Encouragement From The Word

Be alert

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, my phone, quietly charging on my dresser at the other end of our bedroom, started buzzing.  Funny, thought I as it awakened me, I have my phone on ‘do not disturb’.

Apparently, “amber alert” notifications trump the ‘do not disturb’ function.  I learned that at 3:00 a.m. on Thursday. Oddly, these late-night alerts have happened before, and I was not awakened; I suppose there must have been some sort of conflagration of nocturnal events that roused me from my slumber.

Amber Alerts can be broadcast at any hour of the day or night as the need arises. After all, it’s possible that an Amber Alert could contribute to saving a child’s life.  That’s why the majority of people don’t mind this intrusion into their privacy.

There is a time coming – we don’t know when, so there’s no point in predicting – when the most important “alert” you’ll ever get will happen.  Will it be broadcast to everybody’s cell phone?  I have my doubts, but when it occurs, none of us will have any difficulty knowing about it.

It’s the second coming of Jesus.

Lots of time is spent and plenty of ink is spilled over trying to deduce or discern the day and time of Jesus’ return, but that is all wasted.  Even the Lord Jesus himself said, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24.36, NLT).

What can we do?  Be ready.  Be alert. Be prepared.  Trust Jesus as Lord and Saviour.  The rest will fall into place, irrespective of various theological constructs that may exist (and which any of us may hold dear).  He will come, and we won’t need an Amber Alert to tell us about it.

Find strength in the words of the apostle Paul:

 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves.  Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.  So encourage each other with these words (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, NLT).

Don’t wait for your phone to start buzzing in the middle of the night. Trust Jesus today, and his return will be pure joy.

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Encouragement From The Word

Is tomorrow “the end”?

Is the world going to end tomorrow?  It could.  But it probably won’t.

There has been a fair bit of press lately given to a small number of individuals who are predicting that on Saturday, September 23, 2017, time will be consummated.  One of them calls himself a “Christian numerologist”, which is just a fancy term for somebody who makes it his hobby to study numbers in the Bible; there’s certainly no such thing as a degree in “Christian numerology”.  It tends to be a rabbit-trail that some sincere followers of Jesus go down, usually with good intentions, but most often because what they really need is a decent hobby.  I recommend model railroading.

Of course, the news outlets make a big deal of this – usually so they can make Christians look like fools (something at which some believers in the public square are actually quite adept).  But will the world end tomorrow?  Committed Jesus-follower and public thinker Ed Stetzer doesn’t think so (you can read his article here).  I don’t, either.  But that doesn’t keep me from believing that it could happen – and that we should be ready for it when it does.

There seem to be two solitudes when it comes to eschatology – the study of the end times – whereby people are either obsessed with the second coming of Jesus, or they don’t think about it at all.  I think both are dangerous positions.

It’s dangerous to be consumed with consummation, and it’s dangerous to ignore the end times, too.  Those in the former ‘camp’ tend to see every big phenomenon (like earthquakes and hurricanes) and every small detail (like numbers in the Bible) as signs that point to the return of Jesus, often on some particular date.  Those in the latter ‘camp’ often don’t believe in a literal second coming, or they choose to see it as an incidental matter of faith.

As I understand Scripture, the truth is in the middle.

By trying to pinpoint the second coming, we pretend to know more than Jesus, who said that only the Father knows when that time will come (Mark 13.32).  And by discounting the return of Jesus, we imply that it is unimportant, when clearly it is; after all, Jesus said, “Understand this: if a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Luke 12.39-40, NLT – emphasis mine).

What that tells us is (a) Jesus is coming back; (b) we don’t know when it will happen; and (c) we need to be ready for it.  How can we be ready for something whose timing is uncertain?

Confess and repent of your sins, live in relationship with Jesus, and seek to serve him.  Trust him for your eternal salvation.  Live a life pleasing to him, in response to his gift of eternal life.  And share your faith.  After all, if we really believed that Jesus was coming back, we’d want others to be ready too, right?

At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, this Sunday is “Bring a Friend” day.  If you’re in the area and you’ve been wanting to give Christian faith a try, please join us at 10:00 a.m.  Be my guest for lunch – and let me know you’re coming so I can watch for you!

Wherever you are, assuming the world doesn’t come to an end tomorrow, I hope you’ll gather with God’s people to rejoice in what Jesus has done for you, so that you will be ready for when he does return!

Encouragement From The Word

Marana tha!

Marana tha. It’s not a phrase we hear tossed around much anymore, even in the church.

Marana tha. Even though it’s alluded to among the very last words of the Bible, most of us aren’t acquainted with it.

Marana tha. Interestingly, I have heard several people speak about it in the past few weeks, given all that’s going on in the world.

Marana tha. “Come, O Lord.” It’s becoming a popular prayer again.

Marana tha. This simple Aramaic prayer, uttered by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16 and hinted at by John in Revelation 22, says so much in so little space.

Marana tha. It’s a term of submission, in which we name Jesus as Lord, suggesting we ourselves are not Lord. It’s a term of hope, in which we look to the future we know God has in store for all who love him. It’s a term of desire, in which we long for Jesus to make right what the human race has made wrong. It’s a yearning for order, a yearning for peace, a yearning for justice.

Marana tha. We are invited to pray that prayer, for the restoration of God’s world and the meting of God’s justice. And while we wait for the wonderful return of our Lord, he invites us to answer our prayer with action on his behalf.

We can’t hasten the second coming. But we can help to prepare the world for it.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.  And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2.11-13, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Waiting, waiting…

Today is a day of waiting, for me.  Granted, it’s not as serious a form of waiting as, say, loved ones waiting for the results of surgery.  And it’s not as exciting a form of waiting as, say, anxious grandparents waiting to hear of the birth of their first grandchild.  No, this waiting is much more (if you’ll pardon the expression) peripheral.

Today, I’m waiting for the Bell technician to come to the church to install a new Internet connection.

I was told that the technician would arrive sometime between 8:00 a.m. and, well, next Thursday.  (Not really.  He’s supposed to arrive before 5:00 today.)  And it’s not like I don’t have plenty to keep me busy around the church.  But when you are waiting for someone to arrive, and you don’t know when it will occur, there is a certain impatience, a certain anxiety, that goes with that waiting.

God’s people have been in just that sort of waiting mode since the ascension of Jesus.  Time and again, the Lord Jesus told us that he would return to earth to consummate time as we know it and to receive his faithful, dead and living, to himself.

When we look at world events, it’s tempting to expect that Jesus is coming back soon.  Of course, he said as much, revealed to John, in the penultimate verse in the Bible:  “Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22.20, NIV).  So if he has been coming “soon” since the end of the first century, when Revelation was penned, how long is “soon”?  Of course, Peter reminds us that for God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day (2 Peter 3.8), so if that tells us anything, it’s that making predictions is a dangerous thing to do.  Even Jesus himself said that only the Father knows when that time will come (Mark 13.32).

At least with the Bell technician, I have a day, and a window in which to expect his arrival.  In the meantime, I carry on my normal activities – but confined to the church building for the day.

As we await the return of the Lord Jesus, we ought likewise to carry on our normal activities – not confined to a building, but confined to the world in which we live, constrained by the will of God to wait with patience and endurance for our safe redemption, whatever that may look like.

Waiting can be hard.  But, as the apostle Paul reminds us, the fruit of the Spirit is patience (Galatians 5.22).  It’s good to wait expectantly for the Lord, because eternity in his presence is going to be amazing.  But it’s also good to wait patiently, because “No one knows about that day or hour” (Mark 13.32, NIV).

There will be no sure sign of the Bell technician’s arrival until I see that familiar blue and white van.  Likewise, there will be no sure sign of Jesus’ return until we see him face to face.  There are those who will claim to be him, but if I understand Scripture correctly, there will be no mistaking his return.  You won’t have to wait for Jesus to introduce himself, or to read about it in the newspaper.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3.2, NIV).

Want a little inspiration for your day?  Listen to Sandi Patty sing what it will be like to meet the Lord.

That’ll be worth the wait.  Blessings for your weekend!

Biblical Messages

CHRISTIANITY 101: Encore! Encore!

We don’t hear much about the second coming of Christ in the church nowadays.  Maybe it’s because the church has patiently waited for so long, we have lost our enthusiasm about it.  Yet Jesus speaks about it with some frequency, and the other New Testament writers expected his return within their lifetimes.  We do well not to ignore it!

This message is based on Matthew 25.1-13 and can be listened to by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

The end is near?

As I sit to offer you a word of encouragement today, I don’t know where to begin.  So much has happened and converged around this time!  There was the mass shooting in the school in Connecticut last week; Christmas is just around the corner; today is the first day of winter; and if you’re reading this, there’s a better-than-reasonable probability that the Mayans got it wrong when their calendar came to a screeching halt on this day.  If there is any commonality here, it is time.

Perhaps the best word I can offer you came from the teacher, Qoheleth, who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes:  “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.  So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can.  And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God” (Ecclesiastes 3.11-13, NLT).

The older we get, the faster time seems to fly (unless we’re standing in a queue at the Licence Bureau, or something like that).  For those school children and teachers, their time is now measured in eternal units.  Christmas is not just a day to be marked with the sharing of gifts, but is a lifestyle to be lived throughout our lives.  The shortest day of the year – therefore, the longest night of the year – arrives with this day, yet we have much to which to look forward.  And the Mayan “prediction”?  Well, Jesus told us that nobody knows when the end will truly come, when he will come again to consummate time as we know it.  Our job is to be ready.

As the season of Advent draws to a close, we are reminded that it not only prepares us for Jesus’ first coming, but also for his second coming.  Too often, we ignore this in our preparations for Christmas, don’t we?  Jesus will come again.  He will judge the world.  He will receive his faithful people to himself.  And for followers of Jesus, there is great comfort in this truth.

God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  We measure time with our watches and calendars, but God can see all time with absolute clarity.  What better reason is there to trust him with our lives?

I wish you and yours the merriest of Christmases, the richest of blessings, and the deepest prayers for a new year filled with hope and peace.  Celebrate the coming of our Saviour in these days.  Pray for those for whom this season is devoid of meaning because they have no relationship with God.  And allow God to use you in the answering of your own prayers as you invite friends and loved ones to experience the joy of the Lord in the life and worship of the church.