JESUS ON END TIMES, part 1

I started a young adult school, typically positive. Then I was given this advice: “Under-promise, over-perform.” I needed that!

A successful pastor said to staff, “I don’t want a negative eschatology.” Okay, but if it isn’t truth, it does not fit Jesus. Sometimes Jesus may sound negative, or is he simply speaking truth? “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13,14). Jesus was more likely to warn than welcome potential disciples.

It had been quite a week. Jesus had set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He tried to tell his disciples repeatedly about dying, but they were clueless. He rode into the holy city proclaiming himself king. Then He cleaned out his Father’s house and followed with a healing service. The next days he cursed a fig tree, did some teaching, and showed his wisdom before nervous Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, who normally hated each other but ganged up on Jesus. They finally quit trying to trick him. Then he turned on them and pronounced seven sober woes before lamenting the coming desolation of Jerusalem for missing its time. He left the temple brokenhearted–for the last time. It brought him to tears.

Hey, fellas! Not the time to talk about stones and buildings. Herod was the greatest builder of that day, insane but brilliant. “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (Mark 13:1). His response: “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:1,2). People don’t move those stones. Armies could–maybe.

The shock of silence. They had just heard the worst news ever, like the end of Judaism. They finally had the nerve to speak. “As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately (for fear of starting a riot), saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” (Matthew 24:3).The Prophet Jesus could see the dismantling of Jerusalem in that generation and at the close of the age. Prophecy sometimes comes with a double fulfillment. (Think Isaiah 7:14). Jesus needed to prepare his disciples for a potentially paralyzing truth. And he is preparing the church for an even more colossal devastation.

He starts with a warning: “See that you are not led astray” (5). If the first words out the Son of God’s mouth are a strong word of caution, we best take heed. Then he says “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” “Many” is a lot of people. This will be a day when truth has never been so elusive. Why? Paul says that “God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11,12). If you want pleasure more than truth, then truth will be almost impossible to find. (Part 2 next).

MY FRIEND HERMEN

UNDERSTANDING PRINCIPLES OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION
I want you to meet Hermen. I don’t know him well, but what I know I appreciate.  He’s opinionated, but I respect his wisdom. Since we share an interest in books, I have learned some of Hermen’s ideas on how to read literature, including the Bible.  Here are some:

  l) Take the simple meaning first.  Don’t allegorize unless the author gives you a clue that you are supposed to.  Interpret words literally, unless given a reason not to. Don’t look for “hidden truth” until you understand the clear meaning. Words contain a socially acknowledged meaning. It isn’t fair pool to redefine a word to fit one’s private interpretation. Words should normally be understood in the customary way they would at the time written. To find the simple meaning, we try to understand the culture in which the term was used.

  2) Let easier passages explain hard ones. Don’t make a case about difficult texts unless the easier passages make the same point.  Cults make a big deal about scriptures over which much controversy swirls.

  3)  Let the author explain himself. Don’t tell him what he meant.  If you read enough, he will probably tell you. Scripture explains Scripture more accurately than a commentary can.  Inductive study hopefully keeps us from reading something into a passage, called eisegesis.

  4) Expect a book to agree with itself. Unless an author is losing his marbles, he will not say one thing in one passage that he contradicts in another. Apparent contradictions are probably in the reader’s mind, not the author’s.

  5) Context helps with text. Check the environment. Hermen agrees with the axiom, “A text without a context is a pretext.” To discover what an author is saying, find out what he already said or says in the next chapter.  It gripes Hermen when people lift a quote out of context and make it say what the writer isn’t.

  6) Authors write books to say something.  Discovering the main message helps you understand supporting points.  The whole should equal the sum of the parts.

  7) If you don’t understand chapter one, maybe you will after you read chapter two.  The end clarifies the beginning. This is called progressive revelation. Revelation completes the big picture.  What happens in the New helps to interpret the Old. For instance, Hebrews helps us understand Leviticus and Revelation, Genesis. 

Hermen won’t budge much.  If you have occasion to be involved with him, you will get along  better if you understand these rules. Hermen’s last name, in case you wish to contact him, is Eutics.  His full name, Hermen Eutics,has an interesting origin, coming from a Greek word “hermenea,” meaning “interpretation.”  Hermen helps us interpret the Bible, an important skill.

A GOD OF VENGEANCE?

Surprisingly, yes! Should we be like God? Not in this way. In mercy, yes; in vengeance, no.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’ (from Deuteronomy 32:35, where God makes it clear in the context that He takes care of the underdog). To the contrary, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’ (from Proverbs 25:21). Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-21).

How counterintuitive can you get? Our instinct is to do what is fair. The law tells us what that is: an eye for an eye, (Exodus 21:25). You take his eye; he takes yours. Jesus quotes this Old Testament passage, then introduces a new ethic. Instead of justice, mercy. As the brother of Jesus wrote, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). God is after something much higher than getting even. Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your father is merciful” (Luke 6:36), and that includes enemies. Loving adversaries proves our sonship, our connection to a loving Father.

We have a capacity to forgive those who hurt us, not an item in most people’s toolbox. That enables us to respond with the opposite spirit to what came our way. People are not expecting it. The purpose is to throw them off balance by returning good for evil, hopefully helping them to come to terms with a kind Father “who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and send rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Today God will water the gardens of people who despise him. And he wants children who act like their Father. Hopefully, our response rather than our reaction brings them up short (the hot coals), and we are able to introduce them to a merciful and mighty God! What a plan!

The heaping of burning coals is meant to lead to the softening of an enemy. What if it doesn’t? Can we take revenge at that point? No, we are not qualified. We do not see the situation with perfect clarity. We are too personally involved to bring justice into the mix. But God can. He would rather punish the enemy, if that is the only option, than having us try to administer justice. Ours could get vindictive. We might take two teeth out because it hurt so much, and we would excuse our angry reaction. Only a just God can bring proper vengeance on an unrepentant rebel. But He would rather turn the table of evil by overcoming it with good. Oh God is good!! If God is this kind (as well as all-powerful), he can work that kind of response in you and me.

THE AFFIRMATION OF THE FATHER

Jesus is different from us. The Pharisees did “all their deeds to be seen by others” (Matthew 23:5). Not Jesus; he looked for the praise from only One. And God was more than willing to grant it to him. Two times are recorded in the Scriptures in which God spoke out affirmation from heaven. The first was at his baptism, when God said, “You are my beloved Son. In you I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). It must have proved deeply satisfying to the Son. He had lived in fellowship with the Father from eternity but had chosen to willingly go to earth and serve as the sacrificial lamb. Now for perhaps the first time, he heard the audible voice of his Father commending him as he prepared to launch his public ministry.

The second time came when Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration with three of his disciples. They would play leading roles in the New Testament church. Peter was blessed by the experience, in which Moses and Elijah showed up to meet with Jesus. Peter identified Jesus with these great men of the past, thinking he was giving Christ a notable place. Then a cloud hid them from view, and the Father spoke, not to Jesus but about him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). Peter got the point. Jesus was not a great man among great men. HE is singularly great, and unlike anyone else receives the verbal affirmation of his Father at the commencement of his ministry and again near the climax of it. Peter later referred to this glorious experience, remembering when “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

When a pastor friend, Jeff, said at a monthly mentoring meeting that he wrongly sought the approval of others too much, we agreed with him. We all struggled with an over-the-top need for affirmation. But then Dan asked, “Isn’t it right and even necessary to have the affirmation of others?” It was a balancing question to offset our weakness. So what do you think?

The affirmation of a father helps his children to rightly believe in themselves. A lack thereof may create a skewed image in a child struggling to discover a true identity. The affirmation of an employer can help a worker know how well the job is being done and even provide motivation for greater work. The praise of a pastor can help the sanctification process along, when it feels like we aren’t getting it. The commendation of a teacher helps a student stick with the geometry until it is mastered.

The value of affirmation can hardly be overestimated. We need to be affirming, not flattering but diligent to “encourage one another and build one another up” (I Thessalonians 5:11) and especially “the fainthearted” (14). At the same time our ultimate, if not immediate, need is to find comfort and strength from the Father, the all-sufficient One. Then when others withhold words, we don’t fall into discouragement. We go to a Father who affirms his children like he did his only begotten Son.

GOD’S TOOLBOX

God is shaping us to be like His Son Jesus.  “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good…For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Romans 8:28,29). What are some tools God uses to make this happen?

THE CHISEL OF IMPERFECT PARENTS.

God didn’t give parents a trial run before the real thing. Parents are thrust into this daunting task of raising up godly children with no trial run and no detailed manual. The way they learn how to raise kids is to HAVE kids. On-the-job training. None of us grew up in a family with parents who really knew what they were doing. They were experimenting, doing the best they could–hopefully. We were their assignments.

THE SANDPAPER OF SIBLING RIVALRIES.

People we grow up with will change our lives–for better or for worse. The tension that shows up in the Bible with brothers and sisters (Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Mary and Martha–to name a few) demonstrate the potential of siblings to compete with one another. Trust God to use siblings–even through the hardships.

THE DRILL OF A DIFFICULT MARRIAGE.

Marriage is a killer. God uses it to sanctify us. When I got married, I tried to get Karen to be more like me. Dumb idea. I learned (very slowly) that I needed to die to myself to properly serve her. I am embarrassed that it took me so long to learn. Now we are both working on being unoffendable. Great goal–difficult to pull off, but when even embraced in part, it enables us to walk together and serve one another. Marriage is no piece of cake–but it is God’s idea and oh how rewarding!

THE HAMMER OF AN OVERBEARING BOSS.

The answer some have for a difficult boss is to go to human resources. God has another idea. It’s called suffering. “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly” (I Peter 2:18,19). Good things happen when people learn to accept the hardship of a cranky boss. Peter says, “This is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (20). Jesus not only suffered for us, but he suffered to show us how we can go through suffering as well–keeping our mouth shut, our heart open, and our conscience clear.

THE WRENCH OF PERSONAL FAILURE.

Which hurts more, the failures of others or our failures? Ask Peter. He thought he was finished after defecting. He wimped out under the pressure of a servant girl. Not close to what he had vowed to Christ. He knows it’s all over. But a meeting with the resurrected Christ not to rebuke him but to reinstate him changed his future. There’s a place for failures in the kingdom of God.

I remember when Dan, my partner in ministry, said, “Nothing is wasted.” God’s toolbox proves it. Pain has a purpose. He is doing a good work in you! (If you want to receive my monthly newsletter to pray for us, send me your email: pa@harvestcommunities.org

OVERCOME–OR OVERCOMING?

John writes that “they overcame by the blood of the Lamb and the word of the testimony, and they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12;11). We overcome the same way. Many good people are taken down. Sad to see. They were running a good race, and they got tripped up by the lure of sexual pleasure, the desire for riches, the glory of fame–and they left the race for the world. Or discouragement set in and slowly took them out of the competition.

Demas was doing well. He was a part of Paul’s apostolic band, referenced three times in Paul’s letters, with such notables as Luke. But Paul writes that “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:11). I’ve seen it with really good people.

Will you be overcome? Not if you learn to overcome the enemy by:

THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB

Walking in the light brings two things: “We have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). Christians on a hunt for pleasure begin to walk in the dark, saying all the while that they are in the light, deceiving others–and themselves. They sell out a rich inheritance for a bowl of cold stew. Christians bent on fighting the fight of faith keep short accounts, confess their sins to God and to people, and keep their consciences clear. Satan has no answer to the blood.Those, however, who keep secrets about personal pleasure spend their time in the darkness, Satan’s realm, and they get chewed up, no matter how strong they think they are.

THE WORD OF YOUR TESTIMONY

We are tested through our life just as the heroes of Scripture were. When they passed, as Joseph consistently did, the test became their testimony. They praise the faithfulness of God to keep His word and give them the destiny promised. Joseph became the second most powerful person in the world–one test at a time. He consistently passed, and the faithfulness of God was matched by the faithfulness of a young slave with a heart of integrity. Hear the word of his testimony: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). No desire for revenge, no unforgiveness clogging the arteries, no sense of victimization for all the suffering he had gone through, just thanksgiving to God that he overcame. You can to. Turn tests that come your way into a testimony by trusting a loving Father to bring you through.

LOVING NOT YOUR LIFE TO THE POINT OF DEATH.

For Joseph and for every follower of God, the issues is not live or die, but obey or not obey. Threaten this kind of person with death and you get nowhere, because he is not clinging to His life; he is clinging to his Lord. Paul put it this way: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). How do you take someone down who cannot be scared by death itself. The choice to obey regardless sets you free from the threat of harm or the fear of retaliation. Christ-followers deny themselves and take up their cross–the place of death. What an overcoming life! I try to practice this in my marriage and my ministry. Join me.

DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED!

Moses is dead. He will be missed. He had totally dismantled the most powerful nation of the world–in one week. He also managed to wipe out the Egyptian army with one wave of his rod. He was the human instrument for signs and wonders of colossal proportion never seen before or since on the planet. He took a nation of two million on a hike–for forty years–through barren land. During that time their shoes and clothes did not wear out. They were served up breakfast from heaven every day. He made water flow from a rock two times. He spoke with God face to face on a regular basis.

Now Joshua is taking over. “Okay, go for it, Josh.”  Hard act to follow? No. Forty years of hard acts. Joshua is told to take the nation across the river and bring them into a hostile land that would be theirs if they can overcome the nationals who have other plans for them.

God speaks to Joshua, at least hesitant about his job description if not shaking in his sandals: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Really? Don’t be discouraged? With what he has been handed? That is an impossible command. Who could obey it? How could he not give in from time to time? Come to think of it, what command is possible? How about, “Pray without ceasing,” or “Rejoice in the Lord always,” or “Have no anxiety about anything?” Every command of God is an impossibility. If they were not, we could pull of the Christian life without the aid of the Holy Spirit.

It is supernatural from start to finish. Jesus made it clear: “Without me you can do nothing.” “Nothing” is not much. The task was way beyond Joshua’s abilities. How would he handle the thousand issues sure to come up as a nation makes its way across the Jordan and into a foreign land? Ongoing discouragement with daily insurmountable issues would be likely. God spoke to him at the outset to make sure he would not surrender to its subtle invitation, because God knows what discouragement does to us.

Three things about it:

  1. We make a decision to choose discouragement. We are not required to give into it when the situation at hand seems to suggest that we do. What makes some people cave in causes others to fly higher.
  2. To choose discouragement means that we are living circumstantially. We are allowing the situations of life to determine the level of our peace and joy. Welcome to the roller coaster life.
  3. Discouragement takes us out of our primary calling and puts us rather than God on center stage. It is all about us–our problems, our woes, our needs. Think Elijah, clearly on a role after calling down fire from heaven, then eliminating 450 false prophets, then calling for rain following a two-year drought. “Hey, Jezebel, you’re talking to the wrong person.” Sadly, her threat took him out of the main battle into an inferior one–the battle for his life.

Let’s not go there. May we obey an impossible command through the indwelling Holy Spirit and see God use us right in the midst of hardship! Sound good? No more discouragement–ever!

GOD’S PATIENCE IN US (part 4)

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). A soft answer can take a 7 down to a 2 real fast. A reaction turns it to a 9. Quiet answers are gifts. Doesn’t happen automatically. Usually comes after some failures. In our brokenness we cry out for change–and God answers.

The patience of God must translate to human encounters or it is withdrawn (Matt. 18:23-35). Paul encourages us to be “patient with everyone” (I Thess 5:14). “Everyone” includes jerks and irritants. Not an easy assignment. Paul exercised patience and called all ministers to the same (2 Cor. 6:6), not with grim face but with joy (Col. 1:11). It is offered us by Christ as our new attire. We can shed the old clothes of complaining and put on the jacket of love and patience.

We praise God for his long-suffering with us (I Tim. 1:17), and it makes us patient with others–little by little. If God told us what He had to put up with in us, we might get it together quicker. A word that is sometimes translated “patience” is “hupomone”–endurance. “Tribulation (suffering) works patience” (endurance: Rom. 5:3). “Let us run with endurance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1).

Proverbs helps us with patience: “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (14:29). “Good sense makes a man slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (19:11). “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (10:12). “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (16:39). “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (17:27). “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (29:11).

Faith sees the promise and patience waits for its fulfillment (Hebrews 6:l2). Patience is often seen as a negative word, that we don’t do something that we might be inclined to, like hitting a child or yelling at a spouse. Patience has a positive quality of waiting upon God with active faith and quiet suffering. It is a word blazing with hope. When a mother prays for patience, she is sometimes asking that the kids don’t bug her so much. If she gets what she prays for, it will be more than a quieter day.

Are you ready to pray? “Dear Father, No one is patient like you. I marvel at the extent of your patience with a lost and broken world–and with me. I am thankful that you hold your anger and do not explode. I want you to develop patience in my heart, so I can show it to those I live and work with. Through Your Son Jesus Christ, Amen!”

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION

What situations make you most impatient? Would you say that you are growing in patience? If so, how? How could you speed up the sanctifying process? Who is a good example of patience for you to follow? How important is the quality of patience to you? To God?

THE PATIENCE OF GOD–IN US (part 3)

God’s patience is meant to work patience in us. He wants us like Himself. We say, “I’ve waited long enough. I’ve come to the end of my rope.” God’s rope is a lot longer, and He never comes to the end of it. Our instant oatmeal and fast internet age is not known for its ability to wait.

Does anyone reading this go from a 2 to 7 more often than you want? If we are called to represent God to a godless culture, they need to be slow to anger. When God saw His Son, He said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He was like His Father. He wants us to be the same, so He gives us His Holy Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is…patience.” We don’t become patient by grit but by the Holy Spirit.

Abraham was called to a new place and a new destiny when he was seventy-five. His name Abram means “exalted father.” Only problem–no children, and Sarah was no spring chicken. God repeated His promise, finally changing Abram’s name to Abraham, “father of multitudes,” making it embarrassing every time this fatherless father got called to dinner. But “he hoped against hope,” and God came through. “And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise” (Heb. 6:15)–after a quarter of a century. Way to wait, Abe!

“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:10,11). Way to be patient, Job!

Patience needs to be the quality of leaders (2 Cor. 6:6), of preachers (Titus 2:2), of every Christian (Gal. 5:22), because it is the outstanding character of love (I Cor 13:4), and love never fails, so neither does patience. The fact that patience is a fruit of the Spirit does not mean that He will magically zap us with it. The Holy Spirit works Jesus in us as we behold a wonderfully patient God and thus become like Him. We become what we behold.

We receive God’s life and become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). We are called to exhibit the qualities of God, including long-suffering. What would happen if we did? Fewer broken relationships, fewer divorces, greater peace in the family and church, deeper love shown. The first descriptive action of love in the great love chapter–it suffers long.​ ​ Patience means we don’t have a short fuse. Doesn’t mean that we don’t have anger–we can simply put it off until needed. Patience is not the absence of anger. It is not simply a passive response. It is active and willful, calling us to suffer if need be for others.We feel the tension between justice and mercy. Long-suffering is hard because in some situations we believe that justice needs to be served rather than mercy. Something appears not to be fair. “He should know better. I am being the mature person.” And God is at work in us through suffering stretched out. Let it happen! (One more–be patient!)

THE PATIENCE OF GOD (part 2)

The Bible does not say that God has no anger. But He has it on a regulator. His love is eternal; His patience is not. There comes a time when He acts on His anger.

Some want God’s patience with them but not with their enemies. They feel tension between justice and mercy. Jonah voted for justice. The Assyrians had butchered too many people. Think ISIS. God had a reputation for being too merciful. Jonah quoted God’s own words in his complaint: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love…”(Jonah 4:2).

God was grieved with Israel the whole time they lived in the land of promise before finally throwing them out–seven centuries after they had entered. He waited thousands of years before sending His Son in the fullness of time. Pentecost marked the beginning of the end, “the last days.” God has waited for 2100 years so far without sending His Son back because “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). No one waits better than God.

Imagine if God were quick to anger. We’d all have bruises. He’d yell at us. He would say things like, “If you ever do that again…” or “Just one more time…”  We would have pressed the delete button on the human race long ago, but God suffers long. I remember God speaking to me in the gentlest way about something that needed change. I said, “You could have said this twenty-five years ago, and you waited until now.” It made me want that kind of patience.

A wonderful lady at our church in San Pedro was angry with God for nine years for something regarding her child. God waited. He didn’t shake His finger in her face. When she came in for personal confession, the road back began. Her heart was flooded with joy, tears of release, and deep peace. God waited until she was ready–nine years.

“For my name’s sake I will defer my anger…” (Isa 48:9). God procrastinates. He controls His emotions; they do not control Him. He decides when He will demonstrate anger. People say, “You made me angry,” which gives them the freedom to explode, as if they couldn’t help it. This is not our God. Patience is one of the marks of His righteous character, unlike oriental despots who in a moment of rage would dismiss a whole court.

How can God keep from acting when daily the world defames His name, mocks Him, ignores Him? Because He is longsuffering. One day He will pour out his anger without measure. He is angry with the wicked every day, and with great cause. He is never neutral about sin. It is an offense against His holiness. But He chooses not to call upon His anger in full measure at this time.

Sometimes we parents have disciplined poorly, because we were irritated, and we let it lead the parade instead of patience. God’s correction is deliberate–a sign of his love. We can feel compassion even when He exercises discipline. Could anyone use some of that? Praise Him for His patience! (Part 3 coming).