Sunday, April 29, 2012

Is the Earth Afraid?

The waters saw You, O God; The waters saw You, they were afraid; The depths also trembled. The clouds poured out water; The skies sent out a sound; Your arrows also flashed about. The voice of Your thunder [was] in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook. Your way [was] in the sea, Your path in the great waters, And Your footsteps were not known. You led Your people like a flock By the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Psalm 77:16-20 NKJV

Now this may sound strange to some but I am the sort of person who really enjoys a good thunderstorm. There is nothing I like more than sitting outside on my porch and watching nature get a little crazy now and then. As my daughters grew up I tried my best to teach them to share my enthusiasm for watching as a means to deal with their natural fear of such an extreme event of nature. It appears that I succeeded with two of the three, sort of, but my middle daughter remains deathly afraid of them even as an adult.

She lives in another state now and works at a Christian bookstore and shares my interest in being a watcher, and often calls with questions about books she comes across or current events. So when my phone rang early this past week and I saw it was her I expected the conversation would be much like it always is. Wrong. The area she lives in was experiencing a thunderstorm so violent that the radio was warning people to stay inside. Now although being in that situation would have pleased me to no end, my daughter unfortunately was scared to the point of being physically ill.

So I spent the next hour talking to her on the phone and doing my best to crack jokes and take her mind off of what was happening. We also talked a little about thunder in the Bible, and how it is most often used in relation to God and either His voice or physical presense. Then we moved on to discuss the earthquake and volcanic activity in the world the past few weeks and the fact that seismologists are actually at a loss to explain why so much is happening all at once. After the storm passed and she hung up to make dinner, I began to think of what we had talked about and just out of curiosity started to study all the passages I could find in the Bible that talk about thunder and lightning.

In this passage from the book of Psalms, the author is troubled and in despair so he thinks back to the past and the times that God manifested Himself in human history by actions man could only describe as supernatural. The verses above refer to the time that God led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt and through the Red Sea on their journey to the promised land. Now I think the important point to make here is that although Moses and Aaron were used by God to shepherd His people, it was God Himself who led them.

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, [from] before the people.
Exodus 13:21-22 NKJV

Now why do I think this is important? Look closely at the passage from Psalms and notice what the author says the reaction of the earth was to the presense of God. Do you see what I see? We are told the waters were afraid, the depths trembled, there was a downpour of rain, thunder along with lightning that lit up the entire world, and not to mention earthquakes that shook the earth. Yet to me, the most important part of this passage is the fact that it does not say God “caused” these things to happen, rather it was a response of the earth to actually “seeing” the presense of God.

Now right about now some of you are probably thinking wait just a minute here, do you really believe the earth can “see”? Well, why not? Not only do these verses say it does, we are told elsewhere that the earth can talk too.

Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: " 'Blessed [is] the King who comes in the name of the LORD!' Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples." But He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out."
Luke 19:37-40 NKJV

So if we are to believe what the Bible tells us, the earth has and can react to the presense of God in physical ways, some of which might surprise us. Is that really so hard to believe? After all, the earth was created by God just as we were created, so who knows what physical reaction could be produced by the approach of the power which created it? Which brings me to my point in bringing all this up.

Most of us would agree the Bible clearly teaches that there will be signs that precede the return of Christ, many of which are physical in nature. Events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis can explain many of the events described as occurring just before Christ returns. Many of these things are beginning to happen right now in various places in the world, and most of those who are watching and waiting for His appearing believe the time is very close. Jesus Himself said this about the signs that would appear just before His return.

"So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near--at the doors!
Mark 13:29 NKJV

So here is my question for today; does God cause these things to happen, or just like the events in Exodus when God comes to earth to lead His people away, is the earth reacting to the approach of God once again? Is it possible that the increase in frequency and intensity of physical events is because the nearness of Jesus returning for His church is causing a physical reaction by the earth?

"Then the earth shook and trembled; The foundations of heaven quaked and were shaken, Because He was angry.
2 Samuel 22:8 NKJV

Is the earth afraid?

Keep watching.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Watch Out for the Bear

I charge [you] therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season [and] out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, [because] they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn [their] ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. 2 Timothy 4:1-8 NKJV

 Some of you may recall that I have mentioned once or twice some of my experiences running track in college back in the day. I always enjoy reading Paul's letters because he also often used comparisons to running a race to illustrate the Christian life. I began running at an early age and experienced some success in the shorter, sprinting length races, but as I moved into college it became apparent I was not fast enough to compete with the elite. My coach at the time decided that I might have better success if I tried to run in a longer race such as the quarter mile and combined my sprinter speed with endurance.

 Unfortunately this decision was made on the spur of the moment at an invitational meet in Las Vegas when the anchor man on our mile relay team pulled a hamstring muscle while warming up. It was unfortunate because no one likes to make a fool of himself in public, much less in front of a stadium full of people. I received the baton trailing the leaders by 15 yards or so and immediately did what I had always done and used my speed to catch and then pass those leaders. Believe me, running down the backstretch leading the race and hearing the crowd screaming was really giving me an adrenaline rush. Unfortunately however, that rush only lasted until I met the bear.

 Now as a sprinter that never ran more than 200 yards at a time, I had never met Mr. Bear, and it wasn't something I was prepared for either. As I entered the last corner in a blaze of glory I suddenly felt like a massive weight had suddenly fallen on my shoulders and slowly but surely I began to slow down. My legs got heavy, my arms got weak, and it was a struggle to catch my breath. How quickly I went from leading the race to finishing dead last was as embarrassing as anything I ever experienced, and what words of encouragement did I receive from my coach and teammates? Say hello to Mr. Bear!

 While you may have heard the expression “hitting the wall” to refer to this phenomenon, on our team it was called meeting Mr. Bear. As my career progressed, most of my efforts were about finding ways to avoid him so as to not be embarrassed like that again and with the help of my coaches I began to learn how to do just that. In his letter to Timothy, you can certainly see that Paul is “coaching” Timothy on how to run the race that Paul himself is close to finishing. Paul draws on his personal experiences to prepare Timothy for what he will experience, and to help him avoid the pitfalls that will certainly appear in his way. In the passage above I see at least three points Paul makes to Timothy which to me looks like advice on how to avoid the bear.

 1. Stay committed to the Word of God. Paul says “I charge you...preach the Word.” The word for charge is diamartyromai in the Greek which means to “earnestly” and “solemnly” testify in such a way as to cause it to be believed. I learned that there was a certain strategy to running a longer race, and you had to commit to that strategy and not let others dictate how you ran your race. Here Paul tells Timothy that the first and most important thing to remember is to commit to the Word of God and not allow someone else to talk you into changing or ignoring what it says. Paul states clearly that the time will come where believers will listen to teachers who change or ignore what the Bible says because they want to hear what sounds good to them rather than what God has said.

 All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV

2. Stay committed to the Work of God. Paul also says “fulfill your ministry”. Do you know what yours is? The Bible tells us that all believers have been given a spiritual gift to use in service for God and to further His kingdom. All believers should seek to know and use their spiritual gift whenever the opportunity presents itself. Paul also warns us that it will not be popular because he tells Timothy to “endure”. The word translated endure means to suffer or be afflicted with hardships and troubles. I'm sure many of us can relate to these words right now for I hear daily of believers who are suffering in one way or another, or being persecuted for what they believe. You prepare for that by focusing on the work you have to do and not be distracted by it's unpopularity with those who choose to reject.

 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [which is] your reasonable service. Romans 12:1 NKJV

 3. The reward is guaranteed. Standing on the top of the victory stand is something few people have an opportunity to experience in this life. Anybody who has will tell you that their first thought is that standing there getting your medal and hearing the applause of the crowd makes all the pain and struggles of training worthwhile. Yet while there can be only one winner in our earthly races, in the Heavenly race, all can win. Paul says that his race is almost over yet he knows his reward is waiting for him in heaven. What we as believers are running for is a “crown of righteousness” which the Lord will give to us when we stand before Him, and Paul says clearly that it is available to all. We don't have to worry if we will lose out to someone else, for in this race, all who run will win.

  And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24 NKJV

Paul often compares the life of believers to running a race. When you run a long race it is a certainty that at some point you will meet the bear and he will jump on your back and try to weigh you down. One of the ways we were taught to defeat the bear was to focus our eyes on the finish line. I can tell you from experience that seeing the finish line and focusing on running through that tape can give you the boost you need to make it to the end. Paul wrote these words as he was approaching his finish line so it stands to reason that he knew what he was talking about when it comes to advice on how to run the race. Paul simply says we need to be committed to know the Word of God, do the Work of God, and be assured we will receive our reward from the Lord Himself on that day. We have God's Word on that!

Keep watching.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What Are You Doing?

"Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. "But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? "Blessed [is] that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. "Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.
Matthew 24:42-47 NKJV

As I communicate each week with others who believe as I do that the return of our Lord for His church is fast approaching, one thing that we all agree upon is that events are occurring which are causing more and more believers to heed the command by Jesus to watch. Personally, because Jesus said that if we watch we will know when He is about to return, I believe even more is about to happen which will make it even more obvious to the world that the end is near.

Even as we who believe watch faithfully for His return, Jesus uses the parable above to tell us that there is more expected of us than just watching. I read every day of believers who are excited by what they see happening, yet get the feeling that they are so caught up in watching that it is possible they overlook the instruction Jesus gave to us about our responsibilities to perform while we watch. So today I thought I would share my thoughts about this parable and what I believe it says to me in the hope that it might help others to seek to do His will while we wait and watch.

First of all I think most of us would agree that Jesus is addressing this parable to His church, the body of Christ. This is certainly not the first time He has taught that He would leave this earth for a time and then return, but it does seem that He believes it's time to make sure everyone understands what is going to happen. In fact, this is the first of a series of parables He shares with His followers which are designed to focus their attention on the subject and to prepare them for His departure. In this first parable, I think He tells us that there are three responsibilities He requires of those who believe.

Be Prepared. While we watch, Jesus tells us to be “ready” for His return. The Greek word translated ready is “hetoimos” which means to “prepare, be ready”. Now if you think being ready simply means watching I think you miss the point. The word also means prepare, so obviously there is more to this than just watching. Having experienced the weddings of my daughters I can assure you that a lot of preparation went into those events and one of the first was a little thing called pre-marital counseling. Now many of us have experienced that and if yours was like mine and my daughters, one of the first things discussed was the fact that the Bible teaches love is a commitment and not a feeling. The reason I bring this up is that it seems to me that when Jesus tells us to be prepared, what He is telling us is that we need to examine our hearts to be sure He is in there! You see, I believe you can have God in your head, but not in your heart. The Bible tells us plainly that there are many who appear to believe, but it's head knowledge without the heart commitment to love Him and allow Him to come in and direct our path. We prepare by examining our hearts.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

Be Sensible. As His servants, we are told He expects us to be faithful and wise. The Greek words translated faithful and wise are “pistos” meaning trusty, faithful and “phronimos” meaning intelligent, wise. Now since it is the servant who possesses both of these qualities who is given the most important task of the household while the master is away, I wondered what it was that made him different from the others? What I came up with to describe the servant God wants is simply a servant with “common sense”. The way I see it, being faithful refers to the actions of the servant while wisdom is the reason for them. In other words, the servant God wants is one who understands the plan, realizes it makes sense, and is faithful to carry out his responsibilities. We have already mentioned the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge and I believe this is how you can tell the difference. The servant with heart knowledge is sensible because he is faithful to act upon what he believes, while the person with only head knowledge does nothing. If we truly believe Jesus is the Son of God and died for our sins, why wouldn't we want to do what He asks of us? Wouldn't that be “sensible”?

Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.
1 Corinthians 4:2 NKJV

Be Obedient. Jesus tells us here that the task of the faithful and wise servant prepared to watch for the master to return is to feed the rest of the house their food at the proper time. I find the reference to feeding food at the proper time rather interesting, especially in the context of Jesus teaching about His return. I don't think too many would argue against the conclusion Jesus is talking about His Word when He refers to food, but it's the reference to a proper time for feeding that might be misunderstood. Truthfully I would find it hard to believe that someone would take the position that you should only study the Bible at a certain time, and God makes it clear elsewhere that we are to be constantly in His Word. So what does the reference to a proper time mean?

The word in the Greek for proper time is “kairos”, which is translated a) a fixed and definite time, the time when things are brought to crisis, the decisive epoch waited for, b) opportune or seasonable time, c) the right time, d) a limited period of time, e) to what time brings, the state of the times, the things and events of time. Now looking at this definition and looking at the context of the passage where Jesus is talking about watching for His return, it would certainly appear that the food and the proper time to feed it, are related to events we are told to watch for in relation to Jesus' return.

Some of my favorite memories of my daughters growing up were the times we went on vacation to a resort in Central Oregon. The house we would rent was close to a railroad and my youngest daughter loved to watch the trains along with me as they went by. At first she was amazed that I always knew when one was coming and walked her out to watch it go by, but eventually she figured out I was listening for the whistle far away as a clue it was coming. I think the message here in this passage is somewhat similar in that those in the body who are prepared and sensible will understand the signs of our Lords' return and share that understanding with others in the body.

"Blessed [is] that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.
Matthew 24:46 NKJV

What are you doing? Are you prepared to be a faithful and wise servant, or are you not aware of the signs of the times? It's not enough to just watch for His return, but to also explain to others what we see and just what it means.

Keep watching.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Power of His Resurrection

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:10-11 NKJV

The power of His resurrection. Have you ever given that much thought? Not only did God have the power to raise Jesus from the dead, He also has the power to raise all who choose to believe. Because He lives, we can live as well. Like Him, someday we will receive a new body and we will live with Him forever. A new Heaven and a new Earth will be created for our pleasure, and nothing will ever be able to separate us from His presence.

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you." So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, "Rejoice!" So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.
Matthew 28:1-9 NKJV

Rejoice indeed. Because of the resurrection, we all have the opportunity to share in His power over death. It is a gift, freely given to anyone who chooses to believe. Have you ever considered the fact that as a believer in Christ, you are immortal? Death has no hold over us for we have the promise of eternal life, and to prove it, Jesus rose from the dead to show us He alone has the power.

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
John 11:25-26 NKJV

Have you made the decision in your own life to know the power of His resurrection? If not, you can right now by praying this prayer and accepting the gift of eternal life God has offered you by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I believe You died for my sins. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and life. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank You for saving me. Amen.

He is risen, and He is coming soon.

Keep watching.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why Did Jesus Weep?

Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things [that make] for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
Luke 19: 41-42 NKJV

One of my favorite memories of when I was an intern at a church in Southern California in the 70's was getting together with friends who were attending seminary and come up with a list of questions we would use in a game we called bible trivia. One of the questions we came up with was "how often does the bible say Jesus wept?". Of course, though most wanted to say once, it was obvious that by asking the question there must be a different answer.

Today is the day Christians around the world celebrate what is known as Palm Sunday. It is the day that Jesus of Nazareth rode a donkey into Jerusalem to present Himself as the coming Messiah promised by the prophets of the Old Testament. But although virtually every Christian knows that, many don't know the circumstances surrounding it, and the fact that those circumstances caused our Savior to weep.

If you look at the passage in Luke you will find that as Jesus approached the city from the direction of the Mount of Olives, "He saw the city and wept over it". Why would Jesus weep at the sight of the city of Jerusalem on the very day He came to proclaim Himself as the Messiah? That question is answered in the following verses where we see Jesus say that the people did not know the "time of your visitation". In other words, Jesus was holding the people accountable for not knowing the day that He was to appear.

"For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, "and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."
Luke 19: 43-44 NKJV

Now this obviously leads one to ask how they were supposed to know the exact day the Messiah was to appear in their presence if God had never told them? The trouble with that is what I have come to call "The Forgotten Prophecy". You see, God had told them when the Messiah would come but the religious leaders of the day, the Sadducees and Pharasees, and the people themselves had totally forgotten it.

If you recall we looked last week at a passage in the book of Daniel that reveals the seventy week scope of Israels' future. What many fail to realize from this prophecy is the reason it is broken up into two parts, sixty nine weeks and the seventieth week. You see, what Daniel and the nation of Israel discover is that this prophecy predicts the exact day that the Messiah would appear.

"Know therefore and understand, [That] from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, [There shall be] seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, Even in troublesome times.
Daniel 9:25 NKJV

In these verses Daniel is told that there will be 69 weeks from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah would appear. The word here for "weeks" is "shabua" which is what is called a "heptad", meaning it stands for a group of seven. In this particular case, it stands for a period of seven years, so what Daniel is being told is that there would be a period of 69 "weeks of years" or exactly 173,880 days from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to the day the Messiah appeared. (69 x 7 x 360 days/year)

The decree to rebuild Jerusalem was given by Artaxerxes Longimanus on March 14, 445 b.c. You can find that referred to in Nehemiah 2. If you add the period of time Daniel was given, 173,880 days, you arrive at Sunday, April 6, 32 a.d. which we now call Palm Sunday, the week before Easter and the very day Jesus wept when He saw the city. Why did He cry? Because even though God had gone to such great lengths to predict the exact day His Son would arrive as the Messiah, everyone had forgotten it. We know from history that the nation of Israel paid a terrible price for this forgetfulness as in 70 AD Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans and the period of wandering known as the diaspora began. This was also prophesied in the passage from Daniel;

"And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it [shall be] with a flood, And till the end of the war desolations are determined.
Daniel 9:26 NKJV

So today we begin the same week that saw the passion of our Lord so many years ago. Every year many watch to see if God has something planned for us on the anniversary of the first appearing, especially as we have plenty of evidence from history that God does in fact choose to use the same dates on the Jewish calendar to allow events to occur that have biblical significance. I personally find it interesting to note that a tradition in Israel is to pour a cup of wine for the prophet Elijah at the end of the Passover meal and to open the door to let him in. Since many believe that Elijah is one of the two witnesses that return at the beginning of the tribulation period, or the seventieth week of Daniel, I can't help but wonder if this is a clue to the timing God has in mind?

Another development that could possibly add fuel to the fire is the discovery by rabbis in Israel researching bible codes in the Torah that the words “Passover” and “2012” are encoded in a passage of scripture. Amazingly this discovery has even been reported in the mainline news here, resulting in a lot of speculation of what it might mean, and what might occur. Those who study these codes are quick to point out that they are not predictive of particular events, and should not be used as such, but the past has shown them to be accurate in revealing that something will occur at the times indicated.

So what does this all mean for us? Speaking only for myself, I can't forget the fact that Israel paid a terrible price for not “watching” for the appearance of their Messiah. The truth as well is that the diaspora was only the beginning of their troubles because the seventieth week of Daniel, which we know as the tribulation, is still in their future. That being the case, how can I not ask myself if God has something planned for those who are not watching for Jesus' return for His church as He commanded us to do in the New Testament? Just as the people were unaware of the time of Jesus' first appearing, how many believers today ignore the signs which Jesus' told us to watch for and are even now happening all around us?

The first three of the seven feasts of Israel occur in the next week, and the one most of the world will celebrate is the Feast of Firstfruits which we know as Easter. It's the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb where He was laid after His crucifixion. Jesus has told us, His followers, to watch for His return. He went to even greater lengths to tell us what to watch for so we would recognize the time of His appearing. My question to you is this: "Are you watching?" At this most holy of weeks when we celebrate the Resurrection, let us not forget the promise of Jesus' return, and the responsibility that goes along with the command to actively "watch" for it. It's coming soon.

Keep watching.