Saturday, January 25, 2014

Where do I go when I die?

One of the most underused arguments for the existence of God lies in mankind himself. In no other creature do we even begin to see what I call the sentience of man. Descartes long ago made famous the statement, “I think therefore I am.” But I think it true in a way not taken by Descartes, and it is that which I would reflect upon now. As I look over the animal kingdom, I cannot help but notice man’s difference from the animals to be so vast, and yet so intrinsically tied in with those same animals. Lewis observed this when he said somewhere that we are souls, and we have bodies. Whatever God breathed into man to make him a living soul also separated him forever from the animal kingdom. It is this ability to be able to think and reflect on things outside of our immediate interests which differentiate us from animals.

Man not only makes books to hold his thoughts, he also designs libraries to hold the books, and when I reflect on that I cannot help but see a whole side to man that is not present even in the higher animals. It puts a stamp on man that is unique, almost as if it were saying, “Creator did this”, for there is no other explanation from science or philosophy that adequately treats what I see. An accident or a chance mutation does not explain the sentience that we find in man; indeed, I find that explanation to be so remote as to be hardly possible. It is far more probable that what we find in ourselves is but a dim mirror of our Creator.

Along with the idea of sentience is the idea of what “we should be”. I know there are many that would point to the fallen deeds of man, and insist that we are nothing more than beasts, but even in their insistence I think they are showing the mark of their Creator. Their implicit insistence at pointing to the fallen deeds of men is but just a pointer to what we “should” do and be. Man, as we find him, is so wicked and fallen that we all know it, and generally without argument. It is the fact that we so easily can see this fallenness that presents the dilemma—we see a better way. Perhaps we could never quite agree about what that better way is, but that is not important to my argument, for I am arguing that our moral imperative declares the Creator.

All of this is just to say that man, a different creature from all, has the stamp of the Creator in him, and thus declares his being as an eternal creature. There is something of God that beats an intimate beat within our hearts. That nature, to be sure, is marred horribly as we find it so often in history, and yet the piece of God given to us has made us forever in his image. The death of our bodies, therefore, does not mean the death of our souls. We are souls; we have bodies.

So then the question, where do I go when I die, is a most important question. I think it beyond the scope of this short answer to provide all the details given in the Bible, but this at least I will comment on. Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross, and proclaimed “today you shall be with me in Paradise.” His coming as the Lamb of God made possible the salvation of all who believe. It seems that part of what Christ did just after his resurrection was to preach to the dead, that the souls he preached to needed in some fashion to believe in the redemption offered through faith. Since his death we know that believers go directly to heaven. Randy Alcorn suggests that we may be given temporary bodies, and this may be correct, but we know that we directly go into the presence of God. We know also from Paul, that those who die before the return of Christ eagerly await their new bodies, given out at the translation, along with those of us who are caught up in the air to be forever with our Lord.

Apparently God does indeed desire that all men might be saved, and one indicator of that good will is found in his seeming slowness to judge the wicked dead. It is a job that he puts off until the last (Rev. 20:5), “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.” The Great White Throne judgment happens after Satan’s final doom, and death and Hades give up the dead that they have collected throughout history, and “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). I cannot say it is saved until the last because of reluctance, but it is as many men would do in putting off a distasteful task.

As for the believers, the second death has no power over them, and they become part of the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21), where God will dwell with men, to their endless delight. And what, you may ask, happens to those who believe God and have accepted Christ as their Savior? John speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, one in which all the dreams of men come true, where we have our God in his full presence and majesty with us. And so we shall ever be with the Lord Huron.

And so I see immediate peril for that man who has not taken provision for the journey beyond this life. It might be argued that God as the First Cause is responsible for the mess which man finds himself in today. I think that God has accepted that responsibility, if indeed he sees it as such, and made provision for all of men to be rescued from this second death. Thus, there are three ways I think man ought to see his need. First, he is a sentient being, so far above any of the animals so as to defy description. Second, he knows that he “should be” a better creature, and he understands by his conscience that he is not anywhere close to what he should be. Third, the cause of his sin is adequately provided for in the plan of the First Cause, and we see that in giving himself, God could do no more to rescue sinful man.

But that is the problem of man. We still live under a great veil of blindness, and men everywhere seem almost to be prevented from logically seeing their plight. Those people who manage to reason about that which is coming after at all, seem only to figure that God, as a benevolent judge, will surely overlook their sin. The problem is God is holy, and created men to be like him. Since we are not, and we are marred beyond hope by the presence of sin, we need a Redeemer. If we do not think through our need for that Redeemer in this life, I am afraid we will be able to think of little else in the life to come. But then, of course, it will be eternally too late.

If there be a problem central to American Christianity, it is right here, found in the question of where do I go when I die. For if American Christians really believe that, where is their compassion and zeal for the lost? Too often I see us busy with other things, with the hustle and bustle of life, and I fear there are too few of us who really take the time to believe the gospel, for if we really did believe the gospel, wouldn’t we be busy reaching out to our lost brothers and sisters? The last command Jesus gave us was in the Great Commission, and we will only see revival when we realize our desperate need, and throw ourselves at his feet, that our friends and neighbors might know of his mercy before they find out about the second death.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Why is He so hard to see?

Why is God invisible? John tells us that no man hath seen God at any time. We are told that we must walk by faith and not by sight. In looking at Biblical foundations, I discern a pattern which may partially explain the why and where of God’s invisibility.

In the Garden of Eden, we are told the serpent successfully tempted Eve and then through Eve, Adam. Sin entered into man, irreparably marring him and all of his descendants. Some scholars have postulated that the “ownership” of man was transferred from God to the serpent. In any case, man was separated from God by sin. Such is pretty scriptural, and thought to be what actually happened.

I was ruminating on these things lately, and began to add up some other things presented in the Bible. I do not know if this will stand scrutiny at all, and probably deserves to be put in the realm of ruminations and speculations. I note that Satan is referred to as Lucifer, or the shining one. Evidently it was his job to show forth the glory of God. Instead, Lucifer, a created being who had been given the power of choice, chose to be enamored of himself, and thus fell into sin.

We see this fall into sin when we encounter Lucifer, with his new name Satan, in the book of Job. We see Satan replying to God’s question about where he has come from. Satan replies that he has been to and fro, roaming through the earth. Does this mean that Satan, having marred the earth through sin, is now the owner of the earth? Scripture does not specifically go this far, but it does cause me to wonder. We do know, at least, that Satan is roaming the earth, most probably up to no good. His fall, I know from Genesis, is a fall where his head will eventually be irredeemably bruised.
Thinking about the job description of Lucifer caused me to wonder about the vacancy he left. Isaiah 14:12 states: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” His job was to show the glory of God to all around him. Who is doing his job now? Perhaps asking that question is a key to understanding an answer to the question, why is God invisible? What if the job has not yet been filled, and the vacancy still exists. Who will show the Shekinah Glory of God?

Free beings, both angels and men, have been given the choice to sin. Satan, and a third of heaven with him, evidently chose to go into the darkness of sin. Man, in Adam, has become enslaved forever to sin. God, in creating beings with choice, had to foreknow and plan for the fact that some might choose sin. But with that foreknowledge and plan, it still remains a true statement that God created the potential for great wrong.

Fortunately, He did not stop there. In His great wisdom and foreknowledge and plan, He sent His own Son to be the propitiation for our sin, and not for our sins only, but we are told, for the sins of the whole world. So, yes, in a sense, God is the creator and responsible for the evil in creation, but He is also the Redeemer, and has freely offered redemption to all who will receive His Son.

The intention of God in creation is most hard for the created, of which I am one, to talk about. But I do wonder if God is not confounding all of the heavenly host with men, the smallest of pieces on the chessboard of life, mere pawns, who had been marred forever with the sin of Lucifer. I find it interesting that the same sort of sin which Lucifer commits, he successfully entraps men to commit. Did Lucifer not say, “I will make myself like the Most High?” In the garden, does not Lucifer peddle the same lie to Eve, “You will become like God?” It is the business of God to be God, and it is the business of the created to worship and love the Creator. Both man and Lucifer became enamored of themselves, taking their eyes off of the Glorious God, and thinking themselves to be as God, they sinned.

I do not think I go too far here. God has meant for insignificant man to be lifted up, and before all witnesses in heaven, take on a significance that shows God’s steadfast and redemptive purpose, even while thwarting the very design of Lucifer. With God, who knew all of the history of creation with but a single glance, there was never any doubt that his purposes would unwind exactly as he had purposed and foreseen. For it pleased God, to use further my chessboard analogy, to become a pawn, and in becoming a pawn, to offer redemption to the very ones Satan had usurped. Now he has placed his redeemed pawns on the seventh rank, and before all of heaven, is about to crown them while confounding the plots of Lucifer, and teaching men to ignore the bright shining light and instead choosing the as yet unseen God, whose glory has not yet been made manifest. We are redeemed through faith, most miserable, as Paul says, if these things be not true, but by the power and sovereignty of his plan, we have come to him who is yet unseen.

I am thinking that perhaps Lucifer’s job will not be filled until the Second Coming, when the King returns, and begins to be the shining one showing us renewed fellowship with God. So, back to the first question: why is God invisible? Perhaps it pleased God to prove to the heavenly host that he could redeem man without the shining. Somehow he reaches us through faith, which Hebrews defines as, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It pleased God to use the unseen to present Himself to man, and it pleased God to find His redeemed in those who would place their faith in the Unseen.

Who could ever have foreseen such a result? Christ himself will take the place of showing the glory of God, the job abdicated by Lucifer. Redemption for all? Never, for there is no revealed plan to redeem any of the angels. Redemption is offered to the pawns, to all of the pawns, that “whosoever” may believe and be redeemed. Hell is reserved, the Bible says, for the devil and his angels. It was never meant to be for you. It was never meant to be for me. There is a way of escape from what the Bible says is the second death. It is found by believing God, and stepping into his plan of redemption. There is no other way. Charlie Daniels has these words to ponder in his song, “Jesus Died for You”:
Makes no difference how wrong you've been
How heavy is your load of sin
The door's still open come on in
'Cause Jesus died for you
Now you may think you're too far gone
You've sinned so bad you can't atone
But bow your head and come on home
'Cause Jesus died for you

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why is Elijah a man of like passions?

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
James 5:16, 17

Elijah the Tishbite. How is it that James compares Elijah to us? Is it more than just a model for us to follow? When we look at Elijah, we think of him facing all the prophets of Baal, and a wicked king and queen, alone, and yet with the majority—for God was on his side. How precious it is that we should be compared in any sense to the one who is considered the head of all the prophets, save Christ only! How precious it is to me to think of comparing myself to Elijah, being translated out of this world by a whirlwind sent from God. Perhaps we will be the generation, like unto Elijah, who will be translated while we are yet living, because the hour of our Christ has finally come!

We are in our second year of severe drought, and I think that has me thinking a lot about Elijah, wishing that California had its own prophet that might challenge us to come back to God. I guess that we are alike him in that respect also. We do see our nation pulling further away from God than perhaps ever before, and we see many people forsaking the very roots that made our country possible. How exactly was Elijah like us?

It is in the failures of Elijah that perhaps we come the closest to him. It is easy to forget that after Elijah's dramatic confrontation with the false prophets, he became fearful and ran for his very life. I remember being told about the armor that Paul says we are equipped with, that there is no back piece for protection when we are running from, rather than facing our foes. That may be well and good, as they say, but I note that God is with Elijah, even in the midst of his failure. He sends an angel to strengthen Elijah in his run, when Elijah despaired of his very life. “Take my life,” he prays as he exhaustedly falls asleep. Instead of taking his life, God reveals a different plan, sending an angel to feed him, not one meal, but two, and on the strength of those two meals, Elijah was able to travel forty days and forty nights, thus giving us a type of Christ, who later was to fast for this incredible length of time.

His fear of Jezebel was warranted, for Jezebel had been killing the prophets of God (1 Kings 18:4), and now had sworn to get Elijah. But his fear was also groundless, for God was with him. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” asks the Lord, implying that Elijah had a better place to be. Elijah replies that he has been very zealous for the Lord, and that all the other prophets have been killed, with him the only one left. Isolated by his problems, Elijah acts like many of us do—we despair of victory, even when it is right at hand, and we attempt to flee the problem. God sends him back the way that he came, but this time there is no record of an angel sustaining him, and this time Elijah is told to finish a few things in his ministry, and appoint one to succeed him. If Elijah is indeed like me, he must have felt dejected, thinking it is all over. Yet, the Bible records the best was yet to come, for the chariots of God separate Elisha from his master, and a whirlwind takes Elijah directly to the God whom he has served all his life.

I find it dramatic in the extreme to see Elijah turning about so much, wavering between being the hero bringing Israel back to God, and a criminal running for his life. He prays but once for the fire from heaven, but he returns to prayer not less than seven times for the rain needed so badly for the land. He was a man like you, like me. Afraid and brave, walking with God and running away, victorious in his ministry and yet defeated in his perseverance—Elijah was like you, like me. In his prayer, he petitioned to a God whom he knew was above all else, and when the time came, he knew that one simple prayer would bring the answer of God winging from heaven. But in the matter of the rain, perhaps he, like you and me, was not so certain of God, and he prayed through seven times, each time looking to God for an answer.

That teaches me. Sometimes I can expect the quick and immediate answer, but other times I need to pray through with expectation that God will answer. And I think that is the difference between some of us in going to God in prayer. Some of us pray, expecting no answer, and we receive all of our expectations. Others of us pray, knowing the God who answers prayer, and we expect an answer, and we receive all of our expectations. We are indeed a people of like passions, and perhaps we also are like Elijah in another way. If the coming of the Lord is as soon as many in the church feel, perhaps like Elijah, we shall be carried up in a whirlwind also, and so we shall ever be with the Lord.

I note that James tells us that Elijah prayed first that it might not rain, something that is not in the story in Kings, but which James tells us through revelation. That, at least, is not at all like the drought in California that we are experiencing now, for I know of no one that has come before the governor, and then gone away to pray. Isn’t the plan of God grand? He uses Elijah’s prayers to bring revival to his people, and all the while Elijah thinks he is praying on his own. Alas, for we have no such prophet today, and this is the United States, not Israel. Still, our God is as sovereign as he was in Elijah’s day, and when Elijah thought he was all alone, did not God tell him that he had reserved seven thousands? We are not alone in facing the wickedness of our day, and, I cannot help but wonder, if we direct our prayers for revival, what might be the answer of our God? Isn’t the plan of God grand? He might yet use our prayers, a people of like passions, to bring about his sovereign grace in revival. And that is something to contemplate!

A final thought. There are prayer warriors so far ahead of me that it would be as far as the sunrise is from the sunset. What if those prayer warriors have been praying all along for the revival of God? What if the needs of rain during this drought might bring his people together in prayer? It may well be that the Lord is already sending his fires of revival from heaven. Should we not be looking already to see what answer he may give?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

What is a disciple?

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18, 19, 20

One thing I think to be obvious when we observe those who profess Christ as their savior. There are an awful lot of Christians who are not disciples. But here I think I need to be really careful, for there is only one judge who can read the hearts of people, and know where there is saving faith. Christ gives a parable that describes the process of sowing the seed, or I take it, to spread the gospel. Jesus tells us of four different cases of the seed being sown in this parable. He first says that some seed is cast into the path, and quickly eaten away by the birds. But, second he says, some seed has fallen on rocky places, sprang up quickly, and was scorched quickly by the heat of the sun. It is these latter seeds that I want to comment a bit about.

Matthew Henry speaks of these people as if they are not Christian, “There are many that are very glad to hear a good sermon, that yet do not profit by it; they may be pleased with the word, and yet not changed and ruled by it; the heart may melt under the word, and yet not be melted down by the word, much less into it, as into a mould. Many taste the good word of God (Heb. vi. 5), and say they find sweetness in it, but some beloved lust is rolled under the tongue, which it would not agree with, and so they spit it out again.”1 It may indeed be for none Christians, but I do think it may include those many professions of Christ in lives which we do not notice changing. Whether they are Christians or not, I would submit, is probably only known in the mind of God.

If the seed is the word of God, or the gospel, then it seems obvious that the seed along the path and stolen by the birds, is seed which never germinates; hence the idea of those who hear the word, but do not act upon it with a profession of faith, and thus are not Christian. It seems to me that the others, in the interpretation of the Lord, “are those who hear the word and receive it with joy (Mt. 13:21), and since they have no root, last only a short time.” Are these not believers? I find the plain sense of the passage to take it that they are indeed believers. Perhaps this is the great category of saints that I see, having made a profession of faith, but who seem never to “root” themselves properly into the victorious Christian life. Christian or not—God only knows!

James does indeed let us know that faith is supposed to produce works. “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone (James 2:24). It is clear that when the birds steal the seed, it is as if they were stealing the very gospel of God away from the hearers, lest they find repentance. That is the case of someone perhaps coming close to the gospel to the point where they seem like they are going to find their way, yet the birds steal the message away before they really exercise any saving faith. Thus, I would think that these seeds cast into the path are seeds which never germinate.

I would note that all of the other seeds seem to germinate, thus having a semblance of life and suggesting a real faith in Christ. The third type of seed the Lord tells us about fits exactly into this category That seed is choked out by the weeds, which the Lord tells us are the cares and treasures of this world. Many Christians that I have seen fit into this category—they fall away with the business of life, and take their eyes off the Savior, putting them on the riches of this world.

It is only the last category of the seeds that is befitting the definition of what we would clearly call a disciple of Jesus the Messiah. They germinate, and grow abundantly, producing many times over the original seed. I find it very suggestive that three of these seeds germinate while only one type of seed does not; that which falls along the hard path. I think it suggestive of the fact that perhaps two out of three Christians are not “disciples” in any sense of the word, but may indeed be professors of Christ—whether genuine or not, God only knows.

Paul does tell us of the Christian who comes to the Lord for judgment, and his works, being useless, are utterly burned up, yet he himself is saved. Again James reminds us that even the demons believe in God, and tremble, yet are not saved (James 2:19). A Christian who has no works must by definition be in the most dire of straits. Our reformation fathers seemed to unite around the idea that faith always does produce good works. Consider Martin Luther: “Good works are not the cause, but the fruit of righteousness. When we have become righteous, then first are we able and willing to do good. The tree makes the apple; the apple does not make the tree.”2 We are supposed to be stumped, I think, by those Christians who do not reflect their calling, and it is those for whom we ought to be in regular intercessory prayer.

What is a disciple? In attempting to define a disciple, I think it obvious from the parable of the sower that a disciple is but a part of the church, and maybe the smaller part, since two out of the three illustrations show the seed being received, but not properly acted upon. Who, then, are those that fit the definition of a disciple? I would take it that they are those singular Christians we have in every church that seem to shine brightly in their testimony. If there is a chance to share the gospel, these are the people either doing the sharing or praying for others who are doing the sharing. If there is a calling to work or to give or to teach or to just serve, these are the people that we see stepping forward.

If you were able to look into the heart of the local church with the very eyes of God, you would find these disciples at the center, praying for revival, and interceding for the church leaders that they might be able to walk aright. It is these who are his disciples, those who are most zealous in carrying out the Great Commission, and want to see Jesus lifted up in all hearts around them. Find these people in your church, and model your own life to be like theirs. In so doing, you will find out what is a disciple, and perhaps be one of those who produce a crop, “yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what is sown.”

1. God; Matthew Henry (2011-04-19). MATTHEW HENRY - THE BESTSELLING UNABRIDGED 6 VOLUME COMPLETE COMMENTARY ON THE WHOLE BIBLE (Special Complete Edition): All 6 Volumes of the Bestselling ... Exposition for Kindle MATTHEW HENRY) (Kindle Locations 203914-203917). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.

2. Luther, Martin (2009-02-14). Christian Classics: Works of Martin Luther, in a single file, improved 9/1/2010 (Kindle Locations 1907-1909). B&R Samizdat Express. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What will it take to revive us?

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Ezekiel 37 (NIV)

The sovereignty of God and the will of man remain a mystery; though scholars have tried to exaggerate one, it is always at the expense of the other, and leads one inevitably to erroneous thinking. “God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination and the divine sovereignty. The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, "O Lord, Thou knowest." Those things belong to the deep and mysterious Profound of God's omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints.”1 Nonetheless, it is to an area where God mysteriously mixes the two that I wish to look, for a final time on the topic of revival, today.

William Booth tells a story of Charles Peace, a convicted thief and murderer headed for the gallows, as a minister alongside of him was trying to share the gospel. Charlie Peace turned to the minister and reproached him, “‘‘ Sir,’’ addressing the preacher, ‘‘ if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!’’”2

Where are the people hungering and thirsting for revival? John Knox cried out, God, give me Scotland or I die! Where are our John Knoxes? As I have made revivals a study of mine, I find one common element to all, from John Wesley to Jonathan Edwards, from Charles Finney to Dwight Moody. All movements of the Spirit have their beginnings in a few bonding together in prayer. I have little doubt that the revival of the Seventies was brought about by men and women in the sixties like Tozer, who were crying out for God to awaken his people. And there is the mystery. God, sovereign always, uses temporal and sinful men for the foolishness of preaching. We look at the church and realize we have lost our focus once more, and we are bumbling about in a perilous fog.

Our churches today cannot fall over each other fast enough in their march to compromise any and every doctrine for the sake of not looking bad to the world. The world still laughs at them, despising their gambits, and disdaining their groveling. Marriage and the family have been long ago sacrificed on the altar of the world, and the village is continuing to gobble all the virtues for herself, and wiping her mouth, the village declares, “I have done no wrong.” But the Bible is plain, as plain as it ever was, and sin is not to be compromised with, neither accepted by godly men and women. The church, in giving in to these temptations, only besmirches herself, spoiling the very gospel that might save those who are perishing.

It is altogether a sure thing that no one has ever been won to Christ by pretending sin is not, and never has anyone genuinely believed God who has not immediately been convicted by their sins. We do the world of sinners no favor by pretending with them about their righteousness, as it is only the humble and meek, repenting at the foot of the cross, who shall be cleansed by the God who gave himself for us, and that message cannot change. It should remain the chief stumbling block, the Rock of offense, that the world cannot fathom, and it is a tremendous sin on our part, not to preach Christ being punished with the sins of the world.

I am not saying that we come to God through the preaching of repentance; salvation comes from believing God about the gospel, and not through hammering people with the weight of their sin. Leave that to God, for when the gospel is preached and believed, the realization of sin and forgiveness will always follow. We do not win people to the gospel by first weighing them down with their sin; rather we publish the good news that God has died for those sins, that the world might be reconciled to him. Grave errors will follow our insistence of naming specific lifestyles as being particularly sinful. God is more than adequate to show the believing sinner his need to repent.

But neither can the church, as it is wont to do, compromise with the world about the gospel. Jude tells us to treat the sinners with love, but while hating even the clothing stained with such corrupted flesh. The church must be the light of the world, never entering into the darkness, except to proclaim the very light that will end that darkness. I think much of our problem does come because we simply do not believe God. Has he not told us of a perishing world? Has he not made perfectly plain the end of those who remain in their wickedness?

We simply do not believe him. Most Christians, I am told by researchers, refuse to believe in a Hell, and seemingly stop their belief in the Bible at the grace of God. We cannot carry the gospel while we maintain such schizophrenic attitudes. The God of goodness and mercy, whom we have found, tells us, in no uncertain terms of a hell and judgment awaiting those who know not his mercy. Indeed, much of America believes in God, but they feel that somehow God will put them on a balance scale, and that they will come out all right in the end. Such feelings can only lead to perdition and judgment, but is it much different than what we Christians are professing? We ourselves ignore the judgment part, and presume only to believe the part of the message that we like. No wonder American Christianity is so dead! We cannot carry a responsible message to a world we refuse to believe is perishing.
To quote the immortal Pogo, we have met the enemy, and he is us! Revival must start with the awakening of his people to his truths. I fear there to be no other way.

How shall we awaken such a dead people? There remains only one way. We must pray. In the mystery of God, his sovereign wake up will only come through intercessory prayer, first for ourselves, that we awaken to our precious salvation and to the damnation of all others, and second, for the lost, that God might give us the means and power to testify. It has pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to give his mercy. In the last words of Christ, his great commission was given, and he is depending on us, with his strength, to spread his message that more might be saved. Apart from him we can do nothing, but apart from us, will the message even be shared? Never from the dead, and that is why our revival is paramount. With the present church, I fear the dead are leading the dead, and the only possible result is one big cemetery. It is the responsibility of those of us whom he has awakened to pray, just like Tozer and church leaders did in the sixties, that God might once again awaken his church. Can these dead bones live? You alone know, God.

1. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). 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 731-734). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Ravenhill, Leonard (2004-08-01). Why Revival Tarries (pp. 33-34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Why do we need revival?

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Ezekiel 37 (NIV)

It would seem to me that the state of the church is such that no one would really ask this question, yet I may ask the question, do dead people know that they are dead? How can they know except someone who is alive tell them? We have dead people, zombies, if you will, on two levels of our society today. The call of God, and the mission that he left with the church, has always been the proclamation of his gospel, that the dead might hear, and hearing, they might find life. But the dead are in evidence in the empty pews in our church, and I fear, all too often, even in the pews that are filled. I ended the last discussion on revival with the question, where are the tears for the lost? I suppose the answer to that question should show the utter and complete need of the church to be revived.

I used to resist with my every fiber the proclamations of our church leaders that we were now in a post-Christian era. I think I resisted so stoutly because I had been saved in the revival of the seventies, where thousands of young people turned from drugs and the answers of a free-love culture to the living Christ, who set us free indeed. Time Magazine proclaimed the year of the evangelical, and my wife and I set about working hard to fulfill the calling of our Christ. We saw many people come to Christ during that time, and many crooked roads were made straight. The nation looked as though it might be safe for our children, and for Christians to continue to dominate our culture. In spite of my denial, enough time and changes have elapsed for even me to see the truth: the time of coming to Christ is past, and we have become a nation of dry bones.

What is to be done for us? Tozer wrote of such a time, long before our time, and before the revival of the seventies, which I sure would have brought him great delight, but what he said, I think is true of the church today. “Orthodox Christianity has fallen to its present low estate from lack of spiritual desire. Among the many who profess the Christian faith scarcely one in a thousand reveals any passionate thirst for God.”1 I look at our church, and ask, who carries the cross today? I give God thanks for the many in our church who work unceasingly with humble and godly lives, but is that not just a few compared to the many in the church? It has been my life long observation that ten percent of the church does ninety percent of the work, and such a condition continues to rot our Christian core as a nation right down to its root.

The church today reminds me of my pomegranate tree I planted the back yard. It had several years of abundant growth, and that last spring red pomegranates appeared everywhere to the delight of my daughter and my wife. But a harsh spring wind came up, and blew the tree right over, for it suffered from a crown rot, unseen to the eye, but now its break apparent to all. My wife asked me if I could make it live again, but I am not God, that I should give life to the dead bones yet again. Our church today suffers from such crown rot, and I fear the slightest wind will blow us over, exposing our state to all.

I was reading Chafer’s True Evangelism, looking for secrets on evangelism. Instead of focusing on going and telling, part of the commission, Chafer says: ”It is, then, the teaching of Scripture that the action of the mighty power of God in convicting and illuminating the unsaved is also, in a large measure, dependent upon the priestly intercession of the believer.”2 In other words, the prayers of the saint are answered by God giving salvation to others. James tells us we have not, because we ask not.

Do you have family that are not saved? Do you live around neighbors that have not been reached? Are your children’s playmates children who do not know the Lord? Yes, and yes for me, though I am too old for having children in the home. The intercession for others is the beginning work of salvation, and the saint who has not cried out to God on behalf of the lost cannot expect to reap much.

Essentially Jesus left us with one commission, and we forget the importance of that commission when we get so busy with life. Do you remember what joy entered your heart when you were first saved? I remember that time, for it was rather life-changing. The power of God seemed to touch me, and all at once I saw the multitude of times that God had been interceding for me, trying to show me of his love. Yet, I had not looked prior to that time, and it was overwhelming for me to see all of it at once.

Oh, there was so much of me that needed basic doctrine, and thankfully the church I entered did teach the basic things. I chose to follow God out of a conviction that he was right, that I had been shown the Truth, and that if I really wanted to follow the Truth, I needed to believe him. And believe him I did, he who had pursued me for so long, that now I might begin pursuing him. I knew nothing of salvation; it was several weeks before I realized God had promised me eternal life. You see, I had read Revelation and Daniel, Ezekiel and Nahum, looking for prophecy, for my friends had testified to me of the last times, and I wanted to see and understand for myself.

“Oh,” you say, “you sort of came into Christianity backwards then?”

I reply, “Yes, Backwards me. It seems like I am one to always get things mixed up. But, believing God had become my lifelong pursuit at that point.”

It was not long before I started looking at my friends and family, realizing that they did not know God. I began intercessory prayer for them all, but especially my family. One by one, I lifted them up to the Lord, and it was the third time in prayer that I got the feeling that God was going to answer. I did subsequently learn that one of my brothers had already accepted Christ, and that my mother had found Christ at a Billy Graham crusade years before. Yet, I lifted each of them up in prayer, with many tears, and simply asked God to intervene. I had the overwhelming conviction, through the Holy Spirit, that God had heard my prayer, and was indeed going to answer it. Even my father, I asked? For I knew my father had hardened his heart against spiritual things, and that it would take an act of God to get him to change. Even your father, the Spirit seemed to assure me. Joy flooded my soul, for in that instant I believed God would do as he had assured me.

Most all of my family was to come to the Lord during the next few years, but my father, obstinate to the end, refused for thirty-five years to come to the Lord. Many many times I would try to bring my Father to the throne of grace, and each time, it seemed as if God was reminding me that he had already promised to answer that prayer, and instead of praying, I would thank God for my father’s salvation. It was not until my father was on what was to become his deathbed that he at last received Christ by believing God.

Yes, we need revival! And it must start with intercessory prayer of the saints for the lost. Have you prayed for the lost in your family, taking to God your heart felt need for their souls? Most of us, I fear, get into a rut of life where we never really believe God means what he says. Polls say that even most people who claim to be Christian do not believe in Hell, much less that the world is headed that way. We do not believe our own God, and we wonder why God will not answer when we cry out!

Could a mariner sit idle if he heard the drowning cry? Could a doctor sit in comfort and just let his patients die? Could a fireman sit idle, let men burn and give no hand? Can you sit at ease in Zion with the world around you DAMNED? 3 Ravenhill puts it succinctly. Our hearts get hardened to the ways of the world, and we tend to forget that often our day is filled with companionship with those whose souls are damned, and who will probably stay that way unless God intervenes. I can think of no stronger reason to show that we need a revival. Perhaps it will start today with your coming to God and praying for the lost around you. Tozer did say that scarcely one in a thousand reveals any passionate thirst for God. Perhaps today you can show that thirst, and tomorrow may well bring change to our church.

1. A.W. Tozer (2010-06-02). The Root of The Righteous (Kindle Locations 605-606). . Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 907-909). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
3. Ravenhill, Leonard (2004-08-01). Why Revival Tarries (p. 92). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What is revival?

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Ezekiel 37 (NIV)

“Oh,” he says, “things are getting kind of slow. Let’s have a revival.” So says the non-thinking American, when he looks at his church. Is that attitude Biblical? Can we have a “revival” anytime we want? American Christianity seems sometimes to think so. The prophet Ezekiel, in the above passage, is asked of God, “Can these bones live?”, and he answers, not affirmatively, neither negatively, but looking toward his God, he says, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

So it ought to be with us. When we look at the dead bones cluttering the church pews, of which we are one, we ought to look to God for revival. American Christianity has its own flavor, not to be found anywhere else. Here we suffer the popular televangelist to own his own Lear jet, and many houses, yet we never seem to want to know why he seems to preach that which he so obviously does not believe. If we successfully avoid his hooks, then we are captivated by the world we live in, and the outside observer would wonder rightfully what distinguishes us from non-believers. American Christianity has come to show a blandness that offends no one, a gospel that is adaptable to fit every lifestyle, and a message changed from a rock of stumbling to a pebble of no notice.

Revival is rightly said to start with the first person who comes to the Bible, and starts believing what is actually said. I was saved in the 1970s, when there was a great revival sweeping through America, perhaps the last revival to do so. Keith Green, saved during the same period, sang his hard words,
To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights.
Cause if you can't come to me everyday,
then don't bother coming at all.

I believe Keith was pointing at the easy believism taught in American churches, where we Christians seem to be able to act quite religiously during church times, and then change our masks, as it were, when we go out into the world. In America we are taught that we can compartmentalize, and we become experts at it, until the Master comes to us, waking us up with the question, “Son of man, do you think these bones can live?”

I want to suggest something to ponder a bit. I do want to point out that we are known by God equally—the sacrifice of the Son has made us all to be one, says the scripture, whether we be Jews or Greeks, male or female. We are known by God equally. But do we know God equally? I do want to offer the idea that some of us know God differently. Some of us are more aware of the greatness of our God. It is those that we will find revival starting with. It is those to whom God will make them to recognize that those around them are indeed dead. It starts with those who really get it—the ones who seem to believe in God really means what he says.

Revival does not start with men; it starts in the loving heart of our God. It does not start with programs, nor with inviting a famous evangelist to our church; rather it starts with the heartbeat of God, plucking strings in the hearts of his listening saints, and awakening them to their dead state.

I find it remarkable that zombies are making a comeback in television and movies these days. The Bible teaches of those who are dead in their trespasses and sins, and we do see churches who seem to be leading the dead in their sins. It only takes one man, recognizing that God means what he says, to bring the fresh breath of God back to us, to make us remember who we are. It starts in the one soul of Elijah, desperate to show his God to his people. “Surely revival delays because prayer decays.”1

D. L. Moody heard someone say, “It remains to be seen what one man, wholly dedicated to God, can do.” Moody determined to be that man. He certainly was not what I would call doctrinally circumspect, but had a heart toward his God. I believe Keith Green to be the same way, coming from a Christian Science background, with his intermingled Jewishness, and was not doctrinally correct, yet his zeal for God was not to be outdone. He worked with scores of people personally, sheltering them, and, at the same time, teaching them urgently of the parts of the gospel that he that he had just learned. He so reminds me of Moody, whom I am told, brought hundreds of children to Sunday School even before he had fully absorbed the gospel message. I do wonder what blessings the church has missed with Keith’s seemingly early departure. We do desperately need men and women who know the greater God, that they might remind us of what we have forgotten.

Revival thus begins with God, placing the awareness in the hearts of his praying saints. I was in Biola, in the late 70s, when three men began to feel the need to come together and pray for revival and growth of Biola University. From those three men, God brought great revival, doubling the size of the physical campus, and sending out many students as missionaries. These three professors knew of a greater God.

Revival starts as a need in the hearts of a few, whom God seems to bring together, and before you know it, smoldering fires turn bright with the heat of renewed zeal of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of many. It comes as people awaken once more to the fact that God has given them a high estate, and that those who are lost around them are doomed to perdition if they know not the gospel. “The law of prayer is the law of harvest: sow sparingly in prayer, reap sparingly; sow bountifully in prayer, reap bountifully. The trouble is we are trying to get from our efforts what we never put into them.”2

The mission of the church is always to proclaim the gospel; she forgets her mission, and God must renew her from time to time. That is revival. “Fundamentally, then, the personal element in true soul-winning work is more a service of pleading for souls than a service of pleading with souls. It is talking with God about men from a clean heart and in the power of the Spirit, rather than talking to men about God.”3 Men when they see as God sees, begin to have a renewed effort to proclaim the gospel, and this first must always start with prayer for the lost. Revival, I think, never starts until saints begin to cry to God to save the lost.

And that brings us to the church today. If we have no need of revival, where, I ask, are those tears for the lost? Until we have men and women in our churches, weeping and praying for the lost in their communities, we will have no revival. The heart of God is toward the lost; where are our hearts?

1. Ravenhill, Leonard (2004-08-01). Why Revival Tarries (p. 85). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 195-198). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
3. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 929-931). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

What is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb?

The marriage supper of the lamb is when Christ, the groom, is finally united with his bride, the church. Matthew 25 is a parable, told by Jesus to depict this period. There are five wise virgins and five foolish virgins. The five wise virgins has taken oil for their lamps in contrast to the five foolish virgins. The bridegroom delays his coming, and those who did not take oil, found their lamps no longer burning. The wise virgins, knowing ahead of time that the bridegroom’s time of coming was uncertain, were prepared for themselves, and refused to share their oil with the foolish virgins, lest they all run out while they are waiting.

I think it appropriate to describe the traditional picture of the marriage customs of the ancient world. I have read no better description than that offered by Walvoord:
Though marriage customs varied in the ancient world, usually there were three major aspects: (1) The marriage contract was often consummated by the parents when the parties to the marriage were still children and not ready to assume adult responsibility. The payment of a suitable dowry was often a feature of the contract. When consummated, the contract meant that the couple were legally married. (2) At a later time when a couple had reached a suitable age, the second step in the wedding took place. This was a ceremony in which the bridegroom accompanied by his friends would go to the house of the bride and escort her to his home. This is the background of the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. (3) Then the bridegroom would bring his bride to his home and the marriage supper, to which guests were invited, would take place. It was such a wedding feast that Christ attended at Cana as recorded in John 2:1-12.1
Please note the three phases in a traditional marriage. First, the parents pay the dowry. Second, the bridegroom comes with his friends, picks up his bride, and goes to his home. Third, the marriage supper takes place at the home of the bridegroom.

I used to think that the marriage supper of the Lamb was referring to the whole time of the tribulation, the period when the church is pulled up to heaven and the final 70th week of Daniel takes place with Israel on earth. I was not quite right in my thinking. It actually comes at one of two places, either in heaven, just before Christ returns with his saints, or on earth just after Christ and the saints return.

“William R. Newell is certain that the marriage of the Lamb occurs in heaven. He writes, “Where is the marriage, with its attending marriage supper, celebrated? The answer can only be—in heaven; for the scene is wholly heavenly. No one can read verse 6 without coming to this conclusion.””2 But Walvoord himself is not so certain, “This event is obviously subsequent to the destruction of Babylon, but, if this occurs at the end of the great tribulation which is immediately climaxed and succeeded by the second coming of Christ, the more normal presumption would be that the supper would take place on earth in connection with the second coming to the earth itself.”3

Revelation does seem to jumble its facts together. If Newell is right, the chronological order is followed when we read of the coming of the Lord with his saints after the marriage supper takes place. It is possible that this event would be the last part, the best part of the Rapture, the period of seven years when the church is in heaven with Christ. That is my inclination, at any rate. It seems to me as if heaven itself will want to observe this marriage, but it could take place in either place.

Chafer, too, suggests that it is in heaven, “Two truths are to be recognized in this passage beyond the central fact that there will be a marriage in heaven: first, this marriage precedes the glorious return of Christ, as that is described later in verses 11-16; and, second the Bride will have made herself ready.”4 Wherever it takes place, it is a foregone conclusion in the mind of God. Interestingly, the communion statement by our Lord may shed some light as to the when, “For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come” (Luke 22:18). From this statement, we can be certain only of one question, and that is, when does the kingdom come? Is it at the Rapture, which does not seem certain to me, or is it after the Second Coming, and thus the beginning of kingdom? It does seem likely to be the latter.

In reflecting on the five foolish virgins, I do wonder if that means there might be half of our professing Christians who are going to find themselves without the oil necessary to wait for their bridegroom. The oil, I take it, is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and perhaps the parable is warning the church most severely to be sure that you are indeed sealed in the oil of the Holy Spirit. I have for many years assumed that my generation would be the generation to see his coming, and I would see his coming, if it be that the Lord lets me live. This parable is warning most sternly for the Christian to be sure that he is prepared, that he has the earnest of God, even the very Spirit of God, by whom we are sealed unto the day of redemption. May it come soon, and find us all well prepared!

Sitting down to a marriage supper with the Lamb of God will be the highest event of all time. In a sense, God was preparing for this supper before creation started, and all that he has done since, has been with this design in mind. He will clothe his church in white robes, signifying the righteousness that we have received from God, and from the head of the table to its foot, there will span more than fifty generations of Christians, all of who will find themselves more closely related than words can possibly say. It is the largest feast ever conceived, and both the groom and his bride, will be on the stage, with all of the heavenly host watching and rejoicing at the union which has finally found its fulfillment. The sheer joy in the life of one saint during this festival is utterly inconceivable, but multiplying the millions of saints who will be sharing the same joy with each other, and perfectly, in ways we do not understand, through the Spirit, both sending and receiving our joy to our Groom, the Lord and Savior, must be the absolute expression of the divine. I have no doubt but that all of history will look back to this time, even as every generation of his faithful ones have longed for, and looked forward to this great event. History will meet prophecy, and will become one on that glorious day!

1. Walvoord, John (1989-03-01). The Revelation of Jesus Christ (p. 271). Moody Publishers - A. Kindle Edition
2. Walvoord, John (1989-03-01). The Revelation of Jesus Christ (p. 270). Moody Publishers - A. Kindle Edition.
3. Walvoord, John (1989-03-01). The Revelation of Jesus Christ (p. 270). Moody Publishers - A. Kindle Edition.
4. Chafer, L. (1948). Systematic theology. (Vol. 4, p. 377). Grand Rapids: Kregel, Inc.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

What is the meaning of prophecy?

Before I really define prophecy, I need to talk about the office of prophet. Prophets are exemplified by Elijah, who sort of stands out as the chief of prophets. Elijah, the Bible tells us, instead of dying, was carried up to heaven in a whirlwind, and Elijah thus prefigures Christ who rose up to heaven, defying death. Before we see the Second Coming, we are to see someone acting like Elijah coming and preparing Israel for their coming Messiah. A prophet’s job, even in the Old Testament, was mostly forthtelling rather than foretelling. The prophet is best thought of as representing God to the people; the priest representing the people to God.

The last Old Testament prophet was John the Baptist, who appeared in like manner to Elijah, and had Israel not rejected Christ, could have been thought of as Elijah. Forthtelling, while the main job of the prophet, was not the only job. Foretelling was an important part of the job also. There are systems of Bible interpretation which routinely ignore prophecy, which is estimated to be a least 20% of the Bible, and they do so at their own peril. Dozens of prophecies were fulfilled in the first coming of Christ, and one of the most important pieces of prophecy is Psalm 22, which is the most quoted Psalm of the New Testament.

There is a division in the church about the office of the prophet—some feel it ended with the Apostolic Age, and while that may be true, there can be little doubt that the Holy Spirit still foretells through Christians. Some distinguish this gift of prophecy by calling it a New Testament prophet rather than the type of Old Testament prophet. In any case, such a prophet today would still mostly be forthtelling rather than foretelling. In other words, the prophet today, if the office does exist, would mostly be using the Bible to point people to God.

“Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.” So says Jesus in the Gospel of John, but what does it mean? It means at least this, the aim of prophecy is to ever make the person of Christ more plain to men. Much prophecy has already been fulfilled and Evidence that Demands a Verdict is perhaps the great text showing many of the fulfillments in Christ’s first coming. A study of fulfilled prophecy should lead a person to high confidence in every word of future prophecy coming true.

“In him was light and the light was the life of men.” The Bible speaks of darkness, of men loving darkness, because their deeds are evil. “God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.” We walk in darkness now, though we see the Light, and are drawn toward it. I often wonder about that coming Light, Light that might be so bright that it would eclipse the noon-day sun. Prophecy speaks of a coming time, when we shall know even as we also are known—perhaps a time when by the Light of the Lord we will see each other, and him, as we have never seen before. Wait a minute, you might protest! I am not ready for such a Light, you say. I have much that I would hide, you say. And part of me would agree with you. But is that not the point of his coming—that Light should shine in our souls for the rest of eternity? Prophecy unfulfilled should sharpen our looking for the promise of his coming. Jesus asks the question, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth? The implied answer seems to be no, but we are told to watch, that we should be found ready, as the bride of Christ who still has oil for their lamps.

I rather think that coming into the presence of the Lord will be the most soul-wrenching experience we ever have. It might be so painful that we fear we are even going to die, but on the other side, with the darkness forever gone, we will walk in the Light, as he himself is in the Light. Prophecy tells us that he will take us, pouring his nature into us, and remake us to be in his image. And again, I am back at the point contemplating my estate. Or in plain English, God wrought more at the cross than in all of creation, and in giving himself to us, redeemed that pearl of great price, giving absolutely everything he had to redeem us.

And if that does not wake you up, you probably are not thinking it through. My God has changed me from sinner to saint, and if I understand that aright, it means that I had no estate to start with, dead in my trespasses and sins, and I now am put in the place to inherit everything that God would give to his own Son. At what cost? The Son himself gave his own life for me, giving up his eternity of sharing with the Father, nailing to the cross my transgressions, leaving them forever to be judged, that I might be awesomely and totally free. To those who criticize him for not doing enough to save the world, there is nothing, nothing more that he could do than he did.

What does he expect of us? That we should be overwhelmed by his grace, and seek to surrender ourselves to his Spirit living in us, that we might taste of that high and mighty estate even while we are yet in the flesh. Prophecy? It tells us of a coming time when the child shall play next to the adder and not suffer harm. It tells us of a time when men’s lifespan will be lengthened like it was in the beginning. It tells us that we will embark on the greatest adventure of our lives, when for all eternity, we will be next to our Lord.

Those who might reflect on the above paragraph should also reflect now upon the low estate of our fellow man. How can we work and play with those who do not know him, day unto day, and year unto year? How can we live with families who know not their estate, whether it is our spouse or our children? If we truly begin to appreciate what God has wrought in us, then we ought to realize daily that those who know not Christ are already as dead as dead can get. First, we ought to be praying for their souls, and that with manifold tears, as we realize their utter lostness.

In reading about Keith Green in No Compromise, I saw time after time a man who barely knew his God, and certainly did not understand good doctrine, but this he understood: his friends and his family were perishing, and Keith would go to them with tears flooding his cheeks, and tell them of their deep need to know God’s grace. More often than not, his love broke through their hard hearts. Keith did know his God, and understood his grace. Is it not time for you to fall to your knees and weep over those whom you love, and yet realize their lostness? Perhaps God will answer your prayers, and reach toward those who are so lost.

Prophecy? It always points toward our Lord. But it also points to what he has done for us, and that should keep us very busy praying for our lost world, that God might yet use us to save some.

What is the mystery age?

The mystery age is the time of the church, not seen by the prophets of the Old Testament. The age lies precisely in the middle of Isaiah 61:2, ” To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn.” The first part of this passage is quoted by the Lord in Luke 4:18, and 19, but the Lord stops quoting the verse precisely in the middle of verse two, saving “the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all that mourn,” signifying that these words were not what the first coming was all about. Chafer says this, “As before stated, the present dispensation, which has extended already nearly two thousand years and which lies between the two advents of Christ, was never anticipated in any Old Testament prophecy.”1

What exactly was the mystery? The Jewish people did not foresee that God was going to extend his offer of grace to all of mankind. Rather they expected that God was going to come to earth and set up a kingdom. The kingdom was talked about lots in the Old Testament, and the references to God’s extending his grace to Gentiles was not considered. So, the Jewish people were not prepared for a Messiah that would offer himself to all. Rather, they were looking for a coming King, who would protect them from the rest of the world. They were correct in looking for their King, as is evidenced in many prophetical verses, but they were wrong about the time, not seeing this mystery age, which now has extended to over 2,000 years.

Interestingly, when Jesus first came, he did present himself as a king. Israel was to reject him, and even began to plot against him. Part of this reason was indeed that they were so immersed in scripture that they knew facts about their coming King. For instance, the scripture says that out of Egypt I have called my son. The Jews looking at Jesus, allegedly from Nazareth, did not see that verse being fulfilled. Further, they deepened their mistake when they knew that out of Bethlehem would come their King, but the Jews assumed that Jesus was from Nazareth. Instead of looking at Jesus for who he was, they dispensed with him on the basis of his credentials, which they did not even know. The messages of Jesus ought to have been sufficient to them to generate repentance and acceptance of their King, but their hearts were hardened, in part because of their assumptions above.

Says Chafer, “The first twelve chapters of the Gospel by Matthew present Christ as Israel’s Messiah and record the first indication of His rejection by that nation. Following these indications of His rejection, He as recorded in chapter 13, announces by seven parables the features of the new age and indicates its character at its beginning, during its course, and in its end.”2 Our understanding of this mystery age, then, is based on the parables presented in Matthew 13.
So what are the parables of Matthew 13 that teach of this mystery kingdom? First, we have the parable of the sower. The seed stands for the gospel, and is received by some, but birds get some seed before it sprouts, rocky soil makes some to wither away in the sun, and other seed springs up in thorny ground and is choked. Still other seed springs up, grows and replicates itself manifold times. This parable is a story of the variety of ways the gospel is received in this mystery age.

Second, Christ tells us the parable of the weeds. This parable is where the crop is found to be with both productive crop, wheat, and weeds, or tares. Christ teaches us that the church will be not at all pure in its earthly form, will contain many tares, or non-believers, and that God will separate the two at the harvest, or the judgment. Here we learn that the church will have apostates within, and that if the church removes them, they will inevitably destroy the crop as well. I do appreciate that this is a picture of the crowds of people whose faith was destroyed in the Reformation, the classic instance of where the Church tried to cleanse herself from the tares. I am not sure we have ever gotten over our divisions, though the greater evangelists have sought to bring Christians back together, and inasmuch as they succeed, unity is attained and some revival among the general population takes place.

The next two parables have to do with things found. The first parable is about the man finding the hidden treasure in the field. McGee says, “The “treasure” is Israel. The “field” is the world. The “man” is the Son of man who gave Himself to redeem the nation Israel.”3 I wonder if that is not referring to the end of this mystery age, when Israel will again be found by the Son of man. Israel has been lost now for about two thousand years, but one day soon the Son of man will yet again find her, the hidden treasure. The next parable is about the merchant who found a pearl of great price, and sold everything he had to buy that pearl. Here we have the picture of the merchant, again the Son of man, finding the church, and giving everything he had to redeem the pearl of great price. In our mystery age, this is a succinct plot summation of what Christ is doing—redeeming his pearl of great price.

I am so excited to live at what the church feels is the last days. The mystery age will soon be concluding. The merchant will return and redeem his pearl, the man will return and find his people Israel once more, and Christ will be all that Israel expected him to be at his first coming. We will see the Kingdom Age come to pass, and all, from the least to the greatest, shall know of the Messiah. What a wonder that will be!

“And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). God is sovereign, and the plans and deceits of all the wicked, will, in that day come to naught. Notice that Jerusalem is to be downtrodden until the times of the Gentiles are up. In that day, the literal interpretation of Psalm 2 will take place, as the Lord himself shall laugh at the kings and rulers who plot against him.

1. Chafer, L. (1948). Systematic theology. (Vol. 3, p. 385). Grand Rapids: Kregel, Inc.
2. Chafer, L. (1948). Systematic theology. (Vol. 3, p. 386). Grand Rapids: Kregel, Inc.
3. McGee, J. Vernon (1984-01-06). Thru the Bible Commentary, Volumes 1-5: Genesis through Revelation (Kindle Locations 89971-89972). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Is there a reason for everything, as some people say?

Sometimes I think there are errors on both sides of this question. I know people who insist that God is somehow behind everything that happens. I know others who insist that God allows people to do evil, but places limits on them. A famous church leader, not too long ago, proclaimed God’s sovereignty in the terrorist attack on 9/11. Another leader proclaimed the climbing accident of his son to be part of God’s will, and actually makes the statement from pulpits, “God killed my son.” I would like to say that I am going to clear up the answer to this question, but I cannot, as the picture of God’s will and man’s evil, let alone the evil of the world, are very difficult to merge in a sensible fashion.

The difficulty in explaining any answer to this question is, I think, found much in our lack of knowledge of exactly why things are happening. I think of Job, where twice when visited by Satan, God brings up the subject of Job, yet later God declares that Satan has incited him against Job. I believe both scriptures, but I have a lack of knowledge to be able to explain how they do work together. Job, meanwhile, is given no certain answer, only that he is to let God be God, and not to question why.

That there is a reason for everything might appear to be a good doctrine to believe, and there is some basis for it to be believed. But I am always reminded of Voltaire’s Candide, where the hero believes that he is in the “best of all possible worlds”, no matter what might happen to him. He goes from one disaster to another, and finds no evidence to support the position that he is in the best of all possible worlds.

The problem may lie in the fact that Satan is somehow still allowed access to God, though he has been found in sin, and God has long proclaimed his demise. We do not know why or how the structure of heaven works, and it grates against my very fiber to think of Job being in his predicament because of a power structure he knew little about. Apparently, God is showing his perfect justice to a heavenly host, and, at least in the short run, that did not work out very well for Job. And that leads to another problem, the short run. If the Bible is to be believed, and I do, those afflictions that we all seem to suffer, including death, are but for a moment, and God says that he intends to place us in a better place where all our tears will be wiped away. We here on earth see nothing but the short run, so how can we even begin to figure it out? We are left in the plight of Job, with little understanding of how terrible things happen. But we should be more confident than Job that things will work out for the best in the end.

I have always been mystified by this evil, and while I do not attempt to explain it, I have long noticed the truth of God’s promise that all things work together for good in the believer’s life (Romans 8:28). I have long noted evil situations that have brought unseen harmony and goodness to the believer’s life—a definite fulfillment of this promise. So personally, while I would not be so reckless as to charge God as behind everything that happens, that in no way gets me out of the dilemma, for is not a sovereign God always sovereign, even when he is not directly in the evil?

So even when I do not think God is in a particularly evil act, of which there are many, some even happening as you read this, God is still sovereign overall. One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 2, where the rulers of the earth, kings, plot directly against God, but the Psalm says that God laughs at their plans, for they amount to nothing. There is no question that God is sovereign over all, and in that sense takes direct responsibility for the state of the world. But, the question is, does it mean that God is in everything, as some insist, that every molecule, every atom, can only move with his permissive decree? Scholars who believe this way will point out, that if there were the smallest atom allowed to stray, that the certainty of what God promises could not be. Therefore, they argue, nothing is apart from the providence of God.

I do not think they have the whole of the argument, but their presentation of their case is powerful. Let me suggest an alternative argument, Biblical I think, that would in no case stray from what we have been told. I must go back to Job, where if we read that the two times that Satan was allowed to bring much suffering to Job, in each case, God put boundaries, very clear and final, that Satan was not allowed to cross. I think we can agree that both times Satan was allowed to bring much evil, but there was a boundary, a hedge, which Satan was not permitted to pass. What if God, in creating this world, set hedges and boundaries in which men or principalities are not allowed to pass?

Those boundaries, or hedges, would allow much evil in the world, as both men and Satan might want to bring. But in no case would God ever not be sovereign. One of the obvious hedges that God has placed is time. He has declared the end from the beginning, and at some point, probably not too distant in the future, and at some point he intends, as it were, to blow the whistle, and get everyone out of the pool. The advantage of this viewpoint is first of all, it seems to be backed up in places in scripture. For instance, in Revelation, he has already pronounced judgment against the evil and wickedness in the world. That, it would seem to me, is yet another hedge.

We also have miracles, or acts of God that seem to interrupt the banal evil that otherwise might take place. So it would seem that God, even in letting the boundaries of the world stay in place, will sovereignly choose to interrupt some of that evil with his acts of grace. Why does God intercede for one, yet not for another? I cannot even begin to guess, but we do know and recognize that he does interrupt the world’s rules and boundaries occasionally.

Under my argument, there would be no need for the minister to declare God killed his son. The most he would be able to charge God with (as if any of us could ever charge God) is that God did not decree to intercede with a miracle to save the minister’s son. Under his permissive will, if I may coin the old phrase, the boy was allowed to fall to his death. In this way, divine determinism for every event can be denied, and allowing God to remain fully just. The world is fraught with evil, and I can conceive of no other rational explanation.

Of course, we are still left with a problem. God freely created a world in which angels and men were allowed to turn to evil. I would say in response to that, that God has allowed much mercy and time to Satan to turn from his wickedness, even though it is a foregone conclusion in the mind of God (and to us through the scriptures) that he will end in rebellion. As for the evil created in men, is that not what the cross is all about? That God himself should come on the cross, and offer freely to all evil men a way out from that evil. That is my conviction, at any rate. There is no part of God that ever compromises his sovereignty, and yet men and angels are fully responsible for their own evil deeds. So, to answer the question in everyday terms, there is not a reason for everything, but I do expect a harmony from God that will become evident behind everything that happens in our world, both good and evil.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

What does it mean to be thankful in all circumstances?

What does it mean to be thankful in all circumstances?
What do you do when life gets really hard?

Broken life stories can really get to me. Sometimes I am guilty of avoiding movies because someone I know convinced me that it is a real tear-jerker. I do not especially enjoy mourning or being saddened by reading of someone else’s plight. On the other hand, I do enjoy reading about God intervening and strengthening the lives of sometimes needy or desperate Christians. All of that is to say that I have read No Compromise, by Melody Green, and have laughed and cried my way through the all-too short life of her husband. Which, I suppose has led me to attempt these two questions, which do seem to me to be related.

Before I start, I probably should admit that I am a total coward when it comes to pain, and the little pain that I have experienced in life has only dedicated me to being zealous in avoiding any more of it. I think I am like most of my countrymen in that respect, but I do want you to know that I have almost nothing in my life that would qualify me to speak on life-altering or life-threatening pain.

But that is not to say that God has not been teaching me—perhaps through what I would term “less-awful” rudiments. I have experienced the total paralysis of my right side, with my speech being impeded, and that did amount to a life-threatening experience. It was one or two years before I became a Christian, and though I quickly recovered from the paralysis, it certainly did deepen my appreciation of life. After the experience, which but lasted a few months, I found myself both laughing and crying lots more, and life took on a much more precious look than it did when I was snugly in the cradle of adolescent immortality.

I also think my Bible training in college to be somewhat more challenging than most of my peers. God kept me on a short leash, training me to accept his provision often in the most dire of circumstances. Often we would sit down at the dinner table, give thanks, and not know where our next meal was coming from. It was a great time, one of my best life experiences, though I did not know it at the time, and I would not trade it for anything. I did learn to give thanks in difficult circumstances!

So you can see that this piece is not written by a professional sufferer, and I am not at all in the same league as Joni Eareckson Tada, or of Melody Green, for that matter. But I do declare to be on the same team, and there is quite a lot from the Bible that I would like to share, not about suffering or pain, but rather about being thankful, even when circumstances do not seem to warrant thankfulness.

Why does God give us the admonishment to be thankful in everything? Let me share something that occurred to me as I was reading No Compromise. To put it quite simply, I miss Keith Green! I am one of those (I suspect there are many) who knows precisely where I was when I heard that his plane had gone down. I see what most of us see—and if we are wise enough to avoid asking why, still we find ourselves wondering at all of it.

Why in the world should we be thankful for losing one of the churches most talented musicians? In the middle of tragedy, there is one gem promised to all Christians, that if we believe it, will keep us on the thankful path, and I think that one gem is what we must focus on to the exclusion of all else. Simply put, there is more to the Christian than meets the eye. We have the Christ who has promised us that even death will not separate us from his love.

We cannot answer such a question as why Keith, and not me? If you live long enough, and the Lord tarries, you too will take a turn at death. We simply do not know enough to know the why—and speculation as to why does not do us any more good than it did Job. We do not know why. But we do know that we see the painful side from down here. I rather suspect Keith is having the best time of his life now, and maybe finding a venue of singing to his Lord. We look to that side only by faith, and not by sight.

What we see here is therefore the most painful and awful sight we will ever see. The world is full of sin and death, but we are going to a better place that has been prepared for us. What we see as loss and hurt is turned to life and hope, in that day when we shall know even as we are known. What a reunion it will be! At 61, I can tell you of the agony of losing many Christian friends along the path of life. When life gets hard, I think, we need to place our faith in the one who gave himself for us.

Are we not to sorrow? Paul indeed tells us to sorrow, but not as those who have no hope. I look forward to that better place that Christ has prepared for me, and I shouldn’t be surprised to find out that many of us will be going together to hear the latest Keith Green concert.

What is it that Dickens says about faith? Let me see if I can recall it. “Tis a far far better thing I do than I have ever done before and I go to a far far better place than I have ever gone to before.” Faith is our only defense in the face of circumstances, but since it is the Lord who gives us that faith, I judge that it is sufficient. Keith and Melody started a ministry, still going on, called appropriately The Last Days. By faith, we can look ahead and see every one of the promises of God coming true. What was that line Keith sang in Trials Turned to Gold?

Oh Lord, forgive the times
I tried to read Your mind
'Cause You said if I'd be still
Then I would hear Your voice

Instead of trying to explain a rational reason why someone dies, or is hurt, would we not be better off being still before our God, giving him thanks for even the things we cannot understand? Our faith can make us stand tall, even in the worst circumstances, and even when everything goes wrong. Persevere! Look forward to the fulfillment of every one of his promises. In these last days, are we not closer than ever before to the coming of our Lord? In those days, our tears will be wiped away, and we will remember them no more.