Sunday, September 27, 2015

Waiting on God

“Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; “and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face.     Deuteronomy 7:9-10  NKJV

Do you recall ever hearing your parents tell you; “patience is a virtue”?  If you were like me, you probably heard that because you were as impatient as I was in waiting for something you felt was due.  Fortunately, I learned over time, and with the help of extremely patient parents, that patience is indeed a virtue and somehow I have ended up being a patient person.  To a point.  You see, as I have watched the appearance of events predicted in the Bible concerning the end of this age, and observed the apostasy of His Church unfold before our very eyes, I simply cannot help but echo the lament of many of the Old Testament saints; “How long O Lord?”. 

My soul also is greatly troubled; But You, O LORD--how long? Return, O LORD, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies' sake!    Psalm 6:3-4 NKJV

From the number of commentaries I have read this past week, it appears I may not be alone in praying this prayer of David from the book of Psalms. As I have considered all that we have seen occur lately, I couldn’t help but remember Jesus describing the last days as resembling the “Days of Noah” in Matthew 24. One question that has always puzzled me about the inhabitants of the days of Noah is the fact that it would appear they either had absolutely no clue that their actions were an offense to the God of the universe, or if they did, they somehow believed God would allow their offenses to go unpunished.

It follows then that this past week my thoughts concerning our country and its leaders, as well as the events unfolding around the world, somehow began to remind me of this same question. Does the majority of this nation, and the world as a whole, actually believe their decisions do not offend God, or do they simply believe God will do nothing to show His displeasure? On the other hand, the more I read, the more it appears that many believers are of the opinion that God has indeed already begun to remind us that He alone is omnipotent and is perfectly willing to judge those who offend Him. Yet, like David, it's hard not to ask God...”how long”?

Something I have been passionate about over the years is my personal study of the Old Testament.  It probably has something to do with my interest in history, which was my major in college, but I have always enjoyed studying events from our past.  There are many reasons to study the Old Testament, but one I regard as my primary motivation is that it is the best way I know to learn about, and begin to understand, the nature of God.  The books of the Old Testament are full of passages where God tells us what He is like, and also reveals His nature to us.  I believe the better we begin to know God, the more reassured we can be about what we see as we watch where the world is going today.  Paul seemed to understand this when he wrote the following passage in the book of Romans.

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.                        Romans 15:4  NKJV

You might ask, hope in what?  Obviously we are concerned with our own deliverance, but we can also rest assured that God will, in His own time, judge the world for its actions. Our God is a just God, and He will never let sin go unpunished. He has judged in the past, and He will judge again in the future. We can ask “how long” with the knowledge that although we are waiting, and most likely impatient, God promises to do His will.  God has a plan, and a timetable for administering it.  It is up to us to persevere, and trust in God’s faithfulness.

Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end [intended by] the Lord--that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.    James 5:11 NKJV

Personally, what helps me the most is the knowledge of “the end intended by the Lord”. David may have prayed to the Lord expressing his sorrows and frustrations, but he always ended by acknowledging the fact that he knew that not only God was faithful, He also had a plan and it would unfold just as He ordained. I have often shared that I enjoy studying the life of David because while God described him as a “man after my own heart”, it is also obvious that David suffered from the same emotions we often do and was perfectly willing to share them with God.

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, [Having] sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?    Psalm 13:1-2 NKJV

I don’t believe we as believers should be shy about sharing our sorrow and frustrations with God because after all, doesn't He already know what we are feeling?  He understands our emotions and what we are feeling and if we share that with Him, He will hear our cry.  It is also important to note that not only does He hear, He will respond to our crying out to Him.

Nevertheless He regarded their affliction, When He heard their cry; And for their sake He remembered His covenant, And relented according to the multitude of His mercies.   Psalm 106:44-45 NKJV

One of the most reassuring things about God is the fact that He is always faithful to answer our cries and to demonstrate His mercy towards His people. I have always enjoyed having my daughters ask me for help, and even now that they are grown and living elsewhere it still is nice to get a call and be asked to do something that is helpful in some way. Do you really believe God is so busy that He doesn't want to hear from us when we need some help? Ask and see just how faithful our God is.

Lord, how long will You look on? Rescue me from their destructions, My precious [life] from the lions. I will give You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people.    Psalm 35:17-18 NKJV

Of course David well knew that when God provided, He alone was due the glory and the thanks. What better witness could we have but to give God the glory when He delivers us as well?

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom [be] glory forever and ever. Amen.                                   Galatians 1:3-5 NKJV

What better to help us endure than the knowledge that God promises to deliver us from this “present evil age”.  While it may be difficult to sit by and watch where this world is going, we can rest assured that we have His promise that we will be saved from that terrible judgment which is to come upon the whole earth.

O God, how long will the adversary reproach? Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever? Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand? [Take it] out of Your bosom and destroy [them].                            Psalm 74:10-11 NKJV

Just as David knew God had the power to judge and destroy His enemies, so we too have the knowledge that while it looks as if we are losing the battle, God will avenge Himself upon those who turn their backs on Him.

The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth. "He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed."                     1 Samuel 2:10 NKJV

Is it wrong to be impatient while waiting for God's return? While we know that God will do His work in His own time, David certainly had no problem expressing the difficulty he felt while waiting.

Return, O LORD! How long? And have compassion on Your servants. Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!                  Psalm 90:13-14 NKJV

While we look at what is going on all around us and wonder why God is waiting, we should never forget that He loves those who sin against Him and is compassionate towards them with a patience we cannot begin to comprehend.  Our God is not willing for any to perish and we need to keep that in mind whenever we are tempted to ask “how long”?

The LORD [is] gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD [is] good to all, And His tender mercies [are] over all His works.      Psalm 145:8-9 NKJV

What does God expect from us during this time of waiting? I think it revealing that in this passage from Luke we find that Jesus asks a very unusual question.

"And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?"I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"    Luke 18:7-8 NKJV

Has the thought ever occurred to you that we should just give up? We are losing the fight so why bother anymore? David never gave up although at times it looks like he believed the entire world was against him. Yet David knew God was faithful to fulfill His promises because he never asked "if" God was going to act, only "how long" until He would act, and we should know that as well. Although it may appear that we are fighting a losing battle, the battle is not over until the Son of Man comes to take us away. Will He find faith? Why would He ask that question unless some would be tempted to give up?  If He promises to be faithful to us, is it too much to ask for us to be faithful to Him?

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Our Longsuffering Lord

Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to 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 creation.” For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.                 2 Peter 3:1-9  NKJV

“Why are we still here?”  Have you heard another believer ask that question lately?  It seems to be one which I am hearing more and more, especially as we watch what is happening not only in this country, but around the world as well.  Of course, there are those who use the absence of God’s appearance to claim that it is proof we can justify disbelief in the promise of deliverance, but as you can see from the passage from Peter, this too has been foretold.  However we are still faced with the question; “what is God waiting for?” Might I suggest an answer to that question that most of us will probably find uncomfortable?

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.    Romans 11:25 NKJV

In the passage from Romans, most scholars agree that Paul is referring to God's plan for Israel when he says that the blindness of Israel will only last for a period of time, and will change once the “fullness of the Gentiles” has been achieved. The interpretation of the passage seems to rest on the meaning of the word fullness, which is the Greek word plērōma, which refers to the filling of something to completeness. It is often used to refer to a ship being filled, but it is also used in Acts to describe the filling of believers with the Holy Spirit. As such, many scholars believe what we are being told here is that the rapture of the Church is a “number specific” event which cannot occur until the desired number of believers is achieved.

If indeed this is a proper interpretation of this passage, and if God is in fact waiting for the specific number of believers to be reached in order for the body to be complete, my question to all of us today (myself included) is simply this; “whose fault is it we are still here?” God's? Not hardly! Speaking for myself, this passage from Romans is a personal “calling out” pointing out to me the importance of making sure I am fulfilling the primary responsibility of a believer which is to share the Gospel of Christ with those around me. Notice I said share the Gospel? Not be “active in my church”, “exercising my spiritual gift”, or “living my life as a witness to others”, and otherwise trying to be “busy” doing.

Does that sound harsh? I don't mean it to be, but if it makes us uncomfortable I think we need only look as far as the church at Ephesus and the letter addressed to it by our Lord Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation, to understand what Jesus expects from us.

"I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; "and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary."Nevertheless I have [this] against you, that you have left your first love.    Revelation 2:2-4 NKJV

What was their “first love”? Virtually every commentator or teacher I have ever read or heard speak interprets this to mean that they had forgotten the excitement which resulted in making sharing the gospel with an unbelieving world their primary goal. They were busy doing everything else that makes for a healthy body, yet they had lost the initial excitement of first love that made them want to share Christ with others. Do you remember what it was like when you first became a believer? Didn't we all want to shout out and share the joy with everyone we met? That is our “first love”, and one we should never forget. In the book of Acts, Paul shares with us his perspective on what he sees as his first love and our purpose in this life as well.

"But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.                 Acts 20:24 NKJV

The simple fact is that God uses His believers to share the message of Christ with an unbelieving world, and if we don't do it, it doesn't get done. Is it possible we as a body are making the same mistake as the church in Ephesus? Are we so busy “doing” what we think is important that we forget to do what God says is important?

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always [be] ready to [give] a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;    1 Peter 3:15 NKJV

I'm sure I am not alone in wanting to hear God tell me “well done” when I finally stand before Him. Years ago I decided that the following passage from Jesus' teaching in Matthew should be my personal motivation for sharing the Gospel in order to hear those words from the Father.

"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.    Matthew 24:45-46 NKJV

If the rapture of the church is indeed based on the number of members in the body of Christ, then it is logical to assume that the rapture will occur at the moment the last person makes his or her decision to accept Christ into their heart. That said, it is entirely possible any one of us could be the person sharing the Gospel with that individual at that particular time. Many of us are disappointed to still be here given all the signs that the rapture is indeed imminent, yet if Paul is telling us that there is a number that has to be reached for the “fullness of the Gentiles” to “come in”, it is reasonable to conclude that it's our fault we are still here. As a body of believers, we need to remember our first love and share the Gospel with everyone we meet so God can “fill the boat” to completeness.

If you are reading this and have never made the decision to accept Jesus Christ into your heart and accept the free gift of eternal life He has offered you, I urge you to do so right now. You can do that 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.

Father, I know I am a sinner in need of salvation. I believe you sent your Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sin, and I ask you now to forgive me of my sins. I want to receive your gift of salvation so please come into my heart and help me to live and follow you as my Lord and Savior. In Jesus' name, Amen.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.    Romans 1:16 NKJV

May Jesus find us all “so doing” when He comes.

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Will We Know When We Go?

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.      1 Thessalonians 4:16 NKJV

Today begins the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, a celebration of their New Year beginning just as the western world does on January first.  It is a holiday that many believe has serious rapture possibilities written all over it for a number of reasons.  Although I believe the rapture could happen at any time, and is not reliant on occurring on a Jewish holy day, it is certainly a possibility.  Rosh Hashanah is set to begin at sundown today in Israel, but I feel I should also mention that it is also called the day which no one knows because in Biblical times, the calendar was set by the sighting of the New Moon at sunset.  So although on the calendar it begins today, many believe that technically we should wait to see if the moon is sighted before the celebration begins.

Concerning the rapture of the Church, however, I thought I would share some thoughts I have concerning what we might experience when that blessed hope finally occurs.  As I studied the question of the rapture, I was surprised to find that some of the teachers I highly respect do not necessarily agree with some of my thoughts.  Although I suppose that should not come as a surprise, it still was a disappointment to me because I believe that the Bible is pretty clear on the events surrounding our deliverance.  So enjoy reading today and decide for yourself if those who choose to believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins will in fact, know when we go.

One of the things I enjoyed most when teaching young people were the questions I often got from them concerning the things we were studying in the scriptures. One of my favorites, and one I got repeatedly when teaching the rapture of the Church is if we will know or be aware that we are being raptured, or do we simply find ourselves suddenly in heaven without a clue that it was about to happen? That really is a great question and one I think many of us have thought about at one time or another, so I thought we might take a little time this morning to look closer at the event we call the rapture.

This verse in Thessalonians is probably the best one we can use in describing exactly what God says will happen on that day. If we look closely at what it says, we find that we are told there are actually three distinct things which will occur in sequence when Jesus returns for His Church. These are a shout by the Lord Himself, the voice of an archangel, and the sound of the trumpet of God. So let's look closer at each of these three and see if there is a clue to the answer to our question “will we know”?

The Shout. In this verse we are told this shout is from the Lord Jesus Himself. Now at first, it would seem understandable that Jesus might want to shout since He has been waiting over two thousand years to come get His bride, yet there may be more to it than that. We are also told here that “the dead in Christ will rise first”. So there is a sequence of events, and the first is the resurrection of the bodies of those believers who have already died to be reunited with their souls which went to be with Lord at the time of their death.

We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.                 2 Corinthians 5:8 NKJV

When a believer dies, his soul goes to be with the Lord in Heaven while his body is left behind. At the time of the rapture, the Lord apparently commands their bodies to rise from the grave just as He did with Lazarus.

Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!" John 11:43 NKJV

So the first thing to happen at the time of the rapture is the resurrection of the dead in Christ. While teaching this during Sunday School, one of my students said “dude, wouldn’t it be cool to be in a cemetery when that happens?” We laugh, but I just wonder if he is right?  Everybody present saw Lazarus arise, so I just wonder if we will see the dead in Christ arise?

The Voice. The only angel in the Bible to receive the title of archangel is the angel Michael, so I think it is safe to assume that is who is being talked about here. As opposed to the Lord's “shout”, we are told that we only hear the “voice” of Michael, so we are left to wonder exactly what his role here is. If you have studied this passage in the past, or study it further, you will find there are a few opinions as to what might be going on. Although any of them might be right, I am going to go as far as to suggest a new one which may or may not be accurate, but feels the most comfortable to me. As I sat and thought about why Michael might be involved, I decided to look at the other occasions where he is mentioned in the Bible. A very interesting place I found is in the book of Jude where we are told this;

Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"     Jude 1:9 NKJV

Now I certainly found it curious that here we find a situation involving Michael that, along with the account of the rapture, is concerned with a body belonging to a believer. In this account in Jude, the only explanation that makes any sense is that Satan was disputing “possession” of the dead body of Moses. We can find an account of this in the non-canonical Book of Enoch, which Jude is obviously referring to. In that account Satan laid claim to the body for two reasons. The first was that Moses was a murderer because he took the life of an Egyptian, and the second was that Moses body was buried on earth, and he, Satan, is the lord over the things of this world. So my thoughts are these; if Satan has in the past disputed over the ownership of the body of one believer, just what will his reaction to the resurrection of all dead believers bodies be? If in fact this is what happens, doesn't it make sense that the same scenario will repeat itself and the voice of the archangel is Michael again saying “The Lord rebuke you” to Satan? As I said, there are other ideas concerning this portion of the verse, but since both of these accounts of Michael concern the ownership of believers bodies, to me this seems to be a reasonable conclusion.

The Trumpet. Actually, we are told here that what we hear is the "trumpet of God". Just what exactly is this trumpet sound and what if anything makes it special? In another account of the rapture, Paul tells us this;

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.           1 Corinthians 15:52 NKJV

Here Paul refers to this trumpet as the "last trump". This helps us identify it for from studying rabbinical sources we see that this use of the term "last trump" means it is the shofar, or ram's horn which is being used. The shofar is related to the account of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, and rabbinical tradition regards the left horn as the "first trump" and the right horn as the "last trump". There are two ways to blow the shofar, with the first being a series of short blasts which signify an alarm or bad news, and the second being one long blast which is meant to signal victory or good news. It is this last long blast which is identified as the "last trump". According to rabbinical sources the "last trump" or "tekiah gedolah" lasts as long as the blower has the lung capacity to blow. In this case, where the "trumpet of God"is being blown, one has to wonder just how long the blast will be? My personal opinion is very, very long.

The shout of Jesus calling for the resurrection of all dead believers bodies to rise, Michael rebuking Satan in the Lord's name for possession of the bodies, and the tekiah gedolah which lasts as long as the blower has breath, certainly gives rise to the thought that the answer to our original question might well be; yes! Yes we will know that the rapture is occurring because there is a sequence of three events which must take place before we go. I suspect the last trump will last long enough for all believers to know and understand that the time has come for the bride to go with the bridegroom and to rise and meet Him in the air. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Keep watching. (and listening)