes that often lead to despair.

A One-World Outlook

The problem with living with such a one-world outlook is that it offers no vision of the joys of eternity. It’s like a prison from which one cannot escape. Sure there are many good experiences along with the bad as we progress through life, but without a heartfelt anticipation of the excitement of eternity, we remain trapped in life’s slow progression not unlike what is depicted in the painting by Cesare Laurenti.

It’s when we lose sight of the non-ending joy ahead for us that our losses become unbearable, our fears overwhelming, and our frustrations with life greater than we think we can bear.

Years ago, experienced the futility of living life in just such a way. As a young pastor, I welted under the weight of tragic circumstances that entered my life. Even though I loved to teach about future things, I still lived with a one-world perspective. When my life turned upside down, to put it mildly, I lost sight of forever. I lived as though only this life mattered.

I longed for earthly success at the expense walking faithfully with the Lord with a focus upon what He had for me both here and forever.

My response to the turmoil in my life demonstrated that my hope had not reached my heart. I was not yet living with a two-world outlook on life. I longed for earthly success at the expense walking faithfully with the Lord with a focus upon what He had for me both here and forever.

A Two-World Perspective

It was when I took the two-world perspective of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 to heart that the Lord began His work of healing in my heart. I finally understood the truth of Paul’s words in Romans 8:18 that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”

As I grasped the importance of the unseen eternal realities versus my temporal pursuits, my fears became far less daunting and my frustrations with life eventually faded away. My losses were very significant, but when I weighted them against the glory of eternity and God’s eternal purposes they diminished both in scope and importance.

Beginning with Jesus’ return for us, we have a hope more wondrous than we can imagine.

I finally saw the futility of living as though everything depended on what happened to me in this life or on what I could accomplish. So what if I got all that I wanted? Did it really make a difference from the standpoint of eternity or two thousand years from now? How could that compare to living a life of trust dependent on Jesus? What will matter the most in eternity when I stand before the Lord?

Beginning with Jesus’ return for us, we have a hope more wondrous than we can imagine. This is why New Testament believers looked forward to Jesus’ appearing to take them home with such great anticipation. This lifted their gaze upward in the midst of great persecution found comfort and encouragement to continue taking courageous stands for the Lord.

We find this eager anticipation all through the New Testament.  In Philippians 3:20 Jesus said, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The sense here is of eagerly anticipating Jesus’ return as in 1 Corinthians 1:7 as well.

In Titus 2:13 Paul describes believers as “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Jesus’ return is our blessed hope. We will someday share in His resurrection life. Jesus is our blessed hope; He is coming to take us to be Him (John 14:1-3).

Our hope matters. This is why Satan does everything he can to take our eyes off of it. First, he introduces false teachings into the church that focus believers solely on earthly dreams. If Jesus has already returned, as some false teachers proclaim, then what do we have to look forward to? Are we not back to living bound to the ups and downs of whatever comes our way locked into a one-world perspective?

Second, if the devil cannot dissuade us through such false ideas, he does all he can to take our eyes off the great joy ahead for us. He will keep our focus on the prison of this life rather than the joyous paradise that awaits us.

The Path to Paradise

Years ago, John J. Davis wrote a commentary on Genesis called Paradise to Prison. The title, of course, depicts the effect of sin on the human race. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in paradise, the Garden of Eden. Sin entered the world and along with it death. Adam and Eve did not die right away, but became trapped in the path toward death with no escape. They found themselves imprisoned by their rebellion against God.

It’s Jesus, however, who turns our prison into a sure hope of dwelling in paradise forever.

We are not any better off for knowing Christ if an eternal and resurrected life is not in our future.

Paul said this, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Why? If we have no hope beyond our current lives, we remain trapped in the prison of sin and death that entered the world with Adam and Eve. We are not any better off for knowing Christ if an eternal and resurrected life is not in our future.

But such is not the case; in Jesus this is precisely the sure outcome of His salvation.

Jesus is the only way to this eternal life, to the paradise that awaits us beyond the here and now. He is the reason we can endure all our afflictions and setbacks. We know a better day is coming. We will spend eternity with Him experiences joy beyond what we can imagine.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Are you looking forward to paradise after death? Jesus died a cruel death on the cross so we could receive eternal life. He rose again confirming the validity of all His promises.

If you have not yet done so, please turn to Him before it is too late. He is waiting for you!

 

 

Why Such Little Excitement?

 

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“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”

We have so much with which to be excited as we look forward to Jesus’ appearing to take us home, but so often we lose our eagerness for it. Why does this happen? Why do even seasoned students of prophecy sometimes lose their eagerness for eternity? Why do I lose my excitement for what lies ahead?

It’s so easy to live as though this lifetime is all we have, is it not? We get up, go to work, drive home, eat, watch TV, and go to bed. We do a hundred different things throughout the day that focus our attention solely on this life and soon we forget about forever.

We dwell in the anxiety of the moment rather than in the thrill of hope that comes from a joyous expectation of what lies ahead.

I am not saying we must concentrate on eternity all day long; we would never get anything done at work or at home. But so often we go about our daily routines with a one-world perspective oblivious to the joys ahead for us in eternity. In essence, we live as though we have no hope beyond the grave despite what we claim to believe. We dwell in the anxiety of the moment rather than in the thrill of hope that comes from a joyous expectation of what lies ahead.

Why do we lack the eager anticipation of the apostles and early believers regarding the return of Jesus? I believe this happens for a variety of reasons:

Misconceptions

How often have we seen depictions of lonely glorified believers sitting on clouds strumming harps? With such a caricature of eternity, it’s no wonder believers lose their eagerness for heaven. Such a picture dampens our anticipation and understandably so.

Better to live for the moment than wait for an eternity of loneliness sitting on a cloud somewhere in the sky.

Scripture, however, tells us we will reign with Christ in his earthly kingdom and then forevermore throughout eternity. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot better than the popular misconceptions of heaven?

Yes, we will sing praises to our Lord throughout eternity; this will be an unstoppable response at seeing the wonders of eternity and fully recognizing all that Jesus did to bring us home. However, our life in heaven will be so much more exciting and better than sitting on hard pews during a lengthy worship service.

I love the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, but someday we will be far more than aspiring angels jumping into icy waters to earn our wings. Scripture says we will “judge angels” (1 Cor. 6:3). I am not sure of all that implies, but it certainly distinguishes us from them.

“I’ve Heard That Before”

Back in the 1960s’ and 1970’s, eschatology became a hot topic. Many churches emphasized the imminent return of Jesus. I remember Jack Van Impe coming to my church to teach on prophecy for an entire week. I felt the excitement of waiting for Jesus’ soon return. He could come at any time!

However, many decades have passed since that time. Believers in large numbers have lost their expectancy of Jesus’ soon return and often respond with “I’ve heard that before” to messages telling them to be ready for it. Having looked for Jesus’ appearing for so long myself, I understand the sentiment that finds it difficult to remain watchful as the years fly by.

Yet as we see prophecy begin to be fulfilled in our world today at an amazing pace, if there was ever a time to be watchful, it is now! The signs increasingly point to the soon beginning of what we know as the tribulation and thus to Jesus’ soon appearing that happens before its onset. Can it be much longer before he returns? Don’t let the phrase, “I’ve heard that before,” take your eyes off the prize! Jesus could come at any moment!

Silence

Unfortunately, rather than increase their focus on Jesus’ return for us as the signs multiply all around us, many churches remain silent. Such silence not only takes our eyes off eternity but also deadens our joyous expectation of Jesus’ appearing. How can believers today look forward to something they never hear about?

The passing references to everlasting life that we do hear from our pulpits fail to excite us. Assurances of an undefined eternity do little to instill eagerness in us for it. This is why we need a renewed focus on what Scripture reveals about the joys ahead for us rather than bland affirmations of heaven, which do so little to stir our hearts, relieve our anxieties, or comfort us in the midst of sorrow.

The silence in so many churches regarding the amazing truths of eternity sadly dulls our anticipation of the amazing joys ahead for us in forever.

Without the exciting biblical vision of our future hope, it’s difficult to imagine how heaven can be any better than IPhones, smart TV’s, electronically-equipped cars, comfortable homes, and a host of other items that add enjoyment and comfort to our everyday lives. Can heaven really surpass the comforts and wonders of this life? Yes! Absolutely! The silence in so many churches regarding the amazing truths of eternity sadly dulls our anticipation of the amazing joys ahead for us in forever.

Not only that, the silence in many churches adds to the prevailing confusion about Jesus’ appearing. Without sound teaching about our hope, many Christians fall victim to false teachings that take away their hope in Jesus’ return and keep their eyes focused on earthbound goals and aspirations where hope and joy eventually fade away.

Teaching Without a Two-world Perspective

When churches ignore a biblical two-world perspective that includes eternity, they can unwittingly make things such as happy marriages, good parenting, and wise financial planning, our ultimate hope rather than Jesus’ return. Of course, biblically-centered teaching on such matters is absolutely essential. Without a two-world perspective integrated into such instruction, however, these things can easily become the consuming focus of our lives rather than our hope in Jesus’ appearing and eternity with Him.

The danger comes from placing our hopes on temporal results where so many factors, including the sinful choices of ourselves and others, negatively impact the outcomes we so greatly desire. The New Testament teaches believers to expect difficult times in this life (James 1:2-3; 1 Pet. 1:6, 4:12-13). Scripture promises us paradise in eternity, not now. We set ourselves up for great disappointment when we define anything in this life as our ultimate hope, even if it’s biblical and desirable.

To Sum Up

With all the things of this life continually shouting for our attention, it’s sometimes difficult to stay focused on Jesus and what He is now preparing for us in heaven. Even as someone who often writes about such things, I also feel the pull to put too much of my hope in what I see around me. But I also know from experience that it’s my hope of eternity that relieves anxieties and encourages me on a daily basis.

In today’s stress-filled world, we need more than dull platitudes regarding eternal life. We need our eyes fixed on our wonderful eternal inheritance that is reserved in heaven just for us (1 Pet. 1:3-4, 13). Once there, we will wonder why we ever thought that anything in this life could even come close to comparing with the joys of eternity.