Thursday, May 31, 2018

Why is the Seventy Years So Central to the Old Testament?

The Seventy Years of captivity prophesied in the Old Testament acts as a major turning point. God, being gracious, has postponed judgment for years, but now the penance comes due. Just as today, scoffers are everywhere in our society, saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3). They are going to see the ugly truth—justice postponed is not going to be justice denied, and the longsuffering and patience of God is eventually going to run out. Israel thought the same as our current scoffers, saying that God would never hold them accountable. When God at last sent Jeremiah to proclaim that judgment was nigh, the nation scoffed, and they even tried to extinguish the voice of Jeremiah, throwing him into the well, and later trying to charge him with being a spy. God protected Jeremiah through all that conflict, and twice proclaims that the time of Israel’s captivity will amount to seventy years.

Actually, the story of the infamous seventy years starts all the way back in Deuteronomy. Moses, through the LORD, foresaw that Israel would compound its unfaithfulness to the point of bringing judgment upon themselves. I will quote from Deuteronomy in a bit, but first I want to show that everything has come about that the LORD has planned, in exactly the way that has been foretold.

Deuteronomy gives us foresight into what was going to happen to Israel, and is thus the beginning of a “hinge” of Israel’s history. When Josiah became king, many hundreds of years after Moses, this forgotten book of Deuteronomy was found again (many Bible scholars suggest it was exactly this book, though we are not certain), and read to King Josiah, who promptly repented, and even had the book read to the nation as a whole. The nation’s repentance is famous, for they celebrated the Passover Feast to such a great extent that had never been equaled.

When the nation was finally judged for its rebellion against God, the book became even more important, especially as the scattered nation looked to the LORD for redemption. Listen now to the final words of Moses, just as he gave them to the Israelites:

However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:
Deuteronomy 28:15 (NIV)

So far the LORD has promised but a curse. Read now as we see some of the details of the curse, for it was quite involved:

The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the Lord will drive you.
Deuteronomy 28:36-37 (NIV)

Here, as we say, in black and white, is the whole crux of the message to Israel. The scattering of Israel is foretold, and would certainly come to pass. Interestingly, in the book of Leviticus, Moses tells us again more specifics about this curse that would befall Israel:

I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it.
Leviticus 26:33-35 (NIV)

Not only does the LORD foretell his intentions here, but he gives them the beginning of an actual time frame to fit their punishment. He says that the land will enjoy its Sabbath years, making up the time that the years were not observed.

In the writings of Moses, we are given many reasons to observe different Sabbath days and years. Chafer somewhere identifies 15 Sabbaths, and even a cursory study of the subject reveals at least ten different Sabbaths. Our culture today is remarkably akin to our history, and we pay little attention to the Sabbaths, except for the common one, the seventh day of the week. Read now what Moses wrote about the Sabbath year:

But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you.
Leviticus 25:4-6 (NIV)

Please note that this year was to occur every seventh year, and there is no record in the Bible that Israel ever attempted to keep this Sabbath. The LORD has already declared what is to happen to them because of their failure to observe the Sabbath year. He will scatter them to another nation, and give the land the very Sabbaths the Israelites had skipped.
The alert reader might really question these verses, perhaps wondering if they were really that important. Yet the unknown writer of 2 Chronicles lets us know of its supreme importance:

The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.
2 Chronicles 36:21 (NIV)

We are given very specific information here. For 490 years Israel had failed to observe this Sabbath year, though they are commanded to observe it in both Exodus and Leviticus. By dividing by seven, we come to the all-important seventy years. Seventy years the land was to be given the rest the LORD had commanded, to make up for those 490 years that the Sabbath was not observed.

Second Chronicles mentions the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is told by the Lord that the captivity is to last exactly seventy years and he is told this twice that it might be more definite.

“But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever.
Jeremiah 25:12 (NIV)

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.
Jeremiah 29:10 (NIV)

These seventy years becomes very important. Remember when I listed the prophecy of the curses found in Deuteronomy? I call that the beginning of a great hinge on which the back part of the Old Testament hangs. But these seventy years that Jeremiah prophesies finishes the great hinge. Daniel refers to the seventy years, and bases his seventy weeks prophecy on it (Dan. 9:2). Ezra also relies on Jeremiah’s prophecy to write his own book (Ezra 1:1). I have already noted that it is mentioned in 2 Chronicles. And finally, Zechariah refers to it when he writes:

Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?”
Zechariah 1:12 (NIV)

It is no exaggeration to say that the whole of the back half of the Old Testament hinges on this great prophecy of Jeremiah. But what is the lesson that we can learn from it? First, we learn that God cannot tolerate sin, and that there are always consequences for sin. Second, we learn that God is fully sovereign, knowing all along that Israel was to prove herself as unfaithful, and yet his plan comes to fruition notwithstanding. Eventually the Son of Promise was to come from this regathered nation, just as God had foreordained. What a comfort it is to know that God is completely in charge! Finally, we learn the reliability of prophecy, and it should give us comfort when we study yet-to-be-fulfilled-prophecy. God has a plan for us, and nothing shall ever change that plan; rather it is our job to look at the prophecies and unfold their meaning as God intended.

Daniel uses the prophecy of Jeremiah in chapter nine, presenting what he knows already from reading the prophet. God takes the prophecy of seventy years, and turns it into a new prophecy—that of the seventy weeks. In my next piece, I will look at the seventy weeks, and we will ponder its meaning together, trying to figure out what God has told us.

Monday, January 08, 2018

What makes The Lord of the Rings such a story, that even after 70 years, still seems to dwarf all its competitors?

One of the gifts which has seemed to come my way in early retirement is all the time I could wish to read, something that has all too seldom happened in the life of this reader. It is one of the most delectable feasts of retirement! As I finished my annual reading of The Lord of the Rings, I found myself comparing it to the plethora of fantasy that has exploded in the years since the masters wrote, Tolkien and Lewis.

Last year, with time on my hands I wondered how many copies of The Lord of the Rings had been made, and I saw figures of many hundreds of millions sold, with Lewis himself following with about half the number of The Chronicles of Narnia. These past decades I have thirstily searched for more good fantasy and I found myself comparing Tolkien’s work with all the others, discovering some distinctive differences that possibly can separate it from all others.

It is a trek that I have long been on—that of searching for other works that compare to the greats, for I have been a lifelong reader who discovered The Lord of the Rings in 1969 and later, after I became a believer, The Chronicles of Narnia. I did not even consider Christian fiction until I was about 30, and having devoured all of Lewis that I could find (nonfiction), I finally discovered his fiction. In the decades since then, I have read (and reread) many good works, sometime well put together, but not even rising close to their masters. I cannot even begin to estimate how many forwards started with the author’s confession that he or she started at a very early age with devouring the works of Lewis and more often, Tolkien, and that reading gave them a lifelong impetuous towards writing fantasy.

The key to understanding Tolkien or Lewis is to note the basis of their starting premises. They both were highly trained professors in English literature, but more importantly, they viewed their world through the lens of being Christians. Grace reflected the beginning and ending of their world outlook, and that grace is transplanted throughout their writings. They, from different theological perspectives, one Catholic and the other the Church of England, but both knew absolutely that grace was given, and not to be earned. I will save Lewis’s writings for another time; there is more than enough evidence to cover in The Lord of the Rings.

But first let me broadly paint all the others, which seem to me to be always built on the foundation of works. Their plot shows a hero, gifted with some talent, usually magic, who acts more surprised about their discovery of their magical talent than seems to be warranted for such a tired theme. The character begins to work their talent, and often it works most dismally at first, erratically so that it cannot be trusted to be there when needed. Often the character is remonstrated to take training, which he or she finds frustrating. Eventually the character has to dig a little bit deeper, try a little harder, and the hero at last emerges.

While it follows the traditional Christian theme, it only does so in the “crucifixion- resurrection” sense that in its broadest themes but mimics the Greatest Story. Tolkien masters this plot idea magnificently, as more than one character is put under the cross, or crucified almost beyond repair, and then raised again. We see it most poignantly in the character of Gandalf, lost in the deepest abyss, but raised to be Gandalf the White. The problem of those lessor writers is that they have stopped with this basic plot.

They do not share the foundational beliefs of Tolkien and thus they cannot hope to emulate him. It is all about the main character trying a bit harder, and digging a bit deeper that finally resolve the climax. With Tolkien it is seldom about trying harder; rather it is a sense of every character (that is good) that they are part of something bigger than they are, that there is a sovereignty of which they are just a part, a piece in a mosaic that is beyond the character’s imagination. Indeed, it is meant to be bigger than even the reader can imagine, and it is not until we read The Silmarillion that we begin to see that sovereignty start to be unraveled.

I will give just a few examples, for the books contain entirely too many examples to be closely cited. First, when Frodo is first warned about the ring with Gandalf, Gandalf says, “Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.” Here the sovereignty of the unseen is declared, and no less than Elrond states this theme again, “If I understand aright all that I have heard,’ he said, ‘I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will. This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?”

Elrond’s comment is exactly what I think Tolkien wants you to believe—that the four most unlikely beings were chosen out of time for just such a time as this. Each of the four hobbits meets his tasks unfit, and apparently unable to complete them. Pippin acts like an immature teen, and Merry is little better, yet Merry is the one to kill the Captain of the Black Riders, and Pippin is at hand to stop the madness of the Steward, Denethor, and save the life of Faramir. Still more of this inability is present in Frodo, who gives in to the Black Riders at nearly every turn, and in the end puts on the Ring, declaring himself to be the Lord. He is only saved by the greed of Gollum, who manages to bite off his finger before falling into the abyss. Sam is perhaps the strongest character, faithful to his master albeit in his bumbling way. Still, Sam considers himself an unlikely hero, and is amazed that he is considered such in the end of the story.

Each of the four hobbits share this common trait. They are forced into a complex problem which the book suggests repeatedly that they do not understand, and each of them bumbles through their tasks, getting the “grace” at the last moment to successfully accomplish them. Contrast the normal fantasy as outlined above, with the main character digging a bit deeper, training a bit more, and reaching a new level of knowledge. It thus is not at all by grace; rather it is works which a better time is reached. Tolkien knew nothing of these works. In Tolkien’s thinking, the elves were themselves unable to produce good works. In fact, he introduces us to the hobbit-world with the reader learning that all of the elves themselves were under a terrible doom, and Sauron himself was just a remnant of that doom, with the whole world in danger of disappearing into a black abyss of darkness without end.

All of which brings me to the conclusion that Tolkien is great because his characters are almost without hope of success, and their triumph in the end is entirely due to grace—a message profoundly resembling that which is found in the Gospel. Christ came to the cross, dying for sins, that you and I, who are totally inept, might find grace to help in the hour of need. Most of the other authors are engaging in self-redemption, and their works suffer as a result. So there you have it. Tolkien is greater because of the grace in his story, and the other authors are lessor because their books are works-based, very comparable to those who would attempt to save themselves without grace.

1. Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-02-15). The Lord of the Rings: One Volume (p. 56). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
2. Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-02-15). The Lord of the Rings: One Volume (p. 270). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Second Coming in Genesis

Reading my way through Genesis this last time, I was surprised to find seven places in it that seemed to symbolize the coming of the Lord. Here I must be careful, because there are many places in Scripture where we might think we find a type, but we cannot be sure unless the Scripture itself points them out. Then and only then can we be sure that we are looking at a type. Scofield, famous for finding types all throughout the Bible, himself notes somewhere that the only true types are those that have the warrant of Scripture on them. Please notice that I am not going so far as to suggest these are even the lesser types of Scofield; rather I have deliberately chosen the words “seemed to symbolize”. It makes a rather delicious study anyway, and so in that spirit, I offer them for your consideration. Some of them I think you will find to be surely true; others may be harder to see, but I present to you the seven places where the Rapture, the Bride, or the coming of the Lord might be seen.

First, there is the obvious one. Enoch walked with God and was not, Scripture says, for God took him. I believe this one, of all seven is perhaps the strongest, and has been suggested by many Bible scholars over the years. Do we not have a picture of the church here, where the church is walking before God, and then God suddenly took it? The faithfulness of Enoch in walking with his God is compared to the church, which Revelation says is going to be dressed in the righteous acts of the saints. A beautiful picture of God’s deliverance from a coming wrath, for remember that the seventieth week of Daniel is what we are escaping from. In Enoch’s day, the wickedness of men abounded so much that eventually God was to destroy all of mankind except for Noah, which brings us to the next place.

Noah, being rescued from the judgment of the earth, becomes a picture of the saint of the last days, being saved from the coming judgment. God, being merciful, isolates his salvation down to only his chosen, in the flood to Noah and his family, in the seventieth week of Daniel to all his chosen saints. It is illuminating to think of Noah spending all of those years building his salvation according to the plan of God. Surely it is no accident that God has told us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it God within you working to his own good purpose. Rather than working on an ark, we are working and building the body of Christ (by the power of the Holy Spirit), and when it is finally completed, God will take that body out of judgment just as Noah was taken. Which takes us to another man famously taken out of judgment, Lot.

Lot appears to be at least a lessor creature to me when he appears in the Old Testament. Abraham takes Lot with him on the journey that God has given him. Commentators have long pointed out that Abraham was told “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Note that Abraham chose to leave his father’s household behind, but he took Lot. And Lot caused Abraham lots of grief. The herders of Lot and Abraham could not get along, so Abraham divides the land, lets Lot choose, and Lot chose the fairest plain which happened to include Sodom. Not a wise choice. When I first read this passage, my thinking was that Lot was not spiritual, that he allowed his base motives to direct his actions. Not exactly an evil character, but certainly not a good one. That is what I thought until I came across this verse from Peter, “For that righteous man [Lot] dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.” God, through his apostle Peter, evidently weighed Lot in the balance scale a lot differently than I might have. He was a righteous soul, and not only a righteous soul, but a soul that was vexed day and night by the evil deeds of those around him.

God took Lot from that place. It corrupted his wife, who looked back and turned to a pillar of salt. It corrupted his children, who later got their father drunk to sire children. Thus were born the Moabites and the Ammonites, who later became no end of problem for Israel. But Lot himself was a righteous man, a picture of the church who will be taken out from the world before wrath is poured out upon it. More specifically, we see the Bride of Christ being taken home to be with the Lord, escaping the wrath that will be poured out on the earth.

The fourth place I see the Rapture is a bit harder to glimpse, yet I think if you ponder on it a bit, you will see the grace of God again showing that future age. Isaac was the child of promise, and very long in coming. Abraham was promised a child that would eventually make him to become the father of nations, yet at 99, still found himself without child. Sarah, at an anything but spry 86, no longer considered herself to be able to bear children. Yet the faithfulness of God was not yet complete, until the coming of the son, Isaac, the child of promise. With that coming, which can be compared not only the first coming of the Son, but also the Second Coming. It is a promised coming, just as the comings of our Savior are promised. It is much delayed, just as the comings of our Savior were delayed—the first coming not happening for almost 2,000 years after Isaac, and the second coming still being waited on.

Rebekah, the chosen bride of Isaac, can also be likened to the marriage of the church (the bride) to the Lord. The marriage supper of the Lamb is yet to take place, yet when it comes it will surely follow many of the same things that happened to Rebekah. The faithful servant of Abraham stands as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, something commentators have long noted. The servant goes out and finds the bride, just as the Holy Spirit finds us, convicting us both of our sin and the righteousness of God. The faithful servant puts a bracelet around the wrist of the bride, sealing her as the bride of Isaac. Similarly, the Holy Spirit seals us into the body of Christ, guaranteeing us to be part of the bride. The servant then removes her from her home, and she is taken to an exalted position as the bride of Isaac, the chosen seed. One day when the Spirit is taken out of the way, at the same time, He will remove us from the earth, and bring us at last to the place the Lord has prepared for us.

Sixth, the family of Jacob, and Jacob himself are taken out of the wrath which is to come, remarkably like we are promised in Thessalonians. They are removed from the danger of drought and starvation, and brought to an exalted position. Indeed, Joseph has been made second only to the Pharaoh in position. The Christian will be saved from the wrath to come in the coming seventieth week of Daniel when the world is judged, and exalted beyond all hope as we find our inheritance in heaven.

Lastly, I see the dream of Jacob as a sign of the faithfulness of God. Jacob dreams of a ladder going to heaven. Jacob is forced to be a sojourner in a foreign land, just as we Christians are sojourners in a foreign land. Yet, God gives to Jacob the promise that he will one day be brought back to the land of promise, and so we Christians look forward to the completion of God’s promises that he will, at long last, bring us to the home which he has prepared and promised us.

All seven are thus given, and certainly not all are equal. Some are more obviously hinting at the coming of our Lord, while others perhaps only become obvious as we willingly muse about them. But this we have as a certainty, that the Lord himself told us to search the Scriptures for they are they which testify of him (John 5:39). Is it any wonder, then, that we should find much of Christ and his comings in the very first book of Genesis?

Friday, September 08, 2017

End times

Everywhere I go lately, someone is talking about the end times and the disasters happening in our state and even the hurricanes hitting other countries and earthquakes. They are convinced it is the end times. I wanted to know your thoughts about this.

What a question! I was looking for something to do this morning anyway, so I will attempt to answer as briefly as I may. Hopefully it will not be too much answer for you. I would first recommend that you read a great book on the subject of the rapture, called The Rapture Question, by John Walvoord. I am reading it through for my third time right now. He thoroughly covers the topic from A to Z, presenting the literal viewpoint of a pretrib rapture, and why the post-tribulation positions are so much less literal. You note that “your take is that we might spend less time talking about it, and using more time to tell others about Jesus.” What a fine observation! But it still should be the driving force of our need to talk to others about it, for as the song wonderfully asks, “What if it were today?”

So no, we should not just sit around and talk about it, rather it should be our motive to push us to be found busy following our calling.

Jesus is very clear about his expectations for his saints. Jesus tells us in Matthew 24, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” History is full of people who have erred grievously by trying to predict the day of his coming, and all have been wrong. But if we cannot know the day, Jesus does teach us that we will know the season, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (24:32, 33). He goes on to tell us, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (24:45).

So when your friends note that the season is near, they are doing exactly that which Jesus commanded. They are watching. But, as you did suggest, they ought to be doing more than watching. The epistles to the Thessalonians were both written to clarify the incidents that happen around the Second Coming, particularly the Rapture. I am so glad the Thessalonians became confused about the details, because it caused Paul to stop and write down the prophecies clearly, so that you and I might understand more about what is to come. (In fact, every chapter in the epistles of Thessalonians, except for one, tells us something about the coming of our Lord. Can you find the chapter that does not talk about the coming of the Lord? It makes for a wonderful Bible study!) Did you know that church history teaches that some of the Thessalonians were parking themselves on rooftops, so sure were they that the coming was near? They did not want to miss a thing, and were watching. They might remind you of the friends you mentioned that want to talk about nothing else.

You are correct when you observe that we need to be busy telling others about Jesus, and if we are truly following the Lord, our watching for his return should make us realize that our time is indeed short, and we will need to be found busy following our calling when he does return. So end time sentiments should be motivating us to work harder, lest we be caught unaware. So there is a place for both, and we need to watch ourselves so that we are not found on the rooftops, but rather in the harvest where we have been placed.

Knowing him is a beautiful thing that ought to be shared in hopes that others might hear and begin watching with the rest of us. Hope this very short answer helps, and don’t forget to check the book out!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Two Apparently Opposing Ideas

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Luke 9:23 (NIV)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matt. 11:28-30 (NIV)

How is it that our Lord should say two such apparently contradictory things? In Luke, he tells us to take up the cross and follow him. Not once. But daily. The cross is a symbol of suffering, of the persecution of the righteous, and it is to the cross we must go if we are to follow Jesus.

I get that. So I bow my head, bare my shoulders, and prepare each day for the cross. I must grit my teeth, mutter to myself that I can handle it, and stagger forward. But wait! He also said in Matthew that he will give us rest. He tells us that he is gentle and humble in heart, and that learning about him will give us rest. For his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Which is it? One or the other, I think, in my fleshiness. It cannot be that I carry a cross across my shoulders, and find the yoke is easy and the burden is light. Can it?

Two such oppositional ideas cannot be both true, except in the providence of God. God, having made his plans before the foundation of the world, purposed to make both ideas to be the center of the Christian life. He fully intends for us to have both in our lives, as contradictory as they might seem to be at first.

There are two examples of this that I would like to remind you of, since they both are such excellent examples of lives carrying the contradictory truths. First, I will look at the example of Stephen, our first martyr, and then I will look at the example of the apostle Paul.

Stephen is chosen to be a deacon, an office which seems to be more than the apostles first intended, and resulted in a great circle of men of faith. Stephen, the Bible assures us, is “full of faith and the Holy Spirit”. His cross to bear, that the apostles bestowed upon him, was evidently to see that the Greek widows were not overlooked in their needs. Nothing more is ever said about the deacon’s service to the widows, but God takes Stephen and molds for him a great cross to bear: he becomes the first church martyr.

The cross, at that point, must have been insufferably heavy. The Jewish leaders took him captive, and all in his future must have been terribly dark. But, Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, begins to preach what is perhaps the most powerful sermon in the book of Acts. Please note that the Scripture does indeed refer to Stephen as being filled with the Spirit, and that is the key to understanding how to bear the cross that is given to us. We do not bear it under our own power, but with the very power and Spirit of God. Thus it becomes easy to bear. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Because it is God’s outworking of his Spirit within us.

Look at Stephen. Giving a powerful sermon, he only moved the haters to conspire to kill him. With practically his last breath, he looks toward heaven, asking for the Lord to receive his spirit. With his last breath, he mutters perhaps the most powerful prayer in all of Acts, saying, Father, do not hold this sin against them. Like his Lord’s cry from the cross, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. He faithfully took up his cross, and followed his Lord in death, but not in his own power, but with the very power of God to enable him. I submit to you that Stephen may have been a very good person, and probably was, but he was utterly dependent upon God to carry such a cross. And proving willing to bear it, he found to his delight that the yoke was indeed easy, and the burden was light. Therein is the secret of the apparent contradiction.

But I am not done, for Paul is yet unexamined, and I have yet to show his taking up the cross and following his Lord. Stephen’s last prayer was for those who were so dreadfully hating him, for the very people who had gnashed their teeth in fury, and could not throw the stones fast enough to kill Stephen. One young man in that crowd of haters, was diminutive, small in size, and perhaps with weak eyesight. Nevertheless, he utterly hated Stephen, and offered to hold the coats of those who were bigger, and more able to bring death quickly. Stephen prayed for that man, a man who was to change history. He prayed with the power of the Holy Spirit for God not to hold this vile deed against him. And God saw fit to answer that prayer, bringing salvation to Saul, the apostle who brought Christ to the Gentiles. To you and to me, as an answer to the very last prayer of the first martyr. Talk about drama!

Saul must have been haunted by that prayer. I have often wondered who it was that remembered that last prayer of Stephen. There is a case to speculate that it was Paul himself who later gave the gist of that powerful prayer to Luke, who went on to record it in the book of Acts. Perhaps it was, we may never know. But I do imagine that Saul heard those words that day, and that those words began to haunt him in all of his misdeeds. Everywhere he went, did he remember those words, that prayer for his forgiveness? How it must have tortured his soul to think of the young Stephen praying for Saul’s forgiveness even as they brought him death!

I do speculate here, but not so much that it might not have been true. When Christ at last appears to his last chosen apostle, is not the reaction of Saul quick and decisive? Does he not seem to capitulate very quickly, deciding that he was wrong? I do wonder if the prayer of Stephen had not eaten away at Saul’s heart, preparing him for the truth of his later vision, the vision of the living Christ, asking, Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?

At any event, we have Saul being turned into Paul, who disdained all else, proclaiming the gospel to all who would listen boldly and without fear. Paul undergoes deprivations, shipwrecks, whippings, and even a stoning (Chafer suggests that stoning actually brought a temporary death). All of what he endured he counted as naught. Can we find a better example than Paul of carrying the cross of Christ? Yet, he found it true that his yoke was easy and his burden was light, not counting himself worthy to suffer for Christ, and finally telling us in 2 Timothy that he has fought the good fight and was looking forward to getting his crown of righteousness.

What is this amazing faith, this Christianity, that it should so radically change people? From the early years even until now it has always been this way, that Christians should disdain this world because of their vision of a better world to come. Throughout history the remarkable faithfulness of God is evident, teaching these words of Jesus. We are to take up his cross and find that it is not so heavy after all. Indeed, his yoke is easy and his burden is light, but only because of the great mystery, that Christ himself in the form of the Spirit, should be found in us.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Musings of a Reader

It seems to me that there are a set of fixed rules that are as of yet unseen by mankind. These rules must have in some sense been affixed by God, and evidently he respects those rules also. Those rules evidently include allowing Satan to run over this world, to and fro, as Job says, and to constantly accuse. What his province, or his job is, at current is hard to say. He is called the prince of the power of the air, which indicates that, at the least, he has the power to range over the earth. Perhaps he is allowed to accuse, and perhaps God listens with the heavenly host as witnesses to those accusations. But more unseen is the Devil’s control over the minds of men. Evidently he is allowed, at times, to incite violent awful episodes of derangement in our world, of course looking forward to the seventieth week of Daniel where he is allowed to wreak havoc upon the earth, and all them that dwell therein.

I think it makes sense, at least to me, that Satan was behind barbaric acts such as what happened on 9/11, where he was able to use a handful of fools to perform his will. It seems to me obvious from living through that day that great wickedness was given a way forward that seemed to be allowed to get over great hurdles. Of course, we know from Job that God himself is sovereign even over what the Devil might do. In that way, God is sovereign over all, just as we understand our Bibles to so plainly teach us. But just as in Job, we see God using agents to perform his will. Did he not use Satan to perform his will? It seems that both statements are true—that God is sovereign, and that Satan is performing at least some of his will. Trying to reconcile the two has proven to be a Sisyphean task for theologians; no matter how hard they try, the two do not seem to fit together. Yet, it is these opposing truths which God presents us with in Scripture. We are never quite told how they reconcile, but the safest course for the Christian is to simply believe and trust that one day it will work out as God has promised.

But I want to reflect on how we got here. Theologians cover in depth our depravity, and they have done an excellent job, as far as it goes. But actually it is revealed in Scripture that we (mankind) are almost the postscript in a story that has been going on for a very long time. There are other beings, called angels (it is a wonder to me, but if I called these angels aliens, many people would perk up, willing to believe in that which we have not been told about instead of that which we are told about) and these angels were involved in a struggle in heaven. God evidently sent mankind, that these insignificant beings should be, to the wonder of heaven, the very instrument to bring about the demise of Satan.

We are, as I have written elsewhere, the pawns on the chessboard of life. But the insignificant pawn suddenly becomes very important in the chess game when the pawn finds itself on the seventh rank. All of a sudden the game focus shifts totally to that pawn, as the mover tries to “queen” his pawn, and his opponent does everything possible to prevent that. We are the pawns, on the seventh rank. Suddenly the whole focus of heaven is upon us, waiting for the significant move that God is about to make.

But let’s look at things from the point of view of the pawn, who scarcely knows what is going on. All of the other pieces are suddenly focusing on his power, but he does not much understand how he, being so little and unimportant, has become the center of attention. So we little understand the rules of the game; we cannot see why God should suddenly make us so important. Yet, with the Incarnation, he did just exactly that, deciding to become flesh, reconciling the world to him, but also bruising the Serpent’s head. In the cross lies the chess move of God, if you will, making man to suddenly be on the seventh rank, and in lifting the Son up, pronounces simultaneously the bruising of the head of Satan, and the lifting up of men to become the Sons of God.

Remember that this lifting up of man in the incarnate man is a marvel in all of heaven—it is almost as if the rules of the chess game have changed, to the utter amazement of watchers. Now we await the final promotion, when the pawn is crowned and the new queen presents herself to the King. Rules that we cannot understand or begin to fathom, but why should we expect to understand? Has he not asked us to walk by faith?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Where are you going on your life-journey?

The most important question of your life. The problem is that many people deny what ought to be so obvious—that we are eternal creatures found in mortal bodies. Immortals bound with the decaying bodies of mortals. It should be self-evident to all of us, but strangely it is not.

By his word, he spoke the world into being, filled with animal diversity, and all the wondrous beauties of nature. The Bible teaches that it happened almost instantaneously; men have now stretched the life of the earth back to nearly 5 billion years, to try to make the impossible seem more likely with time, and still they find they have a monstrous task. But God says he did it, creating and making and fitting and designing all the things in the universe that would make the earth have life, and have it abundantly. But by their own designs, men have plotted to replace this work of God with a work of accident, time, and mutation. Still, the word of God rings for those who will listen: “Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away” (Psalm 102:25).

I understand on our life-journey, if we are lucky, we find animals to bond with. I have done that myself. But there is a great void of difference between us and the nearest animals. Perhaps Descartes came closer than he realized when he said I think therefore I am. Rationality is a great mark of difference, and though it appears in some of the higher animals, particularly the higher animals that spend time with man, it is not well formed. If man just fished, he would be like other animals. But man fishes with a hook and a pole, and there are fewer animals that can imitate that. How many animals take it a step further, and create a boat, that they might be more successful fishermen? Even if we find such an exception in the wonders of nature, how many of those boats are powered? And which animal cultivates and grows fish that he may eat? On every hand, man so far outstrips his fellow animals that there is a great divide between them than cannot be surpassed.

Men have thoughts—perhaps animals do some reasoning. I think I can see it in my dog at times. But man does not stop with reasoning. He writes. He collects ideas, and ruminates upon them. He puts them into books, and then builds libraries to hold the books. To make it yet easier on himself, he puts the books into electronic format, that he might literally have vast reservoirs of books at his whim. Animals never approach this standard. What does God say but that he breathed into man and he became a living soul? There is a vast ocean, broader than the Pacific itself, between man and animal.

All of this the tiniest child seems to intuit; it is only when we “grow up” that we forget our basic beginnings, our roots. For indeed, we are rooted in the image of our Creator, and stand in all our earth as something unique, the only animal, if you will, to receive the breath of God. Perhaps that is why Jesus directed us to be like the little children in coming to him. As a teacher, I saw young children all the time, and it greatly saddened my heart to see so many of them becoming captivated by the things of this world, instead of being opened to the Creator-God who makes all life possible. Their life journeys were being set in the wrong direction, a direction that leads them away from God.

Ezekiel, chapters 3, 18, and 33, all make it clear that the will of God is that the wicked should turn from their ways and find faith. I do not pretend to understand the sovereignty of God; in my morning prayers I see the hand of God as everything, all-powerful and everywhere present. And yet within God’s nature, as powerful as it is, he still commands us to turn from our self-centered lifestyles to one that is centered in him. Ezekiel makes it plain that it is not the will of God for men to perish; instead their plight remains upon their own heads as they careen their way through life, bashing their way through the stop signs of warning, never heeding those signs until their life ends in a stupendous crash. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

In the time of coming judgment, the prophet warned Israel, prepare to meet your God, Israel. That warning certainly applies to all of us today. As eternal creatures, created by God in his image, our journey is this lifetime is as but the first step. It might seem strange to consider it so, with all of our years’ of experiences behind us, but the time of our lives is frequently compared to grass and flowers, which are here today and gone tomorrow. Still, God gives us this first step that we might start correctly, with him leading us throughout the rest of the journey.

Therefore, all the other journeys that we would take are by definition wrong. There is one way, Jesus teaches, the narrow way, and few there are that find it. The blindness of our world as they plunge into darkness is amazing to this old man. The tolerance taught in my own country is so wrong—Jesus also taught that the way to Hell is broad, and that there are many who are treading its pathway. Every lifestyle apart from one of faith is doomed to destruction; it matters not how virtuous one may paint such a lifestyle.

“I am okay,” says the non-thinking person. “I will be alright when I face that last day.” After all, they reason, I am better than my neighbor who is a drunkard. I raise my kids carefully. I do my best, they say, and I will trust God with the rest. Their ill-measured idea of God is that he will overlook their faults, and see somehow inside their hearts, and know that they are really a decent sort, worthy of heaven. But the reality is so far from that picture. We are a woeful and sinful people, and when we compare ourselves to others, we are taking our eyes off of our needs, and pointing fingers at others. The truth is that God does see into our hearts, totally and completely. He knows you better than you know yourself, even when you are being candid with yourself, which if you are like me comes all too seldom. God knows that heart of yours, that it is fully disobedient, and in desperate need of a divine solution. It is no good saying that you are better than someone else—it may be true, but it belies your need, and God cannot “fudge” the scales in your favor, and overlook your sin.

But such people can go blithely on through their life-journey, never seeing themselves as God sees them. What a surprise it is to so many when they fail their expectations of a glorious afterlife based on their own deeds. God has given a divine solution in our trusting Jesus Christ. You see, God did not overlook sin—instead, he poured out all of his divine wrath upon his son, that by believing we might be saved. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, John tells us, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. Perhaps you are not familiar with the story. Poisonous vipers were loose and plentiful in the camp of the Israelites, biting and killing many of them. Moses, listening to God, took a pole, put one of the poisonous vipers on it, and commanded all who were bitten to look upon the serpent. Those who trusted Moses and looked upon the serpent were healed.

In a manner, the Son of God is like that serpent. He took upon himself all of your sins, indeed, the sins of the world, and in doing that, became a fiery serpent, drawing all the wrath of God. If you will look today and understand and have faith in what God did, you will be saved. But nothing less than divine wrath for your sins can get you out of judgment. What a folly it is to trust your own efforts, when provision has been made for you to escape the wrath of God. Yet, the blind go on, trusting themselves yet another day, and doom themselves to total and complete failure.

I know people who want so much to make it on their own; isn’t that the first cry of the infant who wants to do it for himself? But if you will not look to the cross, and see the provision that God has made, there remains no provision for you, and you doom yourself to perdition. How much better that the wicked man should turn from his way and live!

The classic definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. From the beginning of time, the pathway to Hell is paved with men and women who have tried it their way, presenting themselves to God, and expecting that to be merit enough. There is only one merit acceptable to God, and he had fully provided that in his divine solution, the only solution that will carry us on our life-journey to heaven. I close with something Tozer has to say about a man dying without Christ: “An old sinner is an awesome and frightening spectacle. One feels about him much as one feels about the condemned man on his way to the gallows. A sense of numb terror and shock fills the heart. The knowledge that the condemned man was once a redcheeked boy only heightens the feeling, and the knowledge that the aged rebel now beyond reclamation once went up to the house of God on a Sunday morning to the sweet sound of church bells makes even the trusting Christian humble and a little bit scared. There but for the grace of God goes he.”1Is it not ironic that men go through all of their lives, somehow never having looked seriously at the claims of Christ? There is not a more tragic event than someone who spent their life not looking where they ought to—upon the Christ who has been lifted up that all men might have life, and have it abundantly.

1. Tozer, A.W.. Man - The Dwelling Place of God (Kindle Locations 554-557). . Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What do Christians look forward to?

My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Song of Solomon 2:10

One of the most precious prayers of Jesus occurs near the end of what is properly called the Lord’s Prayer, in John 17. It is found in verse 24, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Some mistakenly interpret this verse to be talking about the death of the saints, but nowhere is death mentioned. Alliteration is totally in the mind of the interpreter, and he gives the text any meaning that he deems appropriate. That is why alliteration being used to finding meaning in the text of the Bible is so scary. The interpreter is allowed to bestow whatever fitting meaning he wants to on the text. One may look in vain for any mention of the doctrine of saint’s death and afterlife, and thus we ought to have confidence that whatever Jesus meant, he did not mean for us to be thinking about death and the afterlife. Instead, it is talking about the most beautiful love story of the universe. Jesus, the bridegroom, is so completely in love with his bride, the church. Over and again, he petitions the Father about the church, showing his love and steadfastness toward his bride. Can I prove this from the text? Very easily. Let’s look at the Lord’s Prayer and see evidences of his love for the church.

In verse nine Jesus prays, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” Looking forward, Jesus is actually praying for those the Father has given him, the church. In verse eleven, Jesus again prays for the church (specifically, those whom thou hast given me), “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” Again, in verse fifteen, Jesus prays, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” In all these three instances (and there are more), Jesus is clearly praying for his followers, his chosen ones, and is looking forward to those that the Father has given him.

This high priestly and intercessory prayer is thus made on behalf of the bride of Christ, present and future, the seed of what would become the church. His love is apparent throughout the prayer, as he most carefully prays through for the church. Notice again the verse of my topic, v. 24, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Notice now in particular the petition part to the prayer, “I will that they. . .be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory.” Where was Jesus going? Of course, he ascends to the Father, and assumes his throne, where we see him in Acts. He is in heaven. This is referring to the translation, often called the Rapture, when Jesus will come and gather his church and take them to heaven, that they might behold all the fullness of his glory.

There are a great many arguments about exactly when in prophetic events this event takes place; there should be no argument about it actually taking place. There is a much more famous passage in John 14:2, 3, “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Again, there are commentators who wrest this Scripture to be talking about the dead, or when Christians die and go to heaven. There is absolutely no context to support such a contention, and allegory, it should be remembered is always in the mind of the interpreter.

I believe that the Bible clearly teaches the Rapture taking place before the Tribulation, or the last week of Daniel. In fact, most believers have acknowledged the imminence of his coming, even while they may not agree on the order of prophetic events. Perhaps it is because Jesus warns us over and again to be watchful for his coming, lest we be surprised. The apostles follow up with this warning. It is very difficult for those who would place the Rapture after the Tribulation to follow this doctrine, of his imminent coming, if events of the Tribulation have to come first. That would mean, that instead of looking for Christ, we should be looking instead for the beasts and the false prophet. Instead of Christ’s sudden appearance we should be looking for these rascals. In our history, hundreds of saints have identified hundreds of people who were to be the beasts or the false prophet, and history has proven all of them wrong. That should give a holy pause to the student of Scripture. Nonetheless, this doctrinal ground has been furrowed by others better than me, and ought not to be the subject of this peace. I instead, just want us to look at the beauty of what is happening.

The passage of John that I started with, that of Jesus praying for us that we might be with him is not just beautiful because of the words. It is an altogether fine thing that we are called to be with him, and that we will see him in his glory, but if we stop there we do not see the love story. This whole prayer is full of Jesus’ love for the church; he is praying his last words as a living man for us, but more than that, this is the love of a bridegroom being expressed for his bride. I am told that there were three great steps to a Jewish wedding. First, while yet children the two in question are betrothed. The church and Christ fulfill this picture as the Bride and the Bridegroom are bonded in the Holy Spirit, sealed unto the day of redemption. Second, the groom comes and retrieves his bride from the home of the bride. This will be fulfilled when Christ, the groom, comes and finds us at home here on earth. Third, the groom takes the bride to his home, where they have a marriage supper. This picture is represented when Christ, the groom, gets the church, his bride, and takes us to his family home, heaven, and there we have the marriage supper.

Jesus is dripping with love and concern for his bride in his last intercessory prayer. His is the love of a groom infatuated with his bride; he is concerned with her welfare above all else. How else will we explain this beautiful prayer of Christ, that we may be with him where he is, and that we may behold his glory?

I think of when I was courting my wife. I remember sharing things little by little with her, as she learned to do with me. The delightful thing about falling in love was that we learned to trust one another. I would share a peculiar taste, or a favorite of mine, and she would endeavor to remember it, and make it precious to her. I did the same for her. We endeared each other’s peculiarities to each other, and so we learned to trust. It is all part of falling in love, and is very evident here. Christ has a warm and passionate love for us. He wants what perhaps all good grooms would want.

First, he wants to show us off to the heavenly host. Ephesians 5:26 says, “That he might sanctify and cleanse it [the Bride] with the washing of water by the word.” He has cleaned us, put us in clothes that shall never be sullied or dirty again. He has washed us as white as snow. But Revelation 19:8 tells us, “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” In other words, there are two things here Christ finds wonderfully attractive in his bride, that attracts his full love and devotion. First, he washed us white as snow, and second, we are clothed in the fine linen of the righteous acts of the saints. Not that these are works originated by us; rather they are works that the Holy Spirit has done in and through us, so that in both senses, we are the product of Christ’s adornment.

The trouble with the church today is that we are not acting much like the beloved bride. We do not seem to realize the divine favor that has been poured out upon us, and we do anything except act like a bride in love. And, I fear there are many of us, who do not seem to realize we are getting ready for the event of the universe, and we are not busy about our Father’s business. We are like rats scurrying around and working, but we have forgotten our purpose—we are to be serving the Master. Some of us endeavor to become experts in theology rather than worrying about being a bride ready for her groom. We are ready to argue points of doctrine, and will do so very often, even to the point of offending our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, doctrine matters, but we have lost sight of the fact that our brothers and sisters matter more. Christ prayed in the Lord’s prayer over and again that we might be brought to unity, that we might be marked by his love. The least knowledgeable saint found busy for his Lord is going to be immeasurably and fantastically ahead of us, for he has taken his little mite of knowledge, and applied it vigorously toward the one he loves. It ought to teach us to stop and ponder, how much of our day is really spent getting ready for our Groom? If we are really in love, hadn’t we better act like it?

Friday, December 02, 2016

Who prayed the greatest prayer?

In all of the Bible there are so many outstanding prayers. While yet at Biola, many years ago, I did a study in a class on prayer for Dr. Mitchell. I found thousands of verses on prayer, or which were prayers themselves, and most of the prayers were answered. A few of the exceptions were those offered while in obvious sin, like Saul did often when he was king. But the record of answered prayer is so great that it almost defies imagination. God hears our prayers, and Jesus tells us that now that we have the Holy Spirit living within us, the record of answered prayer is truer to even a greater degree. Jesus repeats his promise at least 3 times: “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23, 24). Whatsoever, Jesus says. And we are not to ask Jesus, but rather the Father who loved us enough to send us the Son, and to give us the forever gift of the Holy Spirit. But who in the Bible prayed the greatest prayer? I am going to give you seven possibilities of the greatest prayer, but this is by no means a definitive answer, rather it is an opinion of someone who delights in the sovereign record of God answering his children.

First, it seems very hard to beat the intensity of the prayer of Jonah, answered so affirmatively by our Lord. Jonah, a type of Christ, in that he spent 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the great fish, as our Lord spent 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the earth. But for all of that, I find Jonah to be a weak type of Christ in that he was an unwilling witness to the Gentiles in contrast to our Lord who came as a babe in the manger that he might grow into a willing sacrifice for us. Even in the end of Jonah, we find him watching the great city of Nineveh, hoping to see the judgments of God poured out. What a difference there was in our Lord, who came the first time in the guise as a mere servant, that we might be found ready for the second time he comes, as our Lord and our Master.

However, when I imagine myself in Jonah’s position, somewhere in the belly of the fish, it is easy to imagine the desperation of his prayer. Could any prayer be more desperate? I want to note for the record that God hears prayers even when we are disobedient. How often I would remonstrate the incautious Christian, who sins and then cries out to God! I would exclaim that you should not use God as a crutch, but that is exactly what Jonah did do—he disobeyed himself into a great quandary, and turning to God he sought deliverance. How I ought to learn of the mercies of our Father! He is willing, more than willing, to be our Father even when we are the naughty child. He loves us with a boundless love, and he does not stop being our Father when we are not following him. What a great comfort it is to know that God hears us even when we have been disobedient!

Of course the book of Daniel suggests two prayers that could easily be nominated as the greatest prayers of the Bible. Daniel in the lion’s den suggests awesome prayer—just think, Daniel spent all night with those lions, for all we know, staring at their dinner. What did he pray? The same with the three in the fiery furnace. They at least are more open about their prayer. God is able to deliver us, they declare, but whether he does or not, we will not bow down to your image. I connect these two prayers on the basis of their both being commands of the King to worship other than the true God, something that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all refused to do. How refreshing it is to learn of men of God who would not leave their faith because of new kingly morality! They were willing to stand on principle, even if it meant their deaths. How unlike the men of faith are compared to American Christians today, who seem to be willing to be anything, and follow the winds of heathen morality wherever it may lead.

It seems to me that in scoring their prayers, Daniel and company earn some extra points. Theirs was not disobedience, like Jonah. Rather their aim was to remain faithful to the most high God, whatever the cost. Their cry, for all of that, was meaningful, loud, and plaintive. They needed God’s intercession, and they needed it immediately. Their prayers, like that of Jonah, were necessarily short, abrupt, and to the point. “God help me!” Theirs was not a flowery prayer, built on hours of praising God, but rather on the needs of the next few seconds. Daniel and his friends stand in contrast to Jonah here, for we are told that they frequently prayed, and being trained as they were, undoubtedly had learned all the right ways to express gratitude and praise to God. But, like Jonah, the needs of the moment swallowed up all the needs to think about and praise and thank God. Could any of them prayed anything but, “God help me!”

David gives us the next prayer, a prayer that I think we dare not forget. It is the prayer of David for forgiveness, when his sin became known before all of Israel, before God, and all of his deceit became exposed by the light of day. It comes to us in Psalm 51. “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin,” David cries aloud to God. Now he had sinned, definitely in the murder of Uriah, but as much in the adultery with Bathsheba, and perhaps against the nation of Israel itself, because he involved his general in the murder plot, and tried to hide his behavior with intrigue and deceit. But what does David say? “Against thee, and thee only have I sinned.” There is a sense in which all sin that we do is against God, principally and chiefly. Thus, it was altogether proper for David to say, against thee, and thee only have I sinned. Leaping ahead in progressive revelation, long before it was revealed to us in teaching, David exclaims for God to take not his Holy Spirit from him, but to restore unto him the joy of his salvation. All of which God was more than willing to grant.

David’s prayer is a different sort than Jonah’s or Daniel’s. They were praying for their lives, that God might intercede for them. In Jonah’s case we have seen that he prayed to God in spite of his disobedience while Daniel prayed through to God with his obedience. Jonah did indeed pray that God might deliver him from the “hell” of being in the fish, perhaps metaphorically alluding to that greater hell also. But Jonah never seems to have a deep sense of his own corruption like David does. Jonah never seems to face the fact that he is in deep sin, but that is okay as we might not expect an early prophet to understand that which is not yet made apparent. David understands his folly, and I might expect that understanding to dismay and dishearten him, but quite the contrary happens. David looks at the mercies and love of God, and wants restoration, much like we would when we sin. What a joy it is to know that our Father loves us so!

The next prayer is that of Elijah while on Mount Carmel, and it simply is a spectacular prayer! Can you just imagine Elijah? He went to Ahab over 3 years before, and proclaimed to Ahab that there would be no more rain, “except by my word”, and then he disappears from Ahab. Ahab probably did not think too much about the crazy prophet dressed in a camel’s coat, hairy face, and perhaps a demented manner. But as the years passed and rain did not, did not, come, Ahab must have had second thoughts. In fact, the Bible tells us that Ahab scoured the land for this crazy man, this man that dared to face the king and stop the rain. At last, Ahab finds Elijah (not knowing it was the other way around—Elijah had found Ahab), and Elijah at last gets his confrontation. Summoning all the prophets of Baal, some 850 prophets, he takes them to the summit of Mt. Carmel. There he challenges them to get their god to answer by fire, and what a delight he must have had. I can quite imagine a line being drawn on the side of the mountain, with 850 prophets dancing and cutting themselves, and working themselves into a frenzy, trying to get the attention of Baal. What is Elijah doing all of this time? I can picture him by himself, on the other side of the line, lying down with a piece of straw in his mouth, watching the prophets dance their jig. The prophets of Baal work for hours, and Elijah mocks them. Then at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah rouses himself, lays the wood carefully, drenches it in water (where did they get the water?) three times, and then lays out his prayer to God. “Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.”

Oh, it was such a different prayer than those I have spoken about before! Elijah was engaging in something we term intercessory prayer—praying for others. Jonah’s prayer, and Daniel’s too, were used for others, but I think they were too caught up in the moment to worry about others. They were praying for themselves, but Elijah is praying for someone else besides himself—he is praying for the whole nation of Israel, and through the power of God, is about to pull off the biggest revival in the history of Israel. “Oh, that the people might know that you are the Lord God.” His prayer is built not on himself, but rather on God’s revealing himself to a lost nation. Does God answer? By the fires of heaven, in perhaps the most vivid and dramatic answer to prayer, Elijah has his answer. Elijah has yet to learn that God is found more often in the “gentle whisper”. It is enough for Elijah to know that his God is a God who answers by fire. I think in Elijah we see time to prepare that the others might not have had. The emergency was upon David and Jonah, but Elijah has three and one half years to pray, to get his thoughts marshalled for the big day. Thus, Elijah can teach us that preparatory prayer can be essential when we want to be used in the great event.

The next prayers I have selected to review are also intercessory prayers just as Elijah’s, and perhaps because they are prayers for others, we might deem them as a bit greater. The fifth prayer came from David’s son, Solomon. It came after the dedication of the temple, which Solomon was years in building. I think it must have been, like in the time of Elijah, a time of great revival. Actually, the first prayer of Solomon is also famous, and ought not to be skipped. Solomon prays not for riches, or wealth, or honor but for wisdom to govern the people of Israel. This prayer is actually done in front of the tabernacle, and it is years later, at the completion of the temple, that Solomon makes his longer prayer, again an intercessory prayer. Again and again, he represents the sinful people of Israel to God, asking God for mercies and justice and forgiveness in what may be the longest prayer of the Old Testament. Solomon, in both of these prayers, is a type of the Christ to come. Indeed, such a priestly prayer for people comes not again until John 17, the Lord’s prayer. In these prayers Solomon gives us a picture of the one who “ever lives to intercede for us.”

If Solomon’s prayer is long, the answer is also long, and I know of no answer in the Bible to compare to it. God seems to take each part of Solomon’s prayer and provide a specific answer to it. He famously provides the verses which shall yet guide Israel in the future, the near future if my guess is right. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” God promises mercy towards the repentant, toward the humble. Blessed are the meek, says Jesus, and this is the starting point of our relationship with God.

What an encouragement this prayer of Solomon is to those of us who pray for lists. Solomon must have figured out all of the needs of his people, and prayed for them specifically. God answers those prayers in detail, giving us all encouragement as the things that we see in our lives mount up into lists. We have a God who knows our needs, and when we are interceding for others, are we not taking on the very image of the One who loved us and gave himself for us?

The sixth prayer is the prayer of a great prayer warrior Nehemiah. I would remind you of how much of a prayer warrior he is, for in the beginning of Nehemiah we find him mourning and fasting and praying for the nation of Israel. He was very conscious of the sins of Israel, confessing them before God, and being mindful of the fact that God would be faithful in restoring Jerusalem. So it is not that Nehemiah is not a great warrior in prayer, he is that and more. But his great prayer is not long, and is but practically instantaneous. Nehemiah, being sad, appears one day before his king. The king, seeing his sadness, asks Nehemiah why. Nehemiah begins to tell the king why he is said, and the king asks plainly what is your request? Nehemiah does not even record his short prayer, merely telling us, “so, I prayed to the Lord of heaven.” Did he take a break from the question, and tell the king I will get back to you on that? Not likely. Very likely instead, he said a short prayer to God, which may again have been as short as “God help me.” It was his greatest prayer! Like Jonah, like Daniel, and like all the others, God answered his prayer, and brought the people of Israel back from their captivity.

But the seventh prayer, the prayer that I think overshadows all the others is found in a prayer of our Lord, almost his last prayer before dying on the cross. He gazes out at mankind through his bloody eyes, his marred face, and his broken body hanging on the cross, and declares, Father forgive them for they know not what they do. Can a prayer possible be greater than that which was so given before you and I were ever in existence? We are born into the world, and if we have received the grace of God, we have been reborn. We lived and walked in our sin, and how gracious is the God who hanging on the cross, cried out for our forgiveness. Never shall there be a prayer to top this one.

Remember the first six prayers? Each of them answered, and many of them in dire circumstances. But without the coming and giving of our Savior it would amount to nothing. Thanks be to God for sending his son into the world, that we might be forgiven for we know not what we do. Thanks be to God for restoring us that we might walk, and fellowship, and have our prayers set before him. Let me end this piece with the reminder of Revelation where God takes all the prayers of the saints of all time, and burns them in a sweet smelling offering in heaven itself. This means that God takes your prayers, precious saint, and saves them. They are so important to him. He listens to your every word for your sonship is important to him, just as a caring father might do for his son. We can pray. We can have confidence. We can come knowing that he hears us, that he knows our hurts, that he shares our pain, and that he is indeed our loving Father. For the prayer of Jesus is answered, and we have been forgiven.

Lessons for our prayer lives:

1. Jonah
a. it is okay to pray expecting help even when you have been disobedient
b. it is comforting to realize when we are hurting God is listening

2. Daniel and friends
a. standing for what is right definitely gets God’s attention
b. refusing to do wrong, even when we do not know if God will protect us
c. praying steadfastly in other times builds the character to stand when challenged
d. all of them often prayed together, and gained strength through their community

3. David
a. know that we have a forgiving and merciful God
b. we can come with confidence and confession
c. our deepest shame is known about plainly to God, and he chooses to love us anyway

4. Elijah
a. God is our strength especially when we are one against many
b. praying ahead of time builds our ability to pray effectively during stress times

5. Solomon
a. there is great wisdom in seeking the welfare of others while in prayer
b. detailed prayer offered in faith can get detailed answers

a. being a prayer warrior puts you in a place where God uses you
b. building lists of prayers helps you focus sharply on God and his provision
c. prayer before you get to the emergency is fruitful

a. we are not worthless; Jesus gave his all that we might be forgiven
b. we often do not know what we are doing, but we do have access to one who does
c. even when we were against him, still he prayed for our forgiveness

Monday, November 28, 2016

How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

I am nearly at 160 questions now, and am about to publish the fourth book, each containing 40 questions. Yet, when I considered this question, I thought surely I have answered it already. But, no, I found that I have never answered this question, when I seem at last to be running out of questions. It is such a basic Biblical question that I assumed I had gotten to it. By Biblical, I do mean it is foundational, but also I mean it literally. It is found in the Bible. It is found in Hebrews 2:3, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”. It is what we call a rhetorical question—or a question which suggests its own answer. The writer of Hebrews goes on to remind us that the Lord himself validated this salvation by his words, and then witnesses further validated it with signs and wonders brought by the Holy Spirit.

One of the many mistakes modern man makes is to assume the historical man was easier to fool. It is one major excuse I hear for not considering the gospel. They dismiss the gospel as silly superstition, and then, sadly, a great many people never consider it further. But man has always recognized that our world is governed by certain laws, even if they could not enunciate those laws. They knew already that miracles did not happen, voices did not speak out of heaven, and the dead did not rise. That these things did happen resulted in a huge historical reaction, with many people testifying of its truthfulness in the face of much persecution, even sometimes resulting in death.

It is natural for even an infant to know when these normal laws are broken. I was reminded of how quickly even babies know these rules recently when I saw a talking doll speaking to an infant. The infant showed surprise, dismay, and then began crying. She knew that only living things talked. She knew that all sorts of laws or rules were being broken when she heard one speak. It does little good to pretend that prior generations did not have this nearly innate ability to tell fraud from reality. Skeptics like Thomas have always said expressed their disbelief. Why do we believe Thomas’s skepticism when he wants to see the nail holes in the hands and the hole in the side? It is our reaction, one that we recognize we might well have said ourselves. Jesus had already shown the other disciples, and for Thomas, not being present at the time, that should have been enough. Instead, like many of us, he insists that he must see for himself. Imagine his embarrassment when Jesus later tells him here are the holes, thrust your hand into them. Thomas looks, and then replies, My Lord, and My God. It seems to me that too many of us are ready to believe the first initial skepticism of Thomas while not accepting his later testimony.

Behind it all, in the mind of Thomas, he must have been thinking that people are not raised from the dead—therefore the Lord could not have come back. You see, Thomas was just as rational as you or me, and he knew beyond a doubt that coming back to life was an impossibility. Of course, Thomas is wrong, but it is his presumption that I want to talk about here. I think Thomas was exactly like many of us living today. He knew that the miraculous did not happen. He knew that dead was dead, and for him that was the end of the question. He did not have to speculate on whether it happened or not. He already knew that it could not happen.

Thomas was guilty of the same presumption that many of us make. We say: there cannot be miracles because I have never seen a miracle. It is the worst sort of circular logic, and has led to the demise of many a soul. God could not have parted the Red Sea because I do not believe in the supernatural. Lewis had a firm hold on this notion when he has Aslan speaking into existence the creation of Narnia, but all Uncle Andrew hears is fearsome noise, and eventually he is able to shut that out. Our Father spoke from heaven declaring that before his Son went to the cross, that he had glorified his name and will glorify it again. Some heard the voice for what is was; others heard but a thundering; still others paid no attention at all to the voice. If you are determined not to see God, if you are willful and bent against even the possibility of his existence, if you only get angry when confronted with the miraculous, then God will let you have your way. For those who will be willfully blind in the end cannot see—not even the forest for the trees.

The time is drawing close to when a man shall be tested whether his foundation is firm or not. Who has built on sand and who has built on rock? As our pastor said this morning, “You cannot tell the foundation until the storm has passed.”1 The time of the great storm is yet ahead, when the foundation that all men have built upon shall be tried. In that day, and at that time, every man’s choices will become clear, and we will know whether they have built on an enduring foundation or not.

Strange as it may seem to critics, Christianity is strong enough to withstand all inquiry, if the inquirer comes with real questions. There is a plethora of books which do a strong job of defending the particulars of Christianity, and one of the delightful things in coming to Christ is beginning to figure out the arguments and realize that your side is not the side of ignorance. Faith is quite capable of enduring questions, and even becoming stronger when tested. I would invite those who are skeptical, but at least questioning, to begin with taking a look at The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel. It is a delightful read from the perspective of a questioning skeptic, and includes a lot of further resources to check out if you still find yourselves with questions.

When I came to Christ at 19, I had pretty much already settled my beliefs. Yeah, there could be a God, but it didn’t seem likely to me. Science had nearly explained everything. I had three years of Biology at that time, and did not see much reason why it was not true. But then I made the mistake of taking chemistry. We learned the chart of elements and discussed the three states that matter is found in. It was while contemplating the three states of water, that I first began to get an idea of probable purpose and design. What if water had slightly different properties? Suppose it boiled at 95 degrees instead of 212 degrees? Suppose it froze at 50 degrees? Life could not endure on our planet if its properties differed in the least. And that was only one common molecule in our earth! There were a lot of other molecules, all acting in certain ways to enhance life on earth. Even looking at it from my rather simplistic viewpoint, it became obvious to me that things were highly organized, and that screamed design to me—and thus implied a Designer.

But even when I admitted Design as a possibility, that was a long way from the Christian God who is said to give his very presence to us. How could a God who designed the whole universe possibly care about me? It was a couple of years before I encountered Christians who claimed to have a personal relationship with the God of the universe, and when I investigated that, I found it to be true. It was the most mind-boggling experience of my life! It was not until much later that I would read in Psalm 40: “Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (v. 5). Perhaps it was not until that point that I would absorb the gospel. Nevertheless, it was the first time that I found out that the baby Jesus was more than just a baby.

You see, I had heard, with all Americans I think, that Jesus was a baby sent from God to come into the world, but if I had to explain the gospel to others, I might have stopped there, not at all realizing the sacrifice that Jesus had done—for me. Jesus said, “I have come to do thy will, Oh God.” And he came into the world, to be scourged and despised of men, to die an ignoble death on the cross, and be raised on the third day—for me. My sins were nailed to that cross, with him, that I might have life, and have it abundantly. And he did it for me. Knowing me, my inner sinful self, and still choosing to love me. For me.

I think we can supply all the answer books to questions that one could ask, but at the end of the day, there is no more powerful testimony than this: He changed my life, unalterably and completely. There is no better way of describing it than Jesus did when he proclaimed “ye must be born again”. Millions of people, throughout the previous 2,000 years have all proclaimed his saving power, and have lived changed lives because of it. That should be your most powerful reason to begin questioning whether there might indeed be something more to His story—for you.

1. From sermon delivered on 11/27/16, Sunday, Dave Flaig.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Where is God when I need him?

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

Psalm 139:7, 8

Evangelicals teach a doctrine of God being omnipresent. We believe it, and act upon it, trusting that a God who is completely sovereign is a God who always knows what is going on. Anywhere, anytime, anyplace. But anyone who has been a Christian very long knows that there are periods of drought in the Christian’s life, where God simply is not to be found. Our critics laugh in glee at those places, declaring that proves that God does not really exist, but the enduring Christian knows better. Time proves out the substance of faith and builds maturity to our faith. I want to show first that God uses those periods of drought to build our faith, and second that he uses those periods to use us in new places.

The Old Testament is so replete with examples of God teaching us through his supposed absence that I hardly know where to start. We find Joseph languishing in Pharaoh’s prison, sold into slavery by his scheming brothers, and without hope of his God-given dreams coming true. We see David, proclaimed and anointed the next king of Israel, running for his life, even to the point of fearing so much for his life he pretended madness. We see Jeremiah stuck in the mud at the bottom of a well, after being assured God would protect him. Yet, in all these cases and more, in the end of their doubts, they came to believe that God would do the impossible—as indeed he did.

It seems to me that we, as new converts to the faith, must go through a period of time where our faith is to be built up. I find it very common to find a building experience taking place in Christian’s lives, and for lack of a better term, I have called it the crucifixion-resurrection syndrome. In the Old Testament we find this syndrome again and again. Men are taken to places beyond rational expectation of help, and then they are spectacularly delivered. In my lifetime, I have seen this theme played out again and again in the lives of new believers. Men and women are taken to a place beyond themselves, and God takes their plight and makes a new stronger faith out of it so that they can thrive in the place that God has put them. It is almost as if there is a college of faith to go to when we become believers. Maybe the host in heaven looks at us in our new faith, and God decides that we need Faith101 to begin building our lives.

It is all the more painful to endure this faith walk because God seems to do something very remarkable in our new lives. I remember it well in my own early faith experience, and I frequently have detected it in the new walk of believers. We are told doctrinally that God does many things when we decide to believe. To mention just a few, our names are written in the Book of Life, we are baptized into the Holy Spirit, and we are given the lifelong gift of the Holy Spirit. Such a dramatic change takes over our lives, and I can remember my perspective on nearly everything changing. But early in my new life, there came a multitude of signs and wonders that confirmed to me the miraculous nature of what had actually happened. I see similar wonders and signs frequently taking place in the lives of new believers. Although there is an actual and literal sealing that takes place in our conversion, I think of this time of blessing as sort of a spiritual sealing into the body, where the believer is given plenty of assurance of being loved by God and part of his church. At this point, God is building the basic faith of the believer. But altogether too soon, it seems, he moves on further train us, and part of that training is to build our trust.

We can liken this early stage of belief to Joseph, who early in his life had some dreams that did indeed come from God. At this point of time, God appears to be giving Joseph confirmation is his faith, declaring that one day he will rule over both his father and his brothers. But Joseph had a problem, a problem that many of us may share when we are newly growing. Joseph had pride, and in his pride, told his wonderful dreams to both his father and his brothers. Scripture actually says that Jacob took note of the dreams, as if he did not quite know what to do with them, but as for his brothers, we well know what the dreams did. In their fury, in their anger, in their need for revenge, they took their own flesh and blood and sold him into slavery. In acting out their condemnation of their brother, they ended up doing exactly what God intended all along, though Joseph was not to see the fruit for many years.

So it is with us, we often cannot guess what God is doing in our lives, and we see only the pain, but if we persist in following him we will end in a place of utter holiness, a place where he foresaw that we needed to be, and apart from the trauma would have no way of attaining. We have completed our Faith101 course, becoming certified in the place God would put us. We, figuratively, if you will, have been crucified and resurrected, following a similar model to the one that Jesus foreshadowed. So we see clearly that God builds maturity to our faith. Paul uses the analogy of the old man being put to death, that we might put on the new man, and it is the same sort of idea.

But the new places frequently come at the end. Joseph, ministering for his owner, and running his estate was all along learning skills that would help him run all of Egypt. Even his being chased by his owner’s wife was to sharpen his character, to mold him into a person devoutly following what he thought was right. God repeated the administrative experience in the end, giving Joseph the duty of running the whole of the prison, and it was only after all of those experiences that Joseph finally came to realize his God-given dream. He did indeed come to rule over both his father, and his brothers, and in God’s plan so much more, becoming the second ruler over all of Egypt.

So if you are in pain, and it seems that God is not hearing you, perhaps you need to change your perspective. God may be hearing you loudly and clearly, and may even now be putting you through his school of hard knocks. Undoubtedly Joseph prayed when he found himself at the bottom of the pit. Undoubtedly Joseph prayed when he found himself in slavery, and then later in prison. In the end, did not God hear those prayers, even though perhaps Joseph felt abandoned? We are not told of his doubts, only of his persistence, but the doubts that he had to go through were part of his maturing.

With the example of Job, it is much harder to see why Job endured so much tragedy. Job had his doubts, and unlike Joseph, they were vividly expressed. “In the most complete picture of doubt in the Scriptures, the book of Job, it is the questioning, doubting, yet stubbornly believing Job who is ultimately rewarded. As for Job’s friends, with their hard, sure answer and certain theology, at the end of the story God has Job pray that He would forgive their error.”1 And it is to doubts now that I must turn and finish this short piece.

We are not told of those who failed in their faith. We are told of a God who teaches all the fullness of faith, but never of failures. Perhaps Jesus gives us the failures when he talks of the seeds cast into stony ground and burned up quickly by the hot sun. But I would urge you, as indeed the New Testament does, to continue on in that which you have begun. If you find yourself in a place where your visions do not make sense, logically either your visions must come true in an unexpected fashion, which would indicate God’s leading, or you must work on examining your vision. Isn’t it interesting that all the people who schemed against both Job and Joseph failed in the end? In the case of Job we are never to exactly understand why Job had to go through what he did; we only see in the end that God is faithful, and the poor counsel of his friends came to naught. With Joseph we see that all those who schemed against him came to naught, his brothers, his jailer, the false accusations from the wife—all came to exactly nothing when the purposes of God were fully revealed.

There is a Psalm which I take great comfort in—Psalm 2. It says that the kings of the earth will scheme and plan against the intentions of God, but will in the end come to exactly nothing. Persistence in seeking God through your doubts will have only one good outcome—the building of your faith just as God intends.

1. King, L. A. (1991). The way you believe: Thoughts on the nature of faith. Newberg, Or.: Barclay Press.
p. 51

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What does it mean to live well?

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Hebrews 11:6

Of course a life that is lived well is a life lived by faith. But the question immediately arises: What is faith? Biblically, faith, in the same chapter, is said to be: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (v. 1). In other words, we look forward by faith to the things our God has promised. My problem with that kind of definition is that it is internal. How does faith exhibit itself externally? What kind of life reflects faith?

I would say that first we have to have a life that is in tune with what God wants. Tozer says, “The tragedy is that our eternal welfare depends upon our hearing, and we have trained our ears not to hear.”1 In my last post, I alluded to the tragic picture of Christ knocking on the Christian’s door, and asking to come in. What kind of life are we living if we are indeed leaving Jesus out on our front doorstep? He wants to come in and be treated as the guest of honor. I am come that you might be free, he says, and you shall be free indeed. If there is a place where this freedom is defined, it is in the freedom to lock Jesus out of your house, or to invite him in. You do not have to live a Spirit-filled life. Having come to Christ, you can wallow in the sins of the world, but you need to know that you will receive the worst censure. It seems to me that there are two possible outcomes for choosing to continue to wallow in the world’s pigpen.

First, you are ignoring the holy calling God would give you. He intends to make you to live saintly. You are already his saint, but he will spend your lifetime teaching you to live saintly, if you will listen. His will is plainly written, and a lifetime of study should be spent in the Word, that you might draw closer to him throughout your life. Once a long time ago, I bought an anniversary gift for my wife with the quaint and pithy saying, More than yesterday, Less than tomorrow. It was instantly a favorite of hers, for she got the meaning immediately. How much more we should say it to God! Our march onward through this lifetime ought to be one where we are loving him in an increasing fashion each new day—no matter the trials of life.

Second, if you are really content wallowing in the mire, is that not an indication that perhaps Christ is not in your life after all? God forbid that should happen, but over and again the New Testament warns us of people who think they are ready for the last judgment, only to find that they are not prepared at all. Christ tells us the story of the man finding himself at the wedding supper, but without the proper clothes. The apostles warn us repeatedly to check our hearts and lives to make sure of our salvation—to make sure that we are of the faith.

If we indeed picture our life as a house, and invite Christ into it, we might of course insist that he come into the guest room, where all is neat and tidy. We would want to entertain him with the best food, and the best company we could provide. But I should warn you, he is a guest unlike any other guest you have ever had. He is not content to remain a guest, sitting wherever you may put him. It will not be long before he will want to see your other rooms, the ones that are not so neat. Come in here, he will say, and let us see this room, perhaps taking you to the bedroom where chaos seems to reign. So you will find yourself straightening and cleaning and trying to get it just so. Meanwhile, he is off to another room. And that closet that you are sure no one knows about. You keep it tightly locked, so tightly locked that you are sure it is secret from all. Rest assured that your guest will aim directly for the closet, and all the locks you have placed on it will come bursting apart, the door will open, and even that embarrassing mess will become open. So our walk with Christ throughout our life should ever be one of progression, where we are finding old places to clean and mend.

If I left the analogy there, you might notice that it is all well and good that you have a cleaner house, but it is still a house that seems to be a “dirt-magnet”, and you can no more get it clean than you have to start the whole process all over. You can never seem to get it done. If God left us there, we could at least say that we were living the better lives for it, but still we are stuck in the cycle of dirt, of being always in need of cleaning. But he has a different plan, one that we will fit into as we follow him through our lives. He says I go now to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there you may be also. He plans on taking us one day to a new house, one that he is in charge of cleaning, just as he cleans us, and all this lifetime of helping us clean here is meant to prepare us for that new house.

Then we are to be the kind of people on The Great Journey, where we walk by faith all of our lives. “Be still and know that I am God,” says the Scripture. All through our lives we look constantly to him, with our eyes fastened on him. At first it takes great effort to bow our heads and pray, to study the word, and learn his will for our lives. It may take a little effort to fasten our eyes upon him at the beginning, when we have so much of the dusty glitter of the world caught up in our gaze, but as we go on we notice a difference. Looking at him is not an effort anymore; it has become interesting to look, and before we know it, we cannot tear our eyes from him, as we have found him to be of such compelling attraction that we disdain all else that we might maintain that fellowship, that sense of him being near, even in us. Disdain is even too strong a word; rather we find all else of lessor importance, though when we are called to do that of lessor importance, we find ourselves able to do that, whatever it is, with our eyes upon him. We are learning meekness, humility, and in learning it, we find to our great delight that whatever we do we are able to see him in the midst of it, and that he accepts this too for his service, since we are doing it as to him, and not unto men. Jesus said it this way, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” He who is meek has at the cross taught us what meekness is, and we find the rest of the phrase is true also. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Our destination lies ahead, our destiny begins its fulfillment, now, with each step of faith we take beginning that celestial walk that with go on through eternity.

Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted no less than four times in the New Testament, “the just shall live by faith.” I think of the Christian walk as that Great Journey, where the new Christian is maturing as he should, but also the mature Christian finds to his marvel that he is maturing also. There seems to be no end to deepening faith in Christ, but if there is an end, I might suggest it comes when the Christian realizes that things, that life itself, dims to almost be invisible in comparison to that relationship with Christ. It does not come easily, as we learn from Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, there are incessant attractions that would turn our gaze from him. The Holy Spirit, in us, constantly teaches us to love the bridegroom, and to prepare ourselves as the bride. And over the walk of life, we find him being closer, as our teeth and sight and hearing fail, yet he is closer, filling all of our sight, as we anticipate the marriage at last consummated. The Song of Solomon is becoming realized in the walk of faith, love is spilling out everywhere, and your eyes are fixed on your Lord, your Bridegroom. One day soon the day will come when that passion the bride and the Groom feel toward one another will light up our universe for all to see. For are we not the love story of creation itself?

Some of us, I think, only learn that final step of love when death rears its ugly head as the worst thing that can befall us. Yet, Paul teaches that not even death itself will separate us from the love of God which is in Christ, and those faithful Christians who come to their deathbed, seem so often to be able to look past the ugly monster to see the handsome groom awaiting his bride. Which brings me to the last point. Many passages allude to our needing to watch for the coming of Christ, and I have included but one, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36). This is a great verse, not only telling us to watch, but also in the passage before Christ is giving us details of the great tribulation. Notice again the words of the verse, “that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things.” Those who believe in the rapture happening before the tribulation can look at this verse and see God’s promise of keeping us from that coming wrath. I go now to prepare a place for you, that where I am ye may be also. Where is Christ? In heaven. Where is he preparing the place? In heaven. When Christ returns with his saints, where does he go? To Israel, and we go with him. Says Walvoord, “The nature of the Tribulation is also one of practical importance. If the church is destined to endure the persecutions of the Tribulation, it is futile to proclaim the coming of the Lord as an imminent hope. Instead, it should be recognized that Christ cannot come until these predicted sorrows have been accomplished. On the other hand, if Christ will come for His church before the predicted time of trouble, Christians can regard His coming as an imminent daily expectation. From a practical standpoint, the doctrine has tremendous implications.”2 But regardless of where you might place the rapture, the point is that all of us are to be watching and waiting, looking and hoping for the return of our King. It is one of the great hallmarks of our walk of faith.

1. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 820-821). Christian Miracle Foundation Press.
2. Walvoord, John F. The Rapture Question (Kindle Locations 122-126). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.