What Brings Us Joy?

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Do you ever have times when a line from Scripture jumps out at you and cannot get past it in your thoughts? One morning this past week was such a time. As I was reading in Proverbs 10, the first line of verse 26 struck me in such a way. It says, “The hope of the righteous brings joy.”

Our hope brings us joy; the anticipation of Jesus’ appearing and all that He has promised us for all eternity.

It’s the specifics of our hope that inspire me when I get out of bed in the morning. They are the reason I am able to joyously look beyond the impact of aging on my body. They are the reason I still feel young at heart and enjoy silliness, laughter, and having fun. Christ has redeemed the inner me and given it eternal life. Time is irrelevant to my spirit; my inner being does not have to age along with my body.

This is why something deep inside me groans when preachers gloss over biblical references to Jesus’ appearing to take us home or when popular authors ignore the matter altogether. Are they not doing a disservice to the body of Christ by keeping the hopes and joys of their audience pinned to the things of this life? I believe so!

A glorious day of redemption is coming (see Rom.  8:23-25). It’s the time we receive our glorified bodies and experience total wholeness not only physically but also emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. It’s when we will be forever free from the very presence of sin.

I cannot wait until I have the opportunity to preach again and excitedly proclaim the joy that comes from focusing on our hope of Jesus’ return to take us home, to the place He is specially preparing for us (see John 14:1-3). What wonder awaits us when we return with Him to earth and experience the incredible joys of the kingdom?

Can we even imagine the excitement of reigning alongside Christ with physical bodies like His?

Yes, our hope should bring us incredible joy. We should be jumping up and down with excitement.

Please Note: I am going to be updating my blog soon with a new title: Our Journey Home. The emphasis will still be on a two-world perspective and include our walk with God in anticipation of unending joy and glory.

 

4 Strategies for Waiting

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The idea for my book, Shipwrecked! Learning From The Bible Bad Guys, started with my study of the life of King Saul. I could see several of my faults in his life, particularly as I read about his unwillingness to wait for Samuel at a critical time during his reign.

From this wayward king, I discovered a strategy for waiting amidst the faulty reasons he gave to Samuel for his disobedience. If we can avoid the places where his thinking went awry,  it helps us wait for whatever we hope will happen soon, but doesn’t. We have all been there.

I believe if there is one shared experience among followers of Christ, it is that of waiting. He often makes us wait for:

  • The right person to come along to marry
  • The job we desire
  • The money to pay all our bills
  • Healing to get over the flu or a sinus infection
  • His intervention in a crisis we face
  • A slow driver to finally get out of the passing lane (perhaps of lesser importance)

I am sure you can add several other things to the above list. In an era where answers come so quickly via our computers and smartphones, it’s especially difficult when God does not immediately remedy our dilemmas.

So, what do we do when the Lord makes us wait, particularly in painful situations?

In my book, I provide 4 strategies for waiting that helped me immensely during my lengthy time of waiting years ago. I could develop each tactic here, but that would make this post far too long.

So, the best way to communicate them to you is through my book, through an invitation to speak, or both.

 

Outliers, the Church, and the Rapture

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

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

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

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

What Does the Great Commission Tell Us to Do?

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

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

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

What Did Jesus Command Us to Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Unshakable Kingdom

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

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

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

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

It’s the Kingdom of Jesus

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

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

It’s Physical, Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Ordinary Life

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Thomas Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. He became a believer at the age of 27 and a Methodist preacher at the age of 36 despite a lack of formal training for the ministry. Unfortunately, after only a year poor health made it impossible for him to continue as a pastor.

He later opened up an insurance office in New Jersey where continued ill health limited his income for the remainder of his life. He once said this regarding his humble circumstances, “God has given me many wonderful displays of his providing care, which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”

As he looked back, he saw God’s faithfulness though all the disappointments and frustrations as well as in His unfailing provision for him.

Inspired by Lamentations 3:22-23, he wrote the words to the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” in 1923. He sent his poem to his friend William Runyan who added music to the words. The hymn became popular in churches throughout America after Billy Graham started using it in his crusades.

Unlike the story behind the song “It Is Well with My Soul,” Thomas Chisholm wrote this song toward the end of what he regarded as an “ordinary” life. As he looked back, he saw God’s faithfulness though all the disappointments and frustrations as well as in His unfailing provision for him.

After receiving direction to do so, I have spent the last few weeks adding more of my story to a book I am writing. This has stirred up many memories of the dark times in my life. I remembered walks late at night crying out to God in the midst of great personal pain. My time of affliction was long and filled with much despair.

I remember reading Lamentations 3:22-39 during this time and wondering if I would ever see the Lord’s compassion again or the end to my grief.

Now, however, as I look back at how the Lord rescued me from my trying circumstances and healed the deep wounds of my heart, I celebrate His faithfulness.

After I finished the task of adding my story to the opening chapters of my book, I listened to “Great is Thy Faithfulness” on YouTube. As I reflected on the words, I felt like every phrase of this hymn applied specifically to me. I especially liked the words, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” The Lord gave me strength even at times when I did not even realize it and faithfully renewed my hope of eternity when my outlook for this life seemed so dim.

God has been exceedingly faithful to me in bringing me through all my ups and downs. He has brought me to a place of rest that I could not have imagined twenty years ago. Where would I be without His unfailing goodness to me?

Although Chisholm may have regarded his life as ordinary, God has used the words he wrote to bless millions. His testimony of God’s faithfulness through the everyday messes of life has resounded through the church for many decades.

We never know how the Lord can use our lives. Even through what might seem mundane to us, He can use our experiences and testimony in ways we cannot imagine. When he wrote “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Chisholm may have thought his words would drift into obscurity as have the many other poems he wrote. He likely could never have imagined the lasting impact of what he penned so long ago.

God’s plan for our lives even extends beyond the here and now.  In eternity, we will see the full end of God’s faithfulness as we see His purposes for all we endure on earth. In His hands, each unique (and even ordinary) story will fit perfectly into a beautiful and amazing kaleidoscope that will bring Him glory forever.

There we will continue to celebrate and sing of God’s great faithfulness for thousands of years to come.

We will fully understand just how much the Lord can use ordinary lives. It’s what lies at the end of our paths that matters the most.

 

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!!

 

What Difference Does It Make?

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“What difference does it make?” Hillary Clinton made this question famous during her Senate questioning of what happened during the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi. Although she did not regard the questions she faced as important, I am sure the answers mattered to those who had lost loved ones in the attack.

Many ask similar questions in regard to future things. What difference does it make what I believe about the Lord’s return? Does it really matter if I am watching for it or not? People have been waiting centuries for Him to come again. Should I look for it to happen anytime soon or in my lifetime?

What difference does it make what I believe about the Lord’s return? Does it really matter if I am watching for it or not?

These issues have led to much indifference even among believers regarding the Lord’s return. Many are not watching for it while some do not believe it will happen any time soon if at all.

Does living with an expectancy of Jesus imminent appearing really matter? Absolutely!

Let me explain.

The Importance to the Lord of Such Anticipation

Even though Jesus knew there would be a lengthy delay, He instructed His followers to both watch and be ready for His return (Matt. 24:42, 43: 25:13). Throughout the New Testament, we see this same posture of waiting and expecting that He could appear at any moment (Rom. 8:23; Titus 2:11-13; 1 Pet. 1:13; James 5:8-9). The early believers followed Jesus’ command to watch for His return.

Would Jesus have commanded us to do something if it was not important to Him? Why would Jesus ask His followers to look for His return as something that could happen at any time if it was a useless exercise in futility? I do not think so.

Readiness for His Jesus’ appearing is something important to Him and beneficial to us as well.

The Benefits for Us of Such an Outlook

I see several benefits for us in the New Testament of living with perspective that Jesus could return at any time. Such anticipation:

Kindles purity in our lives – After writing about Jesus’ appearing the apostle John added these words in 1 John 1:3, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” The prospect that Jesus could return at any moment kindles purity in us; it causes us to be much more mindful of walking in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we have victory over sin.

If you truly thought it was possible that Jesus could return tomorrow, would it make a difference in how you live? Of course it would. You might change your mind regarding what movie or TV show you watch tonight. Your thoughts as you go to bed would be different. You would be eager to resolve any conflict with your spouse or deal with unforgiveness toward someone in our life. You would be more conscious of using your gifts and abilities to serve the Lord.

You would want to be ready to meet Jesus!

Keeps a two-world perspective alive in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:16-18) The apostle Paul endured much suffering as he preached the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, yet he never lost heart. As he compared eternal realities with the temporal things of this life he said this, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul’s two world outlook focused his attention on the joys and glory ahead for him in eternity as he endured his beatings, scourging, imprisonments, and shipwrecks.

Without the hope of Jesus’ soon return, we would soon lose our anticipation of heaven. The things of this world would take on much greater importance compared with the wonders of forever.

Encourages us in the midst of suffering (1 Pet. 1:3-6) In writing to believers suffering under the weight of persecution, the apostle Peter immediately reminded them of their “living hope” and of their inheritance that was “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for” them (1 Pet. 1:3-4). He reminded them of the substance of their hope. Regardless of what they experienced on earth, they had a glorious reward waiting for them in heaven at the end of their suffering.

Motivates us to use our spiritual gifts in making disciples (Phil. 3:14-21) – I believe Paul’s determination to press forward in His service to the Lord came from his anticipation of Jesus’ soon return. I believe this was the “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14) that he further described in verses 20-21.

CS Lewis said this about such an outlook: “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.”

Keeps the hope of a better day before us Revelation 21:4 says, “He 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.” The focusing of our thoughts on Jesus’ soon return constantly reminds us that a better day is coming, one in which all sorrow, death, and mourning will be things of the past.

The focusing of our thoughts on Jesus’ soon return constantly reminds us that a better day is coming, one in which all sorrow, death, and mourning will be things of the past.

While most all believers hope for this glorious future day, the sense of imminency in Jesus’ return keeps these things in sharper focus. This also works to minimize the frustrations and disappointments of this life as we realize that a much better day is coming. Setbacks in this life are just temporary; an eternal day is just around the corner. A time of unending joy awaits us with Jesus’ appearing!

Results in a special reward – 2 Timothy 4:8 refers to “the crown of righteousness” that the apostle Paul says is for “all who have loved his appearing.” Our longing for Jesus to return will be rewarded even if we do not see it in our lifetime.

Yes, there are days when I start to wonder, “What’s the point of watching for Jesus to come? I have been waiting for such a very long time!”

It’s then the signs of the approaching tribulation remind me that the time is indeed short. The fires, famines, rumors of war, earthquakes, and increasing talk of the coming new world order all tell us that Jesus is coming soon. The signs around us are increasing exponentially with each pass week.

“How can it be much longer until Jesus whisks us away to heaven and the tribulation begins?”

We will experience endless joy beyond our imagination throughout eternity.

If you are experiencing sorrow, feeling hopelessness, or facing opposition or heartache because of your faith, do not give up hope. Keep your focus on the better day that is coming for all of us who are in Christ. When Jesus comes for His church, He will give us imperishable resurrected bodies and we will be with Him forever with bodies that will never age and never again experience pain or sickness. We will experience endless joy beyond our imagination throughout eternity.

Keep looking up; a much, much, much, better day is just ahead. Such anticipation makes a significant difference in how we view our lives.

 

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).

 

What Did Jesus Tell Us About Our Future?

Lighthouse beacon light2

It always helps when planning a vacation to talk to someone who has already been to the desired destination. They can tell you about what to see as well as what to avoid. The same is true with restaurants, is it not? How many of you have decided not to go to a certain eating establishment after listening to a less than favorable report by someone who had eaten there? Or, on the other hand, how many of you couldn’t wait to go to a restaurant because someone raved about its food?

When it comes to heaven, we have someone who has been there. I am referring to Jesus, of course. When talking to Nicodemus, Jesus highlighted the fact He had descended from heaven to establish His authority for speaking about heavenly things (John 3:12-13).

When Jesus talked about our future, about eternity, He did so with unique authority as not only One who came from heaven, but also as One who rose from the dead.

What exactly did Jesus say about eternity, about our future?

Jesus promised to take us to His Father’s House: Jesus said this in John 14:3, “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.” In John 14:2-3, Jesus promised to take His followers, represented by His disciples, to the place in His Father’s house He was going to prepare for them. This very much seems to be a private return of Jesus for His own that differs substantially from His quite public return to earth, which He described in Matthew 24:29-31.

Jesus gave us signs of the end times: During the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples asked Jesus about the signs of His coming and the end of the age. Matthew 24:3-14 records Jesus’ answer with the list of signs He provided to them. Since these things came from the One who could see ahead to His coming, we should not so easily brush them aside as many do today.

So many believers today pay so little attention to what Jesus said in Matthew 24 despite the fact that His words are unfolding in an amazing way throughout the world today with uncanny preciseness. We are living in the time Jesus spoke about in these verses.

Jesus foretold the future desecration of the temple by the antichrist: Jesus also verified Daniel’s prophecy regarding a future world leader, the antichrist, who would put an end to sacrifice at the temple halfway through the tribulation. Jesus referred to this as the “abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel” (see Dan. 9:27, Matt. 24:15).

In this verse, Jesus confirmed that that there will be antichrist that will rise to power in the last days and he will defile the temple halfway through the tribulation, just as Daniel predicted. This has not happened since the time of Jesus; it awaits a future fulfillment when Israel will rebuild the temple, the antichrist will establish a covenant that will include Israel, and this leader will break his pledge of peace by defiling the temple halfway through the tribulation period.

Jesus predicted a time of great tribulation: In this same passage, Jesus also predicted a time of “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matt. 24:21). In the next verse, He states that if this time was not cut short, presumably by His return to earth, all humanity would perish. Jesus said that no one would survive this time apart from His coming,  which will stop the progression of events that would wipe out human life.

This is the time John spoke about in the book of Revelation. In chapters 6-19, the apostle adds details to this terrible time in human history.

Jesus described His glorious return to earth: I love Jesus’ own description of is glorious return to earth in Mathew 24:30, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Jesus entered the world as a helpless baby during His first coming. For His second coming, He will return in spectacular fashion with great power and glory as the entire world watches.

Jesus spoke of His future millennial reign: At this point you might be wondering where Jesus talked about His future millennial reign. While He did not specify it as clearly as John did in Revelation 20:1-6, he certainly implied it in key passages such as Matthew 26.

During Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, the High Priest demanded that Jesus tell him whether or not He was the long awaited Messiah. “Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matt. 26:64). Jesus was quoting from Daniel 7:13-14, a passage that prophesies the Father giving the “son of man” a physical kingdom where “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”

By quoting from this passage in Daniel, Jesus affirms that one day He will be the King over the long awaited physical kingdom that will include the nations of the world.

Jesus warned people about the existence of hell: John Lennon tried to imagine life without an eternity, one without the existence of heaven and hell. In other words, our existence would end after our brief time on earth.

Jesus, however, acknowledged both the existence of heaven and hell. In fact, no one in the Bible talked more about God’s final judgment than Jesus. Seven times Jesus warned people about the existence of hell referring to it as a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus repeatedly warned people of the dire consequences of rejecting Him and His gracious and loving promise of eternal life.

Jesus assured His followers of eternal life in paradise: Jesus did not come for the purpose of condemning the world, however, but for the purpose of giving His life as a “ransom for many” so that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Mark 10:45; John 3:16-17). So yes, while there are frightful consequences of rejecting Jesus’ gracious offer of life, there is the promise of paradise for all those who turn to Him for salvation from the penalty of their sins. Even for the thief crucified next to Him received this assurance after acknowledging Jesus’ ability to save him from his sins (Luke 23:40-43).

Jesus commanded us to watch for His return: In Matthew 24:44 Jesus said this, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” A little later in the same discourse He added these words, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (25:13). The Lord urges His followers, us, to watch for His return. This is not just something for the few on the fringe, but for all who call upon His name.

Jesus’ last recorded words to His church are these, “Surely I am coming soon.” The Greek word for “soon” is better translated “quickly.” It’s clear from His last words to us that Jesus desired for us to watch for His John 14:3 return. If this was true then, how much more today as we see the signs of the approaching tribulation multiply around us?

Why does all this matter? Do Jesus’ words carry more authority than the rest of the New Testament? No, I believe it’s all Jesus’ revelation to the church of His deity, the saving Gospel message, and the joyous eternity He is preparing for all of us who belong to Him. What we believe about the Gospel and our future after this life starts with the words and saving work of Jesus to which He added further revelation through His apostles in the first century.

These things matter so much today because so many professing believers want a Jesus who did not really say or mean several of the things listed above. They want Jesus, but deny the urgency of His saving message, the existence of hell, and His warnings of judgment. They want a Jesus of their own making, not the One revealed on the pages of Scripture.

We can trust Jesus’ words about all these things because He came from eternity and He rose from the dead, just as He said He would. This establishes His credibility beyond anyone else who has ever lived.

Oh, there is one more thing that is absolutely essential to add that many also deny . . . .

Jesus said He is the only way to the Father, the only way to eternal life: In John 14:6 Jesus said these words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

If you are trusting another Jesus, one who would never deny anyone entrance to heaven, please turn to the true Jesus, the One who is truly the only way to eternal life, who will be true to all His words that I have listed above. He will surely save those who belong to Him and bring them into the joy of eternity.

If you are trusting your good works or being a good person to get you to heaven, please know that Jesus died for your sins precisely because your good works could never merit you any favor with the Father. He is the only way to the Father; He is the only way to eternal life.

The cross proves how much Jesus loves us; He was willing to die in our place.

It’s Jesus’ righteousness that counts, not our own. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The cross proves how much Jesus loves us; He was willing to die in our place. If you have not yet put your faith in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of your sins, please do not reject His gracious and loving offer of life any longer.

The time of the end is rapidly approaching, please turn to the Savior before it is too late. Jesus said He would return when we do not expect.

Why Such Little Excitement?

 

Alaska Sunrise
“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.