Sunday, September 27, 2009

Risky Investing

"Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. "For [the kingdom of heaven is] like a man traveling to a far country, [who] called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who [had received] two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them. 'His lord said to him, 'Well [done], good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord. 'He also who had received two talents came and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them. 'His lord said to him, 'Well [done], good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord. '"Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, [there] you have [what is] yours.' "But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give [it] to him who has ten talents. 'For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' Matthew 25:13-30 NKJV

It seems no matter how often I read this parable, I always discover something new when I revisit it. I want to share just a few of those things with you today, especially in light of the financial unrest many may be experiencing right now.
I suppose I could be best described as an extremely conservative investor. As far as my money goes, no risk is the best risk. Of course, with three daughters, I never really had any money to invest anyway, but that's another story. Your first thought when reading this parable could be that it's a story of different approaches to investing, but as we have come to learn, there is usually much more than the obvious to scripture.

As always, context is key to understanding any portion of scripture. Here, Jesus is teaching His disciples about the importance of watching for the coming of His kingdom. They thought that it was about to occur, not understanding Jesus had yet to die, so Jesus illustrates that fact by telling this story. The master was going on a journey which would require him to be absent for some time, and during his absence, his servants would be required to administer his estate. The first point we should consider here is that the servants were investing their masters talents, not their own.

Secondly, it is important to notice that the master knew his servants abilities, and as such, he only gave them what he knew they were equipped to handle. In other words, no task or responsibilities were asked of his servants that they would be unable to perform. He did not set them up to fail, but rather gave them everything they needed to succeed.

Eventually we find the master returns, and immediately he calls his servants to "settle accounts" with them. He was not content to just return to his estate and pick up where he left off, but rather wanted to examine the performance of his servants to see if they had fulfilled their responsibilities well. So I believe the third, and maybe the most important point is that if these servants knew their master well, they knew they would be held accountable for their performance. It was no surprise to them that he wanted to see how they had done in his absence.

Well, as we read, two of the servants performed up to their masters expectations. They "immediately" went to work with what they had been given, and were faithful to perform their duties. As a result, their investments produced results which according to their master, were not only acceptable, but worth a great reward. It is interesting to note as well that although the two were given different degrees of responsibility, their rewards were the same. All the master required was "faithfullness".

Now we look at the third servant. By his own admission, he was afraid to do anything but hide the talent. But what was he afraid of? His own master? It would appear that the master did not agree with this excuse for he certainly chooses to spell out what he thinks of his servant. "Wicked and lazy"! What a combination. These two words used together in the Greek describe someone who by his very nature, is unwilling to put forth the effort to complete a task. So we have someone who not only is lazy, but tries to excuse his lack of effort by blaming someone else and making excuses. Well, he gets his reward as well, having what he does possess taken away, and being cast out with others of his kind.

The message Jesus is giving us here is not too difficult to understand. Jesus is our master, and He has gone away to "prepare a place for us" and will soon return. In His absence, we have all, as believers, been entrusted with administering His estate. How do we do that? Most scholars agree that the "talents" are opportunities to share the gospel with an unbelieving world. Some of us are given more, some less according to our abilities, but the one thing He makes clear in this parable is that the only thing He requires of us is to be "faithful". We are expected to take every opportunity He gives us to share the good news, and when He returns, there will be an "accounting".

The only "risk" involved with this kind of "investing" is the failure to try. The results are up to God, not us. God will not put us in a position to fail by asking us to do more than we are able. The opportunities we experience are given by God, and well within our capabilities. If Jesus' return is as close as we think, maybe we should pay even more attention to the opportunities we find as we watch for His coming. When He returns and calls us for our accounting, will we hear the words "well done thou good and faithful servant"? That's my prayer, and I sincerely hope it is yours.

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Being Faithful to the End

I have been asked many times why I do what I do. To be sure, there have been times when teaching, especially on the subject of prophecy, has seemed to be a thankless pursuit. I can recall, though, one specific event many years ago which has affected my outlook, and been a source of encouragement for my ministry since it happened. I was teaching a Sunday school class on Daniel and had felt for some time that the interest of those attending was mediocre at best. On one particular Sunday following an opportunity to lecture at the local high school on the situation in the Middle East from a biblical perspective, I was surprised to see a student had brought his mother with him to my class. When the class was over, she came forward to thank me for speaking at the high school, and told me of the effect it had on her son. I thanked her for her kind words, and as we continued to talk shared some of the frustration I was feeling trying to teach what I considered to be so important, yet observing a somewhat lukewarm reception. I will never forget what she said to me then. Her words went something like this; "don't be discouraged for this is what God wants you to do at this particular time". It was the very next week that I noticed Matthew 24:45 and how it applied not only to me, but to all who are watching for the return of Christ. It's not that I had not read it before, but at that particular time it certainly stood out and took on a new significance for my ministry. I have never forgotten that day, nor this verse. As we who watch see the day approach, I thought I would share with you a sermon by Ray Stedman that covers these verses, and has been a source of encouragement to me.


Chapter Ten. Matthew 24:45-51

by Ray C. Stedman

In a small country store in a southern state a Negro lady came to do her shopping. Two or three young Negro men were standing around passing the time of day, and knowing that she was a Christian, they began to taunt her. "We hear you're expecting Jesus to come back," they said. "I sure am," she replied brightly. "Do you really believe he's coming?" they asked. "Sure as you're born," she answered. They said, "Well you'd better hurry home and get ready, he might be on the way!" She turned and fixed her tormentors with a look. "I don't have to get ready," she said, "I keep ready!"

That is exactly the attitude the Lord meant to engender when he said to his disciples, "Watch!" He does not mean, "Keep staring at the sky." He means "Keep ready at all times." Now to make it perfectly clear what that would involve he goes on to give them three parables, each of which is an exposition of that one word, "Watch!" The first is the parable of the household which tells us that watching means a mutual concern and ministry of the Word to one another. The second is the parable of the ten maidens which makes clear that watching means a dependence on deeper things than mere human resources. And the third is the parable of the talents where we learn that watching means a deliberate investment of life.

Three Illustrative Parables

It is evident that the Lord now finished, for the most part, the predictive part of his discourse. Except for a few details concerning the final scene of the nations, there are no new events described in the rest of his message. But it is extremely important that we understand these parables, for if we do not understand them we will not watch in the way he expects. And if we do not watch we will be deceived and miss much, if not all, of the exciting possibilities of the present hour. So let us listen carefully to his parable of the household, verses 45-47:

"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions."

This parable is clearly for the instruction of those who are awaiting the Lord's return. The master of the household is gone but he has entrusted certain work to his steward until he returns. That work is primarily a ministry to the rest of the household, and notably, "to give them their food at the proper time." It is clearly addressed to the disciples and to those who will follow in their steps in the ministry of feeding and shepherding the church of Jesus Christ. Doubtless it includes any who have a ministry of teaching: pastors, evangelists, prophets, elders, Sunday School teachers, children's workers and Bible class leaders. It takes in any who have gifts of teaching, whether exercised in a church building or in homes. It includes theological professors, editors of magazines, radio teachers, missionaries, youth workers, and many others.

Give Them Food!

Since this is the first parable in the series it probably points up the most essential element in the matter of watching. The wise servant is given one major and primary responsibility: to feed the household at the proper time. If this is rightly done, the household will keep watching; if it is neglected, the household will languish and starve, and will not be ready when the Lord returns.

The task, therefore, of any leader within the church is to unfold the message of the Bible. Every pastor should set a loaded table before his congregation, not only that they might eat and grow, but also that they might learn from him how to draw from the Scriptures for themselves the spiritual nourishment they need. The Bible is wonderfully adapted to this purpose: there is milk for the beginner, bread for the more advanced, and strong meat to challenge and feed the mature. It is so designed that when books of the Bible are taught through consecutively they will cover a wide variety of subjects and yet keep truth marvelously in balance.

It is clearly evident, therefore, that the supreme need of the church during this time of waiting for its Lord is Bible study and knowledge. From this all else will flow. The Bible is the revelation of things as they really are. It represents the only truly realistic look at life that is available to man today. It is the only instrument provided by God that is adequate to the task of producing mature, well-adjusted, whole persons. That is the clear claim of 2 Timothy 3:16,17: "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."

I am the Bread of Life

Be careful that you do not conclude from this that the Bible itself is the food for believers. It is not the book but the Lord which the book reveals that is our food. Christ is found in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. But Bible study alone can be most dull and uninteresting if one does not expect the Spirit to take the words and from them cause the living Christ to emerge. That explains why some Bible students are such dull and dry people; they have concentrated on the Word alone, without the Spirit. And yet it is impossible to know the Lord Jesus in the fullness of his being without the revelation of the Word. We cannot neglect the Bible and grow in Christ; but we can grow in the knowledge of Scripture and never feed upon a risen Lord.

The Incredible Reward

Imagine the joy of that servant when his lord returns and finds him faithfully at the task he assigned him. "Blessed is that servant," says Jesus. The Greek word for "blessed" can also be translated "happy." What a satisfying feeling it will be to know that he did his work well in the eyes of the only one who counts. What shall be done for such a man? What the Lord says next is truly amazing. Listen to it: "Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions." In another place Jesus said, "You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much" (Matthew 25:21). This is the invariable rule of the kingdom of God.

When you consider who this master really is, it becomes almost incredible that he should reward this servant by setting him over all his possessions. How much is that? Well, Paul wrote in I Corinthians 3:21-23: "For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's."

There is a staggering thought in Paul's letter to the Ephesians which sums all this up in the phrase, "the unsearchable riches of Christ." Who can tell what boundless opportunities, what indescribable adventures of service, what fabulous vistas of challenge, are involved in a phrase like that? Surely one thing is clear: the commitment and labor required to fulfill the ministry of teaching which the Lord has left for us to do will not be worthy to be compared with what shall belong to a "faithful and wise servant" when the Lord returns.

The Unfaithful Servant

But unfortunately not every servant of the Lord proves to be wise and faithful. With the utter candor that characterizes him, Jesus gives the negative side of the picture in verses 48-51:

"But if that wicked servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."

It is evident that this servant has the same ministry committed to him as the first one. He, too, is expected "to give them their food at the proper time." Thesame storehouse of the Word is at his disposal so that he too can feed the hungry of the household whenever they need it. The health and welfare of the household is his responsibility and depends upon his faithful ministry.

But this servant is different. When his lord does not come as soon as he expects, he says to himself, "My master is delayed." There is more than a hint here that the return of the Lord Jesus will be delayed far beyond the expectations of men. The apostles expected him in the first century, but he did not come. Now many centuries have gone by, and the effect of that long delay has been what the Lord here predicts. Many who claim to be his servants have given up hope of his return. The former bishop of the Episcopal Church, James Pike, himself one who had given up such a hope, stated that "only 24% of Episcopalians, by survey, believe it."* The effect of that lost hope is immediately apparent. The servant, says the Lord, begins to beat his fellow servants, mistreat them, criticize and complain continually, neglect his ministry, and indulge his appetites to the full. It is a vivid picture of what happens, in one degree or another, when the expectation of the Lord's return is abandoned. There is a precise sequence of failure that can be traced. First, the hope of the Lord's return grows weak and eventually is lost. Because of this there is little motivation to the ministry of feeding the household, and therefore it is neglected. When the Word is not taught the people grow spiritually weak, and therefore full of weakness and carnality. This then manifests itself in quarreling, injustices, and excesses of every sort, in which the servant responsible for the feeding also joins.

It should be obvious from this that the fact of Christ's return is more important as a doctrine of the church than may at first appear. As we have already seen, it is an indicator of the degree to which the Lord's present indwelling life is being experienced. If there is little desire for his appearing, there is little concern to walk in the strength of his life. When the hope of the Lord's return crumbles, then it is already apparent that the experience of his life has largely ceased, if it existed at all. That is why the Lord lays such stress upon this and underscores it as the primary cause for the neglect of Bible teaching and the subsequent weakness of the church.

But though the servant has given up on the Lord's return, that does not prevent the Lord from returning. Suddenly he appears at an hour which the servant does not know and at a time when he does not expect him. Undoubtedly this will be one of those occasions when the servant will say, "Lord, Lord, have I not done mighty works in your name?" There may indeed be other things he has done which he felt would be impressive to the Lord if he returned. But it is all to no avail. He has specifically not done the one thing the Lord required of him. He has been faithless to his commission. Therefore he shall be punished and put where he belongs-with the hypocrites! He is himself a hypocrite, for he has assumed the name of a faithful servant of the Lord, but has proved false to his trust.

It is obvious from what our Lord says of this man, that he has never been a true servant at all. His destiny is to be put in the place where men will weep and gnash their teeth. Further on, in chapter 25, verse 30, the Lord describes that place as "outer darkness." It is a place of frustration and defiance. Men weep because of their lost opportunities; they gnash their teeth out of bitter rage and defiance. It is not a pleasant picture, but let us remember, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who thus describes it to us.

A Demoralized Household

The Lord has made crystal clear by this parable that it is a very serious thing to fail in feeding the household of God. It is not because the man's personal failure has a demoralizing effect upon the household. This has been most apparent in the church. One of the haunting problems in the church today is its identity crisis. In many places it seems to have lost the sense of what it was intended to be. Instead of a body, with each one "members one of another" and ministering to one another in love and concern, it has become an organization operating various programs. Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). But today's Christians often touch each others' lives on only the most superficial basis, and do not want to hear another's problems because they "don't want to get involved."

This widespread ignorance of the church's true nature is directly traceable to a lack of systematic Bible teaching. Many passages in the New Testament epistles plainly detail the true nature of the church. Its "body life" is clearly described and illustrated from actual experience. Its supernatural endowment with spiritual gifts as the basis for all its ministry is described in half a dozen places. Its unique power, deriving from the presence of an indwelling and active Lord, is set before us again and again. The way to the consistent exercise of spiritual power, making its impact upon a decadent society, is detailed in many places.

Results of Biblical Ignorance

But how much does the average Christian know of this? The blunt answer is: scarcely anything! The degree of biblical illiteracy, prevalent in American churches, is beyond belief. And the widespread effect, visible everywhere, is a powerless, quarreling, materialistic church whose knowledge of its Lord's living presence is almost nil, and whose hope of his soon return has long ago burned out into gray embers.

The cause for this sterile mediocrity is, says Jesus, faithless and wicked servants who have never assumed or have given up the task of feeding the household at the proper time. He views this failure with the greatest solemnity. There is a sobering word from Paul in I Corinthians 3:17: "If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are." Consequently we should not be surprised to hear Jesus say that when the master of the house returns he will confront the faithless servant and "will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."

The Secrets of the Heart

In both of these cases, that of the faithful and that of the faithless servant, it is evident that the return of Jesus Christ simply reveals what men have been all the time. "Each man's work will become manifest," says Paul, "for the Day will disclose it" (1 Corinthians 3:13). The truly shocking thing about that is that what we are proved to be in that Day, we must continue to be forever! What we have been in the secret places of the heart through life must now be displayed as our true self through eternity.

Thus the Lord desires to emphasize to us that the present time is an exceedingly precious commodity. It is given to us to redeem. Helmut Thielicke,* a noted German author, points out that on New Year's Eve we learn something about time we can never learn in any other way. Then we look at our watch or clock quite differently from any other day of our lives. Usually we glance at our watch in order to see what time we should be at a certain place, or whether we are going to make an appointment on time. But on New Year's Eve we suddenly, look at it, not in order to move ourselves, but because we become aware of the fact that time itself is moving.

Our Personal Time Line

Dr. Thielicke says that then we can almost hear the stream of time beginning to murmur as it drops over the dam of that strange midnight hour. We become aware of the fact that we are not living an endless repetitive cycle, but we are moving on a straight line of time and we can never retrace it. The reason we do not experience this more frequently is because our clocks are round; that is, if we haven't finished something by six o'clock this morning we know that the hands of the clock will come around to six o'clock tonight, and we can get it done by then. Or by six o'clock tomorrow night. We suffer, therefore, from the illusion that time is repeating itself.

But on New Year's Eve, we discover otherwise. We become quite aware, as the midnight hour approaches, that time is moving continually on and that we can never go back, that what we have been will unalterably remain, forever. It can never be changed. We can never retrace our steps nor refill the contents of the past with something either better or worse. It remains exactly what it was. Perhaps last year we made a wrong decision or got married (the two are not necessarily linked) or entered into some new project or achieved some goal. Whatever it was, that has now become an unchangeable part of our destiny, our lot. It is irrevocably the same, it can never be changed. God's grace has moved him to bear certain effects of our misdeeds himself, but they remain for him to bear and are never dissipated into nothingness. If that grace is rejected, there is no escape.

A Final New Year's Eve

This is what the sudden intervention of Jesus Christ into human affairs seems to be: a final New Year's Eve midnight hour when men will become aware that life has been lived, and it is whatever it is and will never be any different. No one can go back and change it. That leaves us facing an inevitable question: How long have you lived? "Oh," you say, "I am (so many) years old." No, you cannot answer in those terms. The only part of life that can be called living is the time you have been watching for your Lord's return in the strength of his abiding life. All else is death.

The great missionary to Africa, C. T. Studd, summed up the truth in a little couplet:

"Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last."

Now let us ask it again: How long have you lived? How much of your life will abide the day of his coming? Whatever is not gold, silver or precious stones, coming from the activity of his life in you, is nothing more than hay, wood, and stubble. When are you going to start living? You only have today!


Father, keep us from the folly of dreaming away our days in a fruitless endeavor to satisfy only the fancies of our spirit and the appetites of our bodies. Deliver us from the bondage of things. Teach us how to feed upon the Word of truth, and to walk continually in that truth, manifesting the splendor of your life in us. In Jesus' name, Amen.

I hope as we see a new year begin on God's calendar that our time on this earth can be measured in days rather than months or years. If our Lord should decide to tarry, however, may we who watch not grow discouraged but remain faithful to feed the hungry their food as best we can so that when Jesus does return, we will be counted "faithful and wise servants".

Happy Rosh Hashanah. Keep watching.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Peace and a Rosh Hashanah Rapture

You've heard me say before I don't believe in coincidences. After all, if everything is under God's control then it sort of doesn't make sense to believe in them does it? Hey, I could be wrong, but when funny things happen in this world, especially at this point in time, my ears sort of get sensitive.

The first of the fall feasts of Israel is Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, and it will arrive around next Sunday or Monday. Why so ambiguous? Well, it's also the holiday known as the day or hour no man knows because God set up the Jewish calendar as a lunar one rather than a solar one. This means that the first day of the month occurs when the new moon is first sighted in the sky over Israel. In the Old Testament times, the watching was done by priests as well as the general population and when sighted by two witnesses and certified by the priests, the trumpet would sound from the corner of the temple signaling the beginning of the month. Because the percentage of moon visible the first day after no moon varies, it may not be visible to the naked eye until the second day, or even the third.

So why am I bringing all this up? First, remember what I said about coincidences. Many people feel the rapture of the Church will occur on Rosh Hashanah, and present some compelling facts to support their belief. If you are part of the body that believes the tribulation occurs immediately after the body is removed,(remember our little discussion a few weeks ago about the "restrainer" being the Holy Spirit?)then obviously there is a relationship between the time of the rapture, and the beginning of the Tribulation.

Second, what do we know about the beginning of the Tribulation? If we look to the prophet Daniel, we see he tells us exactly what occurs to initiate that period of time.

And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make [it] desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate. Daniel 9:27 KJV

Now so much has been taught about this verse I almost fear to say what I think as the possibility of stepping on someones toes seem inevitable, but I will anyway.
So many have taught that this verse says that "he", the anti-christ, somehow brings peace to the mid-east by establishing an agreement between Israel and it's enemies. However, when I read this verse it tells me something else entirely. I remember when I was very young and first heard someone try to explain what something in the Bible meant in the original Greek or Hebrew, and thinking to myself "what does it matter?" and "is this guy trying to show off or what?". Brother did I have a lot to learn. Actually, if I recall I was in Junior High and the speaker was John F. Walvoord. I'm sure many of you are familiar with that name, so I'm really showing you where I was at that time, and how far I had to go. But I tell you that story to help you understand that it actually can make a big difference in knowing what certain portions of scripture actually say.

There are two words here I believe we need to focus on. The first is "confirm", and the second is "covenant". What I want to do is just copy verbatim the definitions from the Strong's Concordance and let you look and decide what Daniel is trying to tell us.


1) to confirm, give strength 2) to confirm (a covenant)

1) covenant, alliance, pledge
a) between men
1) treaty, alliance, league (man to man)
2) constitution, ordinance (monarch to subjects)
3) agreement, pledge (man to man)

So here is what I think. There is a difference between making a peace agreement, and confirming an existing one! I think many are looking for some politician to emerge on the scene with a whole new set of ideas that magically solve the problems in the Middle East. That's not what I think this verse says. I think what we need to be watching for is someone who thinks he can strengthen the existing agreements and somehow convince the parties involved to abide by them. The existing agreements are called The Oslo Accords, which were signed on September 13, 1993. Curiously, "coincidentaly", that was just 3 days before Rosh Hashanah that year.

Now with that in mind, and remembering my point about coincidences, I want you to think about this. First of all, Rosh Hashanah will arrive sometime between the 20th and the 22nd. Secondly, and this might be news to you, the Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu and the leader of the Palestinian group Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, will meet with President Obama in New York at the headquarters of the UN on the 22nd for the purpose of restarting the peace process in the Middle East. In effect, confirming the Oslo Accords. Might this be the "confirmation"? Is it a coincidence this will occur on or right after Rosh Hashanah, the day many feel will be the day of our rapture?

Well don't look at me, I don't know. I just read my Bible and read the news. However, if you are like me and don't believe in coincidences, these two events certainly give us food for thought. You decide.

Keep watching.

PS. Here are two links for you. The first is for the article about the meeting on the 22nd, and the second is a website of folks who watch for the New Moon in Israel every month. They will post when the moon is sighted in their "recent messages" in case you are interested.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Willing To Listen?

I was reminded recently of a prophecy of the end times that I, personally, find very discomforting. What is it? Well, it's found in the following passage.

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as [they were] from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day [is] with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:3-9 KJV

Obviously the world is full of people that choose not to believe, but if we notice that in this passage Peter is talking to believers, and refers to people scoffing about the prophecies of the return of Jesus, it seems logical to assume he is talking about believers being the ones doing the scoffing! This is why I was reminded of this passage; I heard these exact words from someone who professes to believe. When I raised the subject of all the signs of the end being fulfilled before our eyes I was told these things have been going on for years, and would in all likelihood continue. My first thought was to ask if he knew he was fulfilling prophecy by saying that, but I chose not to pour gas on a fire. Later however, I thought about this encounter, and wondered if there was anything different I could have done? As I considered these things the Spirit led me to some words I'm sure most of us are familiar with.

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; Revelation 2:7 KJV

Since I am more than familiar with this phrase, I asked the Lord why He led me to it as it seems rather self-explanatory. Of course, as you might expect, the Lord showed me a few things about these words that I was not aware of. You may or may not know that in the Greek, individual words can be translated as a single word, or as a phrase. I mistakenly assumed the word for "ears" was a single word translation. I mean, everyone knows what an ear is right? Wrong. The word used here for ear is "ous", which according to Strong's is a metaphor meaning: "the faculty of perceiving with the mind, the faculty of understanding and knowing."

Now this puts a whole new spin on the passage, because it would seem Jesus is saying that although He is speaking to believers, some will lack the "faculty" or ability to perceive and understand. Ouch! The more I thought about this, the more I wondered if this lack of ability was natural, or learned? Is it possible that there are believers who deliberately choose to ignore what God has said in His word? If that is the case, it would seem that it must be a result of an attitude of skepticism on the part of the believer. I know I have met people over the years who exhibit the " I find that hard to believe " attitude, but to point that attitude towards God's word seems unbelievable.

Yet I found it must be more common than I realized because my next discovery was that this phrase is not just found in these letters to the churches, but is used 37 times in the New Testament, and 18 times by Jesus himself while teaching. So if Jesus knew there would be some believers who would find some of what He said hard to believe, what advice does He give for us who do believe when we encounter those of the unbelieving camp? I think the answer is found in the passage by Peter when we look at what we are told about the Lord's attitude towards mankind as a whole.

First of all, we are told that this attitude is "willful ignorance".

For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: 2 Peter 3:5 KJV

When we encounter these people it is important to realize they have made a choice not to believe what they have heard. They are aware of what God has said, but they choose not to believe. As such, it follows that arguing with them might just prove to be counterproductive. Yet, there is a comeback we can use and it is revealed in the verses that come next.

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day [is] with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:8-9 KJV

What is the answer? God is longsuffering and waiting as long as He can in the hope that more people choose to follow Him. It's easy to look at the world as it is today and wonder just what it is that God is waiting for, but the answer is given here. More believers. That is not to say that God will wait forever, because He has made it clear that He won't. As these verses say, God judged the world once, and He will again. He is not "cutting us some slack" and changing His mind. It is going to happen.

God loves the scoffers and so should we. As easy as it would be to get upset at believers who choose to ignore what the rest of us see as signs of God's imminent return, we need to have God's longsuffering attitude towards them. We should simply point out to them that there is a reason God is waiting, but He won't wait forever. Yes, much of what we see has happened before, but explain the increase in frequency and severity. After all, we are told that the end of this age will be like a woman in childbirth. Those of us who have experienced or witnessed the birth of a child know one thing; it's not quiet and sneaky, it's loud and obvious. Hopefully there will come a point in time when many of these "skeptics" will change their minds as the signs get even more frequent and pronounced.

Keep watching.