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?

Revelation, The End Times, Eschatology


Book_of_Revelation-John on PatmosI’m currently reading in the book of Revelation which has one section that recorded letters to seven churches contemporary to the Apostle John and another section related to the coming and yet future judgment of the world (though a segment of Christians believe the judgments of Revelation were fulfilled in the first century).

As the popularity of the Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye would seem to indicate, a good number of people are fascinated by the latter subject, even those who don’t actually believe. You see this every time someone makes a prediction about when this judgment will take place. It’s like people can’t help but pay attention and wait for the approaching zero hour, then laugh a little (or a lot) when nothing happens.

Some people react almost as if they’ve cheated death. See, they seem to be saying, I can do whatever I want, and the world isn’t going to crumble around our heads. This judgment stuff is a crock.

Which is precisely what Peter warned about in his second letter:

in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3b-4)

Interestingly, Peter connects the end times judgment with the water judgment of old, saying that those who scoff at the coming wrath have missed the lesson of history:

For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. (vv 5-6)

All this relates to Revelation, to the end times, to eschatology (“the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” – Oxford American Dictionary) because God told Noah He would never again destroy the world with water, that judgment would next be delivered by fire.

But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (v 7)

It is this coming judgment which both fascinates and frightens mankind.

Christians take seriously the admonition to be on the alert, to be ready. Many are looking for Christ’s return, not to reign but to take believers out of this world before the disastrous things John prophesied come to fruition.

Some are looking for the Antichrist—the one who will rule by Satan’s power and will make war against God’s people. They’re mindful of the “mark of the beast” which non-believers will accept and believers will avoid.

And many believe the end-time events will take place during a seven year period, though there’s debate about whether Christians will be on the earth during any, part, or all of the prophesied judgments.

Interestingly, Peter reminds his readers that God doesn’t reckon time the way we do:

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

In this light, I think it’s somewhat humorous that so many who study the Bible are certain about the seven years of tribulation. What if it’s seventy years or seven hundred years? Maybe we’ve been experiencing the tribulation for centuries. What if the first fourteen hundred years after Christ were the things Jesus said in Matthew 24: “merely the beginning of birth pangs”? Then come the end times—seven hundred years of them.

It’s rampant speculation on my part, but no more so than those who have the times all figured out, since they do not take into account that God can reckon time however He pleases. But the really significant point I think is why He didn’t immediately bring judgment on the world after Christ’s resurrection, why He continues to “delay”:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

It’s such an amazing truth—made more so by those who mock, saying He’s not coming back because He never came in the first place or never ascended to heaven; and by those who accuse God of not loving the people who are off somewhere out of earshot of the gospel.

These are the kinds of things we can expect in the end times—people listening to lies instead of God’s word. Truth is, He’s coming, but He hasn’t come yet in order to make provision for every single person who will come to repentance.

Amazing that the dark days of Revelation are as much a proof of God’s love for humankind as any bright day of blessing. He waits and warns and gives signs and prophecies. But in the end, some will refuse to acknowledge God even in the face of destruction. Perhaps the saddest couple of verses in Scripture say

Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory . . . and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.(Rev. 16:9, 11)

How many times have I heard atheists say something like, if that’s your loving God, I want nothing to do with him. It breaks my heart. Can they not see there is an eternal destiny at stake?

Years ago, before personal computers, tablets and cell phones, children had activity books which often included mazes: Help Dorothy reach the city of Oz, or help Timmy find Lassie—some great prize was waiting on the other end of a twisted, tangled, branching set of pathways. Often there were three or four starting places and little known to the unsuspecting child, if you chose the wrong starting place, you could try all you want, but you were not going to get to the prize.

So too with real life. There is only one way, but if we’ve headed off in the wrong direction, we have the option of backtracking—of repenting—and changing course to follow the Light, to traverse the Way.

That’s what God wants, and that’s why He patiently waits.

Sweet Aroma


grilled-chicken-legs-745038-mI’m sitting here enjoying the aroma of barbequed chicken. I don’t think anyone is actually barbequing, although it’s certainly warm enough that they could. It’s just that most people, even in SoCal, don’t think about barbequing in January. (This may be quite different for those living in the Southern Hemisphere, however. 😉 ) I suspect I’m smelling the aroma of roasted or fried or broiled chicken from another apartment in my building.

Nevertheless, the scent is tantalizing. I’m having meatloaf tonight but am sitting here thinking, Why couldn’t I be having chicken? Never mind that I had chicken all last week!

It’s that mouth-watering scent lingering in the air, that sweet aroma that induces a desire for a chicken dinner. It’s almost enough to prompt me to hunt down the nearest KFC. Almost.

But that’s what a sweet aroma is supposed to do, isn’t it—entice a person to draw closer. When I smell the salt-water breeze, for example, I know I’m close to the ocean, and I’m honed in on reaching the beach. The scent of evergreens does the same for me when I’m heading for the mountains.

Fresh baked bread draws me, too, and so does apple pie. Or chocolate chip cookies. Pretty much grilled anything can start my stomach growling, and here I am—back at that aroma of fried chicken.

Interestingly, the Apostle Paul refers to the knowledge of Christ as a sweet aroma.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? (2 Cor. 2:14-16)

I find this passage a little hard to digest (pardon the pun—I just couldn’t resist), but the main point seems to be we believers carry the aroma of God to other Christians first but also to non-Christians. To Christians, the scent is sweet—it’s the aroma of life—but to the latter, it’s the odor of death.

Several commentators connect this image Paul used, to the aroma of burning incense in the Roman triumphal parades. To the Romans the scent was a sign of victory, but to the prisoners and newly acquired slaves, the odor was the mark of death or the end of all they had previously known. Notice, what the two groups smelled was exactly the same, but because it meant something entirely different to each, they reacted in diametrically contrasting ways.

So, too, the aroma of Christ. To the Christian, He is life. To the non-Christian? Not so much.

And yet . . . I can’t help but wonder if the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ isn’t as enticing to non-Christians as to Christians. Enticing, but perhaps because it isn’t compatible with other odors, it becomes a hated thing. Or perhaps an odor is too weak or, worse, identified as one thing, when actually it is something else.

I’ll never forget one of Christopher Hitchen’s last articles in which he mentioned all the notes he’d received from Christians who said they were praying for God to miraculously heal him. Truly, he seemed touched. Of course he also mentioned the ones he received that said he was dying of cancer as payment for his atheism.

That last is not the sweet knowledge of Christ. I don’t know what that kind of ugliness is or where it comes from—maybe a white-washed tomb.

The knowledge of Christ is His life of ministry and His death “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” The knowledge of Christ is His resurrection power and His promise to return as our King.

Whether the words of life He spoke or the deeds of life He performed, whether the death He suffered that gifted us with life if we belief, whether as the first alive from the dead, or whether fulfilling the promise of life everlasting, Jesus is all about life.

That’s a sweet aroma. That’s the enticement He offers. I’m not sure how that beauty and truth can do anything but attract. I guess it does. God’s word says it does.

Like that fried chicken, the aroma we transmit permeates the air. The job of every believer is simply to make sure we’re not smothering it or diffusing it beyond recognition. How those around us respond is their responsibility. How we permeate our world with the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ, is ours.

Published in: on January 7, 2015 at 6:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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When Christ Shall Come


sunburst-in-cloudy-sky-1395122-mI realized when I was writing posts about inclusivism some weeks ago that 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”)

But 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!

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