The Poor Church That Is Rich


In Revelation Jesus delivered messages to the angels of seven first century churches. He generally began by confronting them regarding some problem area. But there was one church that didn’t receive any “here’s what you’re doing wrong” counsel: the church in Smyrna, known today as Izmir, Turkey.

Jesus first lets them know that He’s aware of what they’re up against. He starts by telling them He knew of their trouble and their poverty. Instead of stopping there, though, He precedes to reverse the statement:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) (Rev. 2:9a).

They’re poor—Jesus didn’t say this was untrue. But they are rich.

This could possibly be a comparative statement similar to what we experience in the US: in comparison to Warren Buffett or Bill Gates we would say we are poor, but in comparison to the majority of the people in the world, we are rich.

More likely, I think, the statement shows the spiritual condition of the church versus the physical. The believers in Smyrna were in fact poor, but because of their relationship with Christ they were simultaneously rich.

God’s riches do not negate the conditions of this world. Our brothers and sisters who are in Haiti or Indonesia or Sudan don’t have a lot of the world’s goods.

And yet they are still rich. They are heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him. They have the Holy Spirit who lives in them, guides them, seals them, intercedes in prayer for them.

They have Christ whose work at the cross provides them with forgiveness of sins, redemption, the cancellation of their debt, who clothes them with righteousness, bears their burdens if they cast them on Him. In every spiritual way conceivable, they are rich.

The second thing Jesus said about the church in Smyrna was that He knew “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9b). Apparently pretenders were among them. So like our experience today.

Jesus then moved to a prophetic message introduced by a command: Do not fear. They were about to suffer, Jesus said, and “the devil” was about to cast them in prison, they were about to face tribulation, though it would be for a specific, limited time.

He concluded with a command too: Be faithful until death.

Wow!

I’m not sure this message inspires me to not fear, and I’m not the target audience of this message. Or am I? I’d have to say, of course I am, as are all Christians who make up the body of Christ.

The details vary in our circumstances, but we are all rich regardless of our outward conditions. And we all have to cope with pretenders. We all are up against Satan’s attempt to imprison us in sin and guilt and the law.

Clearly, God does not promise us a Better Life Now here on this earth. He simply does not do so. This passage, written to the church in Smyrna, is still written, like all other Scripture, for all believers, for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

So, like Smyrna, we are to face what’s coming our way, unafraid and faithful until death.

The cool thing is, we, like Smyrna, have two promises for that faithfulness: 1) the crown of life; and 2) if we overcome, the escape from the “second death.”

Do I know what the second death is? No. But I figure it’s more important that I know how to overcome so that I won’t have to worry about being hurt by it.

But now I wonder if Christ isn’t the One who has already overcome. We know He has. And we know that we who are in Christ will be like Him. So, are not believers in the redemptive work of Christ, already those who have overcome? Again, I think that’s the most logical understanding of the admonition.

In short, despite the way the world might look, the believer in Christ can laugh because we understand Jesus Christ has won and is winning and will claim His victory one day soon.

It’s not really complicated. We aren’t to fear, and we are to remain faithful for as long as God gives us breath.

This article is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in July, 2014.

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Published in: on July 27, 2018 at 5:02 pm  Comments (4)  
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Unreasonable Demands


Why do atheists continue to demand physical evidence for spiritual phenomena? I’m mystified by this total lack of understanding of the spiritual realm. God is a Spirit, and no one has seen Him, but atheists persist in asking for demonstrable confirmation, as if we humans can conjure up something physical for that which is not physical.

This makes no sense.

Expecting physical evidence of the spiritual is unreasonable.

The two realms—the physical and the spiritual—operate on separate planes, and any mathematician can tell you that parallel planes do not intersect. That’s DO NOT INTERSECT.

The fact that God, exercising His omnipotence, has on occasion stepped into the physical realm or allowed His spiritual messengers to do so, demonstrates the existence of the spiritual, as well as His sovereignty over both realms. But clearly there can be no study using the scientific method of that which is anomalous. After all, the supernatural is not natural.

What don’t atheists understand about this?

Because of the unreasonable demands for physical evidence of that which is not physical, these same individuals conclude that anything beyond the physical must not actually exist. But of course “the physical” is defined by what the human senses can detect.

Obviously, atoms must not have existed for thousands of years, and only came into existence when humans gained the ability to see them through the use of microscopes. For that matter, other universes didn’t exist either, until humans developed telescopes powerful enough to see them. My point is, just because the human senses can’t always detect the existence of a thing—even physical things—this lack on our part is not evidence that things beyond our awareness do not exist.

To limit the world to what humans can see and know is narrow thinking.

For instance, dogs and dolphins and whales can hear sounds that are beyond the range which the human ear can detect. Are those sounds just myth or pretend or fabrications? Well, no. Because sound is detected by a physical property, humans have developed technology that allows us to study sounds we can’t actually hear. But if we only accept what we can detect by our physical senses, we ought not believe in sounds, or colors for that matter, that are beyond us.

How odd that what we once could not see or hear and did not know existed, is now readily accepted. But spiritual things that people have known for centuries do exist have come under attack and under the unreasonable demands of unbelieving people who want to limit knowledge to their approved list.

Because, it seems, these naturalists who limit themselves to what can be detected by the human senses, hedge themselves with the idea that what we know now can change at any moment. And that’s OK. So today we can rule out the multiverse, but tomorrow we might “discover” evidence for the very thing we deny today.

If that’s so, then how can any living, thinking person rule out the existence of God?

Might not He once again sovereignly enter the physical plane in a “demonstrable” way so that all those atheists who have limited themselves to the physical can see the existence of the spiritual world?

It’s going to happen.

Christ will one day return in such a way that every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that He is Lord. His return will be something sudden, dramatic, universal. Meaning that nobody will miss it or doubt it or mistake what’s happening.

What’s sad to me is that atheists won’t know sooner. I mean, in truth, God sovereignly enters this world moment by moment through His Holy Spirit. Every believer has the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life. That’s a spiritual happening, an ongoing Presence, an unexplained supernatural Being who resides in the heart of every follower of Christ.

Those of us who have experienced His guidance or comfort or peace or conviction or joy know it’s something beyond our capacity to manufacture. It’s supernatural, not natural.

One day the veil that blinds the eyes of those who don’t believe, will be lifted. Then, just like the stars we could not see without powerful telescopes and the particles of atoms we could not see without powerful microscopes, the spiritual world that exists beyond the physical will become clear to us all.

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About this image: In 2015 NASA and ESA celebrated “the Hubble Space Telescope’s silver anniversary of 25 years in space by unveiling some of nature’s own fireworks — a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2. The cluster resides inside a vibrant stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina. . . . The largest stars are unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light and hurricane-force winds that etch away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud. This creates a fantasy celestial landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys.” Available at WikiMedia Commons and is a public domain photo.

When Christ Shall Come — A Reprise


No, this is not a reprise of last Friday’s post. This one is just on the same topic. Actually there’s a lot more that I could say, but I think this is a good place to focus our attention for now.
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The position of the Christian today is not so different from that of the Old Testament saints. They waited for the coming of Messiah and we wait for the return of Messiah.

They had God’s promises, given to His prophets, assuring them that their Redeemer King and that their Suffering Servant would come. We have God’s sure written word telling us of the arrival of our Suffering Servant Savior and the promise of His return as King eternal.

So we wait today, much as Daniel and Micah and Joel did.

The cool thing is, as the people of Israel looked back to how God rescued them from Egypt, we now look back to how Christ rescued us from sin and death. They looked forward to Messiah coming to establish His kingdom, and we look forward to His coming again in power and glory to reign supreme.

One of the best loved hymns, certainly of the twentieth century, “How Great Thou Art,” captures the jubilation of Christ’s return in the fourth stanza.

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home—what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!

I wonder if Christ’s return will be similar to the really big earthquakes which you hear at the same time you feel them. Maybe those shouts of acclimation will rend the heavens as we see Christ with His entourage of angels.

As an aside, this particular hymn, was written by Stuart K. Hine, an English missionary to Ukraine. From time to time something would occur which inspired him to write another stanza. Here’s the story behind the third stanza:

It was typical of the Hines to inquire as to the existence of any Christians in the villages they visited. In one case, they found out that the only Christians that their host knew about were a man named Dmitri and his wife Lyudmila. Dmitri’s wife knew how to read — evidently a fairly rare thing at that time and in that place. She taught herself how to read because a Russian soldier had left a Bible behind several years earlier, and she started slowly learning by reading that Bible. When the Hines arrived in the village and approached Dmitri’s house, they heard a strange and wonderful sound: Dmitri’s wife was reading from the gospel of John about the crucifixion of Christ to a houseful of guests, and those visitors were in the very act of repenting. In Ukraine (as I know first hand!), this act of repenting is done very much out loud. So the Hines heard people calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. They just couldn’t barge in and disrupt this obvious work of the Holy Spirit, so they stayed outside and listened. Stuart wrote down the phrases he heard the Repenters use, and (even though this was all in Russian), it became the third verse that we know today: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.” (“How Great Thou Art”)

Back to Christ’s return, of course we don’t know the day or hour, but we do know a few things about it. For one, He’ll come to rule. That’s the great and ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament promise.

But there’s more:

Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him. (Isaiah 40:10)

He’s coming to give His reward. Hard to imagine what that will be like. Jesus used the analogy of a banquet. David also talked about our Shepherd preparing a table for us. The idea here is lavish abundance, provision beyond our means. This is fare fit for the King of Kings, yet He seats us at His table.

Without a doubt, Christ’s return is going to be the pivotal moment in all of history. Again from Isaiah 40:

Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The event will be worldwide, it will be dramatic, even cataclysmic, but mostly it will reveal God’s glory. This is the Shekinah glory which Moses experienced in a secondary way at the giving of the Ten Commandments and which the people of Israel experienced as a pillar of fire at night. This is the glory Paul likely saw and wrote of in 2 Corinthians that outshines what those in the Old Testament experienced:

But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. (3:7-11, emphasis added)

OK, here’s the real shock, at least to me. I don’t know what this will look like:

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col. 3:4)

It just dawned on me that this may be why God wants to involve us in His work. I’ve wondered why He bothers giving us fallible, weak humans the important task of preaching His word and proclaiming His truth and even of loving our neighbor when obviously God could miraculously care for each one in a far better way than we can. But repeatedly He has given us work to do. Maybe that’s because, in His love for us, He wants to shower us in glory. What a concept! What a God!

Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!

This post originally appeared here July 2014.

Published in: on June 18, 2018 at 5:23 pm  Comments Off on When Christ Shall Come — A Reprise  
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Jesus Is Coming Again


After Jesus rose from the dead, He stayed on earth for some 40 days. Lots of people saw Him. He spent time explaining the Scriptures—at the time, that meant what we now know as the Old Testament—to his disciples. He wanted them to see how the prophets, the poetry, and even Israel’s history, pointed to Him.

Then He left. But right after His ascension, angels informed the witnesses of this dramatic event, that He would return in the exact same way.

Seems like from that moment on, people have been asking, when’s He coming back?

A long list of people have come up with schemes and systems to figure out the day Christ will return. Clearly these predictions are not Biblical. Jesus Himself said that no one knows the day or hour of His return. He said He didn’t even know, which has scholars scrambling to understand how Jesus, who is God, doesn’t know something that God the Father knows. Try explaining that one. But I digress.

With Jesus telling us nobody has this piece of information about the future, I can’t help but wonder, why do people keep trying to figure it out? It seems like spitting in the wind.

In fact, I think it does far more damage, and who gets the black eye is the name of Christ and all of Christendom. Every time some misguided person, or false teacher, announces that he knows the date of Christ’s return, the jokes start to fly. And they get uglier with each false prediction. I pretty much want to say, if someone claims that Jesus is coming back March 10, 2020 (or whatever), we know for sure when He is NOT coming back, because nobody knows.

The sad thing is, with every failed prediction, not only do those who reject Jesus become entrenched in their unbelief, many others begin to question. Is He ever coming back? I mean, things have been going on the same as always for the last 2000 years. Why is He waiting so long?

Well, for one, He’s waiting for what the Bible refers to as “the fullness of time.” What that means, I’m not altogether sure. I don’t know what cosmic things have to align, what political powers have to fall or rise. One thing I know, God is waiting for the Church to be made complete. In other words, one reason for the delay was so that you and I, fellow Christians, would be born and would be saved. There might be decades or centuries of others who God will add to His family. We simply don’t know.

But we do know for certain that Jesus is coming again.

He said He is. The angels said He is. Scripture says He is.

There’s another strange belief that Jesus already has returned, and we’re in the era leading up to the end. I admit I don’t understand all that the proponents of this idea say. I think it’s not true. We know from Scripture that His return will be cosmic and universal and public. He will not come back in the manner He first came. Sure, there were angels then, but their announcement of His birth was localized. Everything else about His arrival was more in keeping with His role as the Suffering Savior. When He cones back it will be as the Conquering King.

The important aspects of Jesus’s return for us to know and remember are these: His return is sure. He will give the dead in Christ their new bodies. Our part is simply to be ready. Focusing on the “when” is not the way to get ready.

We’ve been given a mission, and the only way to be ready for Christ’s return is to be doing the job He gave us to do.

Imagine a military unit sent abroad to rescue a village trapped by a volcanic lava flow. Instead of carrying out their orders, though, they stop to take pictures and work feverishly to determine how long the villagers have before the lava overtakes their homes.

We Christians are a rescue unit. We have orders to bring out of dangers all who will come. So why would we spend one minute trying to calculate how long we have before tragedy strikes those who have yet to turn to Christ?

I understand that God will make a way of escape for any who want to come to Him. But what about any of us not doing our job?

In the story Jesus told about the ten virgins who awaited the coming of the bridegroom. Only five were prepared. The other five were turned away. Was Jesus telling us that doing the work He has set before us, is evidence that we do, in fact, believe in Him?

Jesus told other stories about His return. One had a servant taking what he was supposed to invest and burying it in the ground. The master in the story threw him out too. Sitting on what we’ve been given is not what “be ready” entails.

Good servants, I learned from Downtown Abbey, anticipate what their master wants. Well, we know what our Master wants: disciples. He wants us sharing the gospel; facilitating others who are going places we can’t go, to share the gospel; praying for those who are in strategic places to share the gospel. After all, we’re on a rescue mission. We need to bring in as many to safety as will come.

Thoughts About The New Year


happy_new_year_2138227696

I have to admit, when I was a teacher, I rarely saw January 1 as a new beginning. For me, the start of the school year marked the start of another year. Consequently, January 1 was more of an anti-climactic holiday, a Christmas after-thought, noted mostly for the last breather before heading into the long stretch before Easter.

Now that I’m no longer tied to the school calendar, I find myself freed up to think about New Year’s Day in a new way. Frankly, I’m more mystified than anything. In past years I’ve watched on the late news the celebrations summary which recapped the festivities around the world, and I couldn’t help but think, What’s the big deal?

Seriously.

What exactly changes between December 31 and January 1? And why would we think this is something to celebrate?

I know some have said 2017 has to be better than 2016, so there seems to be a note of hope. Of course others are dreading what might come when President-elect Trump takes office and they may despair.

Of course we’d all like to see our personal circumstances move in a positive direction. If we’re healthy, we’d like to stay that way. If we’ve had ailments or illness, we’d like to see better physical well-being. Same with finances or relationships. Wherever we are along the “hope continuum,” we need a Biblical perspective.

Scripture points to One Hope, and only one—the long awaited arrival of the once Suffering Servant, now as the Eternal King. That’s something to hope for, look forward to, be eagerly expectant about.

The New Year? Not so much. In this world I can confidently predict that 2017 will hold political corruption, corporate greed, personal crime. Individuals will steal from friends and from strangers. Gangs will war against each other. Terrorists will plot against people who have no evil intent against them. Addicts will seek another fix and another. Drunk drivers will cause accidents. Husbands will break their vows. Wives will nag their husbands. Children will disobey their parents. And God will be dishonored in any number of ways by any number of people.

So why would we put hope in the passing of one day and the coming of another which we’ve tagged with a different numeral since nothing else has changed? I can only surmise that this idea of hope in a new year, a new President, a new collection of governmental advisers and division heads comes from those who don’t have a sense of what constitutes true Hope. The eternal kind that provides a permanent answer to the human condition.

To be honest, I’m sad for those who look ahead with excitement for the wrong reasons. They have disillusionment waiting for them, and eventually, despair. Would that those of us who know what Hope really is, use 2017 to widely disseminate the truth.

Selfishly I want to say, Maranatha—come quickly, Lord Jesus. Might He return this year? Yet, doesn’t He delay for the very purpose of bringing all those into His family who belong there? I can’t want His return to come a moment earlier than what He has planned. I can want revival in His Church, though, with accompanying testimony to God’s greatness and goodness.

May 2017 be a year in which many come to Christ and in which God’s name is glorified throughout the world, in times of suffering as well as in times of blessing.

This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in January 2009.

Published in: on December 30, 2016 at 7:05 pm  Comments Off on Thoughts About The New Year  
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Revelation


The Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye attracted attention to eschatology—the “part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” (Oxford English Dictionary). They are by no means the first writers to depict the events cataloged in the book of Revelation and other passages of prophecy. Back in 1972 A Thief in the Night, the first of a series of four feature-length films, made it’s way into theaters.

There was also a badly written novel—the title escapes me—that encapsulated the entire story of The End . . . in about 250 pages. I’m sure there were others. Certainly there have been since Left Behind. In 2010 Scars: An amazing end-time prophecy novel came out. In 2011 an author announced he was beginning work on The Revelation: a new end-times novel as part of NaNoWriMo.

Years ago, before Revelation became a subject of fiction, churches favoring a dispensational view of Biblical history, held prophecy conferences, complete with charts and time lines.

All this to say, there has been a fascination with Revelation and what it says about the future. But of late, perhaps in reaction to the so popular Left Behind books, there’s been a bit of a backlash against end-time fiction. Some publishers, for example, state in their guidelines they do not want end-time stories. Some bloggers make repeated references to the “bad theology” of the Left Behind books.

I suppose the main struggle with the book of Revelation is to know what is symbolic and what is literal. In some instances, an angel tells John, and therefore us, what the visionary language means.

As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Rev. 1:20)

These passages are not nearly as common as the pictorial, symbolic language filling most of the book.

That we struggle today to know what John saw that was figurative and what, literal, should be no surprise. The disciples struggled to understand Jesus, too. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, He told them. Oh, no, the disciples said, we forgot to bring bread. I’m going up to Jerusalem to die, Jesus said. Who gets to sit on Your right hand and left hand when You take over, the disciples asked.

When was He talking in parables, when was He speaking plainly? If they couldn’t tell, it should be no shock that we struggle a bit with the same issues when it comes to the revelation Jesus gave to John.

But there are some things we can know. So what is good theology when it comes to the book of Revelation? What is this book recording John’s vision of angels and trumpets and bowls of wrath and seals and beasts and the harlot Babylon, all about?

As my former pastor said as part of his introduction to a sermon series over the book, the one clear truth is that Christ wins. That being said, I think there are some additional key themes that run through Revelation which, I believe, Christians on either side of the theological divide, agree upon.

First, Jesus Christ is the Lamb that was slain, making Him the only one qualified to open that which God has held secret from past ages and generations.

In addition, He will return as the Conqueror and the King, defeating Satan and assigning him eternal punishment.

Revelation also portrays divine judgment on those who follow Satan, who do not repent and give God glory.

Throughout, the book shows God as righteous in His acts, even those that come directly from His wrath. Here’s an example:

And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” (Rev 16:5-7)

Another key theme is God’s provision of a new home—a new heaven and a new earth—for those whose names are written in the book of life.

One more, though undoubtedly there are others: there’s a clear warning to the churches to hold fast to the truth, to love God and obey Him, to resist false teaching or the lure of riches or complacency.

Revelation is a rich book because it shows us more about who God is than it does about what will happen someday. It shows us what He cares about and what His wrath looks like. It shows that He is worthy to be praised for His justice as well as for His redemption, for His majesty as well as for His righteousness. It shows that He is the Lamb who is Worthy.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2012.

Christ’s Return


whaleSome things we Christians believe seem extraordinary. Probably because they are. I mean, a big fish swallowing a man who lived in its stomach for three days, and also lived to tell about it? Or a type of sweet cake that appears with the morning due six days a week, for forty years! And then one day stops because a new source of food is available. How about a man born blind suddenly able to see? Or a gold coin lodged in the throat of a fish—the exact fish Peter “just happened” to catch after Jesus told him what to do.

There are so many others, but none ranks higher than Jesus rising from the tomb He’d been buried in. This was not a resuscitation or even the kind of resurrection Lazarus experienced. Jesus came alive and received a new, glorified body—one that transcended the laws of physics and would never die again.

His model 2.0 is the precursor to His return. It’s also the proof and precursor to our own resurrected bodies which we’ll receive one day, but that’s a topic for another day.

What I’ve been thinking about is a question that recently got me thinking. Are Christians expecting Jesus’s return to be a surprise that will catch everyone off guard, in the same way that a thief who comes in secret surprises a homeowner? Or are there clear prophecies that mark out what must happen before Christ will come again?

I’ve always thought the answer is, Both!

After all, Scripture says more than once that we are to be ready, to be alert, to be like the servant awaiting for his master’s return, like the wedding attendants ready with the extra oil for the bridegroom’s appearance. And yet, Jesus gave a list of things that would happen that He called the beginning of the end: wars and rumors of wars, false prophets and persecution, earthquakes and famine, the darkened sun and the darkened moon.

Paul seems to reinforce the idea that the day of Christ’s return will be sudden and yet will follow a set, recognizable series of events. He said in his first letter to the Thessalonian church that believers should not be like everyone else:

For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. (5:2-6)

So, like a thief, but it won’t overtake believers like a thief.

In some ways this makes perfect sense. Christians who know the Bible will know the signs that indicate Christ’s return is imminent. Those who do not know the gospel of God will miss those signs or will poo-poo them when they’re told what is to take place.

Of course, convincing unbelievers that signs do exist is all the harder because Christians don’t agree. A quick Internet search uncovered articles that named ten signs, seven signs, fourteen signs. So which is it?

Some theologians concentrate on the signs mentioned in the New Testament. Besides the things Jesus said, we have Paul’s list in his second letter to Timothy:

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. (3:1-6)

Of course, there’s also Revelation, but the discussion about this book of prophecy is more of what scholars say about the prophecies from the Old Testament: how much is fulfilled prophecy, how much future; how much is literal and how much figurative? In these disputed passages we find such things as nations ganging up against Israel, the establishment of a worldwide government, the gospel of God preached to every tribe and tongue, and the re-institution of the Jewish sacrifices in the temple. Oh, and the rise of the Antichrist.

A segment of evangelical Christianity solves the question, will Christ come back like a thief, surprising us all, or like the final chapter of a well-orchestrated drama, with His triumph as the beginning of all things new, by suggesting two returns. Well, it isn’t worded that way, but that’s the essential idea. First Christ returns to take believers out of this world, then Christ returns to bring judgment on those who remain. And on the world, the universe, everything corrupted by sin, it would seem.

There’s reason to believe this idea, chiefly given in 1 Thessalonians when Paul is explaining that those who already died will receive their resurrected bodies first, before those who are alive at the time of Christ’s return. The latter, he says, will be caught up and meet Christ in the air.

I have to admit, I’m not convinced that this meeting in the air is a precursor to Christ’s return and not a part of it. But how it all works, I don’t know.

I don’t know if we’ll be able to see the rise of the Antichrist and know that it is he. Some believers think Christians will be long gone by then, but I believe Scripture says there’s going to be persecution during this time, so I tend to think Christians will still be here.

But that’s a guess. As educated as I can make it, but still a guess.

The one thing I’m sure of is that no one will know when Christ is going to return. Jesus made that fact very clear, so from that standpoint, His return will be a surprise. Which is why we must be alert.

But can we see that men are lovers of selves, of money, boastful, arrogant, disobedient, and all the rest? Sure. Can we see the increase in wars and rumors of wars, in famine and earthquake and disease? Absolutely. Can we see the political forces lining up against Israel and the growth of a global economy that could lead to a global government? You bet.

So what does all this tell us about Christ’s return? I think we’re back to BOTH. We can see the signs Scripture laid out crystallizing, yet we know we won’t know the day or hour when Christ will come back. We know it’s sooner today than it was yesterday. We know it’s sure. We know we need to be alert and to be about our Father’s business, being the ambassadors for His kingdom He wants us to be.

Published in: on July 18, 2016 at 6:13 pm  Comments (3)  
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Easter Isn’t A One Day Event


The_Resurrection014I know stating that Easter isn’t a one day event will be self-evident to some and nonsense to others. I guess it goes back to what a person believes Easter commemorates. There are some, of course, who think it marks the cycle of life and the coming of spring after the cold winter. Others think it’s about candy and the Easter bunny. Some think it’s a call to attend church for the year, to get a spiritual boost.

A smaller number of people think Easter celebrates the day Jesus rose from the dead. Those people might have some question, along with the others, about this idea of Easter being something other than one day that marks a notable happening.

But Easter is much more. True, there was a moment in time when a group of mourning ladies made their way to a Judean tomb with the intention of adding spices to the body of the man they had hoped was the Messiah of God. What they discovered was an empty tomb and a angel saying they shouldn’t be looking for the living among the dead.

And there it is. Easter marks the fact that Jesus lives. He didn’t just come out of the tomb on that first day of the week, then die again. He, in fact, conquered the grave—defeated it, gained total victory over it. Death could not, would never, touch Jesus again.

What He accomplished as a sinless sacrifice for the world God loves, was not a one-day exploit. He didn’t die as the Passover lambs did. His sacrifice was complete—the once-for-all kind, the just for the unjust. And His resurrection was the first fruits of God’s harvest. Just as Jesus came out of the grave with a new body that will not die—a new body that was remarkably familiar because it bore the scares of His crucifixion and allowed Him to eat at will, but also one that was remarkably different because He could pass through doors and disappear in a blink—so too, those who believe on His name will one day receive our glorified bodies.

So that first Easter was the start of Jesus’s life after death. While we are to remember Jesus’s sacrifice by taking communion—the bread to remember His body, broken for sinners; the wine to remember His blood shed to cleanse us from all sin—Jesus most definitely did not stay dead.

There’s an old church tradition among Christians on Easter. When someone says, He is risen, the congregation, or even individuals, respond, He is risen indeed. I like that affirmation, but I think a more accurate response would be, You got that right! He is alive and lives inside me!

Because, that’s the capper. Not only did Jesus get that new, glorified body, He has put His Spirit inside each one of His followers. That’s why one of the irrefutable evidences of the resurrection is the host of believers who have new life because Jesus Himself imparted His life to us.

It really is a thought TOO BIG. How can one man’s sacrifice cover the sins of all who believe? How can He live in me here in SoCal and also live in the lives of precious fellow believers living in Sri Lanka? Or Ukraine. Or Morocco? Or Tanzania. Or Peru. Or Alaska. Or South Korea.

Jesus lives and lives in the hearts of believers because . . . God. It’s really that simple. God can do the impossible. He is smarter, more capable, wiser, more powerful, unstoppable, irrepressible, more noble, truthful, good than we can ever imagine. What CAN’T He do?

So it was His good pleasure to find an answer to the problem of sin by taking on the sin of the world, paying the penalty for that sin, and then declaring from the cross, It is finished. The sacrifice was done, His new life, however, was days away from beginning.

And that’s what Easter is. Not a one day event but the celebration of Jesus alive—present as friend of sinners, as Living Water infusing His people, as the soon and coming King we await.

Published in: on March 28, 2016 at 7:19 pm  Comments (3)  
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God’s Judgment Is Real


Eclipse_lunar_(Blood_moon)When Israel was poised across the Jordan River, ready to take the land God had promised them, Moses reminded them of the need to obey God. By God’s direction, he gave them a list of blessings and a list of curses—the former if they followed God and the latter if they rebelled against Him and did the things that the nations they were about to displace had been doing.

God’s judgment was real—against the people living in Canaan who practices things that were heinous in God’s eyes. They worshiped idols and sacrificed their children on their altars; they involved themselves in perverted sexual practices until God said the land was ready to “spew them out.”

Israel didn’t do any better. They conqueror the land, to be sure, but within a generation they were straying from God’s Law. For four hundred years they experienced a cycle of straying, receiving God’s discipline, and repenting. Eventually God brought His judgment upon Israel in the same way He had Canaan.

The thing is, I wonder if the people of Israel stopped believing that God would judge them. After all, they’d been going their own way for so long, did they think all that early history, with Moses and the exodus, Joshua and the River Jordan, was nothing but a myth? Did they explain the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea and the drying up of the Jordan as some natural phenomena?

Or did they think their ancestors’ own abilities had won their freedom and their own power and wisdom allowed them to conquer all those fortified cities? In other words, did they reason away God’s activity in their successes, so they no longer felt His wrath, when they experienced His judgment?

Something obviously changed. They weren’t crediting God with their prosperity, and they weren’t recognizing the adversity they went through as His judgment.

I thought of this today as I heard and read reactions to last night’s full blood moon eclipse. The news first drew my attention to the idea that some people feared the blood moon as a sign of the end of the world.

Apparently this idea has been fueled by Christians. Some pastors have even written books and pointed to the alignment of past blood moons and particular Jewish holy days.

Much like the past predictions of the end of the world, this kind of public declaration actually backfires, if the intent is to show God’s hand in the natural world and His coming judgment. The average person says, We were told that Y2K was going to be the end of the world, then Harold Camping named a date for the end of the world, then a revised date, then a date for the beginning of the end with another date for the end of the end.

When things continue as they have before, the natural tendency is to blow off the idea of an apocalypse and more specifically, of a judgment of God on this sinful world.

Some people joked about surviving the blood moon apocalypse, others marveled at the beauty of the event. But what I didn’t hear about was anyone repenting. I didn’t read about anyone saying, Well, this blood moon eclipse may or may not be a sign that the end is near, but even if it is not, I’m convinced God will judge the world as He said He would.

Predictions of an apocalypse that doesn’t happen serve to harden people’s hearts. One CNN article quoted Mark Hammergren of a Chicago planetarium as saying, “People have been predicting the end of the world for thousands of years in recorded history, and not a single time has that come about.”

These dramatic astronomical events are actually opportunities for us to pay more attention to space and the stars and how we’re connected to the universe, some unbelieving people reason. And who’s to say they’re wrong.

Regardless, God’s coming judgment is real.

I don’t think we need more signs than what we already have in Scripture—a risen Christ Jesus ascending into heaven with the promise that He will return as the reigning King.

God’s past judgments were sure. He gave people and nations time to turn and repent. Some like King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who came to his senses and confessed God Most High as King over all, and some like Nineveh which repented when Jonah prophesied of God’s judgment, turned from going their own way and bowed before the Creator of the ends of the earth. Others like Sodom and Gomorrah laughed and ignored God’s word and His prophets—to their own doom and destruction.

If God is true, and He is; if He said He would judge the world, and He did; if He has judged nations and people in the past, and He has, then why would we think things will be different in the future?

God will judge the world. The false talk about an apocalypse should not fool anyone into believing that God is not deeply grieved by the mess the world is in. That some people have tried to connect the blood moon to events in Israel’s history or associate them with Jewish holy days is meaningless. God didn’t give us those kinds of details.

But the blood moon can serve as a reminder that God is in control, that His judgment isn’t a joke, even though we don’t know the day or hour, and that now is a good time to become His follower.

Being Ready


10_virgins_Parable1I’m off next week to speak at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference, and this week have spent a good amount of time getting ready. There were things to buy, things to run off, things to pack, things to arrange, things to plan. Not the least of all these are blog posts to schedule. Next week will be a line up of “pre-posted posts,” sort of like “pre-owned books” (instead of used books) or “pre-owned clothing” (instead of hand-me-downs). Hopefully they haven’t seen their best days and visitors here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction can still get some use out of them.

All this fervent effort to get ready to go has made me mindful of Scriptural admonitions to Christians to be ready for Christ’s return.

Jesus Himself said, Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42).

Paul, in wrapping up his first letter to the church in Corinth, gave them some specifics connected with this charge: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:13-14).

To the Ephesians, Paul follows his great passage about putting on the armor of God to face the spiritual forces coming against us, with a similar reminder to be alert—spiritually watchful and ready: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (6:18)

So prayer is a critical part of being ready, it would seem.

Jesus illustrated the need to be ready by telling a couple stories. One was about ten maiden (virgin) attendants at a wedding.

Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.

Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’

And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.

Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’

But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’

Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. (Matt. 25:1-13

As a child, I struggled with this story. I’d been taught the value of sharing and really thought the five ready virgins were being selfish. I didn’t understand that parables focus on only one teaching point, and here, Jesus wanted to illustrate the importance—the necessity—of being ready for His return.

But here’s what I’ve learned about getting ready. As my trip has drawn closer, my focus on the things I need to do has become more acute, to the point that today I spent the whole day doing one thing or the other as part of my preparation. Tomorrow will be the same, and I may even stay up later to get the last minute things taken care of.

I’ve also made lists so I don’t forget things.

But I have to ask, am I as diligent in preparing for Christ’s return? Or, because I don’t have a target date, do I let things slide, consider them not of first importance? Jesus seemed to be saying, Get ready before you do anything else. After all, the whole point and purpose of our existence is to be there for the Bridegroom. So why get distracted and neglect the thing for which we have been called?