The Last shall be First

the first shall be last flatSometimes life is kind of funny, amazing and strange; you know what I mean? It’s like where Jesus said “Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 19:30) You think you’re on top and have arrived and then, oops! It all turns to ashes and it seems you’re left with nothing. Or maybe you think you see that in someone else’s life. “Boy, they’re ruined now. What a failure they are; I knew it all along.” It’s easy to think that about ourselves or others.

If I can get away with quoting a little Bob Dylan here in perhaps his most famous song, he sang “The slow one now will later be fast” and he went on to sing, “And don’t start talking while the wheel’s still in spin, for the times they are a changin’.” So often we think it’s “the end” (our end or someone else’s end) when it turns out to be just “a bend in the road.”

About 15 years ago I’d pretty much lost faith in myself and was at a real low point in my life. I felt like all I was good for was moving boxes, sweeping sidewalks and driving a truck. It’s sometimes hard to have faith in yourself or the Lord being able to use you when others see little or nothing in you or have much faith in you. That was part of it. But also my life in many ways just seemed to be losing its meaning and purpose. So I moved back to my home country after living many years abroad as a missionary. I got a secular job and began puttering around, just trying to get along.

same day born flatThen, during that time, happened one of the most unusual and bizarre things that ever happened to me in my life. It occurred in the middle of a Thursday night get together with some Christian friends I’d begun meeting with. I wrote about this in “Strange, Very Strange. But True.” A Las Vegas gambler would probably give odds on what happened there that night at something like around 10 million to one, if that.

Back then I didn’t even know why it happened but I guess I just felt that the Lord was ringing His bell in my life, letting me know He was still around and could do some impossible things when it fit His plan. And during that time was when the first beginnings of the video ministry with the Prophecies of Daniel started for me. I was sharing Bible classes with those folks and some others and a number of people told me, “You should video this.” So that time, when it really was like the end for me, was actually the beginning place of this video ministry which has been a real personal blessing and encouragement to me.

Im so great flatI was thinking this morning about how things like that work, how it seems at some points that some people are really way out in front, amazingly used of the Lord, full of the Holy Ghost and then some time later something seems to have happened. It’s like they’ve crashed, stumbled, fallen or laid down their crown. But sometimes it’s just that, like trees, we go through winters.

Even fruitful trees have times when they look dead. But they aren’t. However, for us humans, it can look like the end. King David knew about this. He said, “And in my prosperity I said ‘I shall never be moved.’ Lord, by your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong. You did withdraw your hand and I was troubled.” (Psalm 30:6 & 7)

In fact, because of his sins, God let David basically lose his kingdom and have to flee for his life with a small band of followers, being cursed by former friends along the road as he went. But David got his heart right with the Lord and kept holding on to his faith until the Lord restored him to his throne.

We all go through seasons, like the famous chapter in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3, says and which was immortalized by the popular song by The Byrds from the 1960’s:

four seasonsThere are just these cycles of life: birth, life, death and resurrection which in some ways can happen more than a few times within our lives here on earth. I think the lesson for me this morning is that this has happened in my life a good number of times. But I also need to remember that this can and does happen in the lives of others, even ones I have (Lord help and forgive me) somewhat given up on.

Some folks seem to have fallen so far and stayed there so long but that really doesn’t have to be “the end”. God is still the God of miracles and He can still “deliver from the lowest hell.” (Psalm 86:13) Sometimes the Lord lets things or people and their hearts get to be really pretty bad so that they’ll see it themselves and come to where they feel a desperate need for God. That’s what happened to me.

The first shall be last and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30) It’s not the end, just a bend in the road. “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20) and He delights in taking complete failures, twisted wasted lives and bringing them into His kingdom of light through His unimaginable, miraculous, loving touch. So, don’t give up on yourself or others. He hasn’t.

“Don’t ever ask again.”

Dont ever ask again-flattenedI was 20 years old, kneeling on the floor of my apartment in the dark at 3 AM, overwhelmed with emotion. As I wrote about in “The Radio Miracle, I’d just had a completely amazing answer to prayer, in response to my utter desperation to try to find out if God was really there. Out of nowhere my clock radio had come on and at that moment the song on the radio was saying,

“Lift up your fellow man, lend him a helping hand, Put a little love in your heart.”

Put-a-little-love-in-your-heartThe song instead could have been, “Sympathy For The Devil”, a hit song at that time. But it wasn’t. I really knew it was an answer from “outer space”, from another realm I hardly knew existed. It was an answer from God. So there on my knees I was saying, “Thank you God, thank you God.”

But then I heard a voice. Was it the voice of my mind or was it the voice of the devil?  I’d been on the devil’s frequency so long that it was almost like they’d intertwined. But clearly the thought was,devil

“That was just a coincidence. Your radio just happened to come on right then and it just happened that that song was on right then. Just happenstance.”

God pictureBut then, immediately there was another voice. I knew it wasn’t my voice or my thoughts. And that changed my life. The Voice said,

“Don’t ever ask again.” 

I wish I could let you hear how that voice sounded. Because those words themselves can sound hard or harsh. But they really, really weren’t. The voice was kind, warm, friendly and almost pleading. It was rather like I’d been in elementary school and had failed 1st grade twice.

It was like the voice of a kind, concerned father telling me that I really needed to get a grip and to get the victory in this, to get over the hump and to learn this lesson that was evidently so hard for me. What was the lesson? Unbelief.

I just over and over would default to doubt and not accept that the spiritual world was real, had worked in my life and made itself manifest on many occasions. I’d been in the grip of unbelief,UpAgainstTheWall_02-reworked even though God had really done a lot to show me that the world of His Spirit is real. If you want just one example of that among many, you can read about how God supernaturally warned me moments before the police raided my apartment about a year before what I’m talking about here. I wrote about that in “Up Against the Wall!

God was lovingly charging me and instructing me to not keep asking if it was all real. It was. And this was it; it was time to accept that His explanation for things, His way of seeing things, was the real one and the more powerful one, the truest explanation of the world I lived in. I was of course really shocked to hear those words. But also it sunk so deep in my heart that I really shouldn’t keep defaulting to my doubts which had been so entrenched in my heart for so many years.

The Bible talks about “besetting sins” (Hebrews 12:2). My besetting sin had been unbelief. And God wanted me to come to where I accepted what He’d been showing me and to repent of my doubting, to stop doubting and to come firmly down on the side of belief in Him and all that He has done and said.

Happily for me, that experience and those words changed my life. I made a real commitment right then to turn away from the reflex to doubt that had gripped me for so long. It was something I had to do. I had to resist those thoughts and recognize that it just wasn’t true. What was true was that there is a God, there is a spiritual world, and there is a devil. I had to adjust my life to these new realities that I’d discovered. It was a huge and total break with the life I’d had till that time.

As it says so clearly and so many times in the Bible, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him. For he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6) If you know much about God’s Word, you know how much importance He attaches to simply believing Him. All the way back 4000 years ago, “Abraham believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

“Good works” are important. Helping the poor, loving your neighbor, not being selfish. But the rock bottom essential in our spiritual lives comes down to belief in God, acknowledging that He is real, He is there, not just in our minds, not just as a concept but as a real Essence and Being, a Spirit that we can’t really understand and can’t see but whose spiritual world and working is all around us.

Thankfully I can say that I don’t think I’ve had that problem any more since that time. I haven’t battled doubt about the existence of God and the spiritual world. And that acceptance of faith and heeding His personal commandment to me to not doubt has been part of the foundation stone of the wonderful, incredible life of service for God that I’ve experienced since that time.

Distracted

fight distractions flatI was trying to have my morning prayer time, something I often do by going out somewhere in nature.  But this morning, as has happened at other times, it was a real battle to focus on prayer and not to be distracted.

I’ve recently moved and now am able to go out in a secluded wooded area, away from the bustle of the city. You would think that would be a great place to pray and I suppose it is. So the problem isn’t with the surroundings, it’s me. I seem to get easily distracted. “Oh, look at that butterfly! Those trees need pruning. The clouds are nice today.” Just on and on it goes. Repeatedly I have to snap out of it and turn my attention back to why I came out there: to pray and “pour out my heart before Him.” (Psalm 62:8)

lead and guide me flatMaybe my problem is that things are more or less going OK right now, that I’m not face to face with some ominous crisis. That may be a part of it. Sometimes situations you’re facing can drive you to desperate prayer. But what about when you need to do today what you did yesterday and will be doing for probably a few more weeks and months? Well, we still need to pray. We still need to “in all our ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:6) We need to “commit our way unto the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:5)

It’s just so easy to lapse into lethargy and it can often begin with our prayer life. Jesus said to His disciples at perhaps the most desperate hour of His life, “Can you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) But they were asleep in the garden of Gethsemane while it says of the Lord in prayer, “and being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly. And His sweat was it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

Maybe we don’t “feel” like praying, maybe we’re tempted to think of it as drudgery or some kind of daily ritual we’re called to. But this can all be so much clearer if we shine the light of the Word on it. When I was going out to pray this morning, a verse came to me that I’d reviewed earlier. “Through desire, a man having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddeth with all wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:1) I’ve heard folks say that verse is talking about something bad, separation from God and going after evil wisdom. But it equally can be taken the other way.

watch and pray flatHaving a desire to get alone with the Lord and to connect with Him, we separate ourselves from the world around us and its distractions so that we can seek and intermeddle with the wisdom, love and Spirit of God. That was my verse I claimed as I went out to pray today. But it was a battle. Another verse that came to me was what the Lord told His disciples when He said to them, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Temptation? You mean one of them had brought a bottle of whiskey or some other sin of the flesh? I don’t think so. I think the temptation was the same kind I was facing in our garden here this morning. Distractions, lethargy, fainting in our minds. “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” (Proverbs 24:10) And that “day of adversity” doesn’t only have to be when you’re faceing ISIS or your neighbor’s dog.

It’s a battle every day with our besetting sins, the “weights and sins that do so easily beset us.” (Hebrews 12:2) And one of those besetting sins is to just grow weary in well doing, to get our eyes off the Lord and the goal before us. “Where there is no vision, the people perish”, (Proverbs 29:12) and in some ways it takes vision to take prayer time.

For me that vision is strengthened and enhanced by quoting the Word of God I have memorized. Otherwise I will just stroll along, doing my own thing and thinking my own vain thoughts. King David said, “I hate vain thoughts, but your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Or it’s like Paul said, “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. ” (II Corinthians 10:5) That says a lot there, bringing every thought into captivity. Maybe that’s what that verse in the Old Testament meant when it said, “He did evil because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord.” (II Chronicles 12:14) We have to not only get in prayer; we have to get in the Spirit.

dont have to pray flatIt can all seem tedious. The devil and our own carnal mind can tell us that this isn’t really so important. “What you’re doing today doesn’t really have to be prayed about. You can handle this on your own.” Boy, what a lie. The Lord said, “Without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)  Well, we can do a lot of wrong and useless things. But to do His Will, we need His strength and power.

So even if this day may look a lot like the one yesterday, it still needs to be hemmed in at the beginning and end with focused, undistracted prayer. Lord help me, I’m almost writing this to myself as much as I am to anyone else. These are things I need to really remember, do and hold on to. I hope it’s something that others may be facing and need help with as well.

Turning Back

will you also flatThere is an incredible joy in becoming a Christian, I certainly experienced that and continue to experience it. But most of us know that there also can be some serious times of difficulty, challenges and even wrenching heartbreaks that come in our life along the road of faith. One of the heartbreaks that I’ve experienced a lot in recent years is seeing dear brethren in the Lord who’ve turned back from their convictions and life of faith they once held and are now no longer believers or who are overcome and defeated with “the affairs of this life.” (II Timothy 2:4)

It’s a bit of a delicate subject. Jesus said to the self-righteous religionists, “He that is without sin, cast the first stone.” (John 8:7) So definitely the idea here isn’t to cast stones and condemn those who, for whatever reason, have “cast away their confidence” (Hebrews 10:35) in the Lord, His Word and the life we’ve been given.

Demas has forsaken flatBut it is heartbreaking. It’s even discouraging to have contact with ones who once were not just believers but soul winners, disciple-makers and missionaries at the ends of the earth who now question the basic tenets of the Bible and have sunk back into the morass of humanity and the mire of the multitude. Paul said in one place, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” (II Timothy 4:10) Or like it says in the Old Testament, “The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.” (Psalm 78:9)

It’s almost like being in one of those dreams where you see someone in mortal danger and you try to reach out to them or rescue them. But, in your dream, you can’t reach them or save them from their plight. I suppose it’s similar to what solders experience in the heat of war when a comrade falls at their side. Except this is not exactly the same because it may be closer to what the Bible says about being “wearied and faint in your mind.”  (Hebrews 12:3) Or even what happened with John the Baptist and Jesus.

are you he flatJohn the Baptist was the herald and forerunner of Jesus, preparing the way before Him. But something must have happened because he later sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you He that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3) It’s hard to read that any other way than that John had really fallen back from his faith in Jesus. So the Lord said to “go show John again those things which you see, the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised.” (Matthew 11:4 & 5) And then the clincher, “And blessed is he who is not offended in Me.” (Matthew 11:6)

Evidently something the Lord did or said must have offended John the Baptist. And in our times as well something can happen that offends us, something we never thought would happen.  “Surely the Lord wouldn’t let that happen!” But it did. And we are offended, stumbled and sometimes, if we don’t get back to standing on the Rock and trusting Him, it can take us all the way out of our realm of faith rewards in heaven-flattenedand land us in the outer darkness of unbelief. It happens to a lot of people, maybe you know some. That may be why the Lord said, “Hold fast to what you have that no man take your crown.” (Revelation 3:11)

Paul wrote a whole epistle which was around this theme, to the Galatians. “Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1) Some “false brethren” had come to the Galatians after Paul had left them and had sown major doubts and questions about the faith and freedom Paul told them they had in the Lord. Repeatedly in Galatians you can see Paul trying to restore these ones back to the foundation he’d laid for them which had been challenged and attacked by “brethren.”  “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…” (Galatians 4:19)

I dont believe flatIt’s an ongoing occupational hazard of being a disciple of the Lord to have ones you love and who stood with you on the battlefronts of the Lord to somehow later turn back from their faith and convictions and to even be used of the enemy at times to try to sow doubt in your mind that has entered theirs.

And I can hear some say, “Well, they just got tired or discouraged”. There’s a difference between that and turning back on the Lord. I know a lot of people in their 60’s who can’t carry the physical load they once did but who still are keeping the faith. Some are even witnessing in parks and on the streets, doing what they can, even when their bodies can’t do as much as they did before.

Prodical sonIs there a happy ending to this? I don’t know. We can hope and pray that some of these will be like the prodigal son and return to the Father’s house and their original calling. But perhaps for all of us, it’s good to remember the admonition, “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.” (Hebrews 10:35) “Now the just shall live by faith, but if any man draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38)

We all need encouragement and the help and love from fellow brethren. It is a battle and the darkness deepens steeply in our times. My prayer and hope is that each person reading this will keep the faith and continue to be a helper of others in order that we continue to let our lights shine before men as we lift Him up and all will be drawn to the Lord.

Consumer, Citizen or Disciple?

People in America nowadays are often referred to as “consumers”. That sort of bothers me. When I read in history books about how folks in times past thought, it doesn’t seem like they viewed humanity as consumers. Certainly I didn’t get that feeling from my grandparents and their families.

If you go a little back in history, people more often thought of themselves as “citizens”. This was a popular term in the times of the French Revolution and the first generations of the United States. People more and more realized their individuality and the need to participate in their society as citizens. Still in our times people talk about being citizens.

Certainly my parents’ generation was strong on the idea of our democracy and the equality and rights of the citizens of this country. It seems like it’s only been in the last 30 years maybe that the concept of seeing ourselves as “consumers” has come to compete with our sense of being a citizen.

But there was a time when neither of these concepts was supreme. In times past the vision of being a disciple was what was esteemed to be the highest identity we should espouse to. Let’s face it, even the word “disciple” itself is pretty out of vogue nowadays. Sounds kind of weird, doesn’t it? “Disciple.” Really old fashion and rather suspect.

hogsBut how about that? What should be our priorities? How do you feel about being considered a “consumer”?  lt makes me think of hogs jostling around a trough. Sickening thought? Yes. But isn’t that how a lot of modern living in the consumer society is becoming?

carnaval barker flat“Your responsibility is to consume things in order to help boost the economy. You’ll find satisfaction and fulfillment in your next acquisition, your next huge meal at the restaurant, purchase of a new gadget or whatever material fulfillment has captured your heart!”

That’s the bottom line that is pandered incessantly in our times. And unless you make a conscious effort to turn away from that vision, it will claim your heart and that’s what you’ll be: a consumer. You might say, “What else is there?” Well, for centuries one thing came first for a large part of this world: discipleship. The concept of being followers, disciples of God, and specifically of Jesus Christ.

George WashingtonNow your reaction may be, “Oh but they were all hypocrites! There were all those wars!” You can sure get that impression if you read many books on the subject, written in our times. But if you read others, especially older ones or histories written in those times, you may be struck by the devotion and single-mindedness that comes across as being so prevalent then.

praying peopleHypocrites? There always have been those. Wars? When and where have there not been wars? But again and again from reading history (or even the contact I remember with my aged relatives from when I was little) it’s how their faith in God, their desire to seek the ways of God and to keep their heart right with Him, in a good spirit, this was the paramount ideal to so many then.

And it often impresses me when I compare it to how we are taught to be today. If we all do our best to be good consumers, is that going to make a better world for everyone? Or if our goal is only to be a good citizen, how’s that going to help when we meet people of another culture, country or faith?

There was a time in my life when I really was a consumer. Also I thought the end goal was to be a good citizen and make a better society. But both of those things, through no effort on my part, came to where they were “weighed in the balances and found wanting” my eyes. (Daniel 5:27) But discipleship, to be a follower of God and Jesus of Nazareth has been my quest and the beacon before me for over 40 years now. And I’m so glad for that.

Consumerism, nationalism and citizenship are all systems of thought that inherently are weak and fail because they fail to acknowledge the essential truth of our existence. We’re not merely physical or social beings, we are spirits and souls who are made to love and live in the light of the God of Abraham and His Son. Anything short of that is doomed to failure.

run to GodBut truly loving and following God is destined to find a happy ending. If you’re unfulfilled by materialism or disappointed with politics, I suggest you establish a relationship with the one true God. There’s real fulfillment in that.

“No man knows the day and hour”

no man knows flatIf you are a student of the future events predicted in the Bible, you’ve almost certainly heard the verse quoted, “No man knows the day and the hour” (Matthew 24:36). My experience is that this is often brought up by folks who want to negate the revealed plan of the future that Bible prophecy presents. And I suppose a light reading of that verse could persuade some people to look at things that way. In other words, “No man knows the day and hour” so therefore “Forget about the whole thing! Don’t even try to understand it.” Or so they say.

why try flatBut I don’t think that’s the meaning or the intent the Lord had. For one, I certainly agree with the verse that, at that time and probably for now, no man knows the day and the hour of the Lord’s return. For one, back then, they didn’t need to know that because that wasn’t the main thing that was happening right then. Jesus Himself was the one Who said that no man knew the day and hour of His Return. He said this near the end of His ministry on earth, before His crucifixion. His return was still far off in the future. Also, if we just take literally what Jesus said, He said that no man knows the day and the hour of his coming. But that doesn’t mean that at some point in the future we won’t know perhaps the year, the month or even the week of His coming.

Revelation 11 3D-d for D9 blog postWhy do I say that? If you’re a student of prophecy, one of the most often-prophesied events in the Bible is the coming 3½ years of “Great Tribulation” that Jesus Himself spoke of. (Matthew 24:21). This three and a half year period is also mentioned in Daniel chapters 7 and 9 and extensively throughout Revelation. Over and over again we’re told about this period of “42 months”, “1260 days” and “time, times and half a time”.

Matthew 24 21-a for blog postThe Lord doesn’t waste His Words. This wasn’t put there for effect. While I believe that we won’t know the specific hour of the Lord’s coming, it is one of the clearest subjects of Bible prophecy that this period of 3½ years will come. Even the specific sign of the beginning of this 42 months is pointed out by Jesus Himself. In Matthew 24:15 and 21, He said, “When you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the Holy Place….then will be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time…”. I’ve made a video specifically on this subject of the Great Tribulation that Jesus spoke of and which is revealed in Daniel. The video can be seen here.

At the time of Jesus, no man knew the day and the hour. But the people of the future will be able to have a pretty good idea of how much time there is left, those ones who will pass through the last years and months before the Lord’s return.

Why? Why would the Lord want anyone to know when He was coming back? I believe there are several reasons. For one, it’s going to be a time of tremendous hardship for believers and worshipers of the God of Abraham. But for those who know these verses in the Bible, it will be an anchor of their faith that it’s only for an appointed time, that it will have an end and that end will be the Lord’s coming.

few more months flatAlso it will be something that can be used as a witness to the waverers and the undecided. When the believers in God can tell the undecided what is going on, that it’s the time of the Antichrist and that all those things have been predicted for centuries, it will be a witness and testimony to millions. That’s why it says in Daniel 11:33 “And they that understand among the people shall instruct many”. This comes only two verses after the verse that Jesus Himself pointed to in Daniel when He was teaching about the time before His coming, Daniel 11:31.

The Pact flatYes, “No man knows the day and the hour”. No one knew it at the time Jesus said that and no one knows it right now. But I believe that there will be those of us in the last 3½ years before His return or even in the last 7 years before His return, who will have a pretty good idea of the year, the month and perhaps even the week of the Lord’s return. And it will be a tremendous help and blessing to know that as the believers at that time will face troubles unparalleled in history.

So if someone tells you “No man knows the day and the hour”, don’t let that rattle your faith. Know what the Word says and what is repeated again and again in Daniel and Revelation about the specifics of the Last Days. Then you’ll be strong, prepared and you can “instruct many”. (Daniel 11:33)

The stones would cry out

jesus on donkey 3Jesus had taught, healed and preached throughout Israel for 3 years. As He neared Jerusalem, His disciples brought a young donkey to Him and sat Jesus on the donkey. Then, as they approached Jerusalem, the Bible says,“And when He had come near  the descent of the Mount of Olives, all the multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works which they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King coming in the name of the Lord! Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:37 & 38)

Pharises with Jesus 1 flatAlmost always in any crowd that followed Jesus were His detractors and antagonist. In this case the next verse says, “And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Him, ‘Master, rebuke your disciples.’” (Luke 19:39)

The Pharisees were a prominent sect of the Jews at that time and were the primary religious leaders of the Jewish people back then.  A few of them, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea recognized Jesus for who He was. But the vast majority of the Pharisees felt that Jesus was a false prophet and they often hounded and harassed Him, as in this case. They called out to Jesus, out of the rejoicing crowd, that He should rebuke His disciples.

Jesus answers 1 flatAnd Jesus said to them, “I tell you, if these should hold their piece, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:40) Honestly, the first time I heard that, it seemed a little far out. In fact, if you’re like me, maybe the first time you read the Bible there were a number of things that really kind of seemed strange. Why would Jesus tell the Pharisees right then that if His rejoicing, happy disciples had not been rejoicing and praising God, that the stones would start doing it? You gotta admit, it kind of sounds “out there.”

But as you read further and find out more, it becomes quickly much clearer. This very moment in history had been prophesied to happen by the prophet Zachariah over 500 years previously.  Zachariah 9:9 says “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, your King comes to you. He is righteous and victorious, meek and riding on an ass, even on a colt, the son of an ass.

So that very event of Jesus riding in to Jerusalem on a young donkey, surrounded by His rejoicing disciples, was something that was directly prophesied and recorded in Hebrew Scriptures centuries before.

And Jesus was so sure that those Scriptures and that prophesy was going to be fulfilled that He told the Pharisees, “If these should hold their peace, the stones would cry out.” Jesus called Himself “the son of Man” when He was on earth. But He was the Son of God and He knew that the Word of God would not and could not fail. It’s a certainty that eludes many of us as we read God’s Word and think on these things. In John 10:35 Jesus said, “the Scriptures cannot be broken.” In three places in the Gospels Jesus said, “The Scriptures must be fulfilled.” (Matthew 26:54, Mark 14:49, Luke 24:44)

Jesus’ love for mankind is perhaps what He is best known for. God is love, if He is anything, and perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16) It’s about love. But if we are to study and to emulate Jesus, the perfect Man, then grasping His certainty that prophecy will be fulfilled is vital.

Prophecy fulfilled flatWe look about us at the foolishness and horror of our times and gaze with perhaps a good deal of apprehension towards the future. But for those with faith in the God of Abraham, we could do well to have that depth of confidence and certainty that Jesus had in the unbreakable veracity of Bible prophecy. I believe He wants each of us to have that certainty in the Words of God that are yet to be fulfilled, for the troubled times each of us now have and for the tribulations that may yet come.

“Famous Failures of Prophetic Interpretation”

Manor house & people new try YouTube front page-flattenedI guess everyone has heard about times in history when someone has pointed out something they thought was just about to happen, because they felt Biblical prophecy was just about to be fulfilled. That happened one time as a direct result of misunderstanding something that’s in Daniel chapter 8.  (This article is the text of a video on this subject. The video can be seen here.)

The 1840’s was a time of tremendous change. The Industrial Revolution was changing the order of society as it had been for many hundreds of years. Science was making tremendous strides in understanding God’s creation. And politics and nationalism were bringing huge change around the world.

One new religious movement at that time saw the changes going on as a sign of the soon coming of God’s Kingdom on earth. This group often talked about the return of Jesus. And you could say, “Well, Mark, that sounds a good deal like what you’re doing.” And you might be right. So, I’m sharing this with you as a warning in some ways, both to you and to me. Because, as much as I believe in prophecy, I also know it’s possible to misinterpret things in the Bible.   So this group, back in the 1840’s, looked at some of these verses we’ve been reading, specifically Daniel 8:13 and 14, which say

Then I heard one saint speaking; and another saint said to that certain one who spoke, “How long will be the vision, concerning the daily sacrifice and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot?” And he said to me, “Unto two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.”

These verses are rather mysterious and I’m not in any way wanting to make fun of what happened. But these folks back then misinterpreted those verses and ended up being embarrassed and needing to make some difficult explanations. Here’s what happened.

A very key event occurred in the history of the Jews, during the time of their captive in Babylon and the beginning of their return to Israel. Some historians have set the date of that event at 544 BC. Setting the exact date on this and explaining the details and specifics are complicated and I won’t go into it here since it’s part of the class on Daniel chapter 9.

1844-merged-for blog postBut this Christian religious movement in the 1800’s came to the incorrect conclusion that “2300 days” in Daniel 8:14 actually means 2300 years. So they did their math. Using an approximate date of 544 BC, adding an additional 2300 years would mean that these verses in Daniel 8 tell us that the Kingdom of God would be set up in …1844!

The 1840’s were not a particularly traumatic time for people living in the United States. But for Europeans, the 1840’s were a time of revolution and major social dishevel in many countries. Well, this religious group I mentioned, spread out in many lands, came down to a fateful night in October of 1844 when they went up on their housetops to welcome the return of Jesus.Manor house & people-flattened

But, Jesus didn’t come back that night and that whole denomination was mocked and ridiculed.  It didn’t end there. Years later a new denomination was started. They looked over the mistakes the other group made and came up with a new idea. They saw places in the Bible that used the number “70”. And they added 70 more years onto 1844. That would mean that the coming of the Lord would actually be in…1914!

1914-merged- for blog postWell, 1914 was a very significant, turbulent year to say the least. It was the beginning of World War I, a war unlike any other before it. Also, in the fields of science, culture, business and technology, things were changing incredible fast. But, the Lord didn’t return in 1914. So they ended up saying that actually Jesus did return that year to the earth. But that He’s now presently “in the clouds”, looking over the judgment books. And honesty, if you keep up with these kinds of things, this type of prophetic interpretation is happening in our times just as much if not more than it was 100 years ago.

Sadam Hussein2-for blog postRemember Saddam Hussein? At the time of the Iraq war, there were all kinds of web sites and commentators saying that Saddam Hussein was the Biblical Antichrist. And the modern nation of Iraq was the fulfillment of Babylon the Great from Revelation 18. Websites and airwaves were full of those kinds of twisted, opportunistic interpretations of Bible prophecy, often for political motives and secular agendas.

We believers are supposed to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But that doesn’t mean we’re to be naive, gullible and easily manipulated.

I believe it’s important to be very realistic and cautious about interpreting God’s Word. There’s just a real danger in getting overly specific about soon-coming events through a misapplication and misinterpretation of ancient Bible prophecy, especially if politics or nationalism is using Bible prophecy for their own secular ends. Not only can you just being totally wrong, you can do enormous damage to the faith of millions of people, the “multitudes in the valley of decision”, as the Prophet Joel talked about.

There are so many people today “in the valley of decision” who sense the truth and want to learn more. But when they’re stumbled by false teaching and prophetic interpretations that prove false, they turn away from God and search elsewhere for the truth they’re seeking.  That’s heartbreaking and must grieve the heart of the God of Abraham for any of us to do that. On the other hand, simply because mistakes like this have been made, it doesn’t take anything away from the certainty of prophecy. But it’s a serious, sober warning to us all to not teach speculation and hypothesis as something that we should take as absolute gospel truth.

Daniel First

Daniel Night for blog postIf you were going to build a house, would you start by putting shingles or tile on the roof? Would you start by painting or by putting in the windows? Of course not. But the sad state of prophetic teaching about the endtime by so many Bible teachers seems to go that direction. And sometimes it just ends up being a mess and incoherent, far from “sound doctrine“. (Titus 2:1)

Matthew 24 15-d for blog postTo build a house, you’d start out with the foundation, then the framework, the walls and last would be the finishing touches. Jesus Himself pointed His disciples to the Book of Daniel and told them, “Whoever reads it, let him understand”. (Matthew 24:15) This was when He was teaching about the events prophesied in the Bible as leading up to the coming Kingdom of God on earth,

But how many Bible teachers today really start there?  Sadly, so often their first and only stop is into the book of Revelation. And then they often get off on some tangent or just end up teaching things that might look nice or sound exciting but just isn’t on the rock of the foundation of endtime truth. It’s like they started painting and roofing before they got the basics of the house up.

This morning someone sent me a link on YouTube about Bible prophecy.  The dear teacher was instructing us that the Trumpets of Tribulation and the Bowls or Vials of Wrath are actually the same thing. I didn’t get much past that point. I guess for me, instead of attacking and criticizing what I sometimes find in the prophetic teaching of others, instead I’ve just tried to keep my “shoulder to the boulder” in continuing to get out this series of videos on the book of Daniel. If this is a subject that’s interesting to you and perhaps you know a good deal about, you might find the last class I did, about Daniel chapter 9 and “The Last 7 Years” to be interesting. You can see that video here.

foundations-flattenedTo paraphrase Paul, I believe God is the “wise master builder who has laid the foundation”. (I Corinthians 3:10) And I believe that the foundation that was laid for the picture of the endtime that He put forth in the book of Daniel is not going to be discarded or overturned by the last book in the Bible, Revelation.

Daniel smiling with Gabriel for D9 blog postIt all fits wonderfully together, both the information God gave in the Old Testament, primarily through the prophet Daniel, then what Jesus taught about the matter in Matthew 24 and the places Paul talked about the subject, like in II Thessalonians. There are other places as well but I’m just hitting the highlights here. All these things are the building that was done by God through the Scriptures, “line upon line, precept upon precept.” (Isaiah 28:10)

And when we come to Revelation, we find that God continues to build on the same story and the same house, not that He throws out the whole thing and starts over. He doesn’t expect us to build our whole endtime theology around what we find in Revelation, any more than a builder would build his house out of material brought to the building site for the doors, windows and roof.

I guess I get a little incensed. I think of all the poor souls trying to make sense out of it all. How difficult it must be to understand any of this if someone is not building their teaching on the foundation that God has been laying out for us over many centuries, not only just on the revelation that God gave John on the isle of Patmos.

But it’s in a sense good. It motivates me to “press in” all the more to try to put out what I believe is the original plan and teaching that was found at various times in the teaching of the Early Church and with Bible scholars down through the centuries. And by the way, I really don’t think that the 7 trumpets of Revelations 8 and 9 are the same thing as the vials of Wrath in Revelation 16. First things first. Otherwise it can get confusing and “God is not the author of confusion.” (I Corinthians 14:33) Thanks for your prayers for this video project, “If the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalms 11:3)

 

Freedom

freedom pictureI’ve had a conversation with a new friend and some of it has been about freedom. My gosh, what a subject.  Are you free? Free from what? How can we tell? How can we measure and quantify freedom? Everybody talks about it, most everybody wants it, a few people say they have it and some say that others don’t have it. But some people just really feel and know they aren’t free. They are bound. Sometimes they feel like a slave, either to some other person, to some system, to their families, their egos or whatever.

you shall know the truthBut Jesus talked a pretty good amount about freedom. In fact, He promised it. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed”. (John 8:36)  The university I went to has at the top of its main building, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Of course it was Jesus Who said that. But the university appropriated that Bible verse to apply it to the secular education received at the university.

I don’t know, maybe some find the truth there. I’m afraid I found some knowledge there but knowledge is not really the same thing as truth. While I was acquiring knowledge at university, I was literally nearly dying for a lack of wisdom that comes from the truth that comes from God. And I certainly wasn’t free. I guess I could have thought I was, going to university, cool sports car, apartment, pretty good job, nice clothes. But inside I was like a person with a terminal disease in its last stages. I was sick and starved of the knowledge, wisdom, truth and freedom that come from God.

From the early 70's. London, England

But when I came to that point where I received Jesus and was born again, I truly in so many senses became “a new creature in Christ Jesus”. (II Corinthians 5:17) Was I free then? I sure was; but it was something so totally in the middle of my soul that it might not have been apparent right away. Or maybe it was. I’m sure my countenance was different, my words began to be different, my lifestyle changed and I just had a complete change in my heart and soul from the inside out.

For one, I was free from addiction to psychedelic drugs, something that had a grip on me till then. But it was much more than that; it really was like what Jesus meant when He said those words written in stone at the top of the building at my university, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”(John 8:32)the truth will make flat I began to have a freedom, a peace, a joy and even words that there may be no words for, maybe close to the word “ecstasy”. But I don’t find the word that fits, really. Simply put, it was a form of freedom and deliverance from the fear, confusion, bondage, lack of direction, just the overwhelming lack in every area that was the essence of my life before my coming to God.

You may say, “I don’t know. I went to church one time and those folks didn’t look free at all. It all seemed pretty formal, traditional and, frankly, dead.

The good news is that some churches are not like that anymore. They are drinking deeply of the things or God, or are trying to, and people pushing the envelope to find those spiritual realities that Jesus promised are ours in Him. For example, some people are singing songs together, powerfully and from their heart and they are being exhilarated with the freedom that comes sometimes through song. I personally have been in places where the songs even turned into dance and went on for hours. No, people were not jerking around like rodents; it was smooth and beautiful, heavenly and free like we’d been transported up from this world or the essences of heaven had come down to us. It was an indescribable experience.

Another form of freedom I’ve experienced was in the midst of one of the worst natural disasters on earth in our lifetime, when I was in refugee camps in Aceh province, Indonesia in the immediate aftermath of the Asian tsunami of 2004. It wasn’t some out-of-body experience but a very practical freedom of stability, sanity and focus in a time when most people were utterly stunned and overwhelmed in the aftermath of such devastation. There was an infusion of freedom and peace on me and my friends that made it so that we could minister for many hours each day, giving and pouring out in every way we could when almost all the local and state infrastructure had been destroyed and we were surrounded by devout Islamic people who couldn’t help wondering how in the world we got there and why we were there.

For a Christian, we’re not just given freedom like some lottery prize but as something useful and practical that brings us joy. But His freedom also strengthens us for the task at hand in this present world, of bringing people to God and His Son Jesus. And I’ll admit, it does seem like many Christians have not gone so far in experiencing the freedom we have in Jesus.

passing litMost churches are so “afraid of wild fire”, that they have little or no fire of the Spirit at all. Besides, only a few are beginning to tell the sheep in their congregations that actually they are responsible to not just “lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2), but to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8), to witness and win others personally to Him. So they need to experience the freedom we have in Him and then start using it to get going for God and others.

sharing wordWe’re free, free, free; free to do God’s will. Free to “follow the Lamb, whithersoever He leads“. (Revelation 14:4) And for those few who are beginning to awaken to the fact that the dear Lamb of God has work to do for each of us in this world, they are finding that His freedom will help so that we can do so much more, dream so much more and accomplish so much more than most of us ever did before when our life in the Lord consisted of Sunday church service and perhaps a little more.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”. (II Corinthians 3:17) “The creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God”. (Romans 8:21) How many people of God have really experienced that “glorious liberty” personally in their lives? where the spiritHow many people are daily living in that glorious liberty to the full in the action-packed, thrilling, significant destinies His saved children can have right now in this world, if we seek first His kingdom. Oh, that the Lord would be able to help more of His people to drink more deeply of His freedom and the things of Him now in this lifetime. “Eye has not seen, neither has ear heard the things that belong to them that love Him. But God has revealed them unto us by His Spirit for the Spirit searches the deep things of God.” (I Corinthians 2: 9 & 10)