Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Rapture and the Doctrine of Imminence

There are many believers today that believe the expected rapture of the church, of which we are not given a specific date of fulfillment, is an event whose timing can somehow be determined. As you can see from last weeks blog, there are good reasons to think it possible simply because you can find many reasons to support certain days based on the timing of many events which have occurred throughout Israel's history. Yet, as you may have gathered from the title of my blog, although there are interesting conjectures to be made about the timing of the rapture, I am a firm believer in the doctrine of imminence.

If you are not familiar with this, in short, the doctrine of imminence is the belief that Christ can return for His church at any time, and that there are no events on God's prophetic calendar which need to occur before He sends His Son to rapture the church. As with many things, this position is debatable and not all support this belief, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share just a few things that you can study in order to decide for yourself.

As you should expect by now if you follow my writings, I want to go straight to the Bible and share some passages from scripture with you to give us food for thought. Much was said about the rapture by Jesus himself when teaching His disciples in the days before His crucifixion. Consider the following passages and the points Jesus is trying to make.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. Matthew 24:36 NKJV

Of course, as I have said, there are those who might dispute what Jesus meant when He used the word "know", but it certainly seems to be clear to me He was saying "nobody knows".

Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. Matthew 24:42 NKJV

If it were possible to know when the rapture was to occur, why would we be told to "watch"? Simply because we do not know, and the proper response to not knowing is to be continually watching.

Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24:44 NKJV

If we could figure out when the rapture was to occur, it is reasonable to assume we would be "expecting" it, yet Jesus makes it pretty clear here that He is coming when we will not expect Him to.

the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for [him] and at an hour that he is not aware of, Matthew 24:50 NKJV

Jesus is teaching here using a parable to illustrate what He has just told the disciples about the rapture. The point here is found in the phrase "aware of". In the greek it is the word ginōskō which is defined as....1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel a) to become known
to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of a) to understand b) to know

In other words, this verse tells me we won't be able to "figure" it out. If you look at all these verses together, and there are many more, it certainly seems to me that Jesus is teaching that there is no way we are going to be able to figure out the day or the hour in which He will return for His church. Yet obviously we know the time is approaching based upon the events which we see occurring all around us every day, not only here but around the world. However let's not forget that the signs we are seeing are pointing to what is known as the "Second Coming" when Jesus returns to earth at the end of the seven year tribulation period. If you hold to the "pretribulation" rapture position, then this is cause to get excited for the rapture of the Church must occur before the tribulation begins.

So what do we do with all of this? Personally, as I believe that the rapture could occur today, I try my best to look for opportunities to share the gospel each and every day, knowing that it could well be my last day here on earth. I have always felt that this is the reason God chose not to tell us when the rapture would occur, that way we would always be sharing the gospel and busy doing His work. As I have shared before, most of my life has been spent teaching high school age youth. When teaching this subject to them, I always illustrated it by asking them the following question.

"Has there ever been a time when your parents were going away for a couple of hours, a day, or a week and told you they wanted your room or the house "spotless" when they got home? Tell me the truth, since you knew when they were coming home, when did you start cleaning?"

Obviously you probably know how they invariably answered.

You see, to me, this is the whole point of the doctrine of imminence. If we knew when Jesus was to return for His church, how many of us would wait until the time was near before we began to "clean"? As the body of Christ we need to be "cleaning" continually each and every day, looking for opportunities to share the gospel with those around us, never forgetting it might be our last chance. Spend today looking for that chance.

Keep watching.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Happy Shavuot

Today is Shavuot, or the Feast of Pentecost according to the words we find in the Old Testament concerning when the feasts of Israel were to occur.

'And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave [loaves] of two-tenths [of an ephah]. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. [They are] the firstfruits to the LORD. Leviticus 23:15-17 NKJV

We also know from the New Testament that this is the day God gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in the book of Acts.

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how [is it that] we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Acts 2:1-8 NKJV

Since today is the anniversary of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church, I thought I would share the following which is my blog from a year ago regarding why many associate this day with the rapture of the Church.

....I don't think it would be a stretch to assume that most, if not all of us are familiar with what a "timeout" call is. In most sporting events, the ability to stop or freeze the clock for a period of time is called a "timeout". Of course, it follows that when the timeout is over and the clock starts again, it starts exactly where it stopped when the timeout was called. So what does this have to do with a study in eschatology? Well, most Bible scholars agree that Israel could be called God's clock, since God did in fact tell Israel through the prophet Daniel that they had only a specific period of time for their history to unfold. This is what is known as the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel. It is also acknowledged that God's clock stopped at the end of sixty-nine weeks to allow the beginning of what is known as the Church Age, or the period in history where believers in Jesus as the Messiah would build His church, and end with an event known as the rapture. So the question is, exactly when did that happen, and does it have any significance in our study of the end times according to the scriptures?

This weekend is when the Feast of Pentecost takes place, and there are many reasons why this particular feast is considered to be very important to believers today. First of all, if you read about the birth of the church in the book of Acts, chapter two, you find that it occurred on the Feast of Pentecost, exactly fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits when Jesus rose from the dead. So it is, in fact, the birthday of the Church as we know it. This was the day that God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell those who chose to believe in Jesus, providing believers with "power" as described by Jesus himself in Acts 1:8. This is also the day, according to most all biblical scholars, that God's clock with Israel stopped, or for the sake of this blog, He called a timeout. Is this important? Maybe we can answer that with an examination of some of the events, and traditions, associated with the Feast of Pentecost.

One of the greatest love stories to be found in the Bible is the Book of Ruth. It is a story of how a gentile, (non-Jew), was "redeemed", or bought with a price, by a "kinsman" or relative (who was a Jew) according to Jewish law, and then becomes the bride of her redeemer. This story takes place in Bethlehem, (curious), the events transpire during the fifty days between the barley and wheat harvest, (interesting), and the redeemer takes his bride at the end of that time, or at the Feast of Pentecost. (coincidence?) It is the tradition of the Jews to read the book of Ruth on Pentecost every year, much as we read about Jesus birth at Christmas, and His resurrection at Easter.

Another rabbinical tradition is that Enoch was born on Pentecost, or the 6th of Sivan as it occurs on the Jewish calendar. Enoch is an interesting individual considering that he was the first prophet in the Bible, and his first prophecy was of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Jude 14-15). Even more interesting is that the Bible tells us he did not die, but was "taken" by God (raptured) (Genesis 5:24). Also intriguing is the fact that it is a Jewish tradition that he was taken on his birthday, or Pentecost.

In the book of 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4 verse 16, the apostle Paul tells us that the "trump of God" will sound at the rapture of the Church. This term "trump of God" only appears twice in the Bible; at the rapture and in the book of Exodus, chapter 19, verse 13, where God gives the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai. By now it should come as no surprise that if you read from the beginning of the chapter you find the events at Mt. Sinai also occurred during Pentecost.

Now strange as it may sound, I'm going to venture away from the Bible for my last point, and share something with you written by Josephus, who many of you may recognize as a person who lived at the time of Christ, and was commissioned by the Romans to write a history of the Jews. His works have long been acknowledged to be not only very complete, but proven time and again to be historically accurate.
The following quotation is from one of his works and refers to something that was reported to have occurred during the Feast of Pentecost.

Josephus, "Wars of the Jews" VI. V. 3 (emphasis mine)

Thus there was a star (20) resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, (21) [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour.

"This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it. At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple. Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner (22) [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night (i.e., MIDNIGHT). Now those that kept watch in the temple came hereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared that the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them.

"Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call PENTECOST, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, THEY FELT A QUAKING, AND HEARD A GREAT NOISE, AND AFTER THAT THEY HEARD A SOUND AS OF A GREAT MULTITUDE, SAYING, "LET US REMOVE HENCE." (end quote)

Many believe that God's clock with Israel is going to start exactly where it left off, on the Feast of Pentecost. As we have seen, there are more than a few references to a "rapture" type event associated with the Feast of Pentecost. Will the Church be raptured on it's birthday? Of course, I can't say. But I hope I'm not the only one who finds it more than curious that there seem to be so many events common to this particular day of the year. Jesus commanded us to watch for His return, and I for one think it very important to take Him at His word. I'm watching every day, and I hope the words I share with you in these pages encourage you to watch as well.

Is today the day?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

War On The Horizon?

For those of you who have read my book, or are aware of the prophecies concerning the future of Israel, follow this link to a video where a retired US General explains the immediacy of the threat of war in the Middle East.

Keep watching.

update 5/ the following article as well.

update 5/21....

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Key Is Balance

You will know them by their fruits.
Matthew 7:16a NKJV

We finally come to the last three fruits of the Spirit listed in our passage from Paul's letter to the Galatians. As we have noted before, these three seem to be directed inward, or towards us as believers and describe the qualities that should reflect our indwelling to those who observe us. Faithfulness, gentleness, and finally self-control are to be to others the fruits they see us display every day without fail.

Faithfulness, especially considering the context of the letter to Galatia, would seem to be referring to our faith towards the message we have been given in the Gospel of Christ. The Galatians were wavering in their faith, considering alternative interpretations not based on the Gospel that Paul had taught them. If we tell people we believe the message of Christ, they should observe us being faithful to everything we have been taught by the Word of God.

Gentleness surely describes how we should react towards any attempt by Satan to cause us to stumble. Gentleness should never be mistaken for weakness, because if our power comes from the God of this universe, how can we be moved? The most powerful figures in the Bible were those who exhibited a spirit which could best be described as gentle. They knew the power at their disposal, and the result of that knowledge was a spirit of meekness. The word for gentleness used here is also translated meekness, and we know Jesus was Himself described as having a spirit of meekness. But meekness should never be mistaken as weakness, for who had more power at His disposal than our Lord?

Self-control is probably the most apparent of the fruits in that in this world, as at the time of this letter, the greatest temptation was self-indulgence. We are a people who seem to focus most on our own desires and the pursuit of happiness. Everything else takes a backseat when considering just what it is that might give us pleasure. Yet Paul tells us here that the fruit others should see in us is the desire and ability to say no to ourselves if we believe it is wrong or in any way a detriment to the advancement of God's kingdom.

What fruits do others see when they look at us? Do we look different because we are, or do we look just like the world because we strive to fit in rather than be different? Unfortunately I believe the answer to that might be found in the book of Revelation where Jesus describes His issues with the church at Laodicea. Most scholars and commentators agree that the list of seven churches is among other things, a description of the evolution of the church through history, with the church at Laodicea being the last before the rapture. If you recall, this church impresses Jesus so much He proclaims that He will spit them out of His mouth! I suspect it's a logical assumption that this church is not exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit, nor are they living in such a way as to appear different than the world around them.

I spent this past weekend visiting one of my daughters who lives a couple of states away and works in a Christian bookstore. I took the time to browse through her store with the idea of seeing if I could determine the focus of their ministry by the subject matter of their inventory. Would you believe that the vast majority of their books were works of fiction? A small selection of Bibles, commentaries, and study guides, along with some self-help books were available, but the largest section was fiction. Oh, and for purposes of this study I looked for titles dealing with the Holy Spirit. Guess what I found? One. That's right. One book in the entire store dealing with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. ( The good news here is that just last week my daughter was given the responsibility of changing their inventory and put in charge of ordering new stock. Guess who immediately started making suggestions? )

When it comes to the Holy Spirit, believers seem to often fall into two categories. The first tend to desire the "experiential" side of indwelling to the extent that they forget the practical side. The other side is so concerned with the "practical" side that they focus solely on study and forget to let the Spirit put that knowledge to work. In his book "A Passion for God", published in 1998 by Harvest House Publishers, Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside California puts it this way;

"The key is balance: knowing the word of God and implementing the practical power of God's Spirit. God's Word gives us absolutes, guarding us from ill-conceived teachings and self-proclaimed prophets with a false message. Like the Bereans, we should examine every teaching and experience by the Scriptures "to find out whether these things [are] so" (Acts 17:11). This is precisely how the Spirit of God works through the Word of God." (pp 33)

Is your life balanced? Do you understand what the fruit of the Spirit is? Do you know how He expects you to show it and use it? My hope is that this short study will motivate you to obtain a deeper knowledge of just what the Spirit is, and what He can do in your life.

Keep watching.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It's Called Fruit For A Reason

As I spent this week studying more about the fruits of the Spirit, as always, a very simple question came to mind that may help us in our study about the importance of our fruit. That question was; why are they called the fruits of the Spirit and not the vegetables? Now you laugh, and at first I did too, but since I believe that question came from the Spirit, I looked at it a little closer and I want to share a few things with you today about some of the characteristics of fruit, and how those might relate to the next three fruits on our list.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness,...Galatians 5:22a NKJV

Now if you remember from last week, the first three fruits are directed towards, and are an outgrowth of, our relationship with God. The second three fruits are directed towards, and should characterize, our relationships with others. This is where my thoughts on fruit come in. I grew up in Southern California where fruit trees were common and plentiful. In fact, there were orchards just a few houses away where I used to play and when in season, help myself to the fruit hanging on the trees. So here are a few random observations about fruit that I think might shed some light on our question.

Fruit only grows in a favorable climate. (cold kills)
Fruit production is a result of what it takes in. (cultivation and care)
Fruit on a tree can be seen from a distance (fruitless trees don't attract)
Fruit trees produce at eye level. (you want what you can reach)
Fruit must be eaten to experience the goodness (fruit is sweet)

A memory I will always have is waking up at night when the wind machines would turn on in the orchards to protect the fruit from freezing. If you are not familiar with that, many orchards have large propellers mounted on poles high above the trees. When the temperature would approach freezing, these would turn on to circulate the air and prevent frost from forming on the trees. Imagine living next to an airport when 20 or so airplanes start their engines at the same time and you will begin to understand what I experienced. The "outward" fruits are a result of believers growing in the warmth of God's love. The closer you are to God, the greater the warmth and the more you grow.

My uncle was an orchardist, and I remember accompanying him often while he drove around to different orchards resetting sprinklers and taking care of business. (with five kids, this was probably my mother's answer to daycare) Although it didn't occur to me then, not only did his work require a lot of physical effort, it was necessary for the trees to get the proper amount of water to produce their fruit. A result of a healthy relationship with God is growth by making the effort to take in the knowledge to be found in His Word which He has provided for us. As a result, our "fruit" will grow in proportion to what we take in.

let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22 NKJV

There is nothing so beautiful as a tree full of fruit ready for harvest. As a kid, I always looked forward to seeing the hills turn orange when all the oranges on the trees would begin to turn color. It is the same now living where I do. When the apples begin to turn color as they ripen, the entire orchard changes color. If you have never seen an apple or orange tree full of fruit ready for picking you have really missed something. I have always been amazed by just how much fruit one tree can produce, and how obvious it is when the fruit is ripe. The three fruits of the Spirit, longsuffering, kindness, and goodness are ones I would describe as "demonstrative". They describe just how we as believers exhibit our relationship with God by how we interact with others. People should be able to see us practicing these three gifts, and be attracted by them.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16 NKJV

Now that I live in the Northwest, the fruit tree of choice around here is the apple tree. Now I will readily admit I know next to nothing about proper tree care. We have an apple tree in our yard and my experience with it has been humbling to say the least. The first year we had lots of apples, but each year after that the crop began to shrink, until eventually we only were getting a few for harvest. It was about that time I was told that pruning was an important part of taking care of a tree. (I told you I knew nothing) So I sought out some advice, and one of the interesting things I was told was to prune in such a way as to keep the tree producing at around eye level so the fruit would be within reach at harvest time. As believers, shouldn't our fruit should be kept at eye level so those to whom we are reaching out can easily see and experience what the Spirit has to offer? We do that by using these three gifts to any and all to whom the Spirit may lead us, not to just a select few.

For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. Acts 22:15 NKJV

If you have never had the opportunity to pick a fruit from a tree and eat it immediately I truly feel sorry for you. In a way, it really is the only way to know what that fruit is supposed to taste like. I can remember my girls asking me when they were young why the apples on our tree tasted so much better than the ones in the store. I have been able to eat quite a few different things right off the tree or vine and there is no doubt that the taste is so much better when it's fresh. So how do we keep our fruit fresh? Have you ever had someone do something for you and you knew they were doing it out of obligation? They maybe were doing it because it was their job, or out of pity, or some other motivation? I bet it didn't leave a favorable taste in your mouth did it? When we as believers exhibit these three demonstrative gifts as a result of our relationship with God, (love, joy, peace), people will know and feel (taste) the difference. We then will have an opportunity to explain why it is different, and hopefully introduce them to God as the one who produces that fruit.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD [is] good; Blessed [is] the man [who] trusts in Him! Psalms 34:8 NKJV

Who isn't attracted by the sight of ripe fruit? Who doesn't enjoy the sweet taste?
It's called fruit for a reason!

Keep watching.