Tag Archives: Eternity

It’s Time to Choose: Judgment or Jesus.

Recently, as 2017 came to a close, I decided to spend a few hours on New Years Eve reading and reflecting on Scripture. For whatever reason I focused on chapters 13-18 of Revelation.

These chapters describe: the two beasts who, along with Satan, form an evil trinity that virulently opposes the holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit; the three angels who proclaim blessing and judgment; the seven bowls of God’s wrath and judgment; and the city of Babylon (which represents modern civilization) and her utter destruction. John the apostle, the author of Revelation, offers a detailed and vivid account of the world’s end in these six chapters.

In particular he warns of the final pair of antichrists who will “wage war against God’s holy people and conquer them” (13:7, NLT, and throughout); will “deceive all the people who belong to this world” (13:8); and will control the global economy, requiring anyone who participates in commerce to receive “a mark on the right hand or on the forehead” to reflect their allegiance to the antichrist. Although those who receive the mark will enjoy the temporary material benefits offered by this world, in the end they “must drink the wine of God’s anger that has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath, and will be tormented with fire and burning … that will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night” (14:9-11).

It is important to note that according to this passage of Scripture there is a time coming when no one can participate in the global economy unless they have voiced fidelity to the antichrist and worship him. Those who buy and sell in the world’s marketplace reveal their devotion to the devil because “no one can buy or sell anything without the mark” of the beast (13:17).

In contrast, those who belong to Christ will refuse the mark, excluding them from participating in the global economy. Their refusal will lead to more than just an inability to buy and sell in the marketplace. It will lead to imprisonment and death.

What a dramatic difference those competing scenarios represent. Those of the world whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will enjoy the material spoils, luxuries, and excesses of this world. The people of God, however, will bear immeasurable pain, suffering, and tribulation.

In the face of such a traumatic and agonizing scenario John warns his audience to keep in mind the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who he paraphrases, “Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword” (13:10a). Those who belong to Christ must come to terms with their destiny so they can “endure persecution patiently and remain faithful” and “obey (God’s) commands and maintain their faith in Jesus” (13:10b, 14:12).

It is critical that we remain mindful of the fact that the two scenarios described above represent the short-term outcome for the two groups John identifies: those of the world and those who belong to Christ. In the short-term the worldly survive and thrive as the global economy flourishes and produces unprecedented wealth, while the godly suffer terribly and undergo brutal deaths. In the long-term, however, the scenarios are reversed. The worldly spend eternity in the lake of fire with the devil and will be tormented day and night forever and ever [See 20:10, 14-15], while those in Christ spend eternity in heaven, which overflows with peace, love, and joy.

As I read Revelation and was reminded once again of God’s wrath and judgment poured out on all those who love the world and worship evil, a sense of sadness settled on me. How could people choose to spend eternity in continuous, unrelenting agony? Why would anyone reject the Savior for Satan?

And then it dawned on me. Such people choose to embrace the short-term pleasures and comforts of this world in the hope that there are no long-term consequences. In contrast, those in Christ embrace His promise of future glory and therefore willingly accept the short-term trials and tribulations He sends our way, which refine our faith and demonstrate our love for Him.

After reflecting on those six chapters, I could read no more about judgment and wrath. So I asked God to direct me to a different passage; one filled with hope for those who are in Christ. I was quickly led to Romans 8.

Wow! What an awesome transition. After reading about God’s judgment and wrath in Revelation I now read these words from the apostle Paul: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The fiery lake of torment and eternal suffering holds no power over the believer. For those in Christ are not subject to God’s wrath.

Why? Because they are judged righteous in Christ. Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross bore God’s wrath on our behalf, so that we stand justified before God. Therefore, for those who belong to Christ there is NO CONDEMNATION. What an incredible truth. What a comforting promise.

Those in Christ Jesus, however, are not just the recipients of that amazing assurance. We also receive the Spirit of God as evidence of our authentic faith in Christ. And with the Spirit’s presence comes power. “Because you belong to (Jesus), the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:2).

It is important we understand that when we surrender our lives to Christ we not only receive the promise of eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we also receive an expectation of holiness. This holiness is unattainable on our own strength. It is only by the power of the Spirit that we grow to resemble the Lord in our speech, conduct, and thoughts.

Paul described it in these eloquent terms.

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit IF you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all)… Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live” (Romans 8:5-9, 12-13 – emphasis mine).

What is Paul saying in this passage? Simply this. If we truly belong to Christ we will conduct our lives under the power of the Holy Spirit, who will empower us daily to crucify the flesh and surrender more fully our lives to Christ and for His glory. We will live more sacrificially, setting aside our own interests to further the will of the Lord. We will no longer allow our sinful nature to dictate our priorities, plans, and pursuits, nor use our time, income, and resources to advance its agenda of selfishness, pleasure, comfort, idolatry, hedonism, and materialism. Instead we will pursue that which magnifies the Lord and will obey all He asks of us, no matter the cost.

In short, those of us in Christ Jesus will live in a manner that is an extraordinary contrast to how those of the world live – since we are controlled by the Spirit and they are controlled by their sinful nature.

As you begin the New Year consider these questions.

1] Are you focused on the short-term (as those in the world are) or on the long-term (as those in Christ Jesus are)?

2] What does your calendar, your checkbook, and your thoughts reveal about your commitment to Christ? Does it reflect total surrender or half-hearted devotion?

3] In what areas of your life have you crucified your sinful nature? In what area(s) is God calling you to put to death your selfish flesh?

4a] How difficult would it be for you to no longer participate in the global economy?

b] How confident are you that the Lord will provide for your needs if you refuse to accept the mark of the beast?

c] Are you prepared for imprisonment or death if that is required to remain faithful to Christ?

5] Is eternity with Christ worth the loss of worldly treasure, safety, comfort, freedom, and pleasure?

6] What specific action(s) is the Lord calling you to take after reading and reflecting on this message?

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Is Jesus’ Return Imminent?

For two millennia Christians have been waiting for Christ to return to earth and establish His kingdom. And for just as long His followers have viewed His second coming as very near – either on the doorstep or just around the corner. Yet time and again those expectations have been disproved with the passage of time – as the Lord remains in heaven.

But the repeated failure of earlier prognosticators hasn’t discouraged a new generation of voices from issuing their own proclamations about Jesus’ imminent return. In fact, there exists a growing consensus among many Christian leaders that the Lord is on the cusp of returning. And nothing can dampen their enthusiasm for broadcasting this fait accompli to all who would listen.

This current crop of self-styled seers avoids identifying a specific date for Jesus’ return. Instead, they employ language that asserts authoritatively that Jesus’ second coming will occur within a specific window of time, saying things like:

  • Jesus will return in my lifetime.
  • The current generation will see Jesus descend from the heavens.
  • This generation will usher in Jesus’ millennial rule.

This view has become widespread across much of Christendom. Not only are a growing number of voices with national platforms professing this perspective, more and more pastors and parishioners are embracing it as well. It has become a sort of Zeitgeist within the church. The frequency with which the topic arises during casual conversation with believers seems to grow every week.

Evidence of this trend is borne out in the marketplace. Go to any Christian bookstore and you’ll quickly realize few topics generate as much attention. The growth in resources, Bible studies, and novels focused on end times reflect an escalating interest in the subject. Indeed, a veritable cottage industry has sprung up on the subject with an increasing number of Christians claiming expertise on the topic.

Not surprisingly, a great many men and women earn a great deal of income capitalizing on this interest by marketing themselves as authorities on the subject. But whenever a subject generates substantial fame and fortune for those who set themselves up as experts, the risk of false teaching increases exponentially.

What, then, can we say with absolute certainty about Jesus’ return? What counsel does the Bible offer us about the end times? More importantly, what truths about the topic will stimulate and strengthen our faith? Let’s examine four.

1] He is coming back. Jesus alluded to His return in numerous parables and spoke of it specifically on many occasions. His lengthiest discourse on the subject occurred shortly before His crucifixion (see Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21). These passages offer a smorgasbord of insights and warnings about His return and we would do well to anchor our eschatology to them.

In the book of Revelation Jesus informs us, “Behold, I am coming quickly.” He shares this truth three times with the apostle John to emphasize its importance and give us urgency in our lives (see Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Jesus reiterates the point to remove any doubt about whether He will return. And that great news is worth sharing with everyone. Is there someone you know who needs to hear it?

2] No one knows the date or time. Knowing that false prophets/pastors/priests would attempt to deceive people and accumulate power by claiming to know the mystery of His return, Jesus declares, “of that day and hour no one knows; neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is” (Mark 13:32-33, NKJV).

Many of the voices proclaiming Christ’s imminent return avoid identifying a specific date but categorically insist it will happen in this generation. But Jesus warns against those types of pronouncements as well. “Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying … ‘The time has drawn near’. Do not follow them” (Luke 21:8, NKJV).

Some argue that Jesus provided signs to indicate when the end days are near. And indeed He did. But He provided those as reminders His return might occur at any moment, so we remain alert and vigilant, not as hints to solve the mystery of ‘when’.

3] Be prepared. Jesus communicated several parables that warned of the dangers of being unprepared for His return. Each lesson highlighted individuals who thought they would enjoy eternity with Christ but were instead cast into outer darkness.

In one parable the unprepared come to Jesus on His return, saying, “Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!” They want into the kingdom of heaven despite their unpreparedness. Jesus answers them, “Believe Me, I don’t know you!” (Matthew 25:11-12, NLT). Despite confessing Him Lord, these individuals are refused entry into heaven. Why? They never knew Jesus. Their hearts did not align with their words; their lives revealed the fiction of their claim.

Let’s consider that for a moment. How could someone who claims Jesus as Lord later learn He never knew them? Jesus provides a succinct explanation that also serves as an admonition. “Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly” (Luke 21:34, NKJV). Their words professed Jesus Lord but their lives revealed the truth: the world and its pleasures were what they truly desired. How we live says far more about our faith than our words.

Don’t presume your salvation simply because you claim ‘Jesus is Lord’ with your lips. Look at your life, your priorities, and how you invest your time. If they do not align with God’s word and reflect the model of discipleship He taught, you may find yourself unprepared for His return.

4] Redeem the time. Irrespective of when the Lord returns, we need to maximize our time here. We accomplish this by following the model Jesus provided during His brief life. His first priority was always time with the Father. Over and over we see that in the Scriptures:

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35, NKJV).

And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on a mountain by Himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23, NKJV).

Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12, NKJV).

So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16, NKJV).

Though Jesus’ days were packed from start to finish (serving, healing, teaching, forgiving, casting out demons, and rebuking religious leaders) He always carved out significant blocks of time for prayer. Maintaining a healthy, vibrant relationship with the Father was paramount to redeeming His time on earth.

We ought to take a cue from Jesus and follow His example. Regardless of how busy we are or how much good we want to accomplish with our time, our first priority must always be cultivating a relationship with Christ, nurturing our love for Him, and offering Him the praise and worship He deserves. Absent that, nothing else matters.

Second, we need to understand what Jesus said about His purpose on earth.

My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34, NKJV).

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38, NKJV).

I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4, NKJV).

We should adopt a similar focus in our lives by pursuing God’s will, implementing His agenda, and advancing His kingdom. Since details of carrying out His mission will vary by person, we need to draw near to Him on a regular basis – for only as we spend time alone with God will our ears be trained to hear His voice clearly.

So next time you hear someone exclaim how little time exists before the Lord returns, take a moment to rejoice in the good news that Jesus will indeed return. Then remind them to be about the business of redeeming their time on earth and ensuring they are properly prepared, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:27, NKJV).

Are You Planning for the Right Retirement?

Every quarter I receive a newsletter that encourages me to review my retirement strategy to ensure I have the funds needed when I retire. While the articles vary, the message remains the same: retirement is not cheap; healthcare costs are skyrocketing; lifestyles rarely change in retirement. Invariably, a litany of charts follow, reinforcing the narrative and explaining how much I need in my accounts based on several factors: how long I plan to live (not sure how much input I get in that variable), my current income, and inflation, to name a few.

Like hundreds of similar investment documents published each month, the newsletter emphasizes the need to plan now so I am not caught unprepared for the future. One common theme highlights those adults who assume they’ll have enough for retirement but never bother to do the math to validate their hypothesis. Almost always, we are told, those assumptions prove false. As a result, they fail to plan properly and must delay retirement, reduce their standard of living, or forgo retirement altogether.

Sadly, many Americans adopt a similar approach with respect to eternity. They assume they are going to heaven or that no afterlife exists. Either way, they neglect to invest any time or effort investigating the question of everlasting life and the existence of God. Instead, they prefer to trust their instincts – convinced that whatever reality they embrace will be revealed as truth once they pass from this world.

Of course, as Christians we recognize the danger with that worldview and ought to explore opportunities to share our faith and Jesus’ teachings with those who hold that opinion. He had much to say on the topic of eternal life and His message of mercy, grace, and salvation is one society desperately needs to hear and observe these days. Like the newsletters, we ought to inform and warn, prod and challenge those around us to prepare for eternity and not ignore such a critical decision.

Similarly, Jesus’ teachings also provide a powerful reminder to those of us in the church – that we, too, ought to prepare for heaven while still in this world. Too often we conclude that once we check the salvation box, all is good. But that view contradicts the truth shared by Jesus and the apostles. Let’s examine a few important verses that should shape how we prepare for eternity.

First, we need to remember we are not citizens of this world; rather, our citizenship is in heaven (see Philippians 3:20). Consequently, we are (in the words of Peter in his first epistle) pilgrims and sojourners in this world – here to serve as Christ’s ambassadors (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). As with any ambassador, our assignment is temporary – until the Lord calls us home – and requires us to reflect in speech and in conduct the one we serve.

That conviction is critical if we are to redeem our time on earth (see Ephesians 5:16) and live according to God’s will. Otherwise, we fall into a common trap: the belief that God wants us here to eat, drink, and be merry. In other words, our pleasure is His desire.

While God definitely wants us filled with joy, hope, and contentment, it is His pleasure that ought to be our desire, and not vice versa. When we lose track of that distinction, we risk becoming ensconced in the world, falling prey to its distractions, and adopting its priorities. In the process we cease to represent Christ and begin to reflect the world.

So how do we remain in the world without being of the world? By abiding in Christ. Any ambassador, to properly fulfill his or her role, must maintain frequent and substantive contact with the president. The same is true with us. As our relationship with Christ matures and our passion for Him deepens, we become a more accurate reflection of Him and ours ways align more closely to His.

As that happens, we focus more on things with genuine value (the eternal) and less on things with no lasting value (the temporal). That transformative shift in perspective equips us to handle the trials and tribulations that result from our faith in Jesus. Paul explains this in his second epistle to the church at Corinth. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18, NKJV).

So as we consider retirement, what would Jesus have us do as His ambassadors? Should we adopt the world’s perspective and save lots of money in a retirement account so we can maintain our current lifestyles until we die? Should we work extra hours now so we can retire early and get a head start on the pleasures and comfort of retirement? Should we wind down our Christian service as we wind down our careers? Of course not.

Why do so many of us assume God makes no claim on our retirement – that we can pursue the same retirement strategy as our non-believing friends and colleagues? Do we cease to be the Lord’s when we retire? Does retiring from our career correspond to our retirement as Christ’s ambassador? Not at all. On the contrary, retiring from our career ought to serve as a catalyst for us to redouble our efforts to redeem the time as God’s representatives – and usher in a new season of serving Him with renewed vigor and focus.

For those on the verge of retiring or already in that stage of life, I encourage you to consider the possibility that retirement is an opportunity to finalize God’s call on your life. Resist the temptation to embrace the worldview that you’ve earned a restful retirement and deserve to enjoy the good life as you sail into the sunset. Instead, ask the Lord to reveal His retirement plan for you, what community you might serve on His behalf, and how you might fulfill the Great Commission. It might be quite different then your original plans – and much more satisfying.

For those still many years away from retirement, consider these words from Jesus as you craft your career and ascertain how best to invest your resources. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; rather, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NKJV).

Unfortunately, too many Christians focus entirely, or primarily, on acquiring treasures on earth, building a legacy with the world, and pursuing temporal success. But Jesus informs us in unambiguous terms that such endeavors are a fool’s errand. They produce nothing of eternal value. Worse, they risk corroding, or even severing, our relationship with God.

Don’t be that seed that fell among thorns: those who hear the word of God and briefly trust Jesus but “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19, NKJV). Those who chase worldly accomplishments, recognition, and treasure enter into a Faustian bargain. And when eternity begins they will have nothing to show for all the time and effort they invested in this world. And they will have had very little time to enjoy the fruits of those worldly labors – even if they live to be a hundred.

Instead, invest in true treasure: the souls and lives of those around you. In doing so you will deposit into an eternal retirement account a value that exceeds exponentially everything the world has to offer. Nothing is as sound an investment for your time and resources. And that truth is something you can take to the bank.