Just Say the Word

Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 2 Peter 3:3-4

I read this verse and I can think only of Twitter. In Noah’s day, you could hurl abuse at him only within earshot. Now, you can share your mocking to the world, as long as you can manage to keep it under 280 characters. Sitting courageously at their keyboards or standing alone with their phones, millions “indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.“ They are “daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties.” 2 Peter 2:10

For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 2 Peter 3:5-6

Of course, Peter’s mention of a worldwide flood as judgement for runaway and rampant sin would be immediately scoffed at and ridiculed these days for sure. But it is true, that all things haven’t remained the same since creation. Oh, they don’t believe in creation either. Time for yet another tweet saying how Peter’s out of his [insert expletive here] mind, tacking on something I’m sure about “fairy tales.”

Peter was addressing this vile tendency to mock and scorn in a time of impending doom, warning it only takes one word from God to rain down fire and brimstone in judgement as promised, one word.

But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 2 Peter 3:7

For now, he’s “patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

But the point of all this is, he did eventually lose his patience, and he did say “the word.”

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Cutting Room Floor

It should not take the threat of war or act of terrorism or pandemic to put us in a mindset to yearn for the “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We should always be looking up and longing for the Lord’s return. Doing so is “crown-worthy.” “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8

Our knowledge of the Second Coming comes from a study of biblical prophecy. In Peter’s second letter, he discusses the role of prophets and prophecy in our Christian lives. It’s been my observation that many churches avoid eschatology, and therefore fail to teach the whole counsel of God. It’s viewed as too complicated, allegorical, controversial or impractical for today’s style of worship. Pragmatic preachers play it safe by deleting Revelation, major chunks of Daniel, and Ezekiel from their playlists, and contort themselves over passages in 1 Thessalonians that allude to the Rapture. But God’s word is replete with prophetic utterances, and they all live in harmony with practical teaching once illuminated by careful study and the Holy Spirit. The “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” should be always on our minds. These passages and books are the missing puzzle pieces in the biblical story.

For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 2 Peter 1:16

So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 2 Peter 1:19

Prophecy surely was on Peter’s mind once he, James and John witnessed the Transfiguration on the Mount. Seeing Jesus glorified alongside Old Testament heroes Moses and Elijah made prophetic teaching “sure” or certain for one, and raised the priority of constantly reminding believers of God’s end game.

Peter urges us, in fact, to “pay attention” to this teaching, not to avoid it like the plague. He says, as we grope our way through the squalid darkness of this world, prophetic promises serve as “a lamp shining in a dark place.” They give us enough illumination to make it to the dawn. It’s interesting that Peter refers to the “morning star,” a reference to the coming Lord himself (Rev. 22:17).

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:20-21

There are a couple of warnings that need to be issued when considering a prophetic statement or truth. The first is that it needs to stand on its own without equivocation. It is not ”a matter of one’s own interpretation.” Many times you hear a personal twist added. Yes, Christ’s return for his church is imminent, and the times are ripe for him to return, but I think it must get a lot worse before he comes. No, his return was imminent in the early days of the church, as can be gathered from 1 Thessalonians. Such a qualifier adds a requirement that’s a matter of one’s own opinion.

The second is marginalizing prophecy, as though it’s a mere footnote. Peter warns that “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:21 It’s God’s word.

A proper focus on prophecy is to address it when it comes up, head on. A systematic study of the word will always bring us to it. For example, you don’t conclude your study of Daniel at the end of Chapter 6, but you teach it all. It’s challenging to work through, and there will be grumblers who complain about it like the people did of the writings of Paul, that they’re too difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:16). But you soldier through, because it will be worth it. You can’t leave five chapters on the cutting room floor! If you do you miss this:

Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him. Daniel 7:27

 

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Back’s Against the Wall?

We call them “no win” situations, when the odds are stacked against you, when the rug has been pulled from beneath you. Between a rock and hard place is incredibly frustrating to those wanting some blue sky. Runners get trapped in the pack, unable to break to the outside to start their kick. Much of life is like that. Forces are pulling you back or blocking your way. Worse, the forces are not natural road blocks, but those actively engaged in attempting to erode your chances to succeed. Instead of thriving you’re diving for cover, using valuable time and energy on defense.

In this context read Psalm 31. If you see yourself, there’s hope in the Psalmist’s conclusions. He’s thought it through. He’s assessed his plight. Despite the odds, despite the unreturned calls, all along the Lord’s got his back, and he’ll have yours.

You have seen my affliction; you have known the troubles of my soul, and You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a large place. Psalm 31:7-8

The Lord sees what you’re dealing with. He’s not let the enemy in whatever form get the best if you. He’s always got the upper hand. As such, we think we’re on shaky ground, but he’s set us “in a large place.”

You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man; You keep them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues. Psalm 31:20

We can be paralyzed by what may be going on behind our backs, real or imagined. Most times it’s real, because evil is real. We don’t really want to be a conspiracy theorist but most times the handwriting is clearly visible on the wall. Try as you might, the “strife of tongues” is extremely hard to conceal. Nevertheless, our God hides us in “the secret place,” and that’s in his presence. There, no one can touch us.

He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me in a besieged city. Psalm 31:21

When you’re under siege, you’re surrounded, cut off from supplies physically, and terrorized psychologically. With time the attack will come, but in many cases, those inside the wall turn on each other, as do our thoughts on us. The Lord knows what you’re going through. What you need most is his lovingkindness, which is is not in short supply.

But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand.” Psalm 31:14-15

The Lord wants our back against the wall with nowhere to run. Why? Because he wants to force us to trust in him. He’s got control of whatever dire circumstances we’re encountering. We need only to yield control and the outcome to him! When we finally throw up our hands and admit our times are in his, we’ve arrived at that “large place,” that “secret place,” where his lovingkindness abounds.

[All scripture NASB]

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In Times Like These…

In times like these, there must be a running conversation going on with God. Might as well strap on the headset. What’s necessary is more akin to the coach talking to you in your helmet. You’ll get the play but you’re the one who must execute.

I’ve been focusing on a couple of psalms these days for inspiration and encouragement. Psalm 27 and 28. I can’t say it’s a word for word study, but one where you read a line and ponder it. As I do, other truths wander in. Here are some words I’m focusing on.

The Lord’s my savior. Is he capable of such a task? Well the worst case always is death, and he conquered it. I’d say yes.

The Lord’s my strength. Again, his hand lent in my behalf is the same one that pulled Peter out of the sea, healed the blind and lame, and lest I forget, bears the marks of the cross.

The Lord’s my shepherd. He guides me along life’s treacherous paths, and in many cases, he carries me when I’ll never make it through with my own two feet.

The Lord’s my sanctuary. Everywhere I am, I can retreat into the holiest of holies. I may be under the assault of the world, in the middle of the fiercest storm, or at death’s door, yet I am, in my mind and heart, in his inner sanctum.

The Lord’s my song. You might wonder how we can sing at a time like this. The Lord led the disciples in a hymn as he left the Upper Room to meet his fate. And what we sing is not the same old song but a new one, with a fresh stanza added during and after each trial or test. If you see someone singing in times like these, he or she must be sheltering in God’s most holy place.

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Bias for Action

Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. Mark 15:43

Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mark 15:46

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Mark 16:1-3

After Jesus breathed his last breath, practical problems ensued. How would his followers gain control of his body? How could he be properly laid to rest and where? How could they work around the prohibitions of the Sabbath? And when his body was placed in the tomb, how would the massive stone be moved to finish the job of embalming the body?

Joseph of Arimathea, a secret follower of Christ, “gathered up courage” and asked Pilate to take the body for burial in his tomb. The death of Jesus had finally emboldened him to come out in the open and face a man who had just had Jesus beaten to a pulp and crucified, and his request was granted. If we gain anything from the Lord’s gruesome death it should be boldness, for Jesus endured to the end. While there was enough courage available for Joseph to speak out, the driving force seemed to be the deadlines set forth in the law. He did the responsible thing.

The women, on the other hand, acted out of love and devotion. Despite the fact the tomb was guarded and a stone blocked access to Jesus’ body, they set out early in the morning anyway in hopes that it would all work out. With the disciples huddled together “mourning and weeping,” they had to do something, anything for their Master. They had a bias for action. As a result, they were richly rewarded, for they put themselves in a position to see the empty tomb, and later, the resurrected Jesus.

Do we need to gather up courage this Easter? Do we need to reposition ourselves to experience the empty tomb and witness the risen Christ? It will involve stepping out of our comfort zones into the unknown, and it will cost us something (note Joseph bought a cloth and contributed his tomb, and the women bought spices). But it all will be worth it.

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Missing the Point

Every other year when I was a young boy our colorful, i.e. bombastic, and ambitious choir director would have the chancel choir perform a choral work called “The Seven Last Words of Christ” (Theodore Dubois). One of the lines I remember most was “death he doth merit!” This chorus was delivered with passion and unrestrained volume. One could see all the veins in the throats of the tenors, and the sopranos alone, including my mother, could rend the temple veil in two. Later in the work, the director would himself dramatically and rhythmically utter in Aramaic, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani!” He’d go on slowly and solemnly, “That is to say, ‘My God, My God, why hath Thou forsaken me?’”

Mark’s account of the Passion of Christ (Mark 15) seems to whisk along, falling far short of Gibson’s agonizing plodding portrayal. But it’s appropriate in the sense that the chief priests were hellbent to rid themselves of this man who had so dominated them for three years. That they raged with envy was clearly obvious to Pilate. Then there’s the mob mentality on vivid display. The people who had a week ago chanted “Hosanna, Hosanna” to their king, viciously turned on Jesus. Everyone including the thieves crucified with Christ, at least one of them, “hurled abuse” at him. Then huddled together at the foot of the cross were the Roman soldiers, who capped off their fun and games with the King of the Jews by casting lots for Jesus’ bloodstained garment.

One man in all this madness, though, recognized who these crazed people had wanted crucified, and he was the centurion. As the rest of the world danced for joy, his eyes were riveted on the wrenching heaving body of the Lord until it went limp. He heard and hung on all seven of his last words, and came to this undeniable conclusion, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:39

In three short days, he’d have to change “was” to “is.”

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Answering the Call

Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he began to weep. Mark 14:72

Jesus directly and calmly answered his accusers. Peter, on the other hand, cowardly denied he knew the Lord. If we associate with Christianity long enough we’ll be called to account. Are we really one of them or not? Pray that you will unequivocally say “Yes!” when they do. In that defining moment you will launch a new phase of your faith. Your words will provide a foundation for works far greater. It may seem that life as you’ve known it is over, but it will have just started.

The apostles were overjoyed at the chance to be persecuted for their Lord, and they didn’t stop rejoicing and spreading the gospel (Acts 5:41). It will be a crying shame if you slink back! Peter was in a bad way until the risen Christ met him face to face later on (1 Corinthians 15:5).

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Evil Unleashed

“Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:61-62

Jesus was bound and taken to the house of the high priest. There he was interrogated by the high priest, chief priests, elders and scribes. This was likely a hastily called meeting of the Sanhedrin. They brought in false witnesses who twisted his past words, trying to get him to incriminate himself. He remained silent. Increasingly agitated, the high priest cut to the chase with above question, This was finally a question Jesus would choose to answer. And all of hell broke loose.

Here the Jews were waiting for the Messiah and he comes.  He’s standing right in front of them. They ask the question if he is the one, and he says, quoting scripture about himself, yes. Then they spit on him, pound him with their fists, scorn him and slap him.

If Jesus could call down 12 legions of angels in the garden, it would seem he had the upper hand here, but he allowed them to have their way. They had his blood on their hands now, and their fate would be sealed within hours.

Peter later said this about what they had done. “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Acts 2:23

We often shake our heads and cluck our tongues at the evil we witness in this world, but it’s par for the course. It knows no bounds, as witnessed here. And now this evil in all of its manifestations is directed full bore toward us, his people. “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37

And “what then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32

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Dreading the Worse

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?

Psalm 27:1

People wearing a face masks to protecting themself because of epidemic in China. Selective Focus. Concept of coronavirus quarantine.

We live in a desperate time where fear is rampant. The COVID-19 virus has turned the world upside down, sending humans into hysterics. I happen to believe from a “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” viewpoint (Ephesians 6:12) that there has never been a more diabolical plot hatched and shrewdly implemented by Satan. He has shuttered humankind and even the church in a way no war or threat of war could.

“But God,” my wife is fond of saying, “But God!”

In the first verse of Psalm 27, we’re asked who is worth fearing, and who is worth dreading? Fear is to be afraid of, or to have a healthy respect for something. The virus is worthy of both, and that’s why we’ve taken many precautions to keep ourselves and others healthy. But it is comforting and encouraging to know that whatever happens, our God is our light in the darkness and our salvation.

But the word “dread” is what most of us are experiencing in these days of spiking curves and rising death counts. This word can mean to “live in terror.” This kind of living is debilitating. To this the Lord says, “I am the defense of your life.”

It’s understandable to be fearful these days, but unhealthy to dread. Pray instead that God will protect you, and everyone.

And there’s much more encouragement to be had as you read on in the Psalm!

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Who’s in Charge?

Judas was on his “high horse” striding into the garden, finally in the lead. Jesus was on the move to intercept him. Judas was empowered by darkness and a crowd of temple guards and Roman soldiers wielding swords and clubs. The sound of approaching sandals on the the ground was terrifying to the disciples. You could see glimpses of armor in the flashes of torch light.

Jesus had just been strengthened by an angel of God and was resolute, just as he was when he set his face toward Jerusalem. Behind him was an apprehensive band of men, jolted from their slumbers. One palmed his small sword at his side, his heart now racing.

The intense drama in the Lord’s betrayal and arrest is undeniable. There would be a clash of good and evil like never before. You must read all the gospel accounts to get the full story (Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-50, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:3-11). A lot happened in just a few seconds. On the surface you would think Jesus was overwhelmed by the evil one, bound and wisked away. But he was in full control of every detail in order that the scriptures were fulfilled.

He initiated the encounter, perhaps after the fervent kiss of his betrayer, with “whom do you seek?” They said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” The Lord exclaimed, “I am he!” And they all fell to the ground. Stunning. He then cut a deal for his men to go free, and they ultimately scattered like sheep as predicted.

Jesus was often called “teacher” in the accounts of his ministry. While he didn’t fight back as they bound him, he schooled Judas, Peter, and the arresting party.

First, he questioned the use of a kiss to betray him, and called Judas “friend.” Whatever adrenaline high Judas was on suddenly burst with unbearable remorse. I’d have him standing stunned at the term “friend” while all the ensuing chaos swirled around him, then slowly slinking back into the darkness.

Peter, perhaps following through on his overconfident pledge in the Upper Room, unsheathed his sword with the intent of splitting the skull of the high priest’s servant Malchus, who was likely in front of the crowd. He missed and took off his ear. The Lord scolded Peter for his methodology in light the Lord’s formidable backup at a snap of his finger (twelve legions of angels), and for trying to thwart the will of God. But the Lord healed the man’s ear in a split second, no doubt setting the stage for Peter’s coming threefold denial. I can’t help but wonder if Malchus ultimately became a believer.

Then the Lord chided those who came to arrest him in the cloak of darkness as though he was a robber. After all, he’d been in broad daylight for days teaching in the temple. Why not then?

But all this happened so that the scriptures would be fulfilled. The cup that Jesus chose to drink was now at his lips.

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