Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Caught away

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

Have you ever heard Christians talking about the "Rapture." Well, this is it. A note in my Bible explains:

"'Caught up together with them': The chief biblical source of the doctrine of the Rapture—the catching away to heaven of those, dead or living, who have trusted in Christ and await His return. The exact word "rapture" does not occur in Scripture: it was formed from a word in the Latin translation of the Bible which, for this phrase, reads simul rapiemur cum illis. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 gives the additional information that a great rebellion by humankind against God's authority and the emergence of the Man of Sin will precede the return of the Lord" - Russell P. Spittler,  New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1687.

First Thessalonians isn't the only place in the Bible where such things are mentioned, though.
  • Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 talks about the instantaneous change that happens to believers at the "last trumpet."
  • The Old Testament prophet Daniel saw a vision of "one like a son of man coming in the clouds of heaven..." Daniel 7:13.
  • John, in Revelation, speaks of Jesus as "...coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him..." Revelation 1:7.

Not surprisingly, this teaching—that Jesus will come again to raise the dead and snatch the living from their activities—has attracted scorn throughout the centuries. In fact it was ridiculed already in the days of the New Testament church (see 1 Peter 3:1-13), where Peter concluded with this encouragement: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night....Therefore since all these things will be dissolved, what matter of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness" - 1 Peter 3:11-12.

Paul, in our 1 Thessalonians passage, speaks of this sudden coming as a source of comfort (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

I ask myself, is the fact that Jesus will someday return in bodily form something that comforts me, or does it make me uneasy?

The 2 Peter passage talks about that thief-in-the-night day accompanied by the heavens passing away, great noise, elements melting in fervent heat when "the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up" - 2 Peter 3:10.

If I am too much in love with this earth and the things in it, my possessions and accumulations, then being removed from them will be a day of tragedy for sure. But it doesn't have to be. If my focus is on accumulating heavenly treasure and my great hope is being with Jesus (John 12:25-26) it can be a comfort indeed.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to live with the fact of Your anytime return always in mind. I want to be found expectant, waiting, and unashamed. Amen.

MORE: Views of the end

Over the centuries theologians have developed different views of how end-time prophecy will play out. (This Wikipedia article on Christian eschatology, for example, will probably make your head spin. Here is the part that details various prophetic end-time views.) Who's right? Who's wrong? Only God knows.

Personally, I don't concern myself too much with the details, but rather, focus on general themes that recur when the Bible speaks of Jesus' return:
1. It will be sudden and unexpected.
2. It will be a day when secrets are revealed.
3. It will be a day of facing consequences.
4. It will be a day of meeting Jesus!

That's enough to keep me living with sober hope.


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A hundred little repentances

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 4:12-25

TO CHEW ON: "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.'" Matthew 4:17

In my old Funk and Wagnall's "repent" has three meanings. I see them as three steps in one process:
1. To feel remorse or regret.
2. To change one's mind concerning past action.
3. To feel such sorrow for one's sins as to reform.

The conjunction "for" between "Repent" and "Kingdom" implies a cause-and-effect relationship between repentance and the Kingdom of Heaven. We could say it, "Repent — and this is why — because (for) the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Why do we need to repent?

In order not to miss it (the Kingdom of Heaven) in that by not repenting, we're walking in the wrong direction and won't encounter it.

In order to be part of and involved in it (and by repenting we're in the right relationship-to-God-and-circumstances space to do that).

The commentary writers of my Bible's article on this verse link repentance with "Reconciliation"

Our Call - Reconciliation
"...Left to our own devices we tend toward self-centredness and chaos (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 1:21-32), but coming to God in a spirit of humble repentance opens up a way for peace and reconciliation to flow (2 Chronicles 7:14)" - Raleigh Washington / Bill McCartney, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1295.

Though Jesus preached an initial life turnaround decision to repent, doesn't life with Him need a hundred little repentances throughout the day? Something bad happens and my first thought may be fear, or resentment or irritation or... But the Kingdom-of-Heaven-way is not these things but trust (Philippians 4:6-7). So I repent and turn from fear, resentment or irritation to trust via prayer with thanksgiving.

PRAYER: Dear God, please open my eyes to places where my life is not in flow with the Kingdom of Heaven. Please give me the courage and grace to repent, not only in remorseful thought but in Kingdom-affirming action. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Bible Drive-Thru

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The final transformation

White robe
Graphic courtesy Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

"And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints." 1 Thessalonians 3:12,13

Sometimes I have a little trouble sorting out exactly what Paul is saying in his maze-like and run on sentences. But after puzzling the long sentence in our focus verses, I'm hearing him say that he wants the Thessalonians to abound in [have plenty of, be rich in] love toward each other and the world beyond the church walls. He wants them to be as rich in love toward others as he (Paul) is rich in love toward them.

The result of pursuing such love will be that God establishes their hearts "blameless in holiness"—something that will be completed, however, only at the coming of the Lord Jesus.

As we continue to focus on the theme of Christ's second coming through 1 Thessalonians, these verses give us more insights about that anticipated event. They tell us:
  •  the love we cultivate toward each other is preparation for Christ's return.
  • this process of making love abound in us and establishing us blameless in holiness—we call it sanctification— is "brought to glorious completion at the Second Coming of the Lord" - Reformation Study Bible.

The truth of God completing the work of sanctification in us at His return is repeated many times in the Bible: 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 1:8; Philippians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; Jude 24.

What a relief, that God makes provision to complete this process. My Bible's explanation of the world "holiness"  here gives us an idea of what a deep-clean it is and will be:

["Holiness - hagiosune - is the principle that separates the believer from the world…. It causes every component of our character to stand God's inspection and meet His approval" - Dick Mills, "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1686, emphasis added.]

Dear God, thank You that my lifelong pursuit of holiness and blamelessness will be divinely completed at Jesus' return. Amen. 

MORE: First Sunday of Advent

Today the church celebrates the first Sunday of Advent. The day's liturgy begins with the following Collect:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Somday we'll meet Jesus

"Christ the Redeemer" statue - Rio De Janeiro
"Christ the Redeemer" statue - Rio De Janeiro - Photo: Pixabay.com

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?"  1 Thessalonians 2:19

In our read through 1 Thessalonians we're paying special attention to references of Christ's return. Paul's mention of Christ's return in chapter 2 occurs in verse 19 when he describes how he anticipates presenting the Christians in Thessalonica to Christ and how that will work out: "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?" - 1 Thessalonians 2:19.  He looks forward to meeting Jesus with joy. His victory crown will be the believers he brings with him.

The Bible speaks in other places of meeting Jesus and being in His presence.

  • There will be joy in His presence - Psalm 16:11.
  • We will enter His presence on the "today" of our death - Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8 - or on the day He returns, whichever comes first - 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17.
  • Jesus' servants on earth will someday join Him in heaven where even the Father will honor them - John 12:26.
  • Appearing before Jesus will be just the beginning of living with Him - John 14:3.
  • When we appear before and live with Him, we will experience Jesus' and God's glory in all its eternity - John 17:25.

What motivation to serve God and in that serving win the crown of others standing with us at Christ's appearing on earth or our appearing before Him in heaven.

What a reason to live each day well, for none of us knows the day He will return or the day we will die.

What a hope for the future as we soldier on in the world of sometimes difficult relationships, unpredictable circumstances, and wearing out bodies.

Dear Jesus, thank You for Your promise to return and accept me into heaven to live with You. May this hope motivate my living. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A waiting lifestyle

Church steeple against clouds
Photo courtesy Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "For they themselves declare concerning us, what manner of entry we had to you and how you turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." 1 Thessalonians 1:9,10

In the next week or so, we're going to read all the way through 1 Thessalonians. As we begin today, here are some background facts about the book to help us understand its setting.

1. 1 Thessalonians was the first of Paul's letters that has been saved and the first book in the New Testament to be written. My Bible's introductory notes date it at A.D. 50—written before the Gospels, though they describe earlier events.

2. Paul founded the church in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. It was on the route he took after having the vision of the Macedonian man begging, "Come over to Macedonia and help us" - Acts 16:10.

3. On that trip (about 49 A.D.) Paul went to Philippi (Acts 16:12-40) and then to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). His stay there was brief and controversial but life-altering for that "...great multitude of devout Greeks and not a few leading women" who believed Paul's gospel message.

One of the main themes in 1 Thessalonians is the return of Christ. In fact, a reference to it appears in each chapter. And so that is the theme thread we'll be following as we read through the book.

In today's focus verses, Paul is complimenting the Christians there for their stellar reputation.

(The "...they…" ["For they themselves declare concerning us… etc. - vs. 9] who speak so glowingly of the Thessalonian believers refers back to the other believers in the region: "… all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe…" - 1 Thessalonians 1:7.)

It's interesting to note what these early and quite new Christians were known for:
  • Faith in God - 1 Thessalonians 1:8.
  • A dramatic lifestyle change as they turned from idol worship to worship and serve God - 1 Thessalonians 1:9.
  • An attitude of expectancy. These people had a reputation of waiting for Jesus' return - 1 Thessalonians 1:10.
  • A serenity about the future as they no longer feared the "wrath of God" - 1 Thessalonians 1:10.

I wonder how the expectant lifestyle of these Christians looked. Maybe they had stopped collecting stuff, like property and clothes. Maybe they were making sure all their relationships were tended to. They probably spoke of their expectation to family, friends, and neighbors so that their dear ones would believe too and not be left behind. It's clear that they had a reputation for sounding forth their beliefs (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

A good question to ask ourselves is, what sort of reputation do we have as believers? Are we known for our faith in God? Have we turned from our old pre-Christian ways? Do our lives give any evidence at all that we expect Christ to return? (Or do we really expect that?)

Dear God, I am challenged by the simple yet bold faith of these one-year-old New Testament Christians. Please help me to firm up my expectation inYour return so that it becomes evident in my lifestyle. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

God's promise fulfilled in the Branch

tree reaching upwards
Image from Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 33:14-26

" 'Behold the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:

In those days and at that time
I will cause to grow up to David
A Branch of righteousness;
He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth.' " Jeremiah 33:14,15

Whenever we hear the word "covenant" come from God's mouth, we know that He is referring to a serious promise. In today's reading He reminds the people, through Jeremiah, of His covenant with David. God compared the surety of its fulfillment to the everyday occurrences of sunrise and sunset, saying He would no more break His promise to David than abolish night and day (Jeremiah 33:19,20).

And what was that promise? That "David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel" - Isaiah 33:17, 2 Samuel 7:15,16.

But we know that David's earthly dynasty did end. So how could God say He would never, did never break this promise?

Because this is a new kind of king, with a new kind of kingdom. This descendant of David's line would be called a "A Branch of righteousness." And like the kingdom Jesus described  as His kingdom in other Bible passages we've read recently, this Branch's rule would be in  ..."judgment and righteousness in the earth" - Jeremiah 33:15.

Other prophets referred to this Branch:
  • Isaiah: "In that day the Branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious…" - Isaiah 4:2, and "There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, / And a Branch shall grow out of his roots" - Isaiah 11:2.
  • Jeremiah himself first spoke a prophecy very similar to the one in our reading earlier in Jeremiah: "Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord,
    “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
    A King shall reign and prosper,
    And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth" - Jeremiah 23:5
  • Zechariah referred to this Branch in his prophecy of a vision of Joshua the High Priest, where an angel said to Joshua: " ' Hear, O Joshua, the high priest. / … For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the Branch' " - Zechariah 3:8.

We believe that Jesus was and is this Branch. Why?

He was an earthly descendant of David, thus a branch of David's line and eligible to be a king (Matthew 1:1-17; Jesse and David are mentioned in Matthew 1:5,6).

Paul referred to Jesus Christ as coming from the "root of Jesse."  And he extended the hope of coming under Jesus' reign to the Gentiles:
"Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promise made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy as it is written … 'There shall be a root of Jesse;
And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles,
In Him the Gentiles shall hope' "  - Romans 15:8,9.12, quoting Isaiah 11:10.

As we celebrate Jesus' incarnation during the Advent season coming up, let's include in our meditation the beautiful teaching of Jesus as the Branch. And let's, in faith, give thanks for the righteous and just nature of His forever kingdom.

Dear Jesus, thank You for being the Branch, the fulfillment of God's covenant promise to David. I look forward to seeing Your righteous and just kingdom in real time. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tap into God's mysteries

book against a background of mysterious symbols (castle, dragon, birds)
Image from Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 33:1-13

TO CHEW ON: " 'Call to Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you do not know.' " Jeremiah 33:3

Everywhere around us there is change in the air.
  • In Canada we had an election a month ago which brought about a change of government and leadership.
  • Popular science insists that the recent increase of world temperature and the severity of weather events (storms, droughts, floods) are the result of human activity. As a result we are being pressured to change our ways and lifestyles in order to slow this "man-made global warming."
  • Strange diseases and strains of infection resistant to medicine are appearing and wiping out thousands.
  • Radical warriors are terrorizing whole nations. In the last months we've seen streams of refugees emptying out of countries like Syria and flowing into Europe.

In the middle of this uncertainty and flux, God's words to Jeremiah here come as a welcome invitation to us. Two words in Jeremiah 33:3 stand out:

"Call to Me and I will answer you…"

["Call (qara) means to call out, to cry out, to address, shout or speak to someone. It is often a loud cry meant to get someone's attention. It can also mean to call something by its name (as God named light and darkness - Genesis 1:5) or name places, holidays or children (Genesis 29:35) - from "Word Wealth" by Dick Mills - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1006.]

God invites us to call on Him!

"… and show you great and mighty things which you do not know."

["Mighty (batsar) could also be translated "secrets," "mysteries," or "inaccessible things."] 

God is telling Jeremiah that He will give him privileged information, showing him things that, without God's revelation, would be hidden from him.

The sidebar article in my Bible that introduced me to this thought concludes:  
"Such 'revelational insight' has always been essential for a clear understanding of victorious spiritual warfare. One cannot pray effectively without insight into how to pray as well as into what things God truly longs for us to seek after in prayer" - Dick Eastman, "Divine Revelation and Spiritual Warfare" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1007.

I love these thoughts for myself and all of us during our times of change, upheaval and uncertainty.

  • God invites us to call on Him.
  • He promises to show us things that only He knows, to give understanding about our times so we will know how to pray and live.

Dear God, thank You for the invitation to call on You. Help me to make a habit of doing this first when I encounter things I don't understand. Please give me ears to hear Your "great and mighty things" answers and the faith to live by them. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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