The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Faith that Gives Living Hope

The faith and hope God gives are sure and stabilizing. God’s hope is alive. The hope that comes through faith in Christ is real, dependable and living. The faith of God gives living hope that stands the test of time and circumstances.

Have you ever experienced a seemingly hopeless situation? If not, you probably will at some point in your life. “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . . “ (Romans 4:18a NIV) is the way the apostle Paul paints the picture facing Abraham when Isaac was born. When he rested on the sandy shores of this world, it was hopeless. But Abraham found an “anchor of the soul,” when he came to rest in faith on the solid rock of God and His Word.

Life is filled with situations that press beyond the limits of worldly explanation. Worldly optimists, (those whose faith and hope rests on the achievement of mankind) would tell us Science has all the answers, all the solutions to our problems. But that just isn’t so. I know, because I have experienced a situation that stretched beyond the outer limits of this world’s resources. For me this was a point of purity. There came a point when I had nothing and no one to put my faith and hope in but God alone. My faith and hope, of necessity, rested purely on God.

Sometimes you can be floating along on still waters and all of a sudden, a life-threatening squall thrashes in on you. That’s how it was for my wife and I. My wife was three months pregnant with our third child. A few days earlier a sonogram had allowed us to peek at a perfectly healthy baby reclined in the comfort of a womb. I had just returned with the answer to my wife’s provolone and salami craving. We were set to spend a nice calm Friday evening together. Then, the storm clouds burst in upon us with a deluge. “I’m bleeding! Oh my God, I’m bleeding!” my wife said as she stood and revealed blood soaked pants. Just that suddenly our child’s life was in jeopardy. I had never experienced such a shocking sunken feeling before.

We immediately called our doctor. He was unavailable. As we waited for the doctor to be located, I placed my hands on my wife’s womb and prayed for the life of our baby. All I could think was, “Why Lord? You gave us this gift after many patient prayers. Why would You now want to take the child away?”

Things were happening so fast. I was getting ready to take my wife to the hospital and thinking, “this may be a long night, I’ll need God’s Word for comfort.” As I sought out my Bible a still small voice brought to my mind a verse the Lord had been working into my life recently. “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him . . . . “ (Romans 4:18 NIV).

The fear and concern in my wife’s face matched my own concerns. No words of mine would have met our need. I reached beyond myself and shared God’s Word with her, “’Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . .’ No matter what honey, hope in God, trust Him. This is too big for either of us. Hope in Him.”

That night we learned the hopelessness of hoping in the world. After waiting for what felt like an eternity in the emergency room, my wife was brought to another room and given a pelvic exam. “Aborted fetus” was the emergency room doctor’s diagnosis. I thought of the irony of the millions of babies aborted willingly by their parents and the feared loss of our baby that we wanted so much. Our plight served to make willful abortion seem all the more evil and despicable.

We continued to wait for contact from our doctor. Our waiting was filled with intermittent tears and embraces. What we had seen appeared hopeless. What we heard from a doctor was hopeless. But what I still heard in a still small voice was, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . .”

Our doctor finally called and had my wife admitted into the hospital. The next day she would have another sonogram to see for sure what was or wasn’t alive inside of her. Once situated, the doctor arrived to speak with my wife and me. He had delivered our other two children. All he could say was, “There’s nothing I can do. We’ll just have to let nature take its course.”

That night was the worst of my life. I can only liken it to the feeling I had when my father died. Through the clouds we prayed. I thank God for the support of faithful friends. I called every person I knew and asked them to pray. “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . .” I told them. “Pray for my wife and child,” I implored. All any of us could do was pray and hope in God. The stress exhausted me. Finally, I surrendered that child to God. That’s what Abraham had done with Isaac and I would follow his example (Genesis 22).

The next day I returned to the hospital to find that my wife had already been brought for her sonogram. I hurried down the empty early morning hospital corridors. It was like a dream, like some surreal vision.

The room where my wife had been taken was dark and filled with curtained cubicles. I called her name and thought, “This is it Lord.” I held my breadth as my wife identified her whereabouts. “Over here” she said. I stepped forward and pulled aside the curtain. “AND THE BABY IS FINE!” were her glorious words! I lost it. I wept openly the tears of relief and joy. I’ll never forget the thump, thump, thump of that little heartbeat resounding loud and clear in a friendly mechanical way. And I’ll never forget how the baby was casually reclined, hands behind head and legs crossed, as though saying, “What’s the big deal dad? Jesus is in control.” It was almost laughable.

My joy was not only from finding my baby safe and sound. More substantially, my joy was rooted in the realized faith and hope that had found God and His Word to be sustaining and true. God was there for us and He was true to His Word. I believe if my child hadn’t survived this placental tear, God would have given the grace for that as well. And the reason I believe that is because a little over a year after our son Stephen was born, my wife was pregnant with our fourth child. But in her eleventh week of the pregnancy a similar problem arose to that which we had experienced with Stephen. Only this time, there was a miscarriage. That baby was precious to us because given our ages, she or he would have been our last child. We named that baby Hope. We don’t know why her life was so short. Perhaps it was to show us that in the face of death, as well as life, God’s hope lives on. That’s a great legacy for any child.

In both situations, God had allowed me to come to a point of purity. This world had nothing to offer me to ease the pain or meet my need. I could do nothing in my flesh, my own strength. God alone sustained me (Psalm 55:22).

This experience left a lasting impression on me. What I learned prepared me, (and I hope others as well) for “hopeless” situations in the future. Romans 4:19-21 outlines in a practical way some guidelines for coping with “hopeless” situations. The following are some helps to hoping in God and living out His living hope by faith in Him.

First, Abraham didn’t deny or run away from the facts of his seemingly hopeless situation but he rose above them by faith (4:19). Abraham “faced the fact” that he and his wife were too old to have children as far as the accepted medical view of his day and that his personal circumstances were seemingly hopeless. His faith and hope in God were pure enough to confront the reality of his situation even when the facts were against him.

Second, “he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith . . . .” (4:20). He did not strengthen himself but “was strengthened” by Another. God strengthened him as He regarded “the promise of God.” A still small voice steadied Abraham with the promise of God. When life kicks up into a whirlwind, listen for the voice of God and be strengthened by His Word (I Kings 19:1-18). For me it was Romans 4:18. For you it may be another portion of God’s Word. God sustains us and makes His presence known with His Word (Psalm 119:28).

Third, Abraham “gave glory to God” (4:20). I can’t tell you how many hearts God has touched from sharing this experience with those around me. Recounting our experience in a way that glorifies God ministers hope to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Don’t let your “hopeless” situations go to waste!

Finally, “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised” (4:21). Abraham’s certainty was based on God’s faithful and righteous relationship with him. Abraham applied what he had been learning about God to this point in his life. God had spoken to Abraham before (Genesis 12:1-4; 13:14-18; 15:17; 18:21) and now God was delivering on His promise. Life with God is a learning process. Points of purity, (i.e. Times when we are brought to purely hope in God alone) prepare us to progress onward and upward toward the finished product of Christ likeness God has planned for us. Perhaps someday we will learn what it was like for Jesus to hope in the heavenly Father while in the Garden of Gethsemane where He was on the brink of fulfilling God’s will and destiny for His life (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Having gone through this situation, God has fully convinced me that His presence is real, hope in Him is sure, and He and His Word are reliable. My past experience with God’s faithfulness enabled me to be “fully persuaded” he could deliver me BEFORE He actually did. A “point of purity” is a place where we learn to put our Faith and hope in God alone. In those points of purity, God teaches us to look to Him first, not last. It is a place of surrender, exhaustion, and illumination. In those points of purity we learn the realness and reliability of God. May your faith and hope be alive and rest on Him alone.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The United States in Prophecy - Part 2

We have seen how God in His grace has reached out to the nations of the world. His word tells us that God will make every effort to share His gospel with Gentile nations. Jesus said that the gospel would go out to every nation in the end times. He said:

· Matthew 24:14 - 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

· Matthew 28:18-20 - 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Notice how Jesus emphasizes the destination of the gospel as being, “to all nations.” He reaches out to all nations to make disciples. We see this in the book of Acts (Acts 15:14) and it will be true up until the culmination of prophetic history.

But what happens to those nations that reject the light of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ? That is what we will now consider.

In the End Times and during the Tribulation nations will encounter severe difficulties. Jesus said of the end times and during the Tribulation that nations would be perplexed, or have problems they couldn’t solve:

· Luke 21:25 - “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;

Nations will experience great distress and confusion during the Tribulation. This is because those who remain on earth during the Tribulation had previously rejected the gospel and remained behind at the time of the Rapture. There will be very hard times for those left behind. Jesus said there would be lawlessness, lovelessness and wars:

· Matthew 24:7 - 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.

· Matthew 24:12 - 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.

Nations that don’t turn to God will be ruled by Antichrist. Antichrist is going to be a political figure possessed by the devil himself (Rev. 12:9; 20:2; 13:2,4). He will be very deceptive and persuasive. He will be able to rule over the nations during the Tribulation. This is the testimony of God’s word which states of Antichrist:

· Revelation 13:7 - 7 It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.

This demonically inspired and empowered figure will literally lead the nations of the world on the road to hell!

It should be noted that the “saints” which the Antichrist is able to “overcome” are not those who make up the church. Jesus promised the gates of hell wouldn’t be able to prevail against his church (Mat. 16:18-19). The saints struggling with Antichrist are those saved during the Tribulation.

There will be many who turn to the LORD during the Tribulation. The account in Revelation speaks of multitudes who will be saved in the nations during the Tribulation:

· Revelation 7:9-10 - 9 After these things [i.e. the first six seals of trials on the earth during the Tribulation] I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sites on the throne and to the lamb!’”

There will be opportunity to be saved during the Tribulation period. However, Antichrist and the people of the world during the Tribulation will persecute and martyr those who come to Christ as Savior. Some put off salvation now thinking if what Christians say now comes to pass and is true, then they can accept Jesus as Savior later during the Tribulation. It would be too inconvenient for them to accept Jesus now; to give their lives to Christ now; to live for Him now. But if you can’t live for Jesus now, what makes you think you will be able to die for Him later?

At the end of the Tribulation the nations of the world will gather against God at Armageddon. The rebellion of humanity under the leadership of Antichrist will come to a head when they gather against Israel in the Valley of Megiddo. The prophet Zechariah and the Apostle John were inspired to describe this final war in the following ways:

· Zechariah 14:1-3 - Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, And your spoil will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; The city shall be taken, The houses rifled, And the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the Lord will go forth And fight against those nations, As He fights in the day of battle.

· Revelation 16:13-16 - 13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. 15 “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” 16 And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.

This great maniacal battle will culminate with the 2nd Coming of Christ.

Jesus will visibly return and judge the nations at His 2nd Coming. This will be the most incredible event in recorded human history. Jesus will literally return to the earth and will then judge the nations of the earth. Jesus 2nd Coming is described in the following way in the Bible:

· Zechariah 14:4 - And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, Which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, From east to west, Making a very large valley; Half of the mountain shall move toward the north And half of it toward the south.

· Matthew 24:29-31- 29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

· Revelation 19:11-21 - 11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, 18 that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.

Once He returns Jesus will judge the nations. The Bible promises that every person and every nation will bow before the LORD:

· Daniel 2:44 - 44 And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.

· Revelation 11:15 - Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”

Jesus will then judge the nations and the people in them. The righteous who accepted Him as Savior during the Tribulation who remain, will enter His kingdom. The unrighteous will be set aside for everlasting punishment (Mat. 25:31-46). The righteous will serve Jesus for eternity (Dan. 7:14). The saved of the nations will spend eternity with their Lord Jesus:

· Revelation 21:24-26 - 24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26 And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.

The Tribulation described in Revelation 6-19 is a horrendous time on earth. It is a time when God pours out His righteous wrath on a Christ rejecting world. It will be a scary time indeed. The knees of nations will buckle and the truth and righteousness of God enforced. Where is the United States in all of this? Will our nation be spared such a trying time? That depends. It depends on the path our nation follows. In our Part 3 of The United States in Prophecy we will consider how a nation falls. Later in this series we will learn what we can do to hopefully prevent the fall of the United States of America. Keep praying for our nation. Don’t be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The United States in Prophecy - Part 1

There are three people groups mentioned in scripture: the unsaved Gentile nations of the world; Israel; and the Church. The United States falls into the category of a nation of the world. By looking at what the Bible says about nations we gain insight into our own nation in prophecy. What does the future hold for the United States of America?

Israel and the Nations

The separation of people into nations is something done by God (Deut. 32:8). The roots of all nations can be traced to the Table of Nations found in Genesis 10. From the fall of humanity in Eden God had a plan of redemption to save people from sin through a Messiah Deliverer (e.g. Gen. 3:15).

God’s plan involved calling a man named Abraham to be the father of the nation called Israel. God chose Abraham because he was a man who had a trusting faith relationship with God that made him just before God (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4). God’s plan was to rise up a descendant of Abraham to be the Savior of the world. This Savior’s name is Jesus Christ (Mat. 1:1; Jn. 8:54-58). Abraham and his descendants would be a source of great blessing to the Gentile world as they were living examples of how people could have a personal relationship with the Living God and that the ultimate fulfillment of this is found in Jesus Christ.

The nation of Israel was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). By their special relationship with God and their keeping of His Law, they were to be a “light to the gentiles” (Is. 42:6; 49:6). They were chosen by God not because they were stronger or better than the Gentile nations, but because God chose Israel as His “special treasure” to pour out His love on them (Deut. 7:6-8). They were commissioned by God to be used by Him to point the Gentiles to the “light of the world” Jesus (John 8:12).

God promised to exalt Israel above all other nations, if they kept His commandments and served His purposes (Deut. 28:1). We know from history that Israel as a nation did not keep the commandments of the LORD. God disciplined them for this by allowing the Gentile world empires of Assyria and Babylon to defeat and take them into captivity for 70 years (2 Chron. 36; Jer. 25). They were eventually restored to the land and once there Jesus Christ came and fulfilled God’s redemptive plan through His atoning death on the cross and resurrection from the dead (Mat. 26-28). Salvation from sin and eternal life are available to all by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ (John. 3:16; Rom. 6:23; 10:9-13; Eph. 2:1-9).

The Destiny of Nations

What determines the destiny of nations? What determines their rise of fall? By answering these questions we will gain great insight into the destiny of the United States. The United States is a nation whose eternal destiny will be determined by how it measures up to what the Bible says about the nations. What does the Bible say about the destiny of nations?

First, God is sovereign over all nations. The Bible says:

• Job 12:23 - He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and guides them.

• Jeremiah 18:7-10 - The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, 8 if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. 9 And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, 10 if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.

• Daniel 2:19-21a - Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. So Daniel blessed the God of heaven. 20 Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. 21 And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; . . .

God is not the Author of evil. But He does permit the rise and fall of nations. This includes those nations who rise and fall in wickedness. All government authority is overseen by God (Rom. 13:1). God is sovereign over the affairs of nations.

Second, God has determined that righteous nations will be exalted and sinful nations will be brought low. This is made clear in the following verses:

• Leviticus 18:26-28 - 26 You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you 27 (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), 28 lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

• Proverbs 14:34 - Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people.
Righteousness is determined according to God and His Word, not human opinion or pagan gods.

Third, how a nation relates to God determines its blessing. How a nation relates to God determines their blessing. In His Word God states this clearly saying:

• Psalm 33:12 - Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.

Israel experienced great blessings from God because of their relationship with God. But any nation “whose God is the LORD” can expect to experience great blessing.

Fourth, the nation that does not depend on God is under the influence of Satan. This is made clear by God’s prophetic word through the prophet Isaiah who is inspired to write regarding Lucifer and the nations:

• Isaiah 14:12, 16 - “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! 16“Those who see you will gaze at you, And consider you, saying: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, Who shook kingdoms,

• 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 – But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

• Ephesians 2:1-3 - And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

To turn from God and depend on self or national resources results in being exposed to the influences of Satan and his hoards (cf. Eph. 6:12).

Fifth, God has chosen Israel to be His special instrument and how a nation relates to Israel determines whether it will be blessed or cursed. To Abraham and his descendants God said:

• Genesis 12:3 - I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Because of Israel’s role in God’s plan how a nation responds to Israel determines blessing and cursing from God on a nation (e.g. Gen. 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; Deut. 30:7; Jer. 30:16; Acts 3:25-26; Rom. 4:11). For instance, God goes so far as to promise to bless those who pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). God intended to shed His light in the dark sinful Gentile world through the nation of Israel. If a Gentile nation rejects His light, they will be cursed. If they are open and responsive to His light and supportive of God’s people who bring that light, that nation will be blessed.

Sixth, God desires the Gentile nations to come to His light in Christ. The testimony of God in His word is that He has a deep desire for all the peoples of the world to be saved from their sin. In His Word He states:

• Isaiah 60:3 - The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

• Romans 15:8-13 - Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, 9 and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name.” 10 And again he says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!” 11 And again: “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!”12 And again, Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.” 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

• Galatians 3:8 - And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”

God’s redemptive plan involves the salvation of the Gentile nations. But what if those nations reject and refuse God’s gospel light? That is what we will consider in Part 2 of The United States in Prophecy. Pray for our country. Don’t become overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.