Monday, February 25, 2013

"Is 'Revelation' really a mystery?"

"And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."   - Ephesians 1:9-10

We are now eight weeks into our study of "the end."  As we continue to explore God's Word to discover all that He has revealed concerning the events surrounding the return of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God continues to show us that John's "Revelation" is not the mystery many thought it was.  When Revelation is studied alongside other Scriptures, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, God's timetable, the signs of Jesus' soon return, and the events directly associated with it become clear.  Those things that we do not yet understand, God will reveal in the future, as we continue to ask for wisdom and as we believe all that He has revealed thus far.

The verses quoted above were part of message number eight, that looked at Chapters 10-14 of Revelation.  This is what I have called the "interlude" in John's visions of the end.  When comparing Matthew 24:1-31 with Revelation 6-7, it is clear that these are parallel passages and that Revelation 6-7, and the following two chapters, 8-9, are chronological.  The events flow from Revelation 6 through Revelation 9 without a break.

Chapter 9 ends with the sounding of the sixth trumpet, which is the second "woe" (Revelation 8:13).  Chapter 10 and the first part of Chapter 11 (verses 1-13), are separate visions, then Chapter 11:14-19 continues the timeline with the sounding of the seventh trumpet:  "The second woe (the sixth trumpet) has passed; the third woe (the seventh trumpet) is coming soon. ... The seventh angel sounded his trumpet ..."  John's interlude includes Chapters 12-14.  Then follows Chapters 15-16, the seven bowls of God's wrath.  This takes place following the sounding of the seventh trumpet.

I share this here to help you see that the God who revealed these things through His Son Jesus Christ and His Spirit wants us to understand them!  These things were not written to be unintelligible to those who believe.  Remember, "ALL Scripture is profitable!" (II Timothy 3:16), and Revelation is part of Scripture.  In the tenth chapter of Revelation, verse 7, we read, "In the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as He announced to His servants the prophets."

A "mystery" is something that is or has been hidden.  "Revelation" means, literally, "uncovering or revealing."  So what was it that God revealed to the prophets, but that has been a mystery to most people to this very day and continues to be?  The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and was born again by the Spirit of God.  His eyes were opened and the Scriptures of the Old Testament that he had studied all his life became clear:  God had a plan and that plan was being fulfilled through His Son, Jesus Christ!!

What was the plan?  Are you ready for this?!  To bring the kingdom of God to a new earth!!  "To bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ!" (Ephesians 1:10).  This is what is revealed throughout the New Testament and finally in the book of Revelation.  How few people understand this today - even in the visible church?  We may be the last generation on this planet, yet few seem to be proclaiming the truth about what lies ahead!  Jesus Christ is returning to earth, and He will gather His Church, He will bring salvation to Israel, He will pour out God's wrath on unbelievers and He will establish His kingdom on this earth for 1,000 years, ruling over the nations with a rod of iron, and finally, will cast Satan and all his demons and all who reject His reign into the eternal fire of hell.  Then God will create a new heaven and a new earth and will live with those who have believed in Jesus Christ forever in a new world!!

The is the "mystery" that the prophets spoke about and that Jesus is fulfilling now in the lives of those who are truly His - who have been born again by His Spirit and who confess Him as Savior and Lord - and that He will fulfill completely when He returns.  This is the future that God has planned for His people.  So why is the only thing people look forward to "heaven?"  It's not that heaven is not enough; it would be, if that is all that God has promised us.  But there is so much more!

Paul writes to the Corinthians, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him ..." (I Corinthians 2:9).  That is a quote from Isaiah 64:4, and in the context of those comments Isaiah speaks about God's creation of a new heaven and a new earth!! (Isaiah 65:17).  Paul goes on to say to the believers in Corinth, " - but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit!" (I Corinthians 2:10).  Yes, God has revealed to those who believe and who study His Word that the establishment of His kingdom in a new heaven and a new earth is the final goal of all that is happening in the world today.  And it is in John's Revelation that God's plan comes to its final conclusion!!

It is vital that the Church understand these things and that those who know Christ become engaged in proclaiming His reign - now from heaven, and soon on the earth!  People need to know the true God who has revealed Himself and His will in His Word.  These things are important for families and communities and nations to grasp.  The wrath of God is coming on this world and there is ONE escape:  faith in Jesus Christ, the only Savior, the eternal Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords!

Are you one of HIS?  Have you come to the Father through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, believing He suffered God's wrath against YOUR sins on the cross and that your sins are forgiven?  Have you been born again by His Holy Spirit so that your desire now is to honor and glorify Him and to tell others the truth of the one true God revealed in the Bible, His Word?  Difficult days lie ahead for planet earth and all who live upon it.  In John's Revelation, as well as the rest of the Bible, God makes known His plan and His purposes to all who will believe.  The mystery has been revealed!!  God's kingdom is coming to earth!  Will you face His judgment and wrath or will you rest in His love and grace, living with Him in a new world FOREVER?!

I pray earnestly for you, as you read these words, and urge you to read God's Word, to study it, to meditate on it and to find in it the one and only Savior who is able to bring you out of darkness to behold His marvelous light - Jesus Christ!  If you know Him and your heart's desire is to serve Him, then spread His Word, for "how beautiful on the mountaintops are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace (REAL peace - with God!), who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7).

Monday, February 18, 2013

"Why aren't more people angry?"

"In the temple He (Jesus) found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.  And making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen.  And He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.  And He told those who sold the pigeons, 'Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.' His disciples remembered that it was written, 'Zeal for your house will consume me.'" (John 2:13-17).

Well, I'm still here!  It has been a while since I last wrote.  I was able to take my wife on a brief vacation last week, which required working ahead the week before and catching up now.  It would have been a great trip, except she got sick the second day and is just now beginning to feel better.  Being away from home and from the daily demands of ministry allows time to give thanks, to rejoice in God's gifts and to consider the importance of every day.  We need to use our days wisely and time spent with those we love must have a high priority.

Having returned, I reflect on what I have seen and experienced, and seek to apply it in some way to how we live life in this country.  Vacations are a privilege, not a necessity.  This weekend was "mid-winter break" for many schools and the long weekend provided an opportunity for many to "get away."  In another five or six weeks "spring break" will be here and many parents will feel the pressure to "do something special" with their families.  It seems that we are a people who go from one "break" to another.  We need something to look forward to in order to "endure" the drudgery of everyday life.  This attitude shows itself in a thousand different ways as people invest their time, energy and resources in planning the next "thing." This certainly doesn't describe everyone, but it is a pattern that has become deeply entrenched into the hopes and dreams of many.  Those who aren't yet able to "escape" everyday life clearly WANT to do so, while those who have been doing it for some time look for something NEW to satisfy the cravings of the flesh for MORE!

If it sounds like I am against taking vacations or breaks, as God allows and provides, I'm not.  It's about balance; it's about priorities and goals.  And ultimately, it's about Christ and His Church.  In the passage I quoted above Jesus enters the temple only to find it being desecrated by those making exorbitant profits at the expense of those who came to the temple to worship and to offer sacrifices.  They were cheating the people and using the need of those who came as an excuse to take advantage of the situation.  In short, their minds and hearts were not on worship, not on God, but on money and earthly things.

Jesus was angry!  I know some people can't imagine Jesus getting angry, but read those verses and tell me Jesus wasn't angry.  He didn't have a "fit" of anger; He wasn't out-of-control, He didn't lose His temper, but He WAS angry that these men were not honoring God's house and therefore not honoring God!  Furthermore, Jesus was angry at their hypocrisy, because they were there at the temple pretending to care about the needs of the people when they were only concerned about lining their pockets.

So, I'm wondering, why aren't more people angry today?  Once in a while I tune into Christian television to see if I can find something encouraging from God's Word.  God's Word is the "food" that satisfies the soul of those who desire to draw near to our Father in heaven.  Through His Word His Spirit makes God known and directs and channels our thoughts where they need to be: on Him and His glory.  But what I usually find on so-called "Christian" TV are people who are desperately trying to get people to "sow a seed," or "buy a miracle" or believe something that they are saying so they will buy their latest book or send a donation to their ministry.  There are some exceptions, but they are few and very far between ... and it makes me angry!

Those words, "Zeal for your house will consume me," should not apply only to Jesus.  They should be true of everyone who claims Christ as Savior and Lord.  As the living temple of God today, the true Church is made up of every person who accepts the Bible as the very Word of God and the ONLY authority for faith and life, and who thus confesses that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him - believing that He died for their sins, rose again, ascended into heaven and is returning to judge the living and the dead.  This body, this "temple," is holy to the Lord and is to receive our full commitment and involvement.  The true Church is not an organization, but rather, an organism - a living body in which Christ lives by His Spirit ... in each part, each person who is "one" with Christ, and so with the Father, by faith.

And when this "temple," this "HOUSE," is abused in any way, whether by hypocrisy or false teaching or even by apathy and "lukewarmness," those who are zealous for God's house should be angry!  There is a difference between worldly anger and godly anger:  The first is focused on self, while the second is focused on God.  Worldly anger arises because someone offended or hurt you or me in some way.  There is plenty of this kind of anger.  But godly anger is concerned about the honor of God, of Christ and of His body, the Church.

Peter writes, "As you come to Him, the living Stone - rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him - you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:4-5).  Later in the same chapter, verse 9, he writes, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."  This is who we ARE as those who believe in Christ!  It's not who we're trying to be or hoping to be, but who God MADE us to be.  But there are false teachers and impostors in the house ... and it should make us angry!

"Zeal for God's house" must translate to zeal for Christ's Church ... the whole body ... that great multitude from every people, tribe, nation and tongue.  It must mean that we stand as one upon the truth of God revealed in His Word that points to Jesus Christ.  It must mean that we love people enough to call them to find their hope in Jesus Christ.  Ministering to their physical, emotional, psychological needs is but a stepping stone to lead them to Christ, who is the Healer of their hearts, minds and souls.  Pastors and teachers and others can and sometimes do say things that are encouraging and uplifting, but if it does not point to Christ, it is of man and it falls short of honoring the one true God who sent His Son to be our Savior and His Spirit to be our Teacher.  "Zeal for God's house" must mean a zeal for the truth that is the foundation of Christ's kingdom.  Jesus said that whoever hears His Word and does it builds his house upon the ROCK!

I fear for a "church" today that is not willing or able to discern truth from falsehood and lies.  Cute sayings are a poor substitute for doctrine from God's Word.  The prophets spoke, "Thus saith the Lord," and the true Church is built upon the unchanging Word of God.  More people need to get angry when God's truth is not proclaimed, whether in your local congregation or on the many internet sites now claiming to "speak for God," or on TV or radio.  Such false teaching must be exposed, not applauded; it must be driven out, not embraced; it must be rejected, not accepted.

The cost for doing so will be high.  People will look at you like they looked at Jesus - like some radical who needs to be checked or controlled.  The Jews demanded that Jesus show them by what authority He did what He did and said what He said.  He said, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."  Of course, He was talking about Himself.  HE was the true temple; and by the indwelling of His Spirit, believers are living stones being built into a spiritual house for God.  Our authority and responsibility to speak comes from the Head of the Church, from Jesus Himself.  We need to be zealous about the Church, the body of Christ, and to build her up and defend and protect her.  That requires exposing and guarding people from false teachers.

But first, you need to get angry ... maybe even at yourself.  Do I love the world more than I love Jesus? Have I made the body of Christ a priority, investing myself in doing my part to make her strong, or do I expend all my energy and resources on myself and other things?  John writes, "Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever" (I John 2:15-17).

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Ephesians 4:15-16).  Get angry!  Then get to work doing YOUR part to build up the body, beginning with yourself.  Get into God's Word - ready, study and memorize, listening for His Spirit and praying for wisdom.  The result will be a strong and vibrant "stone" that helps to make God's house beautiful!!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Raising children for eternity ..."

What are we doing to our kids?!  There are a lot of statistics thrown around about every generation and those who are older often look at the present generation and shake their heads, forgetting that THEIR generation had its own struggles.  I grew up in the 60's so don't talk to me about a generation that rebels against authority or that is utterly and totally focused on self - that was my generation!  But there IS something different about the present generation, and I fear for the NEXT generation ... if, indeed, there is one, as we watch current events unfolding in the world.

Why the concern about this generation?  Because it seems that even those who claim to be Christians today are increasingly missing the God-given purpose for having children and raising children in this world:  to know, love and follow Jesus Christ ... to find joy in worship and in service to God, our Creator ... and to engage in being part of Christ's body, the Church, as a community of people focused NOT on self but on loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.  It reminds me of another time in history when a group of people who claimed to know the true God lost their focus and forgot to tell their children who He was ... who He IS!

"After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel" (Judges 2:10).

That has to be one of the most tragic verses in the Bible, and while it has been true in some ways throughout history, the problem has never been as widespread as it is today.  Fewer and fewer young people are making a commitment to Jesus Christ, and even those who do often don't want anything to do with "organized religion" or what they see as "the church."  Why not?  I know - many things have been said about church structures and denominations, etc.  I've said a lot myself.  But while pointing out what's wrong, we have to talk about what's right ... what GOD says His Church is all about.  It's the body of Christ, His bride!

Thinking about the words of Judges 2:10, the responsibility for teaching children about the One true God who has sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners and to bring LIFE - eternal life - to those who believe ... the responsibility for teaching children lies with parents AND with the fellowship of believers.  Someone once said, "It takes a village," but the reality is, it takes the Church!  But herein lies the problem:  too many even in the visible body called "the church," do not know the true God and are spending their time trying to raise children for THIS world rather than for eternity!!

Children need to grow up knowing GOD.  They need to know that there is only ONE God, the God who has revealed Himself in creation and in His Word and in His Son Jesus Christ.  The current smorgasbord of religions that is being offered to young people is a toxic potion that leads to eternal death.  We live in a society that doesn't want to offend anyone, so parents and church leaders hesitate to say, "Thus says the LORD!"  People forget that the true God is a "jealous God," who will not give His glory to another.  Too many parents themselves do not believe that we have to take all of this so seriously.  Let the children decide for themselves and make their own decisions.

Leaving children alone to deal with a sinful nature bent on evil is the worst form of child abuse imaginable.  Children who don't know Jesus Christ will live a life without true hope, peace, love or joy and will then face the God they didn't know, finally passing into eternity to endure eternal death and judgment.  That's a hard statement, but it is true.  Jesus said, "Bring the children to ME!"  Instead, parents often want to raise their children to be good students, to have friends, to be successful by the world's standards - to get a job, to make a living and to be happy.  Is that all there is?

The national conversation in politics often declares that we should desire above all things that our children have it "better" than we did.  How's that working?  We are told that with the rising debt and economic woes facing us, this is the first generation for whom that is not true - for whom things might not be "better" than the last generation.  All the commentators are right - the "system" is broken!  But they have no clue what is really needed:  knowledge of the true God and of His Son Jesus Christ.  What is needed is the inner transformation that can be produced only by the very Spirit of God - that changes a child or youth or adult from a self-centered "taker" to a Christ-centered "giver."  Nothing else works ... NOTHING!

Yet, what is the solution being offered today?  Get rid of religion, it only causes problems.  Christianity, the one TRUE religion, gets lumped in with all the others and we are told that our children should be free to choose from the smorgasbord, or not to choose, whatever they please.  Yes, the pathway to hell IS paved with good intentions.  Failing to understand the powerful and destructive power of sin in the very nature of every child and every person, society ... and increasingly the church, offers children and young people nothing to combat the call of the world to the indulge the worst of our fallen nature, that is already turned away from God.

The real solution is found only in the Bible, the very Word of the living God, our Creator.  The Bible is NOT all about rules, it is about a relationship that God offers to all, but that will be received only by some.  In His grace and mercy God has made a way for children (and people of all ages) to find meaning and purpose in this life, as they look forward to eternity - eternal life with Him.  Other religions offer an "eternal life" of sorts, but only Christianity offers a personal, vital, living relationship with the Creator of the universe.  Parents need to stop trying to raise "good" children for this world and start raising children for eternity!

That requires talking about eternity.  It means helping children understand who God is and why He sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross.  Children need to know that there is a Savior, One who tasted death in their place and who rose from the dead and is now ruling in heaven until He returns and destroys sin, death and evil for His followers and establishes His kingdom on the earth.  Children need to learn these things.  THEN, they will understand WHY the Church is so important, and they will have an identity that is not affected by their peers or the world.  They will know they are children of the King and nothing will be able to move them from faith in Jesus Christ and devotion to serving Him.  They need to be taught that God's love must be received, not taken for granted, and that life is not for self, but for Him.

So many parents don't feel like they know enough to teach their children.  Why not?!  Because too many have never taken the time to learn themselves.  Raising children is hard work.  Life is busy.  There are so many activities and family time is hard to find.  I have heard all the reasons ... but stop for a moment and think about this:  what if you have done everything for your child that you think you needed to do and you have given them all you could, but they go into eternity without knowing God and without Jesus Christ as their Savior?  But on the other hand, what if they know Jesus and know they are loved by God and live to be servants of God by serving others ... and even if they should tragically lose their lives, you are at peace because they knew their Savior and you know they are living forever in His presence?!

Let it not be said of you and me that "another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for" His people - for us ... for THEM!

Peter writes, "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness (His promise to bring an end to this world and to bring judgment on those who do not believe).  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  BUT the day of the Lord WILL come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare" (II Peter 3:9-10).

Children and young people today need to be brought face to face with God and taught the only way to draw near to Him, through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  They need to be given His Word, the "sword of the Spirit," to arm them against the forces of evil all around us.  They need to know the love of God and love Him back, finding in a relationship with Him as "Abba, Father," their identity and the purpose for their lives - to glorify Him!  Nothing is more important or more pressing - NOTHING!

My prayer today is for parents to take seriously their role in God's plan and not to waver or be overwhelmed.  The Church, the body of Christ, is called and equipped to walk alongside parents in this task of raising children for eternity.  It must occupy our minds and our hearts and we must give to this task our all.  May God help us!