P1010082

In this post, we will continue our look at Jesus’ letter to the church at Philadelphia. I have found this letter interesting and very deep.

I shouldn’t be surprised, should I? Oh Lord, that we may slow down and study Your Word. My goodness, how I fail to pay attention!

Jesus told the believers at Philadelphia, “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Revelation 3:8b). What kind of power was Jesus referring to? Spiritual power? Influence in the city? I am going to take the position that Jesus meant earthly power and influence, because these Philadelphians did possess spiritual power, as the last half of the sentence indicates: “…and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Let’s think about this for a moment. It’s one thing not to deny the name of Jesus when you possess earthly power but quite another when you don’t. Let’s look at a man who is currently running for the office of president in the United States. This is not a political statement, nor is it an ad hominem attack. I’m just using this person as an example of earthly power. This man is a billionaire. He doesn’t much care what people think about what he says. What can they do to him? Fire him? Criticize him? He won’t lose his job. And even if people stop doing business with him, he can retire and live on his great wealth. In contrast, however, one who has little earthly power may find that he may be tempted to compromise in order to avoid offending or angering people and thus perhaps lose his friends, family, and job—without a billion dollars to fall back on. The Christians at Philadelphia apparently were not intimated by such earthly powerlessness but were strong indeed. They were willing to pay the price; thus, they won Jesus’ approbation.

Because the Philadelphians had not denied Jesus’ name, He told then that He would make those of the synagogue of Satan—the Judaizers—come and bow before their feet (Revelation 3:9). We are not told when this was to happen. Did it occur in the life of the church at that time? Or was Jesus announcing that would occur when all are brought to be judged on that Day? We are not told. However, those of the synagogue of Satan also will also “learn that I have loved you” (verse 9). The Judaizers were convinced that those who were truly godly would follow religious law and thus earn the favor and love of God. Perhaps they told the Philadelphian believers that the reason they had “little power” was because the Lord was angry with them or had abandoned them for their “disobedience” or “lack of spirituality.”

Jesus then wrote, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10). Again, a puzzling statement. What hour of trial is this? How would Jesus keep them from that trying time? We are not told. However, it is significant for us that Jesus promised this because they had kept His word about patient endurance. I assume that He is referring back to the Philadelphian believers not denying His name in spite of their diminished status. What can we learn here? To Jesus, not denying His name and enduring is hugely significant.

Next, Jesus told them, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (Revelation 3:11). This verse stunned me. And I’m not happy to tell you that it had never stunned me before. What is stunning? That someone may seize a Christian’s crown.

Concerning crowns that will be given to Christians, the crown of life is mentioned three times in the New Testament. A crown of glory is present once, and a crown of righteousness once. All of these crowns must be attributed to the salvific work of Jesus. Only He has glory. Only He has life. Only He is righteous. Therefore, I am sure that all Christians will cast their crowns at Jesus’ feet one day.

How can a Christian’s crown be seized from them? Great question. What did the Philadelphian believers possess? We can assume they had the knowledge of salvation, but that knowledge was all tied into the endurance they displayed when they wouldn’t deny Jesus’ name and give in to death-dealing legalism when they were religiously, culturally, and hierarchically disempowered. We may be Christians, but it is possible for our crown may be seized if we don’t “hold fast” to what we have. What kind of crown may we lose? We are not told, but all of them are given by Jesus. It is an interesting thought that we could lose it.

Christians, find you strength in God, not in money, culture, church, or pastor. Do not compromise when you are threatened. Do not deny His name. Do not lose your crown.

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

P1010082

In this post about Jesus’ seven letters in the Book of Revelation, we will look at what He wrote to the Philadelphian church. This fellowship of believers is the church that many Christians think they are or would surely like to be. We believe this for two reasons. First, Jesus has no harsh words for these saints. Christians tend to ignore negative truths in Scripture and suppose they are addressed to others. The other reason is that Jesus told the Philadelphians, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10).1 Many Christians believe that the Philadelphian church is the believing Church of the Last Days and have confidence it will be caught up with the Lord in the air and escape the hour of trial, the Great Tribulation.

This post will not deal with the eschatological doctrine of what is popularly called the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Regardless of one’s position on this topic, I do not think it is wise to ignore troubling biblical passages in these last days. After all, the New Testament writers thought the Lord would come in their lifetimes, and they were disturbed about many things that were to come upon the Church. Indeed, Jesus Himself was concerned about His people at the end of the age. After He foretold the destruction of the temple, His disciples came to Him asking, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Matthew 24:3). The first thing Jesus said in response to this question was, “See that no one leads you astray” (Matthew 24:4b). His first concern was not earthquakes, catastrophes, or wars; it was that believers would not be deceived and led astray.

And the following warning should extinguish any Pollyannaish ideas about the condition of the Church at the time of His coming: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8b).

We should heed this wise counsel from Paul: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Therefore, let’s not ignore the negative things the Bible says, thinking they must refer to someone else. We should allow the Word of God look us directly in the face.

Now, let’s return to Jesus’ letter to the Philadelphians.

The positive things Jesus said to the Christians in that city are wonderful, but the meaning is unclear. He told them:

“Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut” (Revelation 3:8a). What kind of door is that? We can only speculate. However, such is often the way with our great God. He often announces or performs things about which we have little understanding. This passage John wrote about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem may help explain our puzzlement: “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16). His truth is unfolded to us over time.

A few times in my life, the Lord has spoken to me in ways that were unclear. Please allow me to state strongly that we must be careful about experiences. They must line up with Scripture. However, it is obvious in Scripture that the Lord speaks to His people. In my walk with Jesus, this is not a regular occurrence. In fact, it is more the exception than the rule. Here is what happened. In 2008, I was downstairs in our granny flat, watching the election returns. The networks were announcing that Barack Obama was the predicted winner of the presidential election. I have voted in several elections. I have never heard the Lord say anything about any of them; in fact, He has not said anything to me about politics whatsoever. However, as I watched, a word from the Lord was spiritually impressed upon me—just one word: Bad. Looking back, one could say that the Lord told me that because of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s foreign policy, or any number of things one might disagree with. However, I am certain that the Lord God of the universe cares very little about health insurance and many political issues in the United States. So, what did the Lord mean? Why did He say that? I confess to you that I do not know for certain. It may have to do with his relationship with Israel. What should I do about my uncertainty? I am asking.

Jesus told the church at Philadelphia that He had opened a door that no one could shut. Whatever that door was, the Christians in that city would be able, without question and with God-glorifying certainty, to walk through it—and did. I do not yet fully know why the election of Barack Obama was bad according to God’s great wisdom. However, it is bad and will somehow revealed to be bad, eternally. Jesus doesn’t speak just to hear Himself talk.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

P1010082

The reason for this post—and all the posts on this site, I hope—is to challenge Christians to give their lives fully to the loving Lord God of the universe; to be willing to give up their own lives for the One who sacrificed His, our Savior, Jesus. With that in mind, we have been looking at the letters that Jesus wrote to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. In this post, we will be looking at Jesus’ letter to the Christians at Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6.

At Sardis, Jesus said that the church had a reputation of being alive, but somehow they were actually dead. Like the churches at Ephesus and Thyatira, they were working: Jesus said, “I know your works.” However, their “works were not complete.” So, He commanded them to wake up. But He is not specific in His warning to them. What were they not doing?

How does a church have a reputation of being alive? Great question. Perhaps asking another question will help us. Is there a church in your town that you would consider alive? If so, why does it have that reputation?

It seems like the only way a person would think a church was alive would be through what they are doing. Clearly, these actions would be positive and seemingly life giving. Lots of activity. Lots of good-sounding spiritual talk. However, how would one know if that church was truly alive or not? The only evidence for such life is external. Unless a person had some inside knowledge about the lives of individual members, he just wouldn’t know.

But Jesus would. So, it is necessary for a Christian to listen to Jesus’ warnings and take his spiritual pulse to discover if he is just doing “Christian works” or if he is alive in Him.

There is a difference.

I am currently reading a book about the survivors of a suicidal cult, the Peoples Temple. Back in the 1970’s, over 900 of them killed themselves in Guyana by drinking cyanide-infused Kool-Aid. Some of them were injected with cyanide, including children. Before that horrendous event, they shot and killed a Congressman from California, who came to check them out. Before the group moved to South America, every weekend people would get on buses and travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco to attend the meetings. What they were doing was that compelling. I was amazed to discover that Jim Jones, who by his own admission did not believe in the Bible or in God, was performing miracles. People were healed through his “ministry.” However, his “church” was not a church at all—it was a political and social movement. It sounded good. Jones was always “preaching” about the downtrodden and the oppressed in the United States. People loved him for standing with poor blacks and Hispanics. The Peoples Temple stood against drugs and punished people who used—they beat them with a hose—but a subculture of drug use existed in that community. Jim Jones himself took illegal drugs. They stood against adultery and punished those who committed it, but Jim Jones himself was a blatant adulterer.

Admittedly, this is an extreme example of what might be defined as a “church”—but that’s what it was considered to be at the time. The point I’m trying to make is that this “church” was overflowing with good words and good works. In addition, Jim Jones was an attractive person, who drew people to himself via his beliefs, speaking ability, and “charisma.” In no way am I saying that churches in the United States bear any resemblance to the People’s Temple, but I regret to tell you that very many large churches in the United States are led by men who have strong personalities, and the reason people attend their churches is primarily the strength of those personalities. In addition, these churches are involved in good works, particularly helping the poor.

Attractive leaders. Good words. Good works.

However, do any of these attributes indicate that the people in such churches are alive? Is it possible to be in a church that looks like it’s alive with good words and works but is really dead or asleep? Apparently so. The church at Sardis was. They had a reputation for being alive.

Jesus does not deal in detail with what the Christians there were doing or not doing. He simply tells them to wake up and to strengthen what remains. He tells them to remember what they have received and heard, keep it, and repent. He then warns them that if they do not repent He will come like a thief and “come against” them.

I’m not sure what that means, but no Christian should desire the opposition of the Lord God Almighty.

Then Jesus gives us more information about the problem in Sardis. The people who were pleasing to Him had not soiled their garments.

How had the Sardinians soiled their garments?

This is an interesting question. It goes beyond committing sin, but it is about sinfulness. It goes beyond understanding that our righteousness is only in Christ, but it is about understanding the true nature of righteousness. Please allow me to explain.

It is a very simple step to move from finding one’s righteousness in Jesus alone—to being someone who is right in God’s sight—to doing things to maintain that position based upon one’s works. The true, righteous position is only maintained by faith and actively confessing to the Father that your own righteousness is—well, non-existent. When we become knowledgeable about Christianity, it doesn’t take long to figure out what is required in our churches—a few months. It doesn’t take long to “get on the bandwagon.” We’re active. We know the right words, the right attitudes, the right beliefs. We’re in. We’re good. We’re active. We’re serving. We’re “changing the world.” We’re helping the poor. However, if we’re not careful, we’re so right, so good, and so active that we leave the author of our righteousness and thus the basis for our relationship with God. Therefore, our garments become soiled. Our righteousness is not in Jesus alone. The most telling condemnation of this condition is in Matthew 7:21–23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”1

What should we do in response to Jesus’ rebuke to the church at Sardis? They had good works and good talk, but they were dead, asleep. The answer is to ask the Lord to search your heart. Ask Him if you’re asleep, even though you’re certain you are awake. Ask Him if you need to repent. Stay active in faith, not simply in works. Make certain that you know Him, not just the right things to do, and the right way to talk. If you don’t, Jesus says He will come against you.

And, just so you know, I’m pausing here and praying these things right now.

1The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

P1010082

In this short series, we are taking a brief look at Jesus’ letters to the churches in the Book of Revelation. The letter we’ll be looking at today is to the church in Thyatira. One issue Jesus addresses in this letter seems easily solved and another is not.

At the beginning of His letter, Jesus begins by praising the Christians in that city. They have:

Love

Faith

Service

Patient endurance

Good works

Like the churches at Ephesus and Pergamum, this sounds like a great church. As Christians, we know and teach that the “greatest of these is love,” and that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” This is good stuff. The Thyatirans love and serve God and others, remain faithful, and patiently endure. Why aren’t these enough?

That’s a good question, and one that needs to be asked.

Jesus told the believers at Thyatira why what they were doing wasn’t enough. They were “tolerating” a woman named Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess, who taught and seduced His servants to practice immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols.

Now, I have little to offer about eating food sacrificed to idols. In the Western culture in which I live, I don’t know and have never known of any Christians who do this. I don’t even know of any pagans who do this. There may be some somewhere, but I have no knowledge of this practice. So, I don’t feel qualified to address this issue. All I can offer is that Paul addressed it in his first letter to the Corinthians, and the outcome of his teaching was that a brother might stumble if he saw a Christian eating food sacrificed to idols. Therefore, he warned the believers there to avoid this practice.

However, Christians today do have knowledge about teaching and seducing servants to commit sexual immorality in the Church.

Ten or fifteen years ago, I don’t think I wouldn’t have been able to think of any examples of the teaching of sexual immorality in the Church, but all that has changed—and it has changed quickly.

Liberal churches began ordaining homosexual priests a few years ago. Past all the smoky talk about “love”—notice that the Thyatiran church was loving—it is clear beyond doubt what God’s teaching about this immoral behavior is, as well as many other immoral acts. The Bible clearly teaches that all acts of immorality, which it lists by using words such as adultery, incest, polygamy, fornication, impurity, and sensuality, are sins. However, it also makes very clear that non-sexual sins are not to be tolerated, as well: murder, theft, dishonesty, greed, blasphemy, and covetousness, to name a few. All Christians are to turn away from such sins and never participate in them. Homosexuality is simply another sin in a list of many others. Because of the attention this sin has gotten lately, it has loomed large in our minds. Regardless of the sin or the attention given to it, however, all sins can be washed away by the blood of Jesus. Nevertheless, if we do not admit we are sinning, no matter what the sin is, there can be no forgiveness.

Jesus sent a distressing message to those in the church at Thyatira who tolerated sexual immorality. Unless they repented, He would:

Throw the woman Jezebel who taught such things onto a sickbed.

Throw those with her into great tribulation.

Strike the children of Jezebel dead.

Jesus then tells the Christians why He will do this: “And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve” (Revelation 2:23).1

It looks like Jesus is not complacent about sexual immorality and will not relent in His duty as Judge in the Church. This is, after all, where judgment begins.

However, there is some good news in this letter, but it is only for those who “do not hold this teaching”—the teaching of Jezebel’s immorality.

He will not lay on these steadfast believers “any other burden.” But he admonishes them to “hold fast what you have” until He comes.

Jesus promises two things. Those who keep His words “until the end” will be given “authority over nations” and the “morning star.”

What is the morning star? He is: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16).

What does it mean that we will be given Jesus? I do not know specifically, except to proclaim that He is the most glorious, wonderful, loving, amazing Being imaginable—or unimaginable—in the universe.

What does it mean that those who keep His words until the end will be given authority over nations? Again, we do not know specifically. However, Jesus taught during His time on the earth that there would be some kind of inclusive rulership at work for those who adhered to His teaching about the heavenly kingdom. What is required of us to be involved in that rulership? I encourage you to do a study on the kingdom of heaven in Jesus’ teaching to discover the answers and let me know what you find.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

a11

In this week’s post, we will need to temporarily leave our current topic of Thoughts on the Last Days and return to the topic of ChristianSpeak: Puzzling Things That Christians Say, Pray, and Sing.

It just never seems to end.

Teaching abounds in the Western church about following the dream that God has for your life.

Here are a couple of quotes from the website of a well-known preacher:

“Whoever you are, wherever you are, God has a dream for your life.”

“God created you to impact your world. He sees the great potential He placed within you. Don’t be afraid to receive God’s dream for your life and to pursue that dream with determination, discipline, and integrity. God’s dream for your life will exceed anything you could imagine!”

So, a few questions.

Where in the Bible does it say that God has a dream for our lives?

Where are we taught that we shouldn’t be “afraid to receive God’s dream” for our lives? What does it even mean that I shouldn’t be afraid to receive God’s dream?

Where is the Bible does it say that I should pursue God’s dream with determination, discipline, and integrity?

And, finally, not a question, but a sarcastic comment. I am so happy that “He sees the great potential He placed” within me. Again, what does that even mean?

Where did all this dream talk come from?

I asked a Christian friend these questions when she promoted this dream teaching on a social media site.

She said, “Joseph followed his dream.”

Joseph did have a dream that his father and brothers would one day bow down to him, and it happened. That’s a great dream to follow, isn’t it?

However, how did Joseph “receive” or “follow” God’s dream for his life?

As it turns out, he didn’t “follow his dream” at all.

It just happened to him. Better said, God sovereignly brought that dream to pass, and Joseph had only a small part to play. Because the account about Joseph, his family, and Egypt are not about you or really even about Joseph, ultimately.

It’s about God and His glorious redemptive power and plan.

To start with, Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave to some Midianite traders. These men in turn sold him as a slave in Egypt. Joseph had nothing whatsoever to do with this. On the contrary, he was a victim of kidnapping and slavery.

When he was serving as a slave in Potiphar’s house (an officer of Pharaoh), he was accused of sexual assault and subsequently thrown into prison. Please note that even though he did the right thing and refused Potiphar’s wife’s advances, he was found guilty nevertheless. How is this following or receiving the dream God gave him?

But didn’t Joseph do a good job in prison? Yes, but read this: “But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21).1

And this: “The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed” (Genesis 39:23).

Yes, Joseph did a good job in prison. We can assume he was a responsible man and worked with integrity. However, it’s clear that the Lord gave him favor in the sight of the jail keeper and made him succeed. That’s what the Bible says. God was about His sovereign work.

Well, how about the interpretation of the dreams that vaulted Joseph to the heights of leadership in Egypt? Read Joseph’s own words: “Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer’” (Genesis 41:16).

God sovereignly accomplished everything that happened in the Genesis account of Joseph. Joseph had very little to do with the fulfillment of the dream the Lord gave him. The Lord gave the dream, and the Lord fulfilled the dream.

So, does the account of Joseph in Genesis indicate that “God has a dream for our lives,” or that we are to “receive God’s dream for our lives”?

No. The dreams Joseph had were to accomplish the saving of Israel (Here Joseph is a type of Christ) and bringing his family into Egypt, furthering a redemptive plan for God’s people about which Joseph had little or no knowledge.

The dream teaching abroad today leads us away from a life that focuses on humility and sacrificial living in, with, and for Jesus and brings the spotlight on you. I encourage you to reject such me-centered teaching. I encourage you to think through what men and women teach, as good as it may sound at first.

Be careful. The last days will be thickly populated by false teachers in the Church. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John all warned about false prophets and teachers. Judge all things. Yes, including what is written here.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

P1010083

The Book of Revelation is a gigantic mystery to me, at least in its details. Yes, I’m familiar with the popular church meme that we’ve read the last chapter and the Church wins in the end. However, there is some serious trouble for believers between chapter one and twenty-two, and we should take a careful look at it—especially if we want to be among those who count themselves victorious in the Day of the Lord. Therefore, we are going to look at the seven letters Jesus wrote to the churches. I don’t intend to dig deeply into these letters, but some of the things I read here disturb me—again, concerning the Church.

Let’s begin with Jesus’ first letter, which is to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7). This letter disturbs me greatly.

Here’s why.

Jesus first lists the things the Ephesians had done well:

They were working.

They had patiently endured.

They couldn’t bear with those who did evil.

They tested false apostles.

They hadn’t grown weary.

Sounds like a pretty good church to me. In fact, better than most that we may be aware of. At least the Christians at Ephesus were testing false apostles—people that Paul warned them about, by the way (Acts 20). I’m not sure most churches today even have the courage to challenge false apostles. We don’t want to be labeled as “divisive” and “haters.”

Nevertheless, in spite of these admirable traits, the believers at Ephesus had stopped loving Jesus, and, by extension, people.

Jesus’ warning to them is exceptional—and scary. If they didn’t repent, He would remove their lampstand. We have learned earlier—chapter 1, verse 20—that the lampstands were the churches.

So, the church at Ephesus would no longer be a church. That Jesus would actually do this should cause us to tremble. The church at Ephesus would go spiritually dark. I’m not sure I really understand what this even means, on a practical level. These people wouldn’t be considered Christians anymore?

The good news is that church history says that the Ephesian believers did repent and got back on track.

The Lord Jesus found no reason to chastise the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), so let’s move on to the church at Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-16). Jesus told these believers that they had held fast to His name, even in the days when His faithful witness, Antipas, had been martyred. They didn’t desert Jesus when their lives were on the line.

That’s a strong place to be as a church.

However, some in the church were holding to the teaching of Balaam and engaging in sexual immorality.

What did Balaam “teach”?

In Peter’s second letter, he wrote about false teachers who taught like Balaam: “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing…” (2 Peter 2:14–15)1

Balaam was a man who compromised obedience to God for the sake of money. You can read about his shameful disobedience in Numbers 22-24 and 31. It’s an interesting account. What’s interesting is that some of the things Balaam did seem quite right. What’s also interesting is that, somehow, he led Israel into sexual sin. I’m not sure I understand how compromising obedience for the sake of money is associated with sexual immorality, but Peter connects them. Perhaps it’s becoming worldly where everything is compromised. Perhaps it’s being compromised, not only by money, but by the culture. So, a question: Will the Church today compromise its stance on hetero and homosexual immorality in order to look inclusive to its culture? Will it compromise so it won’t be despised by the world? Will it compromise in order to maintain its tax exempt status so people will keep making tax-deductible donations?

I would maintain that certain segments of the Church have already done so.

The good news for the believers at Pergamum is that Jesus told them that He would come to them soon and war against “them” with the sword of His mouth. According to Revelation 19:15, this sword is a sword of judgment: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.” Jesus is making a separation here. Jesus will deal harshly with those who compromise. The others, and those who repent, will be rewarded.

How much stronger can Jesus say it? The lesson we learn from the letters to these two churches is be diligent to make the love for Jesus and others the most important aspect of your life in God. And do not compromise. You don’t want to be on the receiving side of the sharp blade of Jesus’ judgment. However, I know that even as I write this, some of us will. I don’t need to speak as a prophet. The Word of God has already spoken. Before Jesus returns, the rebellion, the falling away, the apostasia, must come first, as Paul told us.

For some of us—perhaps too many—there are unhappy days ahead.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

P1010083

I’ve thought in the last few years that the revealing of the man of lawlessness would bring anarchic chaos in the days before the Lord returns.

However, now I think that my understanding and focus of this difficult yet glorious time to come has been wrong.

Here’s why.

Concerning the day of the Lord, Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”

It seems clear that the man of lawlessness will be a man who rebels against the law of God—a man of sin, iniquity, and unrighteousness. Paul paired sin and lawlessness in Romans 6:19: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”

Now, it surely follows that anyone who makes it his or her goal to sin against God may very well have little regard for the laws of government and the norms society. However, I must face the fact that both kinds of lawlessness have been around for a very long time. We don’t need to dig very deeply into history to find the iniquity of Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and ruthless Roman emperors. And what shall we say of the history of the world in the 20th century? The murderous, infamous men of that era cannot be viewed as men of law, except laws of their own making. In fact, the governments and societies of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others were exceptionally fascistic. Therefore, it doesn’t follow that the reigns of men who defy God’s moral law bring anarchy.

So, I am thinking now that the nations in the days to come will not be characterized by unfettered anarchy but by unfettered sinfulness. This should not surprise us, since Jesus said, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37–38). This should not surprise us, since there is absolutely no way that the laws of men are adequate to restrain the sinfulness of mankind.

But, oh, they have tried—and will try, as well they should.

In the United States, they are trying now. The problem is that this country is a post-Christian nation and the definitions of sin are shifting.

It is striking to me that in 1920, the United States passed an amendment that outlawed the sale of alcoholic beverages. Can you imagine the spiritual state of the country at that time? Enough people had apparently been spiritually changed in the revivals of the 19th and 20th centuries that liquor was viewed as evil. However, Prohibition was a total failure. The courts and prisons were overwhelmed. Corruption among the police was endemic. People died of poisoning trying to brew their own liquor. The amendment was repealed thirteen years later, and people rejoiced in the streets.

So, sin won. It was just too strong for the American society to deal with.

Were the pious folks in the early 20th century wrong? Is there a problem with alcohol? Well, first let me ask you a question. If you were in the Senate or the House, and a bill came up that would you knew would save the lives of over 30 million people in eighty years, would you vote for it? According to a little research I did, since 1930 around 25 million people have died in the United States in alcohol-related car accidents. 25 million.

According to drugwarfacts.org, 80,000 people died in 2013 of alcohol-related causes and diseases. If that number were relatively constant for eighty years, that’s an additional 6,400,000 people. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes today.

What shall we conclude from this? Moral lawlessness is amazingly strong, even in what most consider a lawful nation. And that moral lawlessness is growing in the West. I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but I have little doubt that all nations have followed or will eventually follow the same course.

Without Jesus, sin will win. Every time. Every time, regardless of how many laws nations pass.

However, new kinds of moral laws are now being enforced. The lawful United States continues to become an increasingly morally lawless nation. To think of prosecuting those who sell or use death-dealing alcohol is ridiculous. To think of legally prosecuting people who don’t bake cakes for homosexual weddings is not.

Is the stage being set for a man of moral lawlessness? It seems inevitable, doesn’t it? I understand this is a pessimistic outlook. As we’ve seen, major revivals in the United States were unable to stem the tide of moral decline, as the failure of Prohibition in the early 20th century proved. In the same decade of the Jesus People revival in the 1970’s, abortion was made legal in the United States. Should we be surprised about the moral degradations to come? No. I have no clue what they will be, but they are coming.

However, the growth of early Church during the time of the depraved Roman government gives me hope to press on. People’s lives can and will be transformed by the power of the cross. Nevertheless, one day in the not-too-distant future, this world, this lovely world that God created, will be judged by the only just and moral power in the universe. And the only escape from that devastating Judgment will be for those who are dressed in the righteousness of God Himself, the blood-bought garments of Jesus Christ.

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2009-02-21_0936_2_ConstructionWoman

One of the most troubling passages for me concerning the last days is 2 Thessalonians 2:3: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction…” This word “rebellion” is the Greek word apostasia, and it has meanings of falling away, departure, and abandonment. Our English word “apostasy” comes from this word.

Is it true that before the Lord Jesus returns, the Church will fall away? Jesus said this: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:9–13).

This is a bit chilling, because Jesus tells us in these verses that Christians will be hated by all nations for the sake of His name. All nations would include…all nations. I have been wondering lately what believers in the West will do when they are perceived as the enemies of culture. What will become of all the methods of attraction that seeker sensitive churches have done to get people through their doors? That will be difficult when Christians are considered bigots and haters. The members of our cultures won’t care how contemporary our music, dramas, and videos are. We will be despised. Jesus made it clear again in John 15:18–19: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

So, that many will fall away is not surprising, is it? Who wants to be detested by his own culture? I don’t. I like making friends. And that we will betray one another shouldn’t be surprising, either. We all want to be accepted and desire to be friendly with acquaintances and shopkeepers. The heat will be on to avoid being perceived as a backward adherent to an ancient religion, one who refuses to accommodate to modern-day cultural norms, who, worst of all, don’t want people to love each other and find happiness.

False prophets will arise. I am not sure what that means. I suppose we could all compose our lists of false prophets today. Regardless, the wisest course is to heed Jesus’ warning with which He began this discourse: “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.”

We must not be led astray to follow someone claiming to be a Deliverer who is not Jesus. My opinion is that, because the times will be so difficult and hateful, believers will be tempted to go after someone who will offer them some kind of relief from the contention, the heat, the loathing. “I’m a spiritual person, but I’m not religious. Sure, I believe in Jesus, but He didn’t hate anybody.”

We must believe and trust the Lord Jesus through all that is to come. We must ask for help to persevere when we are reviled and abhorred. We will become pariahs and tempted to cower like dogs.

I do not look forward to this.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

2010-04-28_1023-58_SigmaCam4589

Last night, I had the opportunity—privilege, really—to teach at a small Bible study. The passage I dealt with was Matthew 18:1-4. In this passage, the disciples come to Jesus and ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus responds with two answers. One has to do with the disciples, and the other has to do with Himself. Without going into a lengthy study of these verses, please allow me to sum up the topic of this passage: The meaning of greatness in God’s kingdom. I encourage you to do a study of this portion and discover Jesus’ view on greatness in His kingdom.

So, last night, I attempted to explain the implications of Jesus’ teaching in these first verses of Matthew 18. I was flabbergasted with the response. It seemed like I was talking about one topic and everyone else was talking about another. It’s as if I was teaching on one planet and everyone else was teaching on another, with no discernable means of communication between the two parties. It was the most baffling teaching experience I’ve ever had. One person said the topic of this passage was about purity. One said it was about innocence. Another person said it was about trust and conversion. I kept telling them that Jesus was responding to a question about…greatness. Not purity. Not innocence. Not trust. Not conversion.

Greatness.

They couldn’t hear it. It’s not that they wouldn’t hear it—they couldn’t. Let me make it clear that these are all good, sincere Christian folks. I’m not criticizing them. I wasn’t angry with them during the study. No contention arose. I was just stunned that they simply ignored or were unaware of the plain meaning of words in this text.

When I was praying about last night this morning, I think I understood why this was so difficult for them, apart from their clear inability to deal with the plain meaning of these verses. It’s because they thought that entering the kingdom of God is only about salvation. True, salvation is part of it, because Jesus said that unless we were born again we would not see the kingdom of God. However, there is more to God’s kingdom than this, as crucially important as being born again is. God’s kingdom is more complex than this. The kingdom of heaven is about rulership. It’s about who is the king and who isn’t. It’s about humility for us and greatness for Jesus. Smallness for us and enormity for Jesus. However, it’s about following Jesus’ example of smallness and humility when He walked the earth. Philippians 2 tells us to have the same mind Jesus had when He “emptied himself” and becoming obedient to the point of death.

Thankfully, I think a couple of lights of recognition blinked on when I talked about insignificance in Scripture. Who was the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection? Mary Magdalene, a formerly demonized woman, whose testimony was almost worthless in Jesus’ time. I read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, about whom God chooses. I mentioned a few of the many, many other examples, all throughout Scripture of the Lord choosing those of insignificance. David. Ruth. Esther.

If you’re a Christian, I plead with you to deal with the plain meaning of words in Scripture, even if they somehow oppose what you have been taught or thought you understood in your history. If they agree, which they certainly may, well and good. If they don’t, wrestle with the text. Our God is not a vanilla, churchy God. He is a God who, because He loves us, will blow up our religious suppositions and traditions for our spiritual good.

Francis 001

When the Christian lady prayed for the young woman and then said, “Keep saying, ‘I am healed,’” it didn’t surprise me. I had heard this positive confession teaching for a very long time. However, in my own little snarky self, I said, “Perhaps she should rattle some snake bones, too.”

Ok, please forgive my snarky self. At least I didn’t say it aloud. And let me be clear. I am happy that the woman was praying and believed in the power of the Lord to heal. She’s a fine Christian lady. However, again, I can’t help but ask, “Where did we Christians get this stuff?”

In this case, I think I know the answer, if memory serves. It’s from Romans 10:8–10.

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

So, do I believe that it’s important to confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord?

Yes.

Do I believe that it’s important to confess with my mouth that I am healed?

No.

Why?

The primary reason is that we are not told to do so in Scripture. No prescriptive passages teach us to do so.

Second, we don’t see anyone in Scripture doing that. No descriptive passages indicate people did so. (And keep in mind that the Bible describing someone doing something is not the same thing as the Bible telling us to do something. Such descriptions are helpful but are not commands.)

Third, this practice makes my healing dependent on me, not on God. If I just keep saying, “I am healed,” the healing will “work.”

Fourth, this activity shifts my faith in the Lord to faith in my healing. Faith has an object. I must have faith in something. Christians are to have faith in God, not in an action or activity.

So, finally, since such “positive confession” makes my healing dependent on my works, not on the Lord God of the universe who has the power to do anything, I become something like a pagan, who must do and say certain “magic” things to cause God to work. So I hope that explains the snarky self-talk about snake bones.

If this makes you uncomfortable, I encourage you to study cases of healing in Scripture. I would be happy to be corrected and be told where to find cases of people who were told to confess their healing in order to be healed. In addition, I would encourage you to challenge some of the traditions that you have been taught, not to disrespect faithful men and women, but to make sure that what you think and say lines up with Scripture. Jesus was very unhappy that religious leaders taught “as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Telling people to keep saying, “I am healed,” is a commandment of men, not of God. The Lord can heal. However, He doesn’t heal everyone, according to His will and purpose. That may be hard to swallow, but it’s true. Trying to conjure up a healing by doing certain “right” things will not alter this sometimes brutal truth.

By the way, the reason I used the above photo is that this man, Pastor Francis, prayed for thirteen people to be raised from the dead—at least that was the count over ten years ago when we talked to him in Papua New Guinea. And none of those raised had to keep saying, “I am raised” in order to stay raised.

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 367 other followers

August 2015
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 367 other followers