Foreword:

Ever wonder what God might have to say to YOU today? Here are things to ponder, and things to receive into your heart. If you have a question, put it in the comments. I respond as much as I can.

A note for all my readers: I've been experimenting with YouTube videos for Bible teaching for a while, and I'm working through Revelation here. My YouTube videos are currently short studies in Matthew, and at present I'm posting videos on Revelation as well. Both appear on the blog, which is turning into a Vlog. I encourage you to subscribe to my YouTube channel for better coverage.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Waiting for the Lord's Return...

Here we have the final verses of Mark 13, Jesus' words about being ready for the time He comes.

28 "Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
29 "Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
30 "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
31 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
32 "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
33 "Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.
34 "It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert.
35 "Therefore, be on the alert--for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning--
36 in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep.
37 "What I say to you I say to all, 'Be on the alert!'"

Of course, the most important words are the final ones in the chapter: "Be on the alert!" or, as the KJV has it, "Watch!"

I've been doing a video commentary on Revelation, which some of you have watched; I'm now to the end--two more videos to go--and I believe that that final verse of Mark 13 is one of the most important passages in the entire Bible. We MUST be ready. So many things will happen so fast that we have to be very aware of world, national and local conditions. The Lord IS coming back.
So, first off:
Jesus gives three time reference points to help us understand several important factors about the end.

  • There will be warning: 28 "Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 "Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. In other words, we will know WHEN (only in outline) by the trends in the world. Just as summer is around the corner once the trees are all in leaf, we know that Jesus' return is also around the corner when we see the beginnings of things He's discussed in the rest of the chapter.
  • Once things begin, they will end quickly: 30 "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. "This generation" is the generation watching the "beginning" of the events Jesus describes. The book of Revelation concurs in this; the entire period of the Great Tribulation (from the end of Revelation 11 on) takes just 3-1/2 years. That's 3-1/2 years from the point the Antichrist sits in the Temple, displaying himself as "god," to his being cast into the Lake of Fire. The Antichrist comes to power as a result of the world's upheavals (see Revelation 6-10), which takes about 3-1/2 years, and then takes his full power. So the Antichrist's rise to power is meteoric, and his descent from power is the same--3-1/2 additional years from his murdering the two witnesses in Revelation 11 and his assumption of ultimate power, he is in the Lake of Fire.
  • Finally, there is no information about when all this will start. In fact, Jesus indicates that it might be a very long time from the time he gave the sermon: 31 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. This is intended to give us the understanding that the process of His return could begin today, or it could wait for many years. We don't know. Conversely, he tells us that knowing "when"  is "hidden information:" 33 "Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. God has intentionally hidden this information. He has set this as one of His mysteries, which will remain unknown until the events begin to unfold. This fact is extremely important because every so often, somebody claims to have unraveled the secret, and gives us a "date." The Jehovah's Witnesses did this nearly 100 years ago; Harold Camping did it in 2011, and others have done so as well. In light of this, everyone should read what Jesus said: "NOBODY KNOWS THE DAY or THE HOUR..."  In fact, Mark 13:33 says, "Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. The word translated "Time" in that verse is a word that usually means "season," such as winter or summer. In other words, He's saying, that with the exception of seeing things actually begin, even trying to know the general time is an exercise in frustration and failure. He has intentionally hidden these things from us so that we will keep watching, rather than saying, "Oh, He's coming in 20 years. That gives me 18 years of partying, and 2 years to clean myself up." That's not the way it is. Start watching NOW.
All this leads to the following conclusion: the single most important thing you can do in your spiritual life is to "watch" or "be on the alert." Jesus put it like this: Luke 12:35 "Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. 36 "Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. 37"Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. 38 "Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40 "You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect. (and you definitely should read the rest of the passage).

LISTEN to what Jesus says. Put aside things that keep you from watching for Him (I'm not talking about ordinary activities--Jesus actually tells us to keep up with those in another passage), focus on His return, and expect Him. These words from Jesus are both commands and warnings.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Pet Peeve--Are you Godly??

I've probably watched / listened to or read a hundred sermons that say, "You should always be happy, healthy and prosperous if you're a Christian."
I often wonder how those people reconcile their so-called Christianity with reality, which includes Middle Eastern Christians getting slaughtered by the hundreds, or wholesale persecutions under Communism, to name just two.
Prosperity is not a guarantee for any of us. In the sense that Christians work harder, act according to God's will, and do their best to follow what might be called the "rules of success," yes, Christians do tend to do better. But they don't always do so, and they are not always blessed commensurate with their level of faith, or their hard work--nor do they always enjoy their lives and stay free of trouble. It doesn't take much of a trip through the Psalms to know this:

Psalm 6:1-7:
1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure.
2 Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled; But You, O LORD --- how long?
4 Return, O LORD, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies' sake!
5 For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give You thanks?
6 I am weary with my groaning; All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief; It grows old because of all my enemies.

Christians DO walk through the "Valley of the Shadow of Death," and they have to deal with it, just like everyone else.

Billy Graham once said that temptation, persecution and trouble come to Christians, just as they do to everyone, but that Christians can rely on the God who made them to be their "ever present help in times of trouble."

Lest you think that this is only an Old Testament concept, Here's a snapshot of Paul's life (he wrote about half the New Testament by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit):

2 Corinthians 2:3-5: 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.

And 2 Corinthians 11:
2 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
23 Are they ministers of Christ? --- I speak as a fool --- I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.
24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;
26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness ---
28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.
31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.

Each of these passages makes it very clear that the portion of Christians is not always happy. Yes, we have the joy of everlasting life, but sometimes it's buried so deep beneath our pain that it's tough to remember it.

Now, of course, I'm going to tell you that you should always remember the fact that you will live forever with God, but it can be very tough to do that when your pain overwhelms you. Yes, it's a good testimony that the Lord always keeps you happy and healthy, but it's not true. It's "fake Christianity," just like the "fake news" that everyone's talking about right now. In fact, not only is it fake Christianity, it proclaims a fake Jesus.
What would make anyone think that Jesus liked dying for us? It was the most difficult thing anyone's ever been asked to do--shoulder the burdens of a sinful world, past present and future, and He definitely felt it. He BEGGED the Father, "Let this cup (of suffering) pass from me..." the prophet tells us that "He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;" and He says about this terrible time (I know it's Old Testament--but I believe that this is a prophecy of Jesus),

(Isaiah 50) 6 I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. 7 For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.

In other words, the "no bad days" view of Christianity is a false teaching. No, we don't want bad days, but reality is different.

Now why do I say all this? To discourage you? Not at all. I mean the opposite. If the Psalmist says, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." you NEED to know the valley of the shadow of death is real for some. As Peter said, "Don't look at it as a strange thing when you suffer..." 

It is wrong when people say things like, "If you just had enough faith, you could (insert whatever you want here, such as, "be healed")..." well, sometimes that's true. Other times, your "faith" runs counter to the will of God. 
Jesus said, on the one hand, "If you have faith, you can say to this mountain, 'Move,' and it will, and nothing will be impossible for you."

However, He also said, "Father, if it is possible, let this cup (of suffering the death on the Cross) pass from Me...Nevertheless, not what I will, but THY will be done."

These two realities are always in tension. On the one hand, we have tremendous promises. On the other, there is suffering.  Both are real. Both happen to Christians. On the other hand, the future is completely bright, if today is dark. THAT is what has sustained the family of God during the hardest times. The future.

I want to end this post with a story. It's from my own life, so I saw it and know it to be true.
Back when I was a pastor, our church prayed specifically for two people who were dying. One was a quadriplegic. The other had cystic fibrosis. The entire church agreed to fast and pray for three days. The boy with cystic fibrosis lived (medical assistance here as well). The quadriplegic never did get well. Had it been MY choice, both would have gotten well. But it was not. 
Jesus put it like this: "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but whatever He sees the Father doing, He also does...for whatever things He does, the Son also does..." 
I have seen God do amazing things. I have also seen Him allow terrible suffering. It is ultimately HIS choice, for reasons we cannot know--at least for now.