Friday, September 19, 2014

...But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33 tells us that in this world we will have trouble, but there is hope because of Jesus.  There is victory in Jesus.

Lately I've had Psalm 46 on my mind.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth give way
and the mountains fall
into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake
with their surging.

There is a river whose streams
make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
He burns the shields with fire.

Be still and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress.
(Psalm 46 NIV84)

God is with me.  This is His promise, and He always keeps His promises.  He will be with me, wherever I go (Joshua 1:9).  He will never leave me nor forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).  Nothing can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord (Romans 8:35-39).  God is constantly with me, and I can absolutely always depend on this fact, no matter what comes.

I've been through a tough time.  A number of stressors piled up and put me into a lupus flare like I had never before experienced.  I literally thought I was going to die.  Even after I was stabilized, I felt bad for days, and at one point I just had a good, long cry for all the things I felt were lost to me: sunshine walks on the beach, romps with grandchildren, an adventure to see the giant redwoods of the west.  I sat within the small walls of my bathroom and felt the limits of my world, grieved the cookies I will never bake and the bread I will never again eat.  The loss of dreams, giving up gluten and "normal food," adjusting myself to a life of limited energy, limited strength, limited resources after medical bills are paid, possibly limited medical care because of limited insurance coverage.

But the Lord Almighty is with me.  The God of Jacob is my fortress.

And then I started to learn of other tragedies.  A dear friend just learned that her husband has an aggressive, malignant brain tumor.  I went to see them in the hospital.  They are the most beautiful family, full of peace and love for one another.  He is a farmer, one of those saintly farmers who cannot leave a good deed undone.  Clear eyed, radiating kindness, smiling gently.  His strong hands looked so out of place amongst the little plastic tubes of his monitors and IVs.  Two daughters sat in front of the window, quiet and serene, loving their dad, just being there and loving him.

You look around at all the smoking, drinking, cheating, stealing, lying, wife-smacking men who seem to live forever, and you wonder why this gentle, God-fearing saint of a farmer has a medical death sentence on his head, just before the harvest, in the middle of a kitchen remodel.  Why?

The righteous perish,
and no one ponders it in his heart;
devout men are taken away,
and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly
enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.
(Isaiah 57:1-2 NIV84)

We don't understand.  We cling so hard to this life, storing up treasure here, valuing the temporal instead of the eternal, seeking thrills, beauty and happiness in a world destined for destruction.

Paul said, "To live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21 NIV84)

To live is to pour ourselves out sacrificially for the sake of the world, and to die is to go to our heavenly reward.

Sometimes God takes people home because He loves them.  1 Kings 14 tells the story of the one righteous descendant of wicked King Jeroboam.  This boy died and was buried ". . . because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good." (1 Kings 14:13 NIV84)

We need to get over our fear of death.

Perfect love drives out fear (from 1 John 4:18).  When we can--if we can--understand the love God has for us, and then love Him in return, the way He has commanded us, with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength, then we will no longer be afraid.

The Lord Almighty is with us.  The God of Jacob is our fortress.

I met a lady for the first time last week.  She has just received a diagnosis of breast cancer, and she is facing a double mastectomy in the near future.  After the surgery, there will be chemotherapy and radiation, pain, malaise, hair loss, days lost, medical bills and more medical bills.

In this world we will have trouble, Jesus tells us.  In this world we will have trouble.  But we can take heart, for He has overcome the world.

In Philippians 3, Paul tells us that he considers everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.  Jesus is our Lord, and for His sake we lose all things, considering them rubbish compared to the treasure of Christ.

The kingdom of heaven
is like a treasure hidden in a field.
When a man found it, he hid it again,
and then in his joy went 
and sold all he had
and bought that field.
(Matthew 13:44 NIV84)

May we have that same joy as we learn to apprehend the love God has for us, the promises He gives to us, the future He has prepared for us.  Nothing can compare.  We only see dimly what is in store, but by faith we go forward.  God, grant us more faith.

Our hope is in Christ.  Our hope is in the next life.
Our trials here are temporary, but our joy in heaven will be eternal.

The Lord Almighty is with us.  The God of Jacob is our fortress.

He is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.

Be still and know that He is God.

Take heart, for He has already overcome the world.

For our light and momentary troubles
are achieving for us an eternal glory
that far outweighs them all.
so we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NIV84)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Love one another.

I have noticed that churches often center on telling us to share the gospel.

"Preach the gospel to the world!" they tell us.

"Share your faith!"

"Witness for Christ!"


When I was very little, I remember being herded into an assembly of children and taught, "Missionaries are not just people who go to Africa or South America!  You are all missionaries!  You all need to tell your friends about Jesus!"  Well yes, sort of.

Spreading the good news is considered synonymous with being a Christian.  It is the mark, the measure of your Christianity.  I'm not sure if they say it, but they certainly suggest that you are not a worthy, complete or certain Christian if you are not actively going out into the world and spreading the gospel regularly.  Regularly.  Like, multiple times per week in circumstances planned and orchestrated by you.

Now, I am not going to deny that the Great Commission is in the Bible:  "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..."  (Matthew 28:19, NIV)  But look at that:  it says to make disciples and baptize them.  I don't think I am supposed to baptize anybody!  I don't think this is an open invitation for any believer, no matter how new, to share his faith and proceed to baptize somebody.  So, I'm not convinced that this directive is addressed to everybody (it does specifically say that Jesus was speaking with His 11 disciples at the time), and thus, I am not sure that everybody is equally obligated to evangelize.

I once heard a pastor who maintained that Jesus gave the Great Commission four times, based on Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8 (as a continuation of Luke) and John 20:21.  Given that at least three (and perhaps all) of these references are quite possibly accounts of the same event, an event where Jesus had a private, intimate conversation with His eleven closest followers, I thought it was rather a stretch to say that Jesus repeated the Great Commission four times, and intended it for all believers.

I'm just saying.

It's not that we shouldn't share the gospel.  We should.  But we should do it according to God's direction and the opportunities He provides.  I've blown opportunities, and for that I am ashamed and sorry.  But I still maintain that it is not imperative that we go out forcing opportunities to inflict the gospel message on people who do not want to hear it.  It's not that they don't need to hear it; it's just that God knows when they are ready to respond, and it is His power that converts souls, not our gung-ho enthusiasm. 

The reason I bring this up is not to discourage people from sharing the gospel!  By no means!

The reason I bring this up is because I think we have misplaced priorities.

If you really want to live out your Christian faith in a life that is pleasing to God, you should read the Bible and find out what God wants from you.  When I read the Bible, specifically the New Testament, the thing I see repeated over and over is this:  Love one another.

What if instead of beating ourselves and each other up over how many times we shared the gospel last week, instead of living under guilt and pressure to perform, what if we set our hearts to learn and live the kind of love that God asks of us?

What if we are focusing on the wrong thing, and the right thing would be to focus on loving each other?

In Matthew 22:37-40 and  Mark 12:29-31, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.  In Luke 10:26-28, He tells an expert of the law that these two commandments are the summation of what God requires of us.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another," (NIV, my emphasis).

Jesus laid down the gauntlet.  We are to testify to His love by loving each other, especially within the brotherhood, or the family of believers.  Do we do this?

Am I accurate?  Is love an important trait for Christians to exhibit?  Is it a recurring theme in the New Testament?

Well, of course there is the entire book of 1 John, which uses the word, "love," 27 times.

1 John 3:11 says, "For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another," (NIV).

1 John 4:7 says, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God," (NIV).

1 John 3:23 says, "And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us," (NIV).  You can read the rest of the book if you want a whole lot of material about love (and, as far as I can tell, no overt emphasis on boldly proclaiming the gospel).

But what about others besides John?  Does Paul exhort us to love?  Paul was the first missionary; wouldn't he be more interested in telling us to join him in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth?

As far as I can tell, Paul says, "It was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers..."  (Ephesians 4:11, NIV).  Do you see the repeated word there?  It's someSome does not mean the same thing as all.

Again, I'm just saying.

But what does Paul say about love?

Romans 12:9-10, "Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves." (NIV)

Romans 13:8, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law," (NIV).  And there is more in Romans 13:9-10.

Then there's 1 Corinthians 13, Paul's famous love chapter.  Here are some excerpts:  "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love," (NIV).

Galatians 5:6, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love," (NIV)

Galatians 5:13, "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love," (NIV)

Ephesians 4:2, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love," (NIV).

Ephesians 5:1-2, "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God," (NIV).

Philippians 1:9, "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight," (NIV).

Philippians 2:1-4 (which not only exhorts us to love, but explains what love looks like),  "Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others," (NIV).

There are so, so many verses.  I can't possibly list them all.  A few more, but far from exhaustive . . .

Colossians 3:12-14, "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."

And this is where I was studying, that spurred me to write this post in the first place...

1 Thessalonians 3:12, "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you," (NIV).

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, "Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.  And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more," (NIV).

2 Thessalonians 1:3, "We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing," (NIV).

2 Thessalonians 3:5, "May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance," (NIV).

I could list more from Paul, but I am running out of space, so I will just give you a few quotes on the importance of love from non-Paul sources before I stop.

Hebrews 10:24, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds," (NIV).

James 2:8," If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right," (NIV).

1 Peter 1:22, "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart," (NIV).

1 Peter 3:8, "Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble," (NIV).

1 Peter 4:8, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins," (NIV).

Jude 1:21, " . . . keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life," (NIV).

There is much more about love in the New Testament than I have listed here.  Yet I challenge anyone to come up with even half as many references that exhort us to go out and proclaim the gospel.

Again, I am not saying that we should not proclaim the gospel, as God leads us.  We should.

However, I am mystified as to why our churches spend so much time telling us to proclaim the gospel, exhorting us to proclaim the gospel, even piling guilt on us for not proclaiming the gospel, while at the same time, we hear so little about the importance of loving one another.

Maybe if we got the love part right, the primary command, the foundation of our faith, the identifying mark of who we are, then the witnessing would fall into place.

I'm just saying.

I'm pretty sure that if we got the love part right, the witnessing would be much more powerful and effective.

I'm not certain that the Bible commands every single believer to go forth preaching the gospel to the nations, but I am very certain that the Bible commands us to love one another.

Love one another.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A little bit more on Amillennialism, and why I don't think it is heretical

Amillennialism is the belief that we are currently in the Millennium, that famous "1000 year reign" from Revelation 20:2, 3 & 5.

One (I suppose) obvious problem:  If the Millennium is basically synonymous with the Church Age, and Millennium means 1000 years . . . we are currently living approximately 2000 years after Christ vanquished the devil at Calvary.  So, that proves it's wrong, right?  Because the Church Age has been twice as long as a Millennium already.

This is not a big problem if you read Revelation symbolically rather than literally.  If you take things symbolically, then "Millennium" could just mean, "a very long time."  You may ask, "Why would God call it a thousand years if He did not mean a thousand years?"  I would rejoin, "Why did Ezekiel eat the scroll in chapter 3?  Why did Daniel dream about four beasts, and a ram and a goat?  Why did Amos write about ripe fruit, and Zechariah about a woman in a basket?  Why so many stories about shepherds and sheep throughout both the Old and New Testaments?  Why did Jesus speak in parables?"

I don't think we exactly know the answer to this question, but clearly God makes a practice of using symbols to convey deeper truths.  The whole Old Testament is packed with symbols and pictures that convey truths about the coming Christ, from the Passover, to the tabernacle and the sacrificial system, to all the strange things the prophets had to do.

And speaking of prophets, if you read them, you unveil a pattern: Hebrew rhetoric does not usually follow a straight line.  Hebrew rhetoric is usually circular, circling a topic and looping back, examining it multiple times from multiple angles (aside: this is interesting to think about when you consider that God provided us with four separate accounts of the life of Jesus in the four gospels).

If you apply the idea of circular Hebrew rhetoric to the book of Revelation, you come up with one event, viewed multiple times, from multiple angles, with varied emphases.  One victory, one judgment, one burning of the earth, one gathering in of the saints to glory.  Many different pictures of what it looks like, from many different angles.

I'm not going to lie.  I like the idea of the earth being destroyed once much better than the thought of it being destroyed over and over again.  Just as I sometimes suspect Dispensational Premillennialists of liking their position because they figure they will be raptured out of here before the trouble starts, I could be guilty of liking Amillennialism because the earth only gets burned once.  I will own that.

Going back to Hebrew circular rhetoric one again (aha, perhaps we are using it), it often starts with a preview, or a story, or some sort of introduction to present the issue, and then is followed by deep delving into consideration by these looping circles.

The book of Hosea is a prime example of this.  It begins with the story of Hosea and how God asked him to marry a prostitute, and it narrates what happened.  This all takes place in the first three chapters, although the second chapter explains the symbolism that is developing.  The remaining eleven chapters consider the scenario around and around again as it relates to the relationship between God and His chosen people.

A couple of years ago, we had a pastor who preached a wonderful sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount from the same perspective, showing how Jesus led out with the Beatitudes (in Matthew 5), and then fleshed them out through the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.  He had us study how each of the topics in the Sermon on the Mount related back to the Beatitudes in one way or another, sometimes in multiple ways.

Apply the same principle to Revelation, and you get a book that begins with a vision of the victorious Christ, and seven letters to seven churches, exhorting them to be ready for the end.  Following these letters (Revelation chapters 1-3), the apostle John goes into descriptions of what the end will be like.

He starts, in chapters 4-5, describing a very encouraging picture: God and the Lamb in complete victory, in heaven, receiving the glorious and joyful adoration of the saints.  Chapter 6 switches over and describes judgment poured out.  Between chapters 4, 5 and 6, we have victory, the joy of the redeemed, and judgment on sinners.

Chapter 7 seems (perhaps?) to begin a new cycle of considering the end.  It opens with God holding back judgment until 144,000 of the tribes of Israel are sealed as servants of the Lord.  Now, Dispensational Premillennialists see this as a literal, exact, 144,000 Jewish people.  Do you remember what I said before? "Dispensationalists, in their literal reading of the scripture, always understand 'Israel' to mean national Israel, Jewish people, the descendants of Jacob.  Just bear that in mind.  It is a defining feature of the position.  More on that later."

I guess we've arrived at "later."

This is where the difference between Dispensationalism and other interpretations becomes very clear.  I am going to try to explain it briefly.

Non-dispensational views see "Israel" as meaning the chosen people of God. In the Old Testament, Israel was a nation, a family of people who came from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, especially Jacob whom God actually renamed, "Israel."  This group, or family, or race of people was chosen by God for a special purpose: to bring Messiah to the world to be our Savior.  This purpose is first stated in the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 12, where God told Abraham that through his seed all nations would be blessed.  The seed of Abraham is Christ, as Paul makes clear in the New Testament in places like Galatians 3 and Romans 4.

"The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.  The scripture does not say, 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ."  (Galatians 3:16 NIV)

"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."  (Galatians 3:29 NIV)

"Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all."'  (Romans 4:16 NIV)

God made a covenant with Israel, but those Israelites who broke their part of the covenant (which is most of them) have no claim to it.  However, the Old Testament traces a remnant all through its pages, a remnant of Israelites who believed in God and lived by faith, like the faith of Abraham.  Do a word study on "remnant" in the Bible sometime, and see what you find.

The remnant of Israel seeded the beginning of the church, which began among Jews, but soon spread to Gentiles, as you find when you study the book of Acts.  This is no disrespect to the Jewish believers; indeed, all of the early church leaders were Jewish.  Jesus was Jewish.  God loves Jewish people.  However, unless they stand by faith in Christ, they are no more saved than anybody else (this is the main point of Romans 2, where Paul uses the term "Jew" to mean true Israel, the Israel of faith).

All of God's promises to the nation of Israel were fulfilled (see Joshua 21:45 and 23:14).  I think we can say that God's promises to Israel will also have a new fulfillment, in a spiritual sense, for spiritual Israel, the church, God's children by faith (see Galatians 3:29).  Many of these spiritual promises have already been fulfilled, but some will yet come to pass.

God also made promises to David, some of which were not fulfilled in a literal way to Israel, the nation, but have been fulfilled spiritually through Christ. "I will raise your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever," (1 Chronicles 17:1-12, NIV).  If this only applied to the throne as a succession of thrones (from father to son, over and over) God would have said, "I will establish your throne forever," because he was talking to David about David's son.  But God was not talking about the succession of a family.  Clearly not, because the national line of Davidic kings ended when Israel was exiled to Babylon.  No, God was talking about Christ, the Son of David, who would reign on the throne forever.

According to Amillennialism, Christ does reign on the throne, even now, since He has overcome the devil, and the grave, and hell itself (see Ephesians 1:19-22).  This is the age of His reign with His saints (see Revelation 20:3-6, really, please look it up).

All this discussion is simply to differentiate national Israel--the bloodline of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the nation chosen by God to receive His law and dwell with His presence in their midst--from spiritual Israel--the children of God by faith.  A Dispensationalist reads, "144,000 of the tribes of Israel," and thinks, "144,000 literal Jews, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes."  A non-dispensationalist is more likely to read, "144,000 of the tribes of Israel," as a symbol.  144,000 is a very large, complete, cubic number.  It could stand for the complete and perfect number of all the redeemed whom the Lord has called into His Kingdom (Romans 11:26 tells us that all Israel will be saved).  The fact that they are "Israel," means that they are indeed the chosen ones, sealed by the Holy Spirit, the treasure of the Lord.

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."  (1 Peter 2:9 NIV)

Another thing.  Remember my post about when we go to heaven?  Amillennialism answers this question quite neatly: saints (believers) who die during the church age (which, remember, we are considering to be the same as the Millennium in this discussion) go immediately to reign with Jesus.  The New Heaven and the New Earth have not yet come into being, but the saints who die are ushered into the presence of God and reign with Christ who sits on the throne.

Argh.  Out of time.  Out of space.  Although, this is a pretty decent explanation of how the theory of Amillennialism fits with what we read in scripture.  We just didn't get to finish outlining the book of Revelation.  Ha.  As if anybody could outline the book of Revelation.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Some more on eschatology: historic premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism

When I began to address this subject, I explained that there are three main events that Christians agree will take place, and the differences in opinion arise from how we understand the order of the events to unfold.

Simply speaking, there are three main end time events that the Bible alludes to in various places.
  1. The Tribulation--a time of great trouble, when wars and natural disasters will be rampant on earth.  (See Matthew 24, Revelation 6:12-17, Revelation 8:5-9:21, Revelation 16, etc.)
  2. The Rapture--when Jesus gathers His followers ("the elect" or "brothers") to be with Him.  (See Matthew 24:30-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.)
  3. The Millennium--a time when Christ will rule on earth for a thousand years.  (See Revelation 20:4-7.)

I am going to try to do some "nutshell" explanations of the different positions today.  I will not thoroughly discuss where each position gets its basis, according to scripture, but each one can be supported by selected Bible verses.

As we consider the different views, I think it is important to maintain a humble heart and remember that Jesus said,
"But about that day or hour no one knows, 
not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,
but only the Father." 
(Matthew 24:36 NIV)

We already discussed Dispensational Premillennialism, which is somewhat complicated, compared to some of the other views, probably because of the way it works hard to make sense of Biblical prophecies of the End Times from a very literal point of view.

Historic Premillennialism is similar to Dispensational Premillennialism, in that it agrees with the general order of events, the important point being that those who hold to this position believe that there will be a Tribulation, followed by the Millennium, followed by the coming of the New Heaven and the New Earth.  As I understand it (I could be wrong about this), proponents of Historic Premillennialism are undecided as to when the rapture occurs.  Some believe that the rapture comes before the tribulation, some believe that it happens in the middle of the tribulation, and some think it happens at the end.  Some straight-out admit that they do not know when it will happen.  

Regardless of the timing, Historic Premillennialists differ from Dispensational Premillennialists in this:  they believe that the rapture is a grand and unmistakeable event that nobody will miss.  They do not hold to the idea that people will simply disappear from the earth, leaving  those who are "left behind" mystified as to where their Christian cohorts have gone.  They believe that the rapture will happen in great glory and the almighty power of God, for all the world to see:  
"Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." (Matthew 24:30-31 NIV)

Postmillennialism is the view that I understand the least, although parts of it make a certain amount of sense to me.  Whereas in the premillennial views, the Tribulation happens before the Millennium, in the Postmillennial view, the tribulation comes at the end of Millennium, culminating in the last battle (of Gog and Magog), the great judgment, and finally the New Heavens and the New Earth.

In the Postmillennial view, the Millennium is a time when the church marches forward in victory, proclaiming the truth of the gospel to all nations.  The nations are happy to receive the gospel and receptive to it.  At the end of this victorious age, the tribulation, rapture and final judgment will usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  I believe that part of this view stems from their reading of Matthew 24:14, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (NIV)

Quick Review
Historic and Dispensational Premillennnialism both hold to the idea that the Rapture and, especially, the Tribulation happen before the Millenium, hence the use of the prefix pre- in Premillennial.  Dispensational Premillennialists believe that it is a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth, with His believers, while Historic Premillennialists are undecided as to whether it is a literal or symbolic time frame.

Postmillennialism espouses the idea that the tribulation and rapture happen after the Millennium, hence the use of the prefix post- in Postmillennial.  People who hold to this view are divided on whether they believe that it is a literal or figurative 1000 years.

One belief, or assumption, that all these views share in common is that the Millennium is a period of time that we look forward to in the future.

Amillennialism is a much maligned view, poorly named and poorly understood by many, often not spoken of by the people who believe in it.  This may be because many conservative evangelicals have often adopted a dogmatic and condemning attitude toward those who do not share their Dispensational Premillennial viewpoint, sometimes accusing them of heresy.

If you consider the term, amillenial, the prefix, a-, generally means "not," or "no."  Amoral means without morals.  Atypical means not typical.  Atheist means someone who maintains that there is no God.  So, one would assume that Amillennial means that the people who hold this view think that there will be no Millennium.   However, this is not the case.

Amillennialism is similar to Postmillennialism in that both views figure the tribulation and rapture are coming after, not before, the Millennium.

The big difference between Amillennialism and Postmillennialism is that unlike Postmillennialists, Amillennialists do not think the Millennium is something that will come to pass in the future.  They believe that it is the church age that we are living in right now, that the good news of the gospel is currently going out in the power of the Holy Spirit.  They believe that the Millennium began when Jesus triumphed over Satan, over sin and over death at Calvary, and rose again.  They believe that the Millennium will continue until Jesus comes again in the clouds to gather His believers and to judge the living and the dead.

Amillennialism uses a symbolic approach to interpret the book of Revelation.   Rather than understanding the prophecy as a sequence of chronologically unfolding events, they see it as a telling and retelling of one story of victory, judgment and rewards.  Jesus is coming back in victory, and when He does, the wicked will be punished and His elect will be rewarded and ushered into eternal bliss in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

I would like to discuss Amillennialism further, but for today, I have lingered here too long.  

I will just close with some scripture, scripture that focuses on what Jesus has accomplished at the cross and lends credibility to the idea that we are already reigning in victory with our Lord:

When you were dead in your sins 
and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, 
God made you alive with Christ. 
He forgave us all our sins,  
having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, 
which stood against us and condemned us; 
he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.   
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, 
he made a public spectacle of them, 
triumphing over them by the cross. 
(Colossians 2:13-15, NIV)

But thanks be to God! 
He gives us the victory 
through our Lord Jesus Christ. 
(1 Corinthians 15:57, NIV) 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Where we begin to explore some eschatology

Wow.  I am terrible at "writing more" on this blog.  One post in March.  One.

That post was about heaven, and when we go there.  I threw out the idea that I would try to explain some eschatology here, in terms that are simple enough for a housewife like me to understand.  Obviously, my posts will not cover everything.

Eschatology:  The study of the End Times.  Specifically, it is the study of what is going to happen at the end of time, according to the Bible, when Jesus returns as the angels promised (Acts 1:6-11) and judges all the people of the world.

Simply speaking, there are three main end time events that the Bible alludes to in various places.
  1. The Tribulation--a time of great trouble, when wars and natural disasters will be rampant on earth.  (See Matthew 24, Revelation 6:12-17, Revelation 8:5-9:21, Revelation 16, etc.)
  2. The Rapture--when Jesus gathers His followers ("the elect" or "brothers") to be with Him.  (See Matthew 24:30-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.)
  3. The Millenium--a time when Christ will rule on earth for a thousand years.  (See Revelation 20:4-7.)
We will start with the most popular and probably the most familiar interpretation of how this all works:  Dispensational Premillennialism.

Dispensational Premillennialism is popular and familiar, primarily because of the books in the Left Behind series, with which you may be familiar.  If you aren't, you can google them if you are interested.  I am not going to link to them.  They also made a (terrible) movie based on these books.

Premillennialism adopts the understanding that in the end times, the order of events goes like this:

Rapture----->  Tribulation----->  Millenium----->  Last Battle----->  New Heaven and New Earth

Dispensational Premillennialists take a completely literal interpretation of the book of Revelation.  The only time they accept anything in Revelation as a symbol is when the writer (John) specifically defines it as a symbol.  All else is understood to be literal truth.  In addition to understanding all the language literally, they read the book chronologically, as one long sequential thread.  This view and method of interpretation arose in the late 1800's when many scholars were moving to interpret all of scripture as mythology.  In a reaction against liberal scholars who who were teaching that all of the Bible is fable and allegory, from Noah's flood to the miracles of Jesus, Dispensationalists swung hard in the opposite direction.  They were good, God-fearing, scripture-loving people.  However, as with many reactionary movements, they may have swung a bit farther than was right and good.  Revelation is a book of prophecy, and prophecy is by nature poetic, symbolic and allegorical.  While much of the Bible is literal truth, one must take into account the type of writing one is dealing with (history, law, poetry, prophecy, etc).  Jesus Himself taught in parables, which are allegories and useful for pointing us to truths beyond themselves.

I will explain the story of The End, according to Dispensationalist Premillennialism, and with the interjection of my own opinion.

In this view, the first thing that happens is a completely unexpected and surprising rapture of God's people, which is also somewhat a secret event.  I believe that this idea comes from Matthew 24:40-41.  If you have read the Left Behind books or seen the movie, this is where we get the idea that people will suddenly, unexpectedly disappear out of cars, planes, etc. leaving a chaotic and confusing situation across the earth.

The really nice thing about this way of looking at things is that we-who-are-believers can figure that we get safely out of here before all the wars and earthquakes and water turning to blood.  So, if it turns out that these folks are correct, I won't be complaining about it.  However, scripture doesn't seem to suggest that such would be the case, as evidenced by repeated statements that encourage us to remain firm and steadfast until the end, with the promise that "He who stands firm to the end will be saved," (Matthew 24:13).

However, the story continues.  In this interpretation, after the Christians are raptured, horrific events pour out upon the earth where the Bible is still around, along with 144,000 Jews who have not sinned.  Between the Bible and the Jews, more people find salvation during this time, as the earth is battered, bloodied and burned to a crisp at least three times.

Finally, Jesus brings all of us now-immortal saved people back to earth (remember, we've been raptured up to be with Him in the clouds for the past seven years), where He sets up a kingdom and rules for 1000 years, and immortal souls that we are, we reign with Him.  During this time, even more people turn to follow Christ, but not all.  At the end of the 1000 years, Jesus lets Satan out of the pit for one last battle.  Fire from heaven will come down and consume Satan's ranks as they assemble to fight, and the devil and the beast (Satan and his earthly henchman) will be thrown into hell forever.

Then all the dead will be raised and judged, and every individual will be sent either to eternal glory or eternal damnation (Revelation 20:11-15, Matthew 25:31-46).

After the damned are sent away, the New Heaven and the New Earth will be revealed as the perfect, beautiful dwelling place of God's children for all eternity.

I have some serious reservations about this interpretation.

  1. It presupposes that we will escape the tribulation.  While this is a very nice idea, it is not particularly scriptural, and I think it leaves people unprepared in the event that (as scripture suggests) we are going to face persecutions and tribulations before we get to heaven.
  2. What are we doing all the time the tribulations are being poured out on earth?  Are we floating in the clouds?  Are we watching the disasters unfold on earth?  This sounds very scary and very far from the perfect peace we usually trust we will have once we are together with Christ.
  3. Why, once we have all been taken away from earth, would Jesus bring us all back to earth, especially to a not-completely-redeemed earth, but to a still-imperfect earth?  How does a 1000 year reign of Christ over imperfection, leading up to the eventual loosing of Satan, fit with anything else that we read anywhere else in scripture?
  4. How many times does Jesus actually return?  This isn't just a view on the Second Coming of Christ.  He comes halfway here to rapture us, then He comes to rule for 1000 imperfect years, and finally He comes to take the redeemed as His bride.  So depending on how you look at it, we could actually be talking about up to three returns of Christ in this view, which makes four comings when you include the Christmas story.  Wow.
  5. It seriously undercuts the message that is in the rest of scripture:  Be alert and be ready, for there will be a sudden cut-off, when there will be no more second chances for people who have rejected Christ (look into Matthew 25, for instance).  According to the Dispensationalist Premillennial view, if you miss the rapture, you can convert during the tribulation.  And if the tribulation doesn't convince you, you can convert during the millennium.  It's sort of a nice, gracious way of looking at things, full of hope.  However, based on what I see in scripture, it's a very dangerous premise to operate under.

Anyway, that's Dispensational Premillennialism, and those are my feelings about it.

One other thing I want to say, just a seed I need to plant in your head for later:  Dispensationalists, in their literal reading of the scripture, always understand "Israel" to mean national Israel, Jewish people, the descendants of Jacob.  Just bear that in mind.  It is a defining feature of the position.  More on that later.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

When do we go to heaven?

When do we go to heaven?

This might be a pretty good question.

At our church, our pastor has been preaching through the end of Revelation.  In our Bible study, we have been studying Matthew, and last week we did Matthew 24.  Most of the scripture I've been reading lately is about the End Times.

The End Times are not my favorite...

(1) Because they are scary to think about, and

(2) Because nobody really understands or agrees about how they will come to pass.

Back when God blessed me with a Bible study to lead, my ladies used to ask me about Heaven and the End Times, and it took me a long time to figure out what they were asking.  However, when I finally understood their question, I thought it was a good one.  Also, I did not know the answer.

Their question was:
If God makes the New Heavens and the New Earth after the end of time,
and if that is when He gathers the believers, living and dead, to join Him for all eternity in glory,
if that is when eternal life begins, then...

Where do we go when we die?  

At the point of death, where is a person?  When we stand around the casket at a funeral, is the person's soul in heaven or hell?  Or is the person somewhere else, awaiting eternity and the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20?

When do we get to heaven?

I think our assumption that, "You go to heaven when you die," comes from a number of origins.

First and probably most valid is the scripture found in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 from which comes the adage, "Absent from the body, present with the Lord."  What scripture actually says is this:

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8, ESV)

That's Bible, and it's true, but it isn't completely clear, in my opinion.  Still, it does definitely suggest that when our souls leave our bodies they are immediately at home with the Lord.

Another source of this assumption is the story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31.  Lazarus, the poor beggar who suffered on earth, died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side.  The rich man died and went to Hades where he was in torment and anguish.  Here, clearly, at the point of death the people were ushered into either comfort or punishment.  This story invites some questions, though.   First, is it a true, literal story, or is it a parable?  Jesus mostly told parables.  Second, this story -- even if it is a true, literal story -- happened before the death and resurrection of Christ.  Abraham was the great father, but would he still be, in the wake of the crucifixion?  Would people who die in our time still be ushered to the side of Abraham?  Perhaps.  (see Galatians 3:29)

There is one more thing that supports the assumption that we go to heaven immediately upon dying:  the deathbed stories of people who talk about taking Jesus' hand and walking up a tunnel into the light.  Some of them get partway there and return to tell about it.  Some of them speak of what they see as they are dying.  It is, certainly, an undeniably recurring theme from hospice rooms.

A person's understanding of how it all works will necessarily hinge on his interpretation of the End Times, and whether he takes a pre-, post- or a- millennial view of things.  I think I will try to do a lay-woman's explanation of the differences between these views over the course of the next few posts.  It's too much for today.

In the meantime, we can rest assured of one thing:  Jesus promises that His followers will enjoy eternal life with Him.  As God is faithful to His promises, we can bank on eternal life.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  (John 14:2-3, ESV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16, ESV)


Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.
1 John 4:18, NLT

I wrote a little bit about this once before.

It comes up again, because I've been going to a Bible study, and we've been forced to confront our weaknesses and where we need to grow.

I am a fearful person.  Here is a partial list of things I am afraid of:

  • pain
  • something bad happening to my children, any one of them
  • something bad happening to anybody I love (family members and/or friends)
  • heavy traffic
  • driving on slippery roads with no visibility
  • getting lost
  • strange, unexplained noises at night
  • big bills
  • making mistakes
  • being disliked
  • being treated unkindly
  • leaving something hot plugged in and turned on after I've left the house
  • losing things
  • being burgled
  • cats
  • cliffs
  • deep, murky water
  • getting stranded in the desert on a 108 degree day without water
  • my furnace failing
  • change
  • did I say pain?

Unfortunately, I also have a vivid imagination, so at any given time, I could be imagining any number of disastrous scenarios in multicolored extravagant detail, giving myself a stomach ache, heart palpitations and damp spots under my arms.

I need God to help me overcome my fears.

Things I know are true, that should help me trust God and not be afraid:

  • God loves me.
  • God is sovereign.
  • Nothing is impossible for God.
  • Nothing happens without the permission of God.
  • God loves me.
  • God is for me (He's on my side).
  • God is always with me; He will never leave me.
  • Nothing escapes God's attention.
  • God loves me.
  • God is compassionate.
  • God forgives us in Christ; He does not treat us as our sins deserve.
  • God has a purpose for me, for my life.
  • God will fulfill His purposes.
  • God loves me.

But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3, NLT

Since he did not spare even his own Son 
but gave him up for us all, 
won’t he also give us everything else?
Romans 8:32, NLT

Give all your worries and cares to God, 
for he cares about you.
1 Peter 5:7, NLT 

I should not live in fear.  God knows everything that is going to happen to me, even before it happens, and He has it all under control.  Whatever He brings into my life, He will stand by and carry me through.  He is not looking to punish me.  I am His beloved child, bought with the precious blood of Christ.  Jesus already took my punishment.  I may need to be taught, disciplined, pruned so I can be more fruitful... but He is not out to get me, only to purify and perfect me for His purpose and His Kingdom, neither of which can fail.

His victory is certain, already accomplished at the cross.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21, ESV

Please God, help me not to be afraid.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My verse for the year

I figured out which verse I'm going to cling to this year.

John 16:33
“I have told you these things, 
so that in me you may have peace. 
In this world you will have trouble. 
But take heart! 
I have overcome the world.”

This is both utterly realistic and perfectly, reassuringly hopeful:

In this world I will have trouble.
In Jesus I can have peace.
Jesus has already overcome the world.
I can be encouraged and full of confidence
(that's what it means to take heart)...
even though there will be trouble in this world.
This world is not my home.
Jesus has gone to prepare a place for me, 
and where He is, I will someday be also (John 14:1-3).

You can have all this world, give me Jesus.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Exploring forgiveness some more

Yesterday at Bible study we looked at the parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18:21-35).

Here's a synopsis of the story:

A man owes the king millions of dollars.  The Greek says 10,000 talents of silver, which is equal to 375 tons of silver.  If the price of silver is $20/ounce (it recently dropped from $30 to $19), that would come to $240 million dollars, significantly more money than most people could earn in 100 lifetimes.  As a woman in my group pointed out, "You aren't going to Dave Ramsey your way out of this one."

The king calls in the debt and, of course, the man can't pay it.  Therefore, the king is going to do the fair and just thing: sell the man and his family into slavery to recompense the debt.

The man fell down before the king and begged for mercy, pleading for time to pay the debt.  The king felt pity for him and let him go, forgiving the debt.  The king told the man that he didn't need to pay back what he owed.  There was no possible way he could have, anyway.

Immediately after this, the man went out and found a fellow who owed him 100 denarii.  Apparently, a denarius was a laborer’s full day’s wage.  Supposing $40,000 is the yearly salary of a "laborer" and you break it down to daily wages: we're talking about $154 a day, figuring a five day week.  So this debt was something on the order of $15,400.  It's a significant debt, about the price of a modest car.  In a few years, you could "Dave Ramsey your way out of it," if you knuckled down, tightened your belt and worked hard.

So the man who has been forgiven a debt of $240,000,000, who had his slate wiped clean, who had received mercy for himself and his family, this very man goes out and collars a fellow who owes him $15,400 and calls in the debt.  He shows no mercy.  He will not wait.  He has the fellow thrown into prison because he cannot pay.

Other servants of the king saw what had happened and they were very upset about the injustice of what this man, this forgiven man, had done.  They went to the king and told him about it.

The king called in the man he had forgiven and said to him, "You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.  Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?"  (Matthew 18:32-33 NLT)

The Bible goes on to say: 
"Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart." (Matthew 18:34-35)


observation #1
I once heard a sermon about how the sin we commit is measured most accurately by considering what we have transgressed against.  It's like how you would rather rear-end somebody's winter-rat car than somebody's brand new BMW.  It is not as disastrous to spill paint on the floor of the shed in your backyard as it is to spill paint on your great-aunt's antique Persian rug.  If you're going to break a window, break the windshield of your car, not the stained glass in Notre Dame cathedral.  The depth of a transgression is measured by what is required to make restitution.  If you spill a bottle of make-up on somebody's blouse, you can buy her a new one (or maybe you could even just launder it for her).  However, if you spill a bottle of make-up on someone's wedding gown an hour before she was supposed to walk the aisle, you are in a heap of trouble.

Notice that in all my examples, the offensive act is the same:  hitting a car, spilling paint, breaking a window, spilling make-up.  The offensive act is not the issue.  The object of the act is what determines whether it is a major or a minor offense.  Now consider that we have all sinned against an infinitely perfect and holy God.  This is like being $240,000,000 in debt to someone.  We are utterly helpless to make amends.  There is no way that we can make this right, nothing we can do to make up for our offense against perfect holiness even if we worked with all our strength for all our living days.

Yet, in Jesus, God forgives us.  Jesus paid the debt that we are helpless to pay, that we could never pay.  Jesus paid it for us, and we are free from condemnation.  "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1 NLT)

If we receive this forgiveness from Jesus, how dare we hold a grudge against a fellow human?  When someone wrongs me, he wrongs an imperfect person.  I am flawed by sin, and I myself have wronged people many times, both knowlingly and unknowlingly.  How dare I withhold forgiveness, when I have received so much?

Besides, for those who withhold forgiveness, God has torture and punishment in store.  It's a frightening thought, but it's what the Bible says (Matthew 18:34-35).  I don't think this means that you can lose your salvation by refusing to forgive someone.  I do think it means that if you staunchly refuse to forgive someone, you may not have experienced the forgiveness of God yourself, in which case you probably are not saved.  So be careful!

We need to meditate on what it means to be forgiven by God, the depth of what He has done for us, and the way in which He has done it: the death--in our place--of His only begotten Son.

observation #2
The characters in this parable threw themselves before their debtor and plead for mercy.  Mercy was granted in one instance and denied in the other, but in both cases, the person who owed the debt knew and did not quibble over whether he owed a debt; he just asked for mercy.   I think this indicates that we are absolutely without excuse if we withhold forgiveness from someone who asks for it.  

It is harder to forgive those who don't ask, who aren't sorry.  We need to forgive them anyway, but the results are not the same.  We can always forgive, because it only takes one to forgive.  We cannot always see a relationship reconciled, because it takes both sides to mend and heal.  Jesus extends His offer of forgiveness to the whole world from the cross where He died for all our sins.  However, only those who believe and receive His forgiveness will be given eternal life.  Similarly, we can offer forgiveness to those who do us wrong, but only when they come to us to receive our forgiveness can our relationships be healed and reconciled.  We do well to understand the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, and to do what we can while leaving the rest in the hands of God.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Jesus the humble

It almost seems wrong to call Jesus humble.  Jesus has absolutely no reason to be humble; He is the Almighty God of the Universe.  All things were created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).

Yet, He is humble.  He is meek.  To be meek is to contain one's power and strength out of kindness and consideration for another.  Jesus is the very epitome of meekness.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. 
Be humble,
thinking of others as better than yourselves.  
Don’t look out only for your own interests,

but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges

he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
~Philippians 2:3-8 (NLT)

Jesus gave up His divine privileges and came to earth to serve men, to serve us.  He was not born a king or an emperor.  He was born in a barn.  He had a humble birth.

She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
~Luke 2:7 (NLT)

Jesus did not align Himself with the strong, mighty and influential.  He spent time with people whom others shunned.  He did not choose His friends on the basis of what they could do for Him, how they could help Him climb some ladder of success.  He had humble friends, humble relationships.  

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.  But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?" 

When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

~Matthew 9:10-13 (NLT)

Jesus didn't come to earth with a scripted agenda and a long list of tasks to delegate.  He didn't come commanding people around and expecting them to shoulder the grunt work while He sat on a throne and gave orders.  He spoke gently and shared the load.  He had a humble approach.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT) 

After Herod executed John the Baptist (Jesus' cousin), Jesus tried to get away to mourn.  But even in the midst of His sorrow, Jesus had compassion on the crowd who followed Him.  He sympathized with their weaknesses and their longings.  He set aside His own needs: to grieve, to rest, to be alone.  Instead He served the masses, healing them, teaching them, and at the end of the day feeding 5000 people a banquet that He Himself miraculously prepared.  He had a humble attitude; He did not selfishly demand time to care for Himself, nor did He consider any form of service as too lowly for Him to perform.

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. 

They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers!

~Luke 9:16-17(NLT)

There are many, many examples of how Jesus demonstrated humility while He was on earth.  For instance, I love the story of how He roasted fish over coals on the beach for his disciples' breakfast... after He had risen from the dead (John 21:1-14).  He had been raised from the dead and glorified; yet, after winning the ultimate victory over sin and death, after bearing the sins of the world and then being restored by the power of God Himself, Jesus was willing to cook for His friends.

But I will leave you with my favorite picture of the humility of Christ:

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.  So...

     Honestly, what would you expect to come next?  
     He has ultimate authority
     came from God
     is going back to God

he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. 
~John 13:3-5 (NLT)

Jesus got down on the floor and washed his disciples' dirty feet with a towel that He was literally wearing.

How can you help but love Him? 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jesus the Almighty

It is one thing to know that someone deeply loves you and wants to take good care of you.  It is one thing, a very nice thing, in fact.

It is another thing, and a better thing, to know that someone who deeply loves you has the absolute unlimited power and authority to be able to take good care of you.

Jesus loves me.  And Jesus has the power to take care of me.

One day Jesus said to his disciples, 
“Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 
So they got into a boat and started out. 
As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. 
But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. 
The boat was filling with water, 
and they were in real danger. 
The disciples went and woke him up, 
shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” 
When Jesus woke up, 
he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. 
Suddenly the storm stopped and all was calm. 
Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?” 
The disciples were terrified and amazed. 
“Who is this man?” they asked each other. 
“When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!”
 ~Luke 8:22-25 (NLT)

As a child and ever since, I have never been very afraid of storms.  Sometimes the power of the wind awes me, but I always seem to feel the power of God in the weather.  I cannot fear it with the abject terror that I have of things like dark parking lots, congested city bridges and youths of ill-repute sauntering down dubious urban streets.  Jesus controls the weather.  The wind blows where He sends it, and the rain falls when He tells it to fall.

When Jesus gives a command, even the wind and the waves obey Him.

Jesus is Almighty and able to take care of me in every situation that He allows into my life. 

Here we see Jesus commanding the weather, but the Bible also tells us that He controls the hearts of men.  I do not need to fear even the criminal who may be hiding in the dark parking lot, the crazy drivers on the bridge, or the youths in their low-hung pants.  God has perfect power over them, too.

Of course, I should still be careful.  Just as I should leave the seashore when a hurricane is rolling in, I should not place myself in situations where obvious danger lurks, just to test the providence of God.  But when He brings a storm, or another fearful situation, I can rest in the knowledge that:

  1. He is omniscient.  He knows everything about everything that is happening to each of us, all of the time.
  2. He loves me, and His heart is full of kindness and compassion.
  3. He is omnipotent.  He has all the power and all the authority.  Nobody can thwart Him in caring for me, protecting me, and comforting me.

God has spoken plainly, 
and I have heard it many times: 
Power, O God, belongs to you; 
unfailing love, O Lord, is yours.
~Psalm 62:11 (NLT)