In this penultimate instalment in the series on heaven, we tackle two questions offered by congregants: first, the role of Satan in the end times; and second, the fate of people who have never heard of Jesus. Early in the service, we welcome three young ladies into church membership on their profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. The message is based on Revelation 20 and Romans 1 (and others). You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.
When we think of sifting, we tend to think of wheat, even though most of us probably have never actually done that, unless we’ve lived on a farm.
Sifting is the separation of the grain from the chaff. The grain (wheat is the commonest one) is useful, but the chaff is not.
Metaphorically, the Bible makes use of this term in a number of places, particularly in the separation of followers of Jesus from those who don’t follow him. Jesus even told Peter, as Jesus was preparing for his death on the cross, that Satan wanted to sift the disciples like wheat (Luke 22.31). In that case, the evil one’s desire was to attempt to separate believers from their faith.
There’s a lot of that kind of sifting going on in the world today.
The devil is doing his level best to try to get followers of Jesus to walk away from the Lord. He is putting all manner of trials in people’s lives in an attempt to separate people from Jesus. He is trying to sift us.
But guess what: he can’t pull it off.
Because Satan doesn’t have that kind of power.
It actually takes very little to fend off the devil. All you have to do is resist.
How do I know that? Well, there’s some personal experience, but better than that, I know it because it’s right in God’s Word:
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4.7, NLT)
That’s all it takes. You need merely to resist the devil, and he will flee from you. As a follower of Jesus, you have the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through you.
Can I ask a favour of you?
Whether you’re in a challenging season or not, I’m asking you to commit that verse to memory.
Even if you don’t feel like you need it right now, it’s a pretty safe bet that you will need that word of encouragement at some point along your journey of faith. If you put that piece of Scripture in your arsenal right now, you’ll have it forever.
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Memorize that, starting today, and then you’ll remember, at any point that Satan is trying to sift you, that all you have to do is resist, and he’ll leave you alone. This may sound simplistic, and I assure you, it may be a long process; it may even be a daily struggle. But if you resist, again and again, in the power of the Holy Spirit, you will overcome.
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
(By the way, I’ll be talking about Satan’s role in the end times on Sunday, and this verse will play an important role. You’re welcome to join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, or on our YouTube channel if you’re too far away to come.)
I spent part of Labour Day learning something new. I love learning new things.
This week, it was learning how to strop.
Not “stop” – it wasn’t a typo – “strop”.
In recent years, I have amassed a modest collection of pocket knives. Having a knife in my pocket is a handy thing, especially with the uncanny number of Amazon boxes that have shown up on my doorstep during the pandemic.
It’s also handy when there’s cheesecake. You never know when that might present itself.
But if one is going to have a pocket knife or two, one must also learn how to maintain them, and part of knife maintenance involves sharpening.
However, if I sharpened my knife every time I used it, before long, there’d be no steel left to cut with.
That’s why I’m learning how to strop. It involves infusing a piece of leather with a compound that I then rub my knife on. (If you were ever in a barber shop when you were young, and saw a chunk of leather hanging from the barber’s chair, that’s what he used to keep his straight razor keen between uses.)
Stropping a knife allows me to hone the edge without sharpening it. It’s sort of like a mini-sharpening between sharpenings. It keeps the knife useful, and safe…because a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife, whether you’re cutting packing boxes or chicken legs.
This has parallels with our faith life. Let’s say that coming to worship, confessing your sin, hearing the Word, and listening to the preaching is like sharpening your walk with the Lord.
But between Sundays, you can keep your walk with God ‘on edge’, as it were, by ‘stropping’ your faith. You do this through participation in a small group, through the daily reading of Scripture, through prayer, through acts of justice and kindness done in Jesus’ name and power.
If ever your faith feels dull, you can strop your faith between sharpenings, and find that your faith is quickened, built up, and ready for engagement. If you’re not doing that now, give it a try in the coming days. You won’t regret it.
“Using a dull ax requires great strength,
so sharpen the blade.
That’s the value of wisdom;
it helps you succeed” (Ecclesiastes 10.10, NLT).
In every generation, there have been self-proclaimed prophets of the end times. In the time of Jesus and even before, people have thought they had the end of the world figured out.
So far, it seems, they didn’t. We’re all still here. Jesus has not returned.
Some people have dismissed the notion that Jesus will one day come back, that the world will be consummated. But other still look for clues.
Most who look for clues comb through the pages of the final book of the Bible: the Revelation. They think they can find answers there. And often, they create their own formulas to force upon the text.
In the end, though, they are frustrated.
Revelation is a hard book to understand, in no small part because of its genre. Apocalyptic literature is hard to understand for those who are not living in the time in which it was written. Revelation, having been written near the end of the first century, when Christians were experiencing severe persecution from the Romans, would have made perfect sense to its first hearers and readers.
It makes less sense to us.
But that hasn’t stopped people from trying to figure it out, or even imposing their own approaches to make it say what they want it to say.
When we think about the end times, the one thing we can know for certain is that we don’t know much about it. There are not fewer than five ways of interpreting the book of Revelation held by sincere, Bible-believing followers of Jesus today. (I talked briefly about these last Sunday.)
Commonly, in any given generation, one view will gain the upper hand among believers. (This is less true with scholars.) The predominant view in popular Christian culture today, despite its popularity, is somewhat confusing and is based on a very small portion of Scripture.
When will Jesus come back? We can’t know for sure.
In what order will the events of the end times take place? Some think they know for certain, others are unsure.
But this much we can know: if you have confessed Jesus as Saviour and Lord, and sought to live for him, and are ready for his return, nothing in the book of the Revelation should scare you.
Take comfort in that, if you’re a follower of Christ.
This Sunday, I will be tackling the question of what will happen at the end of time as we know it. I’ll look at some of the alternatives, and why I think the predominant view among many followers of Jesus is definitely not the only one, and might not even be the right one, from a biblical perspective.
Feel free to join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning if you don’t have another church to go to in person, and we’ll learn together. (If you are too far away to come, join us live online at 10, or watch the whole gathering or just the message, which will be posted to our YouTube channel later that afternoon.)
We know the end will come. We know Jesus will return. We know followers of Jesus will be safe for eternity. Beyond that? Let’s explore some options together.
“I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!” (Mark 13.37, NLT).
The western pull-out from Afghanistan has been heart-wrenching to watch on television. As I mentioned last week, the resurgence of the Taliban has placed many people at risk, especially women and Christians. For the Americans, the way this is playing out is very reminiscent of their time in Vietnam.
Canadian forces are saying that they wish they could have stayed. But the Big Fish in the Pond has decided that the multinational effort is over. It’s like they have given up, in some ways, though I’m certain this is an oversimplification.
Have you ever put effort into something – say, a friendship – and found it an uphill battle? It’s common for us to give up when we’re not making any progress.
This is especially true when we are seeking to encourage someone to embrace faith in Christ.
We might find ourselves getting blocked every time we try to “go there” in terms of spiritual conversation. But let me encourage you not to give up.
To use another battle image, consider the speech given by Prime Minister Churchill to the British Parliament in 1940, in the midst of the ugliness of World War 2. It is one of the most inspiring speeches ever given! Quite near the end, Churchill tells his fellow parliamentarians, and the world: “…we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”.
When you’re sharing your faith, like on the battle fields, it’s a matter of life and death. Don’t give up. Never surrender. Even when you get pushback, be loving and respectful, but continue to witness to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ at work in your life.
For your friend, eternity is in the balance.
“But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke.’ We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4.13-18, NLT).
Finally, something has eclipsed the pandemic in the news: the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. It is fraught with political nuances and challenges for those of us who may not have been following the story closely for years, going back to the time before and during the western nations’ war and occupation that sought to keep the nation under some form of democratic rule.
But with the final withdrawal of American troops, the Taliban has solidified its control. And with that will come some form of Islamic law, which is concerning to many women, as well as to Christians in general.
It is said that this nation is second only to North Korea in its record for persecution of Christians. And that is only apt to get worse, not only in Afghanistan, but in other middle eastern countries, where terrorist groups may feel empowered by recent events favouring the Taliban.
I want to encourage you today to take some time to pray for Christians and churches in Afghanistan, and throughout the middle east. Pray for protection, for peaceful co-existence, and for the power of the gospel to triumph over hatred and persecution. And pray that western nations will stand up for the rights of women and religious minorities in these countries.
You may have trouble finding the words, but give that to the Lord, too. He will know the groaning of your heart.
“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Romans 8.26, NLT).
At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’m preaching a series on heaven right now. In a few weeks, I’ll be talking about the concept of heaven as “rest”, but that theme is on my mind right now, so I thought I’d share a little bit about that as a ‘teaser’ for our people, and as encouragement for everyone else!
The Bible talks about heaven in a number of ways, and one of those is “rest”. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:
Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later.But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.
That is why the Holy Spirit says,
“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled,
when they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
They refuse to do what I tell them.’
So in my anger I took an oath:
‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. Remember what it says:
“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled.”
And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him? So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest. (Hebrews 3.5-19, NLT)
I gave you that long passage to afford you some context. The author cites Psalm 95 in his discussion on heaven, and uses that reference to “rest” to talk about eternity.
Summer is often a time for rest, when we step back from our daily labours to be rejuvenated, doing things we most enjoy with the people we most love. I hope you are taking some time in these warm months to do just that.
Vacation time is like an extended Sabbath. And so too, says the writer to the Hebrews, is heaven. This has been reiterated in church music over the years. Peter Abelard, a twelfth-century French theologian, wrote an anthem (translated into English much later by John Mason Neale) in which one verse states:
O what their joy and their glory must be,
Those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see;
Crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest:
God shall be All, and in all ever blest.
(You can listen to Healey Willan’s setting of this piece here.)
In one sense, then, vacation time is truly a taste of heaven! Make sure you get some rest. If you are a follower of Jesus, it’s part of your eternal future!
Last Sunday, Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Airways and many other enterprises, fulfilled a lifelong dream: he went to space…on his own craft.
Granted, he didn’t get very far, galactically speaking: he soared to 50 miles above the surface of the earth, which doesn’t quite reach the definition of “outer space”, but he proved that some form of space travel does not have to be the purview of only astronauts. Branson proved that anyone can go – provided, of course, they have the cash to make it happen.
This got me thinking: the curiosity of the human mind is amazing. Inventions come to pass because people believe there might be a better way to do something, and they do the work required to bring it to fruition. There was Alexander Graham Bell with the telephone, Schaffer with the washing machine, Ford with the assembly line, etc., etc. These people had the ingenuity to invent, but they first had the curiosity to explore the possibilities. It is a gift from God.
Your curiosity is a gift from God. What are you doing to glorify him with it? You don’t have to go to the outer reaches of the atmosphere. Maybe your curiosity will do something to help your small group. Maybe it will build the church. Maybe it will help missionaries do their work. Whatever it is, let your God-given curiosity bring him praise.
“It is God’s privilege to conceal things and the king’s privilege to discover them” (Proverbs 25.2, NLT).
Today, I encourage you to spend a few moments meditating on God’s Word. The word “meditate” has been hijacked in contemporary society, and sometimes, Christians are afraid to use the word for fear that they are practising some sort of eastern religious act. Not so! Meditation has been part of church life since the earliest days of the Christian faith. One of the ways we practise meditation on the Word of God is through holy reading, what the ancients called lectio divina. In this practice, we read a passage of Scripture to get familiar with it; we pause, and then we read it again to discern a word or phrase from the passage that the Lord may be highlighting for us; again we pause, and read it a third time, taking time to hold that word or phrase before the Lord to know why he has highlighted it for us; and finally, we read it a fourth time and rest in God’s care and provision, thinking prayerfully about how we might respond to what the Lord has said to us through his Word.
Try it with this passage:
But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
2 When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom;
I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place.
4 Others were given in exchange for you.
I traded their lives for yours
because you are precious to me.
You are honored, and I love you. (Isaiah 43.1-4, NLT)
How did the Lord speak to you through this passage? How can you respond?
I had an interesting experience this week…I went to jail.
Don’t worry, though: I wasn’t remanded in custody for a crime.
I was in Facebook Jail.
It seems that the digital robotic algorithm which constantly monitors posts for things it has unilaterally decided are hateful, offensive, or against its ‘community standards’ picked off a meme I reposted from someone else and decided that it violated ‘community standards’.
I thought it was funny, and so did several other people. In fact, I can’t imagine who would have found it anything but funny. But the algorithm doesn’t share my sense of humour, apparently. So I couldn’t post for 24 hours (probably not a bad idea anyway), and I can’t go ‘live’ or place an ad on Facebook for 30 days. I guess this is the equivalent for getting 2 minutes for roughing and a game misconduct…from a blind referee.
Thankfully, I don’t rely on Facebook for anything except mild entertainment and the opportunity to post spiritual encouragement, so the repercussions are not life-altering for me.
It’s almost impossible to hit a moving target – which I deem Facebook’s algorithm to be – so I will have no idea whether what I post in the future will be targeted. So I will have to be much more judicious in what I post. It will mostly be ministry-related. (Hopefully, they won’t start targeting Christians for spiritual things!)
I couldn’t find a means for appeal, but if I could, I would encourage Facebook to alter its algorithm so that it has at least a mild sense of humour. After all, if we can’t laugh, especially at ourselves, life is not as rich.
Make sure you get in a good laugh today, even if it’s not at something I post on social media, because, as the Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (Proverbs 17.22, NLT).