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, March 30, 2011

Jesus is Coming Back FOR You

Have you seen what is happening in the Middle East? Revolution and upheaval is everywhere. Jesus said in the end times there would be wars and rumors of wars (Mat. 24:6). What about those earthquakes? Jesus said they would be prominent in occurrence in the end times too (Mat. 24:7). Have you seen how the level of persecution of Christians is rising? Jesus warned it would be so in the end times (Mat. 24:9). While these things are mentioned by Jesus as characteristics of the Tribulation period, we see them growing in embryonic forms now. Jesus spoke of the earth going through labor pains before the birth in full of the prophesied end times events (Mat. 24:8-9). We can't say for sure whether or not we are living in the end times. But what if the end is near? What if these are the Last Days spoken of in the Bible? Don't you want to know what is going on? Shouldn't we be aware of what is going on? Can we know what the future holds?

There is an end times event that is imminent. It could happen at any time. That event is in two parts. The first part of this event and the part that is imminent is the rapture of the church by Jesus. The second part which comes seven years after the rapture is called the Second Coming of Christ. This two part event will shock the world. Every eye will see it (Rev. 1:7). What is the rapture? What is the Second Coming? Are you ready for it? Are you aware of it? You should be.

When Paul planted the church in Thessalonica he only stayed there about one month. When you read the Thessalonian epistles it's striking to see the depth of the spiritual foundation Paul (under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit) was able to lay at this church. What is also striking is the emphasis on Christ's return. If you had to instruct people on their faith and only had a month to do it, I'm sure you would focus on the most foundational points. That's what Paul did. One of the most prominent points he taught was that Christ would return. Paul wrote, "Therefore, comfort one another with these words" (I Thessalonians 5:18). I pray the scripture of Jesus coming back for His church at the rapture will be a source of great comfort to you.

No one would dispute that Christians experience trials and tribulations in this life. Jesus said we would (John 16:33). The Bible explains that such trials serve a vital purpose in maturing the believer's faith (James 1:2-5; I Peter 1:6-9). God in His sovereign will permits trials because they serve his purposes (Job 1-2; I Peter 4:12-19). However, it is Satan and the world under his grip that implement such trials and his motivation is to destroy the believer's faith (I Peter 5:8-11).

The trials the believer experiences are not God's wrathful judgment. The trials we face are the result of remaining in a sinful world environment as God awaits the last Gentile to accept His Son as Savior (Romans 11:25; I Peter 3:9). Only God knows the exact number that will complete the phrase, "the fullness of the Gentiles has come in". Why is that important? When the last Gentile has been saved according to God's sovereign determination, a final seven years of God's judgment will begin. This is referred to as, "the time of Jacob's trouble," (Jeremiah 30:7), and the seventieth week of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27). This is a time of God's judgment. The last half of this seven year period is referred to as "the Great Tribulation" (Matthew 24:21; Mark 13:19; Revelation 7:14).

The Great Tribulation is a time in which God pours out His wrathful judgment on an unbelieving world (Revelation 6:17; 11:18; 16:1). This is going to be a terrible time on the earth; unprecedented; worse than anything the world has ever known (Mat. 24:21). So terrible will those times be, that people will "seek death" but God will not permit them to escape in this way (Revelation 9:6).The Great Tribulation is described in the book of Revelation chapters 6-19. But what about us? Will we have to experience God's wrath?

Whether or not believers will have to experience God's wrath raises an important question about the integrity of God's revealed nature. Would it be just, fair and in line with a holy God to pour out His wrathful judgment on believers and unbelievers alike? The answer to this is found in the Old Testament book of Genesis. In Genesis 18 the Lord appeared to Abraham to confirm the promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah even in their old age. As the Lord is leaving, He shares that He intends to judge Sodom and Gomorrah (18:19). God wanted to teach Abraham that He is a righteous Judge.

Abraham's nephew Lot lived in Sodom so he asks the Lord, "Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" (18:23). Abraham, the man of faith (15:6), "friend of God" (James 2:23) knows it is contrary to God's nature to "destroy the righteous with the wicked”. He states, "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (18:25). The Lord confirms what He has put in Abraham's heart by saying, "I will not destroy it for the sake of ten" (18:32).

As we study further, God did not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah until Lot and his family were removed. Indeed the implication is that judgment cannot occur until the righteous are removed (19:22-24). On top of this, a study of the life of Lot reveals that he was only minimally righteous. Lot wasn't what you'd call a pillar of faith (13:10-13; 19:1-14). God is merciful. God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked!

The God loves us so much He gave His only Son to save us. And in addition to that He says He will "freely give us all things" (Romans 8:31-32). If God feels that way about His children it should be evident that He would not pour out His wrath on those who put their faith in His Son. There are clear statements to substantiate this. Listen to God's word:

". . . Wait for His son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come" (I Thessalonians 1:10)

"For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:9)

"Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth" (Revelation 3:10)

Furthermore, in Luke 21 Jesus is concluding His Olivet Discourse on the End Times and instructs His disciples (who were to become the pillars of the Church) to:

"Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36).

Jesus would not instruct His disciples to pray for something unless He wanted them to receive it. These verses are conclusive proof that God doesn't desire His people to experience His wrath. God will not pour out His wrath on those in the Church!

Now this raises another question. If God is going to pour out His wrath on this world, and we are living in "this world”, how do we "escape" the wrath to come? Where will we be when God pours out His wrath on this world? The answer is we'll be with Him! How can this be? How will God accomplish this? Jesus is coming back for His church, before the tribulation occurs. The Bible refers to this as the Rapture.

One of the primary scripture segments depicting the rapture is fond in 1 Thessalonians where it states:

"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" (I Thessalonians 4:16-17)

The word "rapture" doesn't appear in Scripture. But that doesn't discount this doctrine any more than the doctrines of the "Trinity" or the "Millennium" whose words also are not found in Scripture. We get the word "rapture" from the Latin translation of I Thessalonians 4:17. The phrase "caught up" in the original Greek is translated from one Greek word, harpazo. When the Latin Vulgate translation was made harpazo was translated by the Latin word raptus. Raptus is translated rapture in English. This is how we got the word rapture which refers to Christ's coming for His Church before the Tribulation.

The Rapture of the Church is not taught in the Old Testament. This may be in part because the idea of "the Church" is also not taught in the Old Testament. Jesus introduced the idea of the Church in Matthew 16:18 when He said, ". . . On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it". The word "church" is ekklesia in the original Greek text and refers to a general "calling out" or gathering of people to discuss the affairs of state. The word "church" became particularly associated with the gathering of believers early on in Christian history (Acts 2:47). The Church was a "mystery" revealed in New Testament times (Ephesians 3:1-12). Therefore, since the Rapture pertains only to those who comprise the Church, it stands logical that the Rapture would only be revealed when God revealed the purposes and plans for the Church in the New Testament.

While most of Christendom believes Jesus will return for His Church, not everyone agrees that Jesus will rapture the Church before The Tribulation. Those who believe Jesus will rapture the Church midway through the Tribulation are referred to as holding a Mid-Tribulationistview. Those who believe Jesus will rapture His Church after the Tribulation are referred to as Post-Tribulationists. Faithful people can be found in all three camps and whatever view you hold to should not become a source of division in the Church.

Some liberal scholars as well as Jehovah's Witnesses and New Age proponents opt for a spiritualized interpretation of End Times Scripture. Liberal scholars who hold to an amillenial view of Scripture do not believe in taking the Bible literally and see such doctrines as the Rapture in a symbolic way. Amillenialists tend to see the promises of Israel fulfilled in the Church. Such a view destroys the original intent of the Scripture and opens the door to the twisting of Scripture to one's own subjective predispositional whims. Roman Catholicism tends to opt for an amillenial view of Scripture. Jehovah's Witnesses spiritualized the Coming of Jesus after their numerous prophecies of His Coming didn't appear.

New Agers believe "Jesus" and "Christ" are separate. They believe Jesus was a "Christ" in that he was a reincarnated avatar (i.e. a messenger or channeler who connects mankind with the reservoir of cosmic consciousness). To them Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad and Confucius were "Christs”. They believe there is a "Law of Avatars" in which each "new age" is ushered in by "The Christ" of that age who will give new revelation which will guide one through that age in an ascending evolutionary path. (Such a view will likely set people up for the coming of Anti-Christ!)

Why is a pretribulational view to be preferred? The following are three basic reasons for believing in the pretribulation rapture.

First, the pre-tribulation rapture coincides with God's nature. Nowhere in Scripture does God pour out His wrath on the faithful! Some mistakenly believe that Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego were examples of going through tribulation like circumstances. But God didn't light that fire! Nebuchadnezzar lit that fire and turned the heat up in an attempt to destroy the three faithful of God. God will allow us to go through fiery trials, but He will never be the direct Source of them. The Bible states:

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (Romans 5:8-9).

When that Scripture says, "from the wrath to come" that includes any wrath whose source is God whether during the Great Tribulation or in eternal hellfire!

Second, the pre-tribulation rapture exalts Christ. If you hold to a Post-Tribulation Rapture position the natural consequence is to look for the appearing of the Anti-Christ because he is the mark of the beginning of the final seven year period preceding the coming of Jesus. A Pre-Tribulation view puts our focus on looking for Jesus' return. I'd rather be looking for Jesus than Anti-Christ, wouldn't you?!

It should also be said that if you believe in a Post-Trib position, you have a host of markers that must occur before Jesus returns. That means the Rapture couldn't be imminent or coming at any time. That contradicts what the Bible says. The Bible says no one knows the day of Christ's coming and that the Rapture could occur at anytime (Mark 13:35-37; Luke 21:36; I Thessalonians 5:1-2). The Bible implies that if you knew when Jesus was returning you could bide your time (Matthew 25; I Thessalonians 5:4). But no one knows the time and therefore the believer should live in a constant state of readiness:

"For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. But you brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief…. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober" (I Thessalonians 5:2, 4, 6; see also I John 3:2-3)

Finally, the pre-tribulational view is logical Scripturally. In his book No Fear the Storm (p.240), Tim LaHaye states, "When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, but take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise." Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (5:21). If the Church is to go through the Tribulation why is there no instruction on how to survive it? If the Church is to go through the Tribulation why in Revelation 6-19, (which contains the most elaborate details of the Tribulation period) is the Church not mentioned? In fact there is good reason to believe that the first three chapters of Revelation give the full history of the Church up to the point of the Rapture and then in Revelation 4:1 John, who may be representative of the Church is called to "Come up here". The scripture states:

"After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me saying, 'Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this" (4:1).

From that point on the Church is mentioned as in the heavenly presence of Jesus in the book of Revelation. Would the Rapture be a "blessed hope" if Christians had to go through the Tribulation? Paul wrote to Titus to teach about the "blessed hope" of Jesus' "glorious appearing" (Titus 2:13). What makes the Rapture blessed is the fact that God will save us from "the wrath to come"!

In I Thessalonians 4:13-18 we have one of the clearest references to the Rapture of the Church. The Rapture is something Paul did not want people to be "ignorant" of (4:13). The Rapture is something you need to know about! Those who die in the faith before the Rapture will be "with" Jesus at the Rapture (4:14-16). Those of us who are alive at the Rapture will be "caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (4:17). This distinguishes the Rapture from the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation period. At the Rapture Jesus comes for His Church who meets Him "in the clouds . . . in the air". At the Second Coming, Jesus will return with His saints (Jude 14), and come upon the earth to judge the earth and set up His 1000 year reign (Zechariah 14:1-7; Revelation 11:15; 20:4). These are words that should be a comfort to us especially given the events of our day(4:18).

Does the chaos in this world frighten you? Are you shaken by the earthquakes? Are you wondering about the wars and rumors of wars? Do you fear the loss of our freedoms? Are you anxious over the rise in persecution of Christians? Are you concerned over the rise of false teaching, false religions, especially Islam? Are you wondering where all of this is headed? If these are the Last Days spoken of in the Bible then is the truth of Christ's rapture a comfort to you? Are you ready for Jesus' return? If you've yet to turn from your sin and ask God's forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ, DO IT NOW! His return is imminent. Look around you. The time of your salvation is now! DON'T BE LEFT BEHIND! If you have received Jesus as Savior, but are indulging in sinful activities, STOP! Repent and confess your sins to God and seek His forgiveness. The time for slacking off in your walk with the Lord is over! Get right with God and then get to work being used by Him to save souls. Jesus is coming back for us, SOON!


For further information -

Hunt, Dave. How Close Are We? Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Pub., 1993.
Missler, Chuck. From Here to Eternity. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House, 1995.
LaHaye, Tim. No Fear The Storm. Sisters, Oregon: Multimomah, 1992.
Ludwigson, R. A Survey of Bible Prophecy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1973.
Smith, Chuck. The Tribulation and The Church. Costa Mesa, CA: Word For Today, 1994.
Walvoord, Dr. John F. Prophecy - 14 Essential Keys To Understanding The Final Drama. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1993.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Total Commitment to Christ: What Is It? by A.W. Tozer

Total Commitment to Christ: What Is It?

IN THE FIRST CHAPTER OF COLOSSIANS we read that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. (1:15-19)

Then in Ephesians, the first chapter, Paul says that God’s power was exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (1:20-23)

Now before we talk about our union with Christ and our conscious and volitional attachment to Christ in total commitment, we must look at who Christ is and what His relation is to the redeemed company we call the Church. In the passages I have quoted, you will find this truth set forth, which I may imperfectly condense into three words: centrality, basicality, preeminence.

Within the Church, Jesus Christ the Lord is central. The old writers used to say that Christ is to the Church what the soul is to the body—it is that which gives it life. Once the soul flees the body there is nothing that can keep the body alive. When the soul is gone the embalmer takes over. In the Church of Christ—any church anywhere, of any denomination—as long as Christ is there imparting life, being the life of that redeemed company, you have a Church; for Christ is central in His Church. He holds it together.

Then there is the next word, basicality. Jesus Christ is basic to the Church. He’s underneath it—the whole redeemed company rests down upon the Lord Jesus Christ. I know this sounds like a string of religious clichés, but I’d like to say it at least in such a tone of voice that the cliché element will go out of it and you will hear it as though you are hearing it for the first time: The whole Church of God rests down upon the shoulders of His Son. I think we might be able to go around the world and simply cry “Christ is enough!” Jesus Christ is enough.

There is a weakness among us in evangelical circles—we put a plus sign after Christ: Christ plus something else. It is always the pluses that ruin our spiritual lives personally, and it is always the additions that weaken the Church. God has declared that Christ, His Son, is sufficient. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. He is the wisdom of God and the power of God and He gathers up in Himself all things and in Him all things consist. So we do not want Jesus Christ plus something else.

“Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 1:2). And what He has said is, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). So the Lord Jesus Christ is enough. We of the evangelical faith should not preach Christ plus science, or Christ plus philosophy, or Christ plus psychology, or Christ plus education, or Christ plus civilization, but Christ alone and Christ enough. These other things may have their place and fit in and be used. But we are not leaning on any of them; we are resting down on Him who is basic to the faith of our fathers.
Then there is the word preeminent. Christ is preeminent. He is above all things and underneath all things and outside of all things and inside of all things. As the old bishop said, “He is above all things but not pushed up, and He is beneath all, upholding; and outside all, embracing and inside of all, filling.”

Now our relation to Him is all that really matters. A true Christian faith is an attachment to the Person of Christ. The attachment of the individual person to Jesus Christ is intellectual and volitional and exclusive and irrevocable.

Intellectual Attachment

To follow Christ in complete and total commitment means that there must be an intellectual attachment to Christ. That is, we cannot run on our feelings or on wisps of poetic notions about Christ. There are a great many bogus Christs among us these days, and we must show them for what they are and then point to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. John Owen, the old Puritan, warned people in his day: “You have an imaginary Christ, and if you are satisfied with an imaginary Christ you must be satisfied with imaginary salvation.” In finality there is only one Christ, and the truly saved man has an attachment to Christ that is intellectual in that he knows who Christ is theologically. For you know there is the romantic Christ of the romance novelist and there is the sentimental Christ of the half-converted cowboy and there is the philosophical Christ of the academic egghead and there is the cozy Christ of the effeminate poet and there is the muscular Christ of the all-american halfback. But there is only one true Christ, and God has said that He is His Son.

I like what they say of Him in the creeds—that He is God of the substance of His Father, begotten before all ages; Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; perfect God and perfect Man of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; equal to His Father as touching His Godhead, less than His Father as touching His manhood; who although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ; for us the reasonable soul and flesh are one man, so God and Man are one Christ. This is the Christ we adore, and we must have this knowledge of Him. That is, we must have the Christ of Christian theology and we must have an intellectual attachment to Christ, We must believe in the Christ of God, that He is what God says He is.

Volitional Attachment

There is also the volitional attachment to Christ. If I am going to follow Christ in complete and total commitment I must do it by a continuous act of my will. Christians who try to live on impulse and inspiration, who hope to sail to heaven over the undulating sea of religious feeling, are making a bad mistake. Christians who live on their feelings are not living very well and are not going to last very long. The old writers used to tell us of the dark night of the soul. There’s a place where a Christian goes through darkness, where there is heaviness. God isn’t going to take us off to heaven all wrapped in cellophane, looking as if we ought to be hanging on a Christmas tree. God is going to take us there after He has purged us and disciplined us and dragged us through the fire and has made us strong and taught us that faith and feeling are not the same—although faith, thank God, brings feeling sometimes.

We used to sing, “High heaven that heard my solemn vow, that vow renewed shall daily hear.” People are afraid of that kind of thing now, but I believe that just as Daniel determined that he would not eat of the king’s meat and as Jesus set His face like a flint, and just as Paul said “one thing I do,” the true follower of Christ must be a man whose will has been sanctified. He dare not be a will-less man. I never believed that when we teach the deeper life we should teach that God destroys our will. But God unites our will with His will and our will becomes strong in His will, and sometimes as we go on in God we hardly know whether it is our will or God’s that is working at a given moment.

Exclusive Attachment

Now I go on to an exclusive attachment. Our attachment to the Person of Christ must exclude all that is contrary to Christ. These are the days when we are trying to be 100 percent positive. But the Scripture says of Jesus, “You love righteousness and hate wickedness” (Psalm 45:7). That was said of the very Holy Christ Himself, who is higher than the highest heavens and separate from sinners. If He had to hate in order to love, so do you and I. To be 100 percent positive would be as fatal as to inhale steadily all your life without exhaling. You can’t do that.

The human body requires that you inhale to get oxygen and exhale to get rid of the poison. And so the Church of Christ has to inhale and exhale. When she inhales she must exhale. When the Church inhales the Holy Spirit she must exhale everything that is contrary to Him.

I don’t believe any man can love until he’s able to hate. I don’t think that any man can love God unless he hates the devil. I don’t think he can love righteousness unless he hates sin; for the Scripture leaves us with the belief that in order to accept there are some things you must reject. In order to affirm there are things you have to deny; in order to say yes you have to be able to say no.

For my part I have long ago come to the conclusion that I can’t get along with everybody. In an effort to please everybody you will succeed in pleasing nobody. I don’t want a watered-down Christianity. I want to be able to say no. I say no to the devil and no to Kruschev [leader of the Soviet Union at the time this was written] and no to the Pope and no to everybody who has anything to say that’s contrary to the Lord. I adore Him and I am attached to Him With an intellectual attachment that is theological and with a volitional attachment that is final and with an exclusive attachment that would exclude everything that’s contrary to Christ.

Inclusive Attachment

Then there is the inclusive attachment. What do I mean by that? Well, that’s the inhaling, you see. All that Christ is and does and says and promises and commands, and all the glories that circle around His head and all the offices He holds and all the shining beauties and varied facets of His infinite nature, all that He is and all that He has said and all that He has promised—I take all that, I include all that. In addition, since I’m identified with Him, I accept His friends as my friends. I love all the people of God and preach to them all—and some of them listen!
You know, the Lord has some old friends, really. That fellow that goes down the street with a “Jesus Only” button or a “Jesus Saves” button as big as a dinner plate, and his hair not combed too well, staring ahead—if he belongs to Jesus I’m going to own him. An old bishop once said the Lord had His treasure in earthen vessels and some of the vessels are a bit cracked. You’ve got to be willing to own the friends of the Lord wherever they are. His friends are my friends and His enemies are my enemies. This “togetherness” that everybody is talking about—I don’t like it. I want to know what you stand for: Whom do you love and what do you hate?

A good definition of a Christian is somebody who is back from the dead. I think that Paul was one of the oddest and strangest and one of the most glorious of all the Christians that have ever lived, and he gave us a little text that no contemporary editor would ever accept in a manuscript without recasting it. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live....” Now how did he get that way? “I am crucified with Christ.” He’s dead. “Nevertheless I live.” He’s alive. Is he alive or is he dead? “And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, KJV). See Paul contradicting himself there. And yet within all this contradiction there is the synthesis of a marvelous and glorious truth; that a Christian is one who was crucified and is alive, being joined to Jesus Christ as He joined humanity to the deity in the hypostatic union forever—the eternal God joined to the nature of man, never to be reversed.

All the members of the Body of Christ joined to His body share in some measure in that hypostatic union, so that we are united with Him. When He died on the cross we died on the cross, and when He rose from the dead we rose from the dead, and when He went to the right hand of God, we went with Him. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). And it is written that we are “seated ... in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:6), which means we are with Him where He is, members of His great mystical body. How wonderful!

Irrevocable Attachment

Then there is the irrevocable attachment. What do I mean by that? I mean that the Lord doesn’t want any experimenters about. Some movie actor wrote a book one time called Try Jesus. I never read the book. I wouldn’t be caught dead reading it. “Try Jesus.” All this experimentation—I don’t believe in it. I believe we ought to be suicide bombers. We ought to tie ourselves in the cockpit and dive on the deck and if we go out, we go out. Sink or swim, live or die, irrevocably attached in love and faith and devotion to Jesus Christ the Lord.

Christians ought to be those who are so totally committed that it is final. This weak looking back over your shoulder to see if there isn’t something better—I can’t stand it. One time a young man came to an old saint who taught the deeper life, the crucified life, and said to him, “Father, what does it mean to be crucified?” The old man thought for a moment and said, “Well, to be crucified means three things. First, the man who is crucified is facing only one direction.” I like that—facing only one direction. If he hears anything behind him he can’t turn around to see what’s going on. He has stopped looking back. The crucified man on the cross is looking in only one direction and that is the direction of God and Christ and the Holy Ghost and the direction of the edifying of the church, the direction of sanctification and the direction of the Spirit-filled life.

And the old man scratched his scraggly gray hair and said, “One thing more, son, about a man on a cross—he’s not going back.” The fellow going out to die on the cross doesn’t say to his wife, “Good-bye, honey. I’ll be back shortly after five.” When you go out to die on the cross you bid goodbye—you’re not going back! If we would preach more of this and stop trying to make the Christian life so easy it’s contemptible, we would have more converts that would last. Get a man converted who knows that if he joins Jesus Christ he’s finished, and that while he’s going to come up and live anew, as far as this world’s concerned he’s not going back—then you have a real Christian indeed.

The old man went on, “Another thing about the man on the cross, son; he has no further plans of his own.” I like that, too. Somebody else made his plans for him, and when they nailed him up there all his plans disappeared. On the way up to the hill he didn’t see a friend and say, “Well, Henry, next Saturday about three I’ll come by and we’ll go fishing up on the lake.” He was going out to die and he had no plans at all.

Oh, what busy-beaver Christians we are with all of our plans, and some of them, even though they are done in the name of the Lord and evangelical Christianity, are as carnal as goats!

It is beautiful to say “I am crucified with Christ” and know that Christ is making your plans. I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, twenty minutes on your knees in silence before God will sometimes teach you more than you can learn out of books and teach you more than you can ever learn in churches. And the Lord will give you your plans and lay them before you.

If the boards of the churches would only learn to spend more time with God and less time debating, they could save all those midnight meetings where everybody leans back weary from discussing things. I tell you, you can cut down your time in debating and discussing if you spend more time waiting on God. He’ll give you the Holy Ghost and He’ll give you and teach you His plans.

Now I think that’s all I want to say. We are to be joined to Jesus Christ, intelligently joined by knowing who He is; we are to be volitionally joined and not to try to live on our feelings, though thank God there’ll be a lot of feeling going on with it! And we are to be exclusively attached, excluding everything that’s contrary to Him; and inclusively attached, taking in every thing that He surrounds Himself with; and irrevocably attached so we are expendable and are not going back.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Can God Use an Earthquake?

On January 12th, 2010 at 4:53 pm in the evening a magnitude 7 earthquake hit the country of Haiti with its epicenter near the coastal city of Port au Prince. One year later the estimates of the impact of this earthquake on Haiti, a nation of about 10 million, are that about 30% of the population was affected. The loss of life is estimated at 222,570 lives with 300,572 survivors injured. There were 4,000 emergency amputations performed, “2,500 units of blood sent out in the last 45 days of the response” and 3.3 million Haitians without suitable access to food.”1.5 million people were left homeless initial shock and 810,000 are without permanent housing one year late. The United Nations estimate there is 11 million cubic meters of rubble left by the earthquake and only 15% of the rubble has been “managed.”

I was somewhat aware of the devastation and hardship of Haiti and took note of the reconstruction progress or lack thereof in the year after reports. But there is so much going on in the world today that it’s easy to allow particular tragedies to dissipate into a numbed sensitivity to the reality of the actual pain and suffering of each situation. It wasn’t until I was contacted by Pastor Dan Finfrock of Intensive Care Ministries and invited to join him on a trip there that I considered a mission to Haiti. He told me of a fledgling Christian school of ministry and that we would be ministering to Haitian pastors and other Christian workers. I prayed, checked my calendar, and decided it was the will of God to go.

ICM is an international ministry that teaches inductive Bible study to people and especially pastors. Our mission involved Pastor Dan teaching an IBS seminar and me preaching to exemplify what inductively prepared sermons look like. My son Stephen accompanied us to do some worship. Doctor Bill Cullins, a chiropractor, would hold clinics to treat hurting people and Jake Novak would also accompany us for general support.

To say that Haiti, and in particular Port au Prince, remains devastated by the earthquake is an understatement of seismic proportions. No report could have prepared us for the chaos and brokenness, the neediness of what we experienced in this island community. And truly words, even pictures, don’t fully explain the state of this area of the world. But let me share a bit as best I can. Lord please help me.

As we landed in Port au Prince from the four hour flight we went from the cool temperatures of the final stages of a heavy snowed winter in the Northeast to what felt like midsummer 80s heat in Haiti. The heat hit us in the face like jolt as we exited the plane. We were immediately transported by cart to baggage claims which consisted of a dark and dirty garage like building where a decrepit baggage belt noisily took baggage for a short ride and then was heaped in a large pile; all this with no crowd control and plenty of chaos. Fortunately, the administrator of the place where we would be staying and our driver was able to meet us at the baggage area. What you learn fast in Haiti is that five dollars here, ten dollars there, and even at times a twenty dollar bill, will get you where you want to go. Most everyone is looking for “help,” discreet help, but “help” nonetheless. It’s part of this hopefully temporary system of existence.

As we got our bags and left the area we had to walk through what was a gauntlet of people looking to “help” us with our bags. We were advised beforehand to beware of this as it would entail a tip and if it wasn’t forthcoming the “helper” would keep on walking with your bag until they got that tip. We travel light and really didn’t need help so we pressed through with the help of our driver and ministry friend. As we walked though my son happened to be wearing a New York baseball cap and that became a focus of attention as young men grabbed at it through an adjacent fence and begged him to give it to them. He wisely took it off and put it out of sight.
We safely got to our friend’s four wheel drive vehicle, hastily loaded our luggage and made our way out of the airport parking lot. We went less than a mile and made a right hand turn onto an unpaved street. What we then saw was a common scene we experienced throughout our trip. We encountered the most bumpy body rattling roads I had ever been on. They were barely passable in some places. My son later confessed that it was at this point where he felt “Okay, I’m ready to go home.” He kept that to himself but pressed on. We proceeded through the back streets of the city being jarred and shaken like bugs in a box. As we drove through consistently tight spots and steep inclines and declines all the while pedestrians were inches away from the vehicle. All of this, based on my observations of the looks on people’s faces, seemed ordinary and normal for them. For me and my son, we just hung on for dear life and gave an occasional concerned disbelieving glance at each other along the way.

We passed rubble piles and garbage everywhere. The structures in Haiti are made mostly of cinder blocks and bricks that are made there. The buildings look cold and makeshift. They usually have either tin metal or tent like coverings. Everything seemed broken down and patched up in some way. Stray dogs and goats roamed the streets. We saw pigs snorting through trash for food. People were sitting and selling tattered and worn looking goods periodically along the way. There were, believe it or not, small Lotto stands here and there.

On that first trip to our living quarters we stopped in a super market which was the only one we saw while there that was organized with new items on the shelves. It was guarded by police with shotguns. On that first night we went to a fast food place where we fast found that we couldn’t eat the food.

If I was to describe this trip and this land in a few words it would be with words like disarray, disorder, devastation, depression and despair. Since “God is not the author of confusion . . . .” (1 Cor. 14:33) it would be safe to assess much of what we saw and experienced as a work of the enemy. Sometimes the enemy attacks from without, as through the circumstances of earthquake like the one in Haiti. But sometimes he works from within as well. This became apparent as much of what we had been told about our living quarters and mission was simply not the reality. The enemy consistently attacked through disorganization throughout our trip and this can be expected in such an environment.

We had been told we would be housed in a pretty “new” home. All we needed to do was bring our own towels to bath with. When we got there the building where we stayed was “new” and structurally sound compared to the other buildings in the area, but sanitation was nearly nonexistent. Toilets barely if ever worked during our stay. Showers were only an occasional trickle of cold water. Food and water were at first scarce and always an issue. Mosquitoes, though we expected this, were a constant. Put it all together over days of toilets filled with waste, the smell of that, putting on mosquito repellent, sweating and not being able to wash and it ratchets up the tension meter.

In addition to this the plans we had been given were found to be more pipe dreams than true. We have been told there would be about forty students and fifty pastors to teach. In reality there were seven students, about five pastors and a local congregation to minister to. There is nothing wrong with ministering to small numbers of people. But I mention this to convey the miscommunication and disarray of ministry we encountered. There was also never any opportunity to see a prettier side of Haiti that I expect must exist.

To top all of this off during each night as we turned in early for bed we were serenaded by a chorus of the howls and growls of packs of street dogs fighting with each other or chasing a prey. It was hard to tell which they were doing but you’d usually here a blood curdling cry from some victim of their pursuits.

On a couple of nights we received a reprieve from the hot stickiness. We thanked the Lord for that. But every night around three in the morning a local pastor on a loudspeaker would begin shouting in French Creole first with a prayer and then with over an hour of what he must have believed was a message from God. The verse that came to mind for me was, “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him” (Prov. 27:14). Even if I could have understood what he was saying I doubt if I would have been edified.

To this point I’ve shared a mostly negative picture. There were positives, great positives on this trip. Our team of five quickly were united in our common mission cause and there was absolutely no dissension between us during the trip. We solidified and formed what I believe will be lifelong friendships. The seven students who were at the school were wonderful young men of God who love the Lord. They would worship and sing new songs my son shared with them for hours on end. They were true worshippers of the Lord. We became fast friends whose hearts are eternally knit together in brotherly love. They were always cheerful and eager to serve. Their desire to serve the Lord was only surpassed by their desire to learn more about God and His word. These were brothers hungering and thirsting for the righteous ways of God and it was a rich blessing to be used by God to quench that thirst in some small way. The local church congregation where the Inductive training was held was attended by people hungry to learn how to study the word of God. It was a blessing to serve there. It was fun when the occasional rooster would pass by the tent or some other unexpected situation would develop. Haiti is not merely dirt and brick and refuse, it is people and those people are a rich blessing and worth ministering too. A mission trip is for the people. Both those on a mission and those being ministered to on that mission made this trip a rich blessing.

For relief from the heat and conditions at the end of the day we would retreat to the roof of our house and take in the cool breezes while fellowshipping and telling stories of what God had done in our lives and on this trip. As we sat on that roof and listened to the sounds of Port au Prince it was as though a massive outdoor picnic or concert gathering was going on. We could hear people talking and laughing, babies crying, life was going on. We could also smell the nightly aroma of trash burning as well as food being cooked. It was on the roof that we gathered many of the sights, sounds and smells that will stay with us a lifetime.

Some, (including the people of Haiti themselves), ponder whether or not God brought this earthquake on Haiti as judgment for sin. But Haiti is not alone in her sin. There are many nations just as sinful and just as deserving if this is a judgment for sin. The most that can be said is that God permitted this earthquake.

When we look at the devastation and pain caused by such a natural disaster we should not discount the involvement of Satan and spiritual evil entities. There is evidence that Satan can use natural disaster with evil intent (Job 1:19). But he could only do this after getting permission from the LORD (Job 1:8-12). Satan is not an equal to God but a part of God’s creation and under the authority of God. If the earthquake in Haiti has evil origins, God is able to take what was meant for evil and use it for His good purposes (e.g. Gen. 50:20).

Jesus warned that in the days before His return the earth would suffer natural birth pangs which would include earthquakes (Mark 13:8). Such earthquakes, as terrible as they are, can be seen as indicators of the times in which we live. Earthquakes are arguably on the rise in our world. Some point to statistics showing no real increase in the frequency of earthquakes. But there can be no doubt that our awareness, even fear of earthquakes and their sudden devastating effects are more prominently in our minds given reporting in the media.

We question why God would even allow such an earthquake. There are questions like that which we may not ever have the answer for in this life. When we come to a question or life situation that causes us confusion, even doubt about God’s sovereign decisions, we need to fall back on what we do know about God. We do know God is just (Gen. 18:25) and loving (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8) and we do know God has our best interests at heart (Rom. 8:31-32). We have to understand that God is Omniscient or all-knowing too (Ps. 147:5; Mat. 10:28-30). He is not limited by time. He sees the end from the beginning and makes His plans accordingly (Isaiah 46:8-11).

While we may not understand the decisions of the Lord it would be unwise to go against them. God ordered King Saul in the Old Testament to annihilate the Amalekites. God had waited four hundred years for the Amalekites to repent of their sins against Israel with no response from this sinful people. And God had good reason for His ordered annihilation. But King Saul thought he knew better and permitted what he thought was good to live. Instead of executing King Agag, he brought him home to Samuel. Samuel finally did execute King Agag, but the implication is that King Saul did not completely obey the Lord and allowed some of the Amalekites to live. For this partial obedience and downright self-reliant and proud disobedience to God King Saul lost his kingdom (1 Samuel 15). We might agree with King Saul and see him as merciful. But to side with any human and their puny perspective of life against God who is all-knowing is a massively foolish thing to do. God looks at situations and knows all the myriad networking of circumstances each decision will entail. We look at one action and one estimated consequential outcome based on a very limited perspective. And we are mostly wrong. Years later we are given the historical account of the captivity of God’s people under Persian rule. In this account a devilish schemer named Haman puts in place a plan to annihilate all Jews. If this were accomplished it would stifle the redemptive plan of God to bring a Savior to the world through Israel. God providentially protects His people from Haman’s genocidal intentions. You can read about it in the book of Esther. When we look in the book of Esther and the historical account of this threat to God’s people we learn that Haman was an Agagite! He was a descendant of the Amalekites! King Saul’s self-reliant disobedience almost cost his people their existence. We may not understand the will of God or what He allows in life, but it is always wise and the best decision to trust in His sovereign determinations. That is true with the Haitian earthquake as well.

But can God use an earthquake? Is there any Biblical precedent for Him doing so? The answer is Yes! God can indeed use an earthquake. He can even birth a church with an earthquake. My plan was to teach through Philippians. In preparation for my introductory message I turned to Acts 16 and began to prayerfully review. It wasn’t until I got to 26 that God opened my eyes. There it states:

“Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.”

God impressed on me, that is My word for the Haitians! I prayerfully meditated on that verse and its context and the more I prayerfully read it the more the Lord impressed on me that it was a perfect fit for the Haitians. I got up and found Pastor Dan and simply read verse 26 to him. I really didn’t have to say a word of explanation. He too saw the connection. I believe the Lord can birth or bring revival to the church in Haiti out of the rubble of this devastating earthquake. He can do it and it can happen if we follow God’s plan and word in Acts 16.

In Acts 16 we find that God used an earthquake in the birthing of the beloved church at Philippi. It’s an incredible story with some incredible and profound truths to be applied to life.

First, be led by the Spirit (16:6-10). The first thing we see is that we have to follow the leading of the Spirit (16:6-10). Paul and his missionary team were forbidden twice about going into certain areas to minister. God had a plan and He was directing them in it. It was through a night vision that Paul saw a man of Macedonia beckoning him to come and help. Sons of God are led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14). And before we embark on a mission we need to be sure it is based on the leading of the Lord. God will never contradict His word in a vision or dream. Where God guides God provides. He will provide resources and open doors to lead us in His plan. But that is not enough. Where God guides God gifts. We need to follow and serve the Lord based on how He gifts us. Every Christian has a spiritual gift. Not everyone has the same spiritual gift. We need to serve God where He gifts us to serve. On our mission trip a person serving in an administrative position without the gift of administration caused frustration through disorder. Fortunately God is able to work in spite of us but that should not be used as an excuse or rationale for people to insert themselves in places God never intended them to be. God uses willing hearted people but that willing heartedness begins first with seeking the Lord and fanning to a flame the gift God gives (1Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). If we don’t do that we’ll crash and burn.

Second, be obedient (16:11). The next we see is Paul setting sail to fulfill God’s call to Macedonia. Obedience is vital for those wanting to be used by God. God will not use the disobedient. He wants servants who listen to their master. Jesus said our love for Him is confirmed by our obedience to Him (John 14:21). We need to be like Paul not King Saul (compare 1 Sam. 15).

Third, be patient (16:12). Verse twelve tells us that they came to Philippi the foremost city in Macedonia and when they got there “were staying in the city for some days.” They waited for the leading of the Lord. They didn’t act on impulse or jump into action prematurely. They were there for some days before they began to take action. If we launch out into ministry or mission before we or God’s plans are in place it can lead to great hindrances. We need to let patience have its perfect work in us and in the plans God is putting together (e.g. James 1:2-4). If we do that God’s promise is that we will lack nothing or He will supply what we need.

Fourth, be aware of local customs (16:13). While there and waiting the Spirit directed Paul to a local custom the people to go to the riverside and pray. Paul seized upon this and began to teach some women he found there. If we follow God’s lead He will open doors of opportunity to share the gospel.

Fifth, be alert to God’s openings (16:14). Paul came to a woman named Lydia and shared the gospel with her. Notice how God was working here. Lydia “heard us.” The Lord must have been speaking to Lydia prompting her to listen to what Paul was teaching. She was a worshiper of God but needed to hear the gospel truth. Then most importantly it states, “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” Any soul saved or disciple made or ministry done on a mission trip or in any kind of ministry is a matter of God working. We are simply His instruments. If we make ourselves available to be used by Him when, where and how He chooses we will see His hand at work. Where God guides God grows. When we go where and how God guides there will be fruit from our labors.

Sixth, be receptive (16:15). When Lydia was saved she then invited Paul and his team to come to her house. It is believed Lydia was instrumental to the start of the church in Philippi. Paul could have been overly polite or hesitant to accept the invitation of Lydia. If he had, who knows how the church at Philippi would have been impacted. But if God provides us with a resource we should accept it.

Seventh, be holy and don’t compromise with evil (16:16-18). Jesus stopped a demon from proclaiming His identity (Mark 5:7-8). We cannot allow what is unholy to be involved in the proclamation of a holy message. When the mission team went to pray a demon possessed slave girl with a “spirit of divination” interrupted them. Martin Luther once said, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon their knees” in prayer. Satan will do anything to interrupt or distract us from praying. Anyone who has sought to spend time in prayer readily realizes this to be true. Here the enemy sought to distract Paul and the mission team by proclaiming their arrival. What the demon possessed girl said was true, but it was unacceptable because it is inappropriate for that which is unholy to proclaim a holy message. I don’t mean that those who are used in ministry need be sinless. John speaks of a sin not unto death referring to the daily battling with sin and sometimes falls into sin we experience a Christians in this life (see 1 John 5:16-17).

What I am talking about is nonbelievers, those in rebellion against God in an area of their lives, or in this case a demonically driven person should not be allowed to participate in the holy mission of God. For instance in Haiti Voodoo is a large part of the culture. Some Christians continue to incorporate Voodoo traditions along with their Christian faith. This is unacceptable and a sin before God who is holy. God is of purer eyes than to look on wickedness (Hab. 1:13). If we regard or allow sin to go accepted and unchecked in our lives God will not hear our prayers (Ps. 66:18). Sin separates us from God (Is. 59:1-2). That is always true. We cannot compromise with sin or evil. It will short circuit what God wants to do in and through us.
It is unacceptable for a mission message to be proclaimed by such an entity. And so Paul did not compromise with this evil. It even said he was “greatly annoyed” at this spirit and commanded it “in the name of Christ to come out of her.” Demonic spirits will inevitably be encountered on the mission field or in ministry. When that happens our authority is “in the name of Jesus Christ” not in us. We need to hold Jesus in between us and the demonic. When we do that we will win out because the God of peace will crush Satan under our feet (Rom. 16:20), when we resist Satan in Christ’s name he will fell from us (James 4:7) and greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Eighth, be persevering when persecuted (16:19-24). Paul’s deliverance of the girl with the evil spirit resulted in the loss of income from her owners. This caused a riot that led to Paul and Silas being thrown in jail. Profits should never be the main concern of prophets. And spiritual need takes priority over material needs. Pastor’s or ministry workers, even missionaries who are more concerned with fleecing the flock of God than feeding the flock of God have no business in the work of God.

But here the righteous work of ministry led to Paul and Silas being beaten and thrown in jail. This didn’t cause them to give up but they persevered under the pressures of persecution. There will always be obstacles in ministry and when they come we need to prayerfully address them. Sometimes they will indicate a closing of a door of ministry. At other times they will be something that needs to be persevered through.

Ninth, be joyful (16:25). Even though they had been beaten and thrown in prison Paul and Silas not only persevered but maintained their spiritual composure by joyfully worshipping the Lord. This ministered to and was a witness to the other inmates. And it is no accident that Paul’s prison epistle to the Philippians is a letter of exhortation to remain joyful in all situations (e.g. Phil. 4:4). Such joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Rom. 14:17; Gal. 5:22). Jesus told His disciples he taught them in part so that they could have joy and that it would be a full joy (John 15:10). That is what we see in Paul and Silas here. No matter what happens, maintain your joy. Joy is not mere happiness. Happiness depends on what is happening around you. Joy depends on that deep abiding trust in Jesus. Joy is the presence of Jesus within, assuring, guiding and empowering through the circumstances of life.

Tenth, be ready (16:26-34). When the earthquake hit and the prison was shaken and the cell doors flung open, Paul was ready to share the gospel. God can use an earthquake to set those imprisoned in sin free. God can shake the shackles of sin off of people. And He does that not only with an occasional earthquake; He does it with the power of the gospel that saves (Rom. 1:16). And when the time comes and someone being shaken by that earthquake, in whatever form it takes, when that person cries out, ”Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Then we need to be ready to say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is not a demonic type of knowledge of God that has no force to move people to follow God (cf. James 2:19). The faith that saves is by nature repentant. It is a faith that results in a person turning from their sin to God through faith in Jesus Christ and as they confess and forsake their sinful ways, and ask God to forgive them based on Jesus substitutionary cross work, God will forgive them and give them spiritual life through the indwelling Holy Spirit (c. Rom. 8:9-11).

There is one other place where God used an earthquake. When Jesus rose from the dead it says there was “great earthquake” (Mat. 28:2). The world has been shaken ever since with the power of the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. When we believe in our hearts that He has been raised from the dead and confess Jesus as our Lord, we will be saved. (Rom. 10:9).

Can God use an earthquake? God can take what is meant for evil and use it for good. God can work through even the tragedy of a Haitian earthquake. Maybe just maybe, the circumstances of that earthquake will prove to be a means by which people will cry out “What must we do to be saved?” And we will answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household.” Maybe we will see a revival that will birth a new church in Haiti. Maybe we will see the birth of a new invigorated nation as well. God can use an earthquake to do such things. Will we cooperate in His plans? Time will tell.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Haiti Missions Trip

Dear Brothers, Sister, and Friends:

I will be going to Haiti on a missions trip from 3/5-11. My son Stephen (17)will be accompanying me and we will be going with Dan Finfrock of Intensive Care Ministries. Dan will be doing a week long Inductive Bible Study training and I will be modelling preaching by way of inductive study. Stephen will be doing some worship. Would you please pray for us and the people we will be ministering to? Pray for our protection and productive use by the Lord for His glory. Thank you all