The $64,000 Question

There was a 1950’s game show by the same name as my title.  It’s become a catch-phrase for any question that is difficult to answer.

That’s how many feel about the unfolding events of the End Times.  It raises a number of $64,000 Questions about the Tribulation, the Rapture, the coming of Antichrist, and the seals, trumpets and bowls.  One person summarized the feelings of a lot of people:  “I’ve just always been confused about this and hear over-complicated responses, yet I can’t make heads or tails of Revelation when it comes to the big picture.”

Here’s how I approach the Book of Revelation.  I personally love to read it because it carries a promise:  “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”  (Revelation 1:3)

The blessing is found in seeing Jesus Christ throughout the book as our all-sufficient Savior and conquering King.  Since it was first written, Revelation has assured every generation that God is ultimately in control of history, and that he is bringing to completion the redemption of his people and the judgment of the wicked.  It gives much-needed rest to our minds when we see the world unraveling around us.


I’m less concerned about believers understanding the details of certain end-time events and far more interested that they keep themselves ready for the return of Christ.


That seems to be the emphasis of Jesus in the parables about his Second Coming:  Stay alert!  Stay busy for the Lord!  (see Matthew 25:1-30)

Peter’s advice in spot-on:  “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God.”  (2 Peter 3:11)

I recommend that as you read Revelation, be refreshed and encouraged as you see Jesus worshiped as the Redeemer-Lamb, or watch him presiding over every detail, and shout with joy as he rides on his white horse in victory.

In may be helpful to keep a study Bible close at hand whenever questions arise about a specific passage.  Revelation was never meant to confuse us, but always intended to compel us to follow closer to Jesus.

Finally, set your heart on the final words of Jesus in Revelation 22:20, “Surely I am coming soon.”

How Can a Loving God Send Anyone To Hell

It feels wrong to put “God is love” and “hell” in the same sentence.  And yet, our outrageously loving Jesus continually preached about the reality of hell.  The word is mentioned twelve times in the Gospels, and that doesn’t include his other references to “eternal punishment,” “eternal fire,” “outer darkness,” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

So difficult is it to wrap our minds around hell, some respected church leaders have suggested that judgment of the unsaved will end in annihilation (end of existence) or universalism (all will be saved in the end).  We stumble over hell, especially when we consider our deceased loved ones who showed no evidence of salvation and new life in Christ.  Reading the story of Lazarus and the rich man is nearly more than we can bear, if it is true that our unsaved loved ones are experiencing the same torment and suffering as that of the rich man (Luke 16:19-31).

Reconciling the love of God and his creation of hell is admittedly beyond our earthly understanding.  It is one of those “inscrutable” and “unsearchable” realities we must leave with God.  This is not a cop-out, but is to humbly acknowledge that as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways and his thoughts than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

Therefore, I camp on what I do know:  God does not wish any to perish, but that all should come to repentance, (2 Peter 3:9).  Condemning anyone to hell is heart-wrenching to him.

So then, why does hell exist?  In a word, God created hell because he is just and righteous.  Hell is where God deals with evil.  All rebellion against God will be confined to an inescapable prison.  His justice makes hell a necessity.  While God loves all people, his justice requires him to confront evil and sin.

Romans 5:8 states that God sent his own Son to bear the penalty for sin that transgressors might be saved.  Salvation, the Bible says, is offered to everyone as a gift, to be received by faith in Christ.

Simply put, if we cast ourselves upon the mercy of God and turn in faith to Jesus as Savior and Lord of our lives, we will be saved.  To refuse his one way of salvation is to suffer condemnation.  His love cannot excuse sin, even as his holiness and justice cannot be swept aside.

Questions about hell will always remain until what we know in part becomes fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).  That future day awaits us in heaven.  What can be known is this:  God’s love paid an infinite cost to save us from hell.   One only need watch the sorrow and distress of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to realize how great a burden it was for him to bear the guilt of our imputed sin.  It was laid upon him as a scapegoat.

Perhaps the better question is, “How could a perfect and just God allow anyone into heaven?”

What is the Day of Judgement

Are you interested in the afterlife?  Sure you are.  We all know each day brings us closer a life beyond this present one.  God has instilled this knowledge in each of person’s heart, (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

What can we expect in the future life? 

Romans 14:12 states, “Each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

Sobering words, right?

Paul informed the people of Athens, God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed,” (Acts 17:31).

There are four certainties about the Day of Judgment:

  1. It is an actual future “day.” God’s calendar has that day marked.  It’s coming.
  2. The “world” of mankind will be judged. It is appointed to man to die once, and after that comes the judgment (Hebrews 7:27).
  3. The presiding judge has been appointed. The Lord Jesus Christ is the appointed judge, the same Jesus who gave his life so that sinners might be forgiven, justified, and delivered from hell.  His judgment will be completely just—perfectly right and fair.  “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham acknowledged.
  4. Finally, a great separation will take place. The wicked will be separated from the righteous.

Jesus used parables to help us understand the Day of Judgment.  In Matthew 13:24-30, he told the Parable of the Weeds:  In a field a man sowed good seed, but secretly in the dark of night, his enemy sowed weeds in the same field.  Both the good plants and the weeds sprung up together.

Instead of laboring to get rid of the weeds, the owner allowed both to grow up together until the harvest.  He then instructed his reapers to gather the weeds first, tie them into bundles and throw them into the fire, and then gather the wheat into his barns.

Explaining the meaning of the parable, Jesus said that the sons of the devil will grow alongside the sons of God’s kingdom.  In the last day, “the Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 13:41, 42)

Who are “the weeds”?  Those who remain unrepentant and unmoved by God’s gift of salvation.  Instead of resting in God’s mercy in Christ and believing in him as the one Savior and Lord of our lives, the wicked continue in their rebellion and blasphemy to their own destruction.

So then, on that Day of Judgment, the righteous will go into everlasting life and joy in God’s presence, while the wicked will face God’s just wrath and be cast away from God’s presence into everlasting punishment.

Yes, everybody will give an account before God.  Thankfully, those who are found in Christ have had their evil deeds cleansed by his blood and are now clothed in his perfect righteousness.  Our sins have already been judged at the Cross; however, we are accountable to live now in a manner worthy of the Jesus we love and serve.

The Take Away:  Every one of us needs to ponder whether he or she is prepared for the Day of Judgment.

The Secret Place

There are those dark nights of the soul when the best thing we can do is to “steal away to Jesus.” Those words from the old Spiritual were birthed out of the tears of severe trials when the heart of faith turns to the only Refuge and Hope. We steal away to the secret place where we find safety in Jesus.

That’s the emotion behind Psalm 91:1,2 – “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in whom I trust.’”

What life-experience compelled this author to reach for his pen and capture his feelings in these lyrics? What’s his story?

Was he feeling threatened, alone, trapped? Was his inner strength drained? Was he where many find themselves: no where to turn but to God?

I love that expression, “the secret place of the Most High.” It speaks of a sanctuary, a stronghold, a retreat in which to hide. The imagery is that of a baby birds tucked safely under the protective wings of the mother.

Four names of God give rise to his declaration, “in whom I trust”:

  • “Most High” – not unlike the description of Jesus Christ who is seated in the heavenly place “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come,” (Ephesians 1:21)
  • “the Almighty” – there is no equal to the supremacy of God in power and might.
  • “the LORD” – whatever the situation or need, he himself becomes the solution to that need when he acts on behalf of his people. He is present and working in your circumstances.
  • “my God” – he who is Creator, strong and mighty…the superlative name for God who spoke the universe into existence.

Steal away to this God! The Secret Place.

Tear the Heavens Open!

Haven’t you wished that God would directly intervene in a jaw-dropping way?

Sure, we all have.

When we’ve been under a relentless trial that goes from bad to worse, we cry out to the Lord for mercy. We want him to show up—not in the shadows—but in a dramatic, sweeping explosion of power.

Isaiah prayed this way: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence…that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:1)

 


Now that’s an entrance!


 

You sense the emotion of his heart: “O that…”

“If only you would rescue us,” the prophet prays.

Perhaps today you find yourself sharing in Isaiah’s prayer. Could God actually break into your world with such a rescue? Sure. If you read further in Isaiah 64, you’ll discover he had done so in Israel’s past.

–But is that how God normally operates? Probably not.

More often, he comes alongside us in the sound of a low whisper, as Elijah discovered, (1 Kings 19:12). He is nearby, but not always in the awe-inspiring tornado, or the quaking mountain, or the fire-storm. Rather, God awakens us to his presence—that he has not forsaken us.

We want God to tear open the heavens, but perhaps he is whispering to your heart.

What’s he telling you? He is assuring you that he’s been nearby all the time, he’s watching, and he wants you to never lose sight of walking by faith–today. Patiently wait on the Lord. Rest in his promise that he truly cares about you, (1 Peter 5:7).

Seen Any Miracles Lately?

I came across this recently: “Keep your ministry on a miracle basis. If you can explain what’s going on, God didn’t do it.” [Bob Cook]

In the eyes of God, all of life is “sacred.” It’s all “ministry.”

“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17).

How does a busy mom keep her home-making on a miracle basis? Or, a high school student attending classes, or your work-out time at the gym, or your fifty hours of labor each week?

Henry Blackaby reminds us, God is always working around us and he wants to open our spiritual eyes so that we might see what he is doing. As he does this, he also invites us to join him in his “miracle work.”

So, how do you keep your ministry on a miracle basis this week?

  • Abide in Christ. “I am the vine; you are the branches.       The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me.”       –John 15:5
  • Deny yourself and take up your cross daily. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” –Luke 9:23, 24
  • “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”       –Wm Carey

“Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

–Hebrews 11:6


The Take-Away: God is working around you. Miracles are happening. Roll up your sleeves and join him.


 

What Fires You Up?

There is no lack of zeal these days. People are fired-up about politics or college championships or a favorite hobby, even a favorite newscast. Do you want to know what stokes someone’s zeal?—just watch their posts on Facebook. It’s bound to leach out.

I want to lobby here for well-placed zeal.

The Bible urges us to set our focus on one main thing: the kingdom of God. That is, the things that God thinks are most important.

You can probably quote from Matthew 6… “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”  That’s not just a memory verse, it’s a way of life: reading about and thinking about and busy about the expanding kingdom of God on planet earth.

I’ve got to ask myself, “Sam, is this what fires you up?”

I was recently struck by Jesus’ admonition to one church: “be zealous and repent!” (Revelation 3:19). He said this to certain professing Christians who had grown indifferent about the things Jesus thought were important.

They had a misplaced zeal about the wrong things instead of a well-placed zeal about the important things.  The Laodicean Christians were zealous about managing their stuff and being fashionable and seeking a fulfilling career.

Jesus had a very strong correction: “you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

“Be zealous and repent!” he commanded them. That is to say, “Turn away from the things the world gets excited about and seek first Jesus.”


I imagine that hits close to home for many of those reading this blog:
“Be zealous and repent!”


A Puritan named Samuel Ward helps us understand this kind of zeal: “It is a spiritual heat wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Ghost, improving the good affections of love, joy, etc., for the furtherance of God’s glory, His word, His house, His saints, and the salvation of souls; directing the contrary of hatred, anger, grief, etc., towards God’s enemies, the devil, his angels, sin, the world, with the lusts thereof.”

So, what gets you fired-up these days?