“Is it not a little one?”

Lot had just been rescued and delivered from the fiery judgments of God which He had rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, his wife and two daughters had to be led by the hand out of Sodom, being warned by the angels to not even look back. Famously, Lot’s wife did look back and was turned into a pillar of salt. That might be hard to believe but evidently Jesus Christ believed it. See Luke 17:32.

You might think all this would be an incredible shake-up for Lot. My gosh, that guy is going to walk the straight and narrow the rest of his life, no? Evidently not. And it’s a watershed moment in the history of sin when we read what happened next. Lot turned to the angels as they passed by another heathen town of wickedness and said to the angel, “Behold, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one. Oh, let me escape thither; is it not a little one? And my soul shall have rest.” (Genesis 19:20)

Folks, you can get the soul out of the worldly satanic system, whether it be Sodom of old or the satanic amalgam of metropolises that now dominate the earth. But just like with Lot, it’s not easy to get the satanic system out of the soul. God had “delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked.” (II Peter 2:7) But was Lot all contrite and trembling before the Lord? Did Lot make a bee line to his Godly uncle Abraham and his family up in the hills and highlands of God, begging to be taken back in like a prequel to the Prodigal son?

Nope, Lot immediately tried to cut a deal with the angels, “reasoning” with them that another little Babylon-like city not far from Sodom would do just fine and he’d really like to get back to some system preserving compromises and worldliness, even after God had just destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah literally right before their eyes.

“Ah,” you say, “this happened 4000 years ago and things are different today.” Really? If you think that, I’ve got some bad news for you. It’s like Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) As difficult as it was to go through, I’m thankful that God made about as plain to me as He could just how hopelessly sinful and lost I was long ago. My own ignorance, my own willful darkness very nearly took my life except for the totally undeserved, almost strange mercy of God who brought light to my soul when I was writhing in the agonies of the afterlife without God.

“Oh, Mark! Why did God do that to you?! Why did He treat you like that? Why does a God of love send us to hell?!!” Sister or brother, you got it wrong there. God doesn’t send us to hell. We send ourselves to hell through our willful, stubborn ignorance and choosing the wrong path, away from the presence of God to live in the presence of our choices which we made against His truth and light.

He didn’t have to plead with the angels to let him go to a new manifestation of the worldly system of his day. Lot could have asked to have a place at his uncle Abraham’s table and to learn more fully of the ways of God as evidently Lot did believe in the Lord. But it’s just like how it is for millions and billions of people: sin does have dominion over them. And except for the mercy of God, sin will and does have dominion over every one of us. Lot was like the Prodigal Son but who never “came to himself” (Luke 15:17). And sadly there are a lot of those it seems.

In the last book in the Bible, we are told of “Babylon the Great”, pictured as a wretched prostitute which sits upon many nations and rules over the kings of the earth. And God says, “Come out of her, My people, that you partake not of her sins or receive of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4) But God in a sense has been saying that for thousands of years. He even had the angels take Lot and his family out of the Babylon of his day by the hand. And in the last days before the setting up of God’s kingdom on earth, He is going to destroy the final Babylon the Great, this final Sodom and Gomorrah that has now spread across the earth. Whether or not any of His people will get the message and “come out of her” remains to be seen.

We need to acknowledge our sinful nature and ways every single day and pray desperately and sincerely that God will “withhold you from sinning against Me.” (Genesis 20:6) Because as sure as your garden will start turning up weeds if you don’t diligent tend it, your own human heart and nature will rise up against your Christian convictions and character if you don’t daily “keep your heart with all diligence.” (Proverbs 4:23)

“Oh Mark, I’m not going to read your blog posts anymore! I’m going back to Joel Osteen and his lovely wife. They’re so sweet and positive, always encouraging and uplifting, not like you!” Friends, I’m all for being loving, positive and uplifting. But I’m just telling you from extremely hard experience that none of us had better ever get to the place where we forget how much we need the Lord , how much we should be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!” (Romans 7:24)

Don’t be like Lot. If the Lord has delivered you from your Sodom and Gomorrah, don’t beg the angels to let you off at the next hellish place just down the road so you can continue in the compromised worldliness that is anathema to God’s highest and best in your life. Instead, be like Moses who “forsook Egypt” (Hebrews 11:27) because “he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” (Hebrews 11:26) What Egypt, Sodom or Babylon is God calling you out of?

Letting the Word be our prayer

You yourself can become your own worst distraction. You’re trying to go to the Lord in prayer and then suddenly you notice that your shoe lace is loose. Then there’s a beautiful bird that flies by. And then you’re a little hungry. “Oh, wait! I’m supposed to be praying!” Ever had that happen? Is there any solution or hope for this? One thing I turn to is to pray the Word.

Sometimes when I go to prayer, I just start quoting to myself Psalm 23 or, even better, Psalm 27. There’s an incredible power in the Word of God. It’s like changing channels inside your brain. When you quote the Word to the Lord, or to yourself, or even to the devil, there’s so much more power in it. God likes it and honors it when you bring His Word before Him , claiming it, clinging to it and letting it become your thoughts and your heart cry.

Of course there’s one hitch, isn’t it? You usually will have had to make an effort to commit portions of Scripture to memory beforehand. And I’m tempted to wax cynical or sarcastic here but I’ll just say it plainly: there are virtually no churches anywhere that do anything in the way of seriously admonishing their congregations to memorize the Word. So this integral part of our prayer life is left weak because so few know this principle of praying the Word. And so few really know the Word well enough to claim it and quote it in prayer.

Thoughts like this came to me some minutes ago as I walked back from my morning prayer time that I take in a clearing near where I live. Like everyone has experienced, I had been hit by distractions as I’d been praying and I needed to repeatedly “have rule over my own spirit” (Proverbs 25:28) and “bring every thought into subjection”. (II Corinthians 10:5) Thank God for His infinite mercy on us. Because, if we were required each day to pray earnest, distraction-free, focused and long prayers, I don’t think many would measure up to that. Therefor, often the Lord has to do things to break our hearts or make us in some way truly feel a strong need for the Lord. And in those times we can usually be a little more focused, a little deeper and more sober about our continuing need for Him.

Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Nothing good, that’s for sure. Paul said, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of Christ.” (II Corinthians 3:5) And this is as true when it comes to prayer as it is in everything else.

I’ll be in prayer and then some idiotic thought tries to take over my mind’s eye. So I’ll quote to myself, “I hate vain thoughts but Your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Or suddenly I’ll get a picture in my mind of some foolish worldly thing, it doesn’t matter what it is. So, hopefully, I will quote to myself, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes, I hate the work of them that turn aside, it shall not cleave unto me.” (Psalm 101:3) And if I’m fervent and focused enough, I’ll go on to quote “I have set the Lord always before my face, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” (Psalm 16:8) Or, another one along the same line of keeping our eyes on Jesus, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Maybe you don’t have this kind of struggle. Maybe you glide effortlessly each day into long periods of rich, full, deep, intimate interaction with the Lord. I guess I’ve had some times like that over the years. But more often than not I’ve had to make some effort to get through or out of my carnal mind and “the affairs of this life” (IITim. 2:4). And praying the Word, just entering into the Word of God and letting it be my shield and the  words of my mouth in prayer has been a method that’s helped me get beyond the trivialities and physicality of this world that’s so often with us.

So I suggest you try it, if you’re having problems like this. Maybe what I wrote elsewhere about Memorizing God’s Word could be a help to you. And, admittedly I’ve written about this subject before in “Praying the Word”. Also I wrote about “Distractions”.

But I sort of think that this is a problem a lot of people have. “It’s all by grace” but at the same time, we often do have to make some real effort to leave the Egypt of ourselves and enter into the Promised Land of His Spirit in prayer , coming “boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16) If you are feeling weak and struggling in prayer, try stirring yourself up to stronger fervency by quoting the Word in prayer and claiming His promises. God bless you.

Knowing

I know it is flatWords are kind of funny, kind of deep. You know what I mean? Take “knowing” for example. You can say you “believe” something but when you say you know something, it’s similar but also really different. And both of those words occupy a very prominent place in the Bible.

Probably the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” They say the whole message of the Bible is encapsulated in that verse. And the key and pith of it is in “believing” in Jesus. But that word, “believe”, in English, can at times come across as slightly weak. You can ask someone, “Are you going to the party?” And if they say, “I believe so”, you might come back with, “Well, are you sure?” And if they then say, “I think so,” you’d probably sense a lack of certainty in their voice. But if they say, “I know I will”, then that’s pretty much it. There’s certainty in knowing.

John writing in prison flatAnd the Bible teaches us not just to believe in Jesus and God but to know Them. And, yes, that is possible. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed…” (II Timothy 1:12) And John the beloved disciple said, “These things I have written to you that believe on the name of the son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life…”. (I John 5:13) There’s actually quite a lot about this in the Scriptures. Paul said, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10)

Think about it. Jesus had certainty enough that God was going to raise Him from the dead that He allowed Himself to suffer the most horrible death known at that time, crucifixion. And, sure enough, “God raised Him from the dead.” (Acts 13:30) Maybe you don’t believe that. But 10 of the 12 original apostles of Jesus were certain enough about that resurrection that they all themselves suffered martyrdom. They didn’t just “believe”. They didn’t just “think”. They “knew” , they were certain enough about the truth they’d seen and heard from the Lord that they died for that truth and that Lord, knowing with certainty that eternal life was theirs.

And against the backdrop of the world we live in, that kind of certainty, that kind of knowing is rather rare. Of course, it can be said that people give their lives for causes all the time. Soldiers do it and many others give their lives in a lifetime of what sometimes turns out to be a very questionable goal or dream.

So, admittedly, there’s a lot of uncertainty in this world. I was thinking about an obscure verse this morning in Ecclesiastes which says of God “…also He has set the world in their heart so that no man can find out the work that God does from the beginning to the end.path ahead(Ecc. 3:11) That’s why we Christians say we have to take a lot of things “by faith”. Paul said, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (II Corinthians 5:7) But with the heavenly vision we get from His Word, the eternal truths that are our foundation for this life we now live, we can see and find “the path of life” (Pslams 16:11) which often is radically different from “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) which is what the ungodly trudge along in.

But for those of us who know and believe in the Lord, there is so much more an element of certainty and knowing than in what the world has to offer. Jesus talked about building our house on the rock so that when the storms come, our house will stand. That’s all about knowing, about the kind of belief that has entered into rest. It’s a knowing kind of belief. This is what Solomon meant when he said, “Have not I written unto you excellent things in council and knowledge? That you may know the certainty of the words of truth, that you may answer the words of truth to them that send unto you.” (Proverbs 22:20 & 21)

Life can be really tough. We all make mistakes. We all have times where we really thought we were right about something and it turned out we were wrong. foggy flatOr there are times where we are just in confusion, not knowing exactly what is true of false. But for those of us who know and have the Lord, a good deal of the fogginess of this life is lessened if we truly know and have a living relationship with God and His Son Jesus, plus also that we deeply study and receive the truth of His written Word, the Bible.

Then, even if there is a lot of uncertainty around you, a lot you don’t understand, a lot you just don’t feel very smart about, you can still have a strong presence of truth and knowledge of the most important things in this life: eternal life through the mercies of God and Jesus and precious instruction in how to live daily in this world through His Word.

Fighting the fight of faith

determined to go forward full flatLet’s say you are determined to go forward for the Lord. Maybe you’re determined to share your faith more with others. Maybe you’re determined to get the victory over some “besetting sin” (Hebrews 12:1)  in your life, alcoholism, gluttony, lethargy, materialism or whatever. But you’ve set your face to go forward to greater obedience, to overcome and really gain ground in the Spirit for the Lord.

Well, I almost hate to tell you this (and you probably know it anyway) but it’s like this: if you do it the right way, the enemy will fight you. The hellish, fiendish “god of this world” (II Cor.4:4) doesn’t plan to give up territory he thinks is his and perhaps actually is his at this time. So you can expect that, one way or the other, the enemy will fight back and do all he can to thwart your plans, your dreams and your desires to go forward for the Lord.

you are a mess flatHow does he do that? He sends ISIS or some radical Muslim to destroy your life? Usually he’s more subtle than that. I think the vast majority of the time the enemy uses words and thoughts to deter us from our determination to more greatly obey the Lord. And folks, I’ve seen it happen recently and I’ve seen it happen when I was in my 20’s and every step in between.

The devil is the accuser of the saints. The Bible even talks about “false accusers in the last days” (II Tim. 3:3). And the pitiful thing is, the devil can tell you a lot of truth about yourself (or your friends, coworkers or loved ones) not to mention all the lies he tells. But whatever he can find in his dirty bag of tricks, his awful arsenal of evil, he’ll throw it your way. And, sadly, it’s not like it never works. Lies, fears, discouragement, the past, the future, confusion, division, discord, accusations, “revelations”, the list is almost endless of what starts coming at you when you are starting out to climb the mountain of God’s higher will and calling in your life.

turning backPaul the apostle said of the devil “we are not ignorant of his devices”. (II Corinthians 2:11) But it can be downright disheartening how many of the Lord’s sincere saints are sidetracked from the direction the Lord has led them when the enemy pulls out his big guns and starts shooting. And for the most part, it’s all in a battle of the mind. If the devil can persuade you to quit and give up, he doesn’t need to waste his time with any violent persecution of you. You’ve already been eliminated by being overcome by his confusion, fears, false narrative or whatever.

A real doozy is when the devil can pull up something that is actually true and use it against you. It may be something about your life, your weaknesses, your past, someone else’s past, some mistake you or someone else has made, things like that. And he just keeps playing that song and that “fact” in your head without ceasing, if you let him. After all, it is true, you can’t deny it.

I showed you flat-1But the deal is, there are other things that are much more important that are also true and are what the Lord wants you to focus on. It’s like the verse in the Bible, “this wisdom descends not from above but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” (James 3:15) But it is some form of wisdom, just that it’s not the wisdom from above. Some facts are like that: things that are true but if you focus on them, they’ll lead you right out of the will of God and the mindset He wants you to have. I’ve seen it happen, recently.

Paul said one time, “None of these things move me” (Acts 20:24). He said to the Galatians, “But though we or an angel of heaven preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8)  Later on he said to the Galatians, “You did run well, who has bewitched you?” Galatians 3:1 & 5:7)

Often we learn these things through very hard experiences. We learn some of this when we have fallen for this type of device of the enemy, whatever it may be. “The fear of man brings a snare.” (Proverbs 29:25) We are afraid of what people will say and their opinions of us. Or our heart condemns us and tells us that God can’t use us. Or there’s some division that the enemy works among brethren to stop the progress of God’s troops.

But whatever it is, I can guarantee you that it will happen if you are truly going forward to win the battles of the Lord and regain ground from the enemy, in whatever form it may take. So just expect it, don’t fear it or let it frighten or deter you but be prepared, have on the armor of God, and trust that the victory that is needed has already been won for us on the cross when Christ there defeated the enemy of our souls. May He help all of us to be winners in the battles He is leading us into, not victims but victors. God bless you to be fighters for Him.

Cast your bread upon the waters

give and it shall flatWhat do you think about when you think of the God of the Bible? Love? That sounds right. But how is love actually shown or seen? I think one of the clearest ways is in kindness and generosity. There’s just so much in the Bible about giving and sharing, from cover to cover.

Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given unto you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over shall men give unto your bosom, for with the same measure that you met shall it be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38) In another place He said, “He that has two coats let him give to him that has none.” (Luke 3:11) But that spirit He puts in our souls of concern, altruism and benevolence at times can be quenched if our hearts become hardened through selfishness or possibly the heartbreaks of life that make us feel it’s just not worth it.

why give flatWe’re tempted to just stop sharing, stop caring, and stop going the extra mile. We do it and then sometimes it seems it was all for nothing. The ones we tried to help were rude or unappreciative. Our labors truly did seem to be in vain and there’s just the huge sentiment to throw in the towel, close up shop on our lives and turn out the lights. “Why keep giving? No one else does. I’m just an idiot to naively give of my own to people who don’t appreciate it, while others laugh and snicker at my immature generosity.” You can hear some say that or it’s the cry of our broken, wounded hearts at times.

For me it comes down to this. I just go back to the most foundational experiences of my life and see again that the words of the Bible and the words of Jesus far transcend any “reasonable” rationalizations that contradict the truths of God and His Word. Loving, sharing, caring benevolence and generosity are some of the greatest hallmarks of God and Jesus and they should be some of the strongest abiding characteristics of the people of God.

good samaritan 1We can’t just pass by the poor man on the road to Jericho. We have to stop and render aid. We can’t selfishly hoard our blessings but we feel impelled by the Spirit of God to share with others. And the Bible is just full of this line of thinking. Here’s what Isaiah said. “And if you draw out your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall rise in obscurity and your darkness shall be as the noon day.” (Isaiah 58:10) In another place Solomon said, “The liberal soul shall be made fat and he that waters shall be watered also himself.” (Proverbs 11:25) And we can turn to more from Jesus, “Give to him that asks you and from him that would borrow from you, turn not away.” (Matthew 5:42)

Of course some may have choked or stumbled back there when I quoted Solomon where he talked about “the liberal soul.” For some Christians today, the word “liberal” is virtually synonymous with Satan. And that is a stark sign of the darkened times we live in that “liberal” has come to mean that. Because originally the word “liberal” meant generous and giving , as well as free from prejudice. (See II Corinthians 9:13) Nowadays it has been taken over by a political movement and twisted to mean something totally different. So much so that Christians now feel that in order to be “conservative”, they’re obliged to be stingy, hard-hearted, uncaring for those having rough times and just all that goes with the modern “conservative” agenda which often really does not have priorities parallel to the words of Jesus and the Bible.

In conclusion? “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Satan and the vicissitudes of life work incessantly to harden your heart, to make you faint in your mind and throw in the towel when it comes to being loving, kind, generous and giving. Don’t let it happen.

To quote Solomon again, in the 11th chapter of Ecclesiastes, “Cast your bread upon the waters for you shall find it after many days. Give a portion to seven and also to eight for you know not what evil shall be upon the earth.” You may be “casting your bread upon the waters”. You may be giving and not really fully knowing where it’s going or what it’s being used for. But if you are doing it “as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23) , in obedience to His commandments to be loving and to share, someday (in this life or the next) “you’ll find it after many days.”

morning grace flatThat’s what God does, He gives and shares and pours out constantly. “He sends His rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) And He implores us to have a heart like His, to love and give as He has given to us. So watch out about times when you just feel it isn’t worth it or “wise” to be loving and giving. Thank God He hasn’t changed His mind about being loving and benevolent. Lord help us not to change our mind about it either.

To whom shall we go?

find Christians flatGod “sets the solitary in families”. (Psalm 68:6) But often for those who long for the higher road in this life of Christian discipleship, it can be a lonely trek. It breaks my heart at times when I hear of ones who truly seek to not only be a Christian but to also take up their cross, as Jesus said, and follow Him. How can someone do that today? Where is anyone or any group of people truly following the original commandments of Jesus and the pattern of the book of Acts, who daily, whole heartedly are laying down their lives to be, in this hour of world history, all that the first Christians and disciples were?

Can it be done today? Is anyone really doing it in our times? With the Early Church in the book of Acts, it was just a monumental indigenous groundswell of the Spirit of God and “multitudes were added to the church, both of men and women”. They worked together, taught one another, encouraged one another and had a strong bond that developed into a whole society of saved souls, delivered from the power of darkens and translated into a whole new creation, a people of God made alive through Jesus which quickly spread across the world of those times.

Baptist churchIs it still the same today? Well, maybe somewhat. There still are Christians, there are churches you can go to, sweet people there and some of them will share with you the fundamentals of the faith. You can stand and sing with them on Sunday and imbibe the atmosphere of faith there. You can even go to their small groups or home churches where you usually can get to know individual Christians better and get a somewhat stronger feeding from the Word.

But I know for some people, perhaps many people, this really isn’t enough. Some at least just feel a God-given longing in their hearts for a much greater portion of the whole Christian experience. They may not even be able to express it but they have a yearning to be true disciples of Jesus, like so many were at the time of the early Church and the book of Acts.

freedom fellowship flatThey don’t want a once-a-week experience in church. They can just feel that it’s a distant echo of the original Kracatoan explosion of the Spirit that was the original wave of Christianity and all that was a part of what brought the truth of Jesus to our world. They want to live for the Lord as the first Christians did. God has put it in their hearts to be dissatisfied with a life of secularism and compromise with the world. They just know there’s a universe of joy, service, experience, purpose and fulfillment that is there, somewhere. But they can’t find it.

At least at times in my life I’ve been privileged to be around like-minded people who joyously took up the call of Christian discipleship and who at some times and in some places banded together in a similar fashion to the disciples of the Early Church. But many will say, “Well, that didn’t last. They didn’t all stay together like that or keep their fervor unto the end.” True, they didn’t. Still, it was a brilliant fire while it lasted and I feel at least that it was a more fruitful and fulfilling form of Christianity that I experienced in those times.

to whom flatIn a sense, there was something to join. There’s always a danger with that as it’s so easy for anything that becomes organized to fall prey to the world of things that can go wrong when people are organized in any way. But for people now, if someone feels a strong urging of the Lord to follow Him in full time Christian service, what are they going to do? “To whom shall we go?” as Peter once said (John 6:68).

He knew for sure that Jesus and the discipleship they had in Him was the only thing real that was around. But Jesus isn’t alive in the flesh with us on earth right now. And maybe you can find a good church. But almost certainly the Spirit will bear witness in your heart that what you find there is a sad far cry from the deeds, acts and words of the disciples in the Early church.

disciple in AfricaIs there a happy ending to this? I wish I knew a better one. Right now I don’t have any church, group or denomination that I can point you to which I know is fully, whole heartedly following the Lord like the Early Church did. I know a sweet couple in one foreign field or a tiny little association of a few families somewhere else. But it’s mostly a very scattered stand of rugged individuals who are trying to remain on the wall of His Will and service that I’m aware of.

So what can I offer you who want to truly serve the Lord? I can tell you that you can follow His Words as found in the Gospels and the New Testament. Jesus Christ is still “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Even if there’s no band of brothers who will take you in and show you how to do it, the Lord Himself sees your ardent desire to know Him, serve Him and lay down your life for Him in these times.

Even if there’s nothing to join, you can still join yourself to His Words. He will see it, honor it and may even lead you to other likeminded Christian disciples, even though they be few and scattered in these times.

Keep the faith. Keep holding on to your crown, your vision and desire to live for Him in your generation. It’s still as true today as it was 2700 years ago, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are perfect.” (II Chronicles 16:9) Maybe you don’t think you have a perfect heart. But if your desire is to truly serve the Lord, He surely sees your heart and is fully able to bring you into contact with like-minded people who can help you on your quest. It’ll take a miracle, but that’s what He does. Keep the faith.

The Rapture

I will come again flatOne of the principle beliefs of Christians for 2000 years is that Jesus of Nazareth will return to this world to rule it as the Son of God and God-ordained King of Heaven. This is a clear and essential belief of Bible-based Christianity. In fact, Jesus spoke repeatedly about this and at least two whole chapters, Matthew 24 and Mark 13, are Jesus’ words to His disciples to describe this occasion of His coming and events immediately prior to that.

And the Bible even gets down to some fine details of His return, one of the most famous events being what’s been called “the rapture”. That word is not found in the Bible but it is described in detail by the Apostle Paul, perhaps most clearly in I Thessalonians 4, verses 16 and 17. Speaking of Christ’s return to this world, Paul says, “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with Him in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

the lords comingFor those who study this subject, a world of questions immediately arise when the Rapture is talked about. “When, where, who, how”? And on and on. But it’s good to pause to remember and establish that, if you’re a believer in the Word of God, at least we shouldn’t be asking “if” this is true or going to happen. It is. Jesus said in John 14, “I go to prepare a place for you… (and)…I will come again…” John 14:1-3.

But with all the huge controversy and even confusion on this subject, it seems wise to try to proceed rather slowly and to find a path on it all by following the Scriptures. As Isaiah said, doctrine must be “line upon line, precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10). For me, some of the most certain verses that we can be sure of as accompanying these ones about the Rapture in I Thessalonians are what Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 15.

The Corinthian church evidently had a question about what kind of body we will have in heaven. Here’s what Paul told them about this, very closely echoing what he told the Thessalonians, except in this case focusing more on what kind of body the believers will have in the hereafter. jesus and trumphetsPaul told them, “Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep [die] but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in a twinkling of the eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. And we shall be changed.”  (I Corinthians 15:51 & 52)

These verses are talking about the same event as the ones in I Thessalonians, only looking at a different aspect of that climatic event. You’ll note that in Thessalonians Paul spoke of the Lord’s return “with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God”. Here in I Corinthians he says, “In a moment, in a twinkling of the eye, at the last trump.” It’s curious and noteworthy that this seminal event in the history of mankind is almost invariable linked to something called “the sound of a trumpet”.

And when Jesus Himself spoke of this future moment, He too referred to a trumpet being sounded at the final moment of His return. This event is most clearly spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24:29-31. In Matthew 24:31 Jesus spoke of Himself,  “And He shall send forth His angels with a great sound of a trumpet. And He shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

There should be no doubt, from looking to Scripture, that the future event of the return of Jesus is spoken of with certainty and a surprising degree of detail. We do ourselves no service to, in any way, doubt or dispute that this will happen, if we truly look to God’s Word for our lives and the future to come.

But of course there are many, many questions about this future event. Can Jesus return at any moment? Are there any events prophesied in the Word which immediately precede His return? Some even wonder if there is any way this has already happened. Perhaps these questions could be looked at in another post.

But hopefully those of us who believe in Him and in God’s Word can at least agree on this: He said He would return to this earth and the Bible has a number of clear and unambiguous verses which state this and give us understanding of what is to come. Let us at least be of the same mind in agreement on these fundamentals of the subject of Christ’s second coming.

“Lift up now your eyes”

Lift up now your eyes flatGod sometimes tells people what to do, often in fact. And He’s still doing that today, although you don’t hear much about that in most churches. One of the most famous times this happened was when God spoke to Abraham, 4000 years ago. Did Abraham obey? Well, yes, mostly. But in this case, it seems there was a period of time before Abraham fully obeyed. There’s really a lot we can learn from this.

Now the Lord had said to Abram, ‘Get out of your country, and from your kindred and from your father’s house into a land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1)  Like I said, in many ways Abram did obey. In the first leg of their journey, Abram’s dad and Abram and Lot, his nephew and their families, did move as far as Haran, nearly 600 miles up the Euphrates from Ur, where they started out. Pretty good, no? Only, the Lord had told Abram to separate from his kindred and his father’s house. Still, it was a big step in the right direction of full obedience.

Abraham leaving HaranThen, when Abram was 75 years old, he pulled up stakes again and headed south towards the land that God had been leading him to. But it says “and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:4). So, he was still with his family who it turns out were not on the same page as Abraham when it came to the things of the Lord. But the Lord hadn’t given up on Abraham and was in the process of performing the work that He had started in him. (See Philippians 1:6)

We read that “There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle.Abraham and Lot(Genesis 13:7) So Abraham, the man of God that he was, said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between me and you and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.” (Genesis 13:8) The result was that they decided to part ways and this is the place where Lot looked towards the lush valley of Sodom, near the Dead Sea, and decided to head down to the valley while Abram stayed in the high country.

But then what happened? What did God then do or was able to do then? Here’s what it says in Genesis 13:14 & 15. “And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, ‘Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward. For all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever.’

God couldn’t and didn’t fully bless Abram till Abram fully obeyed God. “Lift up now your eyes.” Now that Abram had finally separated himself from his kindred and his father’s house, God was able to perform the fullness of what He had planned.

Roll ye away flatAnd the Bible is just completely full of other examples like this. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He told the ones present to “roll away the stone” (John 11:39) that was covering the place Lazarus was buried. In another place Jesus told someone to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” (John 9:7) They did and they were healed. Jesus told the 10 lepers, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And, get this, “It came to pass that as they went they were healed.” (Luke 17:14)

Sometimes we have to do “the wenting”. We have to do the obeying. It seems like such a simple thing but it’s so utterly important. Jesus raised the dead but they were required to roll away the stone. Jesus healed the lepers but they had to have the faith and obedience to do what Jesus said and to go show themselves to the priest. It seems so simple but actually it’s huge.

So it behooves all of us to search our hearts and to even bring it to the Lord in prayer, “Am I failing to fully obey you in something?” And in our cases, it doesn’t even have to be some specific “personal voice of God” event in our lives. For those of our times, we have the whole Bible to look in to find God’s will for our lives. Are we walking according to the instruction Jesus gave His disciples? If we want His blessings and protection on our lives, are we following closely the instruction He gave in His Word, even what Jesus taught His disciples when He was here on earth?

I think that many of us may find that we’ve not been fully obeying the voice of God through His Word and that’s mostly likely why so many are not near the fullness of the blessings that God would bestow our lives. May the Lord mightily help us to have the vision to more strongly and fully follow the voice of God and the Word of God so that He can do with us what He knows is the very best for our lives.

Familiarity

Familiarity flatHere’s a question for you, “Is familiarity good or bad?” “Um, Mark, that’s a trick question, isn’t it?” You’re right, it is. Because it pretty much depends on how you define familiarity. It can be good when we are getting familiar with a situation or even with people we know so that we’re more at ease and able to function in a knowledgeable and capable way.

But there can certainly be a downside to familiarity. What can happen is that, as we get more familiar with a situation or especially with people we love, we can lose the original respect, esteem and even love we first had for them. So familiarity can be an avenue by which a lot of serious damage can be done to our relationships, often with the ones we should love the most.

get behind me flatI was trying to think of some examples of familiarity in the Bible. The actual word “familiarly” isn’t in the Bible. But I thought of at least two possible examples of where familiarity may have been creeping in. Jesus told His disciples that they would be going up to Jerusalem and that He would be crucified and would rise again the third day. Whereupon it says that His top disciple, Peter, began to rebuke the Lord and telling the Son of God that this was not going to happen. What did Jesus do? He sternly rebuked Peter, or actually the devil that was speaking through Peter at that moment saying, “Get behind me, Satan, for you savor not the things of God but the things that be of men.” (Mark 8:33)

Had Peter momentarily gotten a little familiar with the Lord? A little too buddy-buddy and feeling he needed to step in and correct the Lord when he may have thought that Jesus was being a little negative? We certainly know that Peter was not speaking by the Spirit right then and, as Jesus said, he was thinking in the ways of man and not in the ways of God.

Familiarity can be like that. It can just pop up so easily, like a perennial weed and the next thing you know you’re totally out of the Spirit, speaking in a Godless, worldly way to often the ones you’re closest to. What a device of the devil that is; something we all can run into almost any time, if we’re not on guard.

nathan and David flatAnother example that comes to mind is the prophet Nathan and King David. One time King David had been mulling over the idea of building a great temple for the God of Israel. So he asked his chief prophet, one of his top advisers, Nathan, what he thought of the idea. Nathan replied, “Go, do all that is in your heart for the Lord is with you.”  (II Samuel 7:3)

But that night, when alone with God, Nathan heard the Lord telling him the exact opposite of what he had told David earlier. Was Nathan being a little familiar with David, speaking “off the cuff”? Was Nathan being not really in the Spirit so that he actually gave council that was the opposite of the mind of God? Seems like it.

But like I said, there are aspects of familiarity can be good. It reminds me of the sweet song seen in the old movie, “The King and I”, where some of the words were, “Getting to know you, getting to feel free and easy.” Being comfortable and at ease with people can be a wonderful thing, as long as we can be aware of the potential pitfalls to it.

And actually it’s possible to get familiar with the things of the Lord, His Word or even the Lord Himself so that we just don’t want to read our Bible since we think we already know all it says. Or the Lord can become so sweet, close and trustworthy that we begin to not treat Him and our relationship with Him with the awe, respect and Godly fear that we should.

I guess all this can get you to the point where we’re like what Paul said one time, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!”  (Romans 7:24) You just wonder, “Yes, familiarity’s such a subtle, fatal trap. But what’s the solution?!”

Well for one, if you don’t recognize the problem, you won’t even know to search for a solution. Just being aware of the stark danger of familiarity is a start. But perhaps, like any really heinous, debilitating sin, if nothing else, we can confess it to God and others. A verse that pulled me though some of the worst times of my life is, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (I John 1:9)

if we confess-flattenedWhat a promise. If we confess it, He’ll cleanse it. It also says to “confess and forsake” our sins (Proverbs 28:13). But at times they are so deep that it seems at first all we can do is to confess it and ask Him to work at the deepest level of our heart to cleanse us. That may be how it is for some people and familiarity, whether it’s with their mate, their family or with the Lord and His Word itself. It’s the beginning of the victory if you even can recognize the problem and then bring it to the Lord in prayer, confessing it and looking for His cleansing.

May we all be delivered from the clutches of familiarity which drags us out of His Spirit and back into our worldly, fleshly, unregenerate selves. “Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:32 & 3)

They began to make excuse

Jesus and excuses flatSometimes delayed obedience can become total disobedience if prolonged too long. And, let’s face it, obedience is really what the Lord wants and needs from us. And yet, doesn’t this fly in the face of we modern people?

Obedience? Who does He think He is?!” But when we pause to answer our own question, if we believe in and know the Lord, we know He has every right in the universe to call for our obedience, even though our stubborn, willful nature rebels against “anyone telling us what to do”, even God. It’s amazing how many times in the Bible Jesus called someone to follow Him and “they began to make excuse.” (Luke 14:18)

My experience is that it’s still very much that way today. Jesus is still calling people. The Lord still needs laborers, servants and disciples who will respond to His call and nudge on their hearts to serve Him. It doesn’t have to be some big, grandiose “CALLING”. Most of the time people who end with a calling like that were already faithful in the little things that the Lord told them to do. So He was able to end up giving them a more visible and larger scale calling.

were busy flatBut so many people, and I’m talking about believing Christians here, just are not really making themselves available for the Lord to use them when He needs them. The best ability is availability and so many just aren’t. They are “busy”. Whew! Can you imagine what would have happened when the Lord called Peter, James and John and they’d said something like, “Come back next week, Jesus! Can’t you see we’re busy on the fishing boat, helping our father?

By next week Jesus would have been long gone and would have found someone else more ready and willing to answer His call. So few have made it their habit to obey God in that split second of that golden opportunity when the Spirit is hot and heavy and God is convicting your heart and calling you to action.

It’s so easy to make logical, reasonable excuses why you can’t do what God is calling you to do, what His Spirit is urging you to do and needs you to do. And most people will accept your excuses and agree with you since, in excusing you, they’re excusing themselves. But, from reading the Scriptures, it seems to me that the Lord doesn’t always really look at it that way.

Yes, He is loving. Yes, He is gentle. But His goal in our lives is not for us to just be lulled to sleep in our comfortable Christianity but for us to follow Him. Where? Well, He told His disciples long ago that it would be “into all the world, to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) God’s Spirit doesn’t just sooth and comfort so we’re lulled and sedated. God’s Spirit equally calls us to action.

david and brothers flat 2It was God’s Spirit that spoke through young David to his brothers, “Is there not a cause?” David left his shepherding of sheep to go into armed battle against his people’s greatest enemy, Goliath of Gath. But for so many Christians, they’ve lost that vision, if they ever had it.

That’s why one of the greatest perils of Christianity is that it becomes “Churchianity”. It sooths, lulls, comforts, reassures and eases when it should perhaps take another look at the Scriptures to see how much Christ called individuals to sacrificial action in following Him.

“Well, Mark, don’t be so hard on people. It’s just our human nature to be that way. We’re not to judge, Mark. We’re all weak, nobody’s perfect. Etc. etc.”

Don’t you just know that’s what immediately comes to the mind of almost everyone if there’s any mention of the Lord’s call on our lives to obey and follow Him? And doesn’t that just sound so “right”, “modern” and even merciful and forgiving? But what says the Word of God?

If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall loose it. But whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23, 24) “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loose his own soul. Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore will be ashamed of Me and My Words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the son of man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father, with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36-38)

From what I have seen, there are just a whole host of saved Christians around who are no longer serving the Lord or open to have the Holy Spirit move them to do something other than what they already have personally planned for themselves. They have reclused themselves with excuses. And if you even hint at the fact that they’re unyeilded and unmoved by the conviction of the Holy Ghost, they’ll be immediate and vehement in their justifications.

doing here flatWhat’s the solution? Often the Lord just has to move on, as Jesus did, to find those ready and willing to take up His call to serve Him. However, it seems sometimes like about what God told Elijah when the prophet told God he was the only one left in Israel serving Him. God replied that “there are 7000 who’ve not bowed the knee to Baal.”  (I Kings 19:18) Thinking about it though, if there were maybe 2,000,000 in Israel at the time, that would work out to about one person in 300 who was still on the Lord’s side.

Follow me smallSo from my experience, I can tell you that these verses here are as true today as they were when the Lord said them. “But when He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them. For they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is truly plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.’” (Matthew 9:36-38)