“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.“ (Ephesians 6:12)
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
Jesus was intentionally vague about when He would appear for the purpose of taking His bride, the Church, away from the world, and when He would return to establish His kingdom on earth. What He was very clear about was that we should not set dates or think He was appearing in some secret place or time. Both His appearing and return will be global phenomena that no one will be able to avoid.
Some definitions are in order:
The Church is not an organization. It is composed of everyone who has put their faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, repented of their sins, and participate in His rulership in their lives (Colossians 1:18).
The “last days” or “end times” are synonyms and refer to the Church age following the first coming of Jesus, His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into Heaven. In our day, we use these terms to refer to the end of the Church age.
The Church age began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), after Jesus ascension and 50 days after the Passover which coincided with His resurrection.
The “rapture” is when Jesus will take the Church out of he world, described in Matthew 24:32-50, 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. He will appear in the sky in the same way as the disciples saw Him leave in Mark 18:19, Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:6-11. The term “rapture” comes from from rapio (“Latin: “to snatch away”), which is found in the Latin Vulgate Bible in 1 Thessalonian 4:17 (translated “caught up” in English translations).
The Second Coming is when Jesus will return to set up an earthly kingdom described in Matthew 24:15-31, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 and Revelation 20:1-6. Sometimes this term is used to refer to all the events from the rapture to the end of the Tribulation.
The Great Tribulation is the last half of seven years of tribulation while the Anti-Christ is ruling the earth. It will be a time of judgments poured out that will be worse than anything mankind has ever experienced (Matthew 24:21-22; Revelation 15-16)
In Acts 2:17, Peter told the assembled crowd, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,” quoting Joel 2:28. And Peter said, “This is it!” I.e., these are the last days, beginning in Acts 2, about 2000 years ago! This is what Joel prophesied 800 years earlier, and NOW, Peter said we were entering the last days of which Joel spoke. But some of what Joel prophesied did not begin to happen that day.
Peter continued quoting Joel: “And I will show wonders in the heavens aboveand signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (2:19-20; see Joel 2:28-32)
These are things that have not yet happened but are waiting for “the Day of the Lord.” That specific day, referred to also in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 will be when Jesus returns to set up His kingdom on earth, seven years after He has taken the Church out of the world. This is not the same as His “appearing” referenced in 1 Timothy 6:14, 2 Timothy 4:1 and Titus 2:13.
In these references, Jesus appears in the sky to catch away His Church, those who have put their faith in Him, repented of their sins and are living for Him. The rapture (or “being caught up”) is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and will occur “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). Note also, the “last trumpet” mentioned in Corinthians is not one of the trumpets of judgment listed in Revelation 8, but a reference to the last trumpet the Church will hear on earth.
We should not confuse The Day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3 with the rapture. The rapture is described by Jesus in Matthew 24:32-50, after He had answered the disciples’ questions about “the coming of the Son of Man,” the time at which Jesus will come to earth to set up His rulership.
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessnes is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5)
This “coming” is distinguished from “our being gathered,” but is referenced here together because of false teaching that claimed Jesus had already come to establish His kingdom “in men’s hearts.” (On a side note, this heresy was also promulgated in the 20th century and continues in some fringe religions.) As I have described, the “gathering” is a reference to the rapture.
A final note: Whatever we believe about the timing of the rapture, there are two realities all Christ-followers must keep in mind.
First, no difference of opinion among Christians justifies unkindness toward those who hold different views. Jesus commands us to love one another, just as He loved us. He also said that our love for one another would be the evidence to all people that we are His disciples (John 13:34-35). Wrangling over issues such as the timing of the rapture does not exhibit Christ’s love (Titus 3:10).
Second, the most important aspect of the end times is not the timing of the rapture but the absolute certainty of the return of Jesus Christ to the world in these last days (Acts 1:11; Revelation 19:11-16). The timing does not alter the fact that those who belong to Him will enjoy eternal life and those who do not will be separated from Him for eternity (John 3:18). Only faith in Jesus as the our savior will distinguish the saved from the unsaved, regardless of our views on the rapture. So pray earnestly for those who do not know Him yet! They need Jesus.
We shall behold HIM!! Maranatha, even so, Lord Jesus, come.
I was planning to write about prophecy of end times again, but in prayer felt a ‘nudging’ of the Holy Spirit to address a subject that in times past has been a source of division and conflict within the Body of Christ – speaking in tongues under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I was covering some prophecy ideas on the weekend of Pentecost,, so here is the trade-off.
From the early 1900s (I read about this; I am not THAT old! 😅), when the Holy Ghost (as He was called back then) began moving in lives to experience what the apostles and disciples of the book of Acts experienced. A common feature of these more modern day disciples was to first experience “speaking in tongues” similar to what occurred in Acts 2, 10 and 19. The experience was called “being baptized into the Holy Spirit” as John the Baptist had prophesied Jesus would do to His followers. “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8) This theme was reiterated by Luke in his introduction to the Acts of the Apostles. And it is clearly this “baptism” that began the Church Age in which we now live.
However, many mainline churches at the turn of the last century were upset by the emotionalism and lack of coherent theology of many of these “tongues-speakers” and repudiated these phenomena as being emotional excitement and works of the flesh; some even declared them demonic. But the clear dedication to Jesus on the part of many of them, and the missionary zeal exceeding that of the mainlines resulted in the formation of new denominations that welcomed and encouraged people to seek God for “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” with an initial evidence of speaking in tongues.
In the 1960s a “neo-charismatic movement” began to take hold with people within more traditional mainline churches and almost every denomination world-wide found itself addressing “praying with the Spirit.” (See also Romans 8:26 and Ephesians 6:18.) Episcopalians led this transformation but Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists and most other denominations adjusted from their “‘Tongues’ is of the devil” stance to honor Paul’s explicit instructions in 1 Corinthians 14:39, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues.” Baptists were a little late to get on board, but leaders like Bill Gothard honored this scripture in his presentations and made headway among his almost entirely Baptist audiences of thousands.
The excesses of some in groups like the Assemblies of God, The Foursquare Church and others who insisted that speaking in tongues will accompanythe baptism into the Holy Spirit as an initial evidence of such infilling led to almost a two-tier system of spirituality. But the sincerity of most in these denominations, and their patient defense of speaking in tongues and development of Biblical theology of the experience, combined with their missionary zeal, resulted in phenomenal growth and world-wide acceptance among Christian denominations.
Although most current arguments against speaking in a “spiritual language” refer to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 14, an honest appraisal of these instructions to a church that was getting too enthusiastic will reveal he was NOTdiscouraging speaking in tongues, but rather trying to preserve the practice through correction, balance and guidance, not prohibition. He even begins the subject with an affirmation, “Now I want you all to speak in tongues…” (1 Corinthians 14:5). The point is to make a distinction between tongues as a gift for ministry in the meetings of the Church and tongues as a grace by which any believer can draw closer to The God Who Is, such that Paul could assert, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Corinthians 14:18). Obviously he was not doing that in meetings of the Church but in his personal prayer times.
To summarize some points from Jack Hayford’s superb text (The Beauty of Spiritual Language) on this subject, speaking in tongues is not unbiblical nor outdated. It is not a “transcendental experience” as with cult meditations or surrender of the will in a mystical stupor. It is not a “status symbol” as though one who speaks in tongues is better than one who does not. It is not a ‘cure-all’ for difficulties in living for God nor a badge of holiness. It is not a substitute for spiritual growth or Bible study. As one Christ-follower told me, there is one and only ONE evidence of the infilling of the Holy Ghost given in the Bible: “You will be witnesses!” (Acts 1:8). So “if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is essentially coming to a place of wanting such intimacy with The God Who Is that one becomes open to anything He wants to do in and through you. It is wanting “to know that you know that you know” who He is and that your testimony of Him will not be based in dry lifeless theology of book knowledge but in experiential knowledge so intimate that the only human comparison is that of a marriage where two become one flesh (Ephesians 5:32). When you know Him the way Adam knew his wife and she conceived (Genesis 4:1), you cannot help but talk about it. Who ever heard of a married man who loves his wife that did not want to tell you about her!? The nature of a good marriage is such that a man can not speak very long with anyone before his wife comes into the conversation.
Jesus is the baptizer into the Holy Spirit, an action that all four of His biographies assert (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33). If you come to Him with this request, He assures us He will not turn us away nor let us be deceived, but meet our heart’s desire to know Him better. (Luke 11:13) So just come to Him and ask, because “the promise is for YOU and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). Worship Jesus as you listen to the Maranatha Singers sing the Spirit Song and invite Him to baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
Anonymity. This is what most people seem to feel like when they get behind the steering wheel of their autos. Especially those with the blackened windows, even on the front windshield (which should be illegal – it’s like driving with sunglasses on even at night! But that’s for another blog.)
The anonymity we feel driving allows us to do things that if we knew the other driver or recognized faces, we would never do. How guilty I feel typing this as it has often been a “clinging sin” of Hebrews 12:1. My bride of 31 years has often tried to help me, sometimes wisely, sometimes with aggravation, sometimes with good effect, sometimes with greater frustration.
A recent conversation about this came up after some clown ran a stop sign when it was MY turn! So I pulled forward and blared on my horn to let the redneck know HE was in the WRONG! Of course, seeing my SUV lunging toward his open window required he give me what he felt was an appropriate “Hawaiian Salute” with a single finger. Anita was very upset with my behavior and afraid I was going to wind up in a wreck and she wanted to go home. But our ensuing conversation finally got to my heart. Somehow the Holy Spirit was able to break through all the layers of anger and bitterness that lay there toward other drivers . . . who drove the way I used to drive.
Later, my mind wandered back to college as I prayed for forgiveness, first for scaring my bride, second for trying to scare the scofflaw driver, third for not listening to the Holy Spirit soooo many, many times. “Lord,forgive [my] sins and cleanse [me] from all unrighteousness” . . . again. A memory of Cecil was triggered. He was a transfer from another school and had a car, a luxury in my circle of friends at that stage of our lives.
Once I asked him for a ride into the city and since he had some time free and we often enjoyed chatting, he gladly agreed. As we got in his car, though, instead of instantly starting the engine, Cecil said, “This will just take a minute.” (???) He leaned his head down, closed his eyes, and prayed. “Father, thank you for blessing me with this car and C.A.’s friendship. Help me to remember You are in the back seat, and keep us safe on our errands.” And with that he started the car and headed into town.
I have no memory of our errands or where we went other than another time to a park outside the city. But I DO remember this: when we finished whatever errands we were on we returned to his car, he again bowed his head and talked for just a moment to his Lord about our trip back to campus. And every time we got in his car, he would spend a moment communing with his Master, and asking for safe travels. Sometimes he would pray for specific things about our travels, sometimes for other things on his mind as we would begin, but every time, BEFORE he started the car, he would pray.
So somehow the Holy Spirit brought this memory of when we were 20 years old to my mind and asked me why I wanted to be anonymous in my car. The Lord’s prompting suggested that I was leaving Him out of the car when I would drive, and He wanted to be with me. (Imagine,the KING wants to be with ME!?) Alone, I wept for my hardness of heart, my ineptitude in driving, and my inconsideration of the deceit with which other drivers were dealing.
And as I prayed I recalled an encouragement from a friend in Alaska: “Most of us don’t seem to realize how we can be a testimony of God’s grace with our cars.”OUCH! That was so many years ago, and I still was blind to what Father has been trying to get into my hard head and harder heart.
But He finally got it into me. Now whenever I get into my car, I first pray. I ask Father for safe travels, for patience with those who are deceived and think they should be able to violate the laws. I request The God Who Is to make me aware that the other drivers are people He loves, even when they are inconsiderate, even behind blackened windows and with stereos bouncing their car off the pavement. And I ask Him to remind me from His seat in the car that I should obey the laws and show His grace to others, as my bride has so often asked me to do.
If you think of me this week, please pray that I will remember His Presence more consistently.
The following is a news release by a Finnish Member of Parliament. Whether you follow the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Tipitaka, the Gathas, the Jain Agamas, the Dharma Wheel, the Bible or any other religious literature, this case before Finland’s Court can affect any religious practice by which people try to guide their lives. Finland is a democratic republic along the lines of the US, but closer to Israel in number of parties and coalition type management of the government. And since becoming part of the EU, it is anyone’s guess as to how EU diktats will affect their historically egalitarian governance. Since Finland is part of the EU, the following bears watching as it may impact laws and policies continent-wide, and could spill over the Pond to challenge the US and Canada to follow suit. “No man is an island.” I encourage you to pray for Ms. Räsänen and the nation of Finland as they waddle into dangerous waters which may well be a watershed moment for religious freedom around the globe. Ms. Räsänen has kindly put me on her email list and I am confident she would welcome any message of support from any place in the world (email below), and most of all, that we who follow Jesus are praying for Finland. Jesus is coming soon. “Even so, Lord Jesus, come!”
Press Release April 30, 2021
Three charges filed against a Member of Parliament, Dr. Päivi Räsänen. “I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion as far as it needs.”
Yesterday morning, I received by phone the information that the Prosecutor General has decided to prosecute me in three cases. The application for summons has been delivered to the District Court of Helsinki. I am accused of criminal agitation against a minority group, which carries the sentence of a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of two years. The three charges filed against me are about the following cases. Firstly, a pamphlet I wrote in 2004 “Male and female He created them – Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity.” A charge has also been filed against Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, the Dean of Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland published the pamphlet.
The second charge is about a tweet I published 17 June 2019 in my social media accounts. In addition to Twitter, I published my tweet in Facebook and Instagram. In the tweet, I questioned the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s official affiliation with Helsinki LGBT Pride 2019 and accompanied my publication with a photo of Bible verses from Romans 1:24-27.
The third charge is about my views presented in one program of the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation, when I visited a talk show series hosted by Ruben Stiller and discussed the topic “What would Jesus think about homosexuals?”.
The decision of the Prosecutor General is surprising, even shocking. I do not think I have committed threatening, defaming or insulting actions against a minority group. In all these three cases, the question is about the Bible’s teaching about marriage and sexuality. Ultimately, the three charges brought against me have to do with whether it is allowed in Finland to express your conviction that is based on the traditional teaching of the Bible and Christian churches. I would not have in any way defamed homosexuals whose human dignity and human rights I have constantly said to respect and defend. The Bible’s teaching is, however, very clear in the teaching that marriage is a union between man and wife and that practicing homosexuality is against God’s will.
The Apostle Paul’s teaching is not only about defending marriage between man and woman, but about how a human being is saved into eternal life. If the teachings of God’s word about sin are rejected, the whole core of Christian faith is made empty: the precious sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the sake of everyone’s sins and the way He opened into eternity.
There is a difficulty here far greater than a sentence of a fine or an imprisonment: a demand for censorship; an order to remove my social media postings or a ban on the publication of the pamphlet. If one defies the court’s verdict, it leads to demands of penalty payments. This sort of judgement would open up an avenue leading to further publication bans for similar texts and modern book burnings.
It is noteworthy that with regard to the pamphlet case and the tv episode with Stiller, the police stated that there was no reason to suspect a crime. The pre-trial investigation should not have even commenced according to their decision. The police stated in their decision: “if some of the views in the Bible were to be regarded as per se fulfilling the criteria of an agitation offense, the dissemination of or making the Bible available would in principle be punishable as an offense of agitation.” This has deeply to do with free speech and freedom of religion.
I will go to the court with a peaceful and brave mind, trusting that Finland is a constitutional state where the freedoms of speech and religion, which both are guaranteed in international agreements and in our constitution, are respected. A conviction based on the Christian faith would be more than a superficial opinion. The early Christians did not renounce their faith in lions’ caves, why should I then renounce my faith in a court room. I will not step back from my conviction nor from my writings. I do not apologize for the writings of the Apostle Paul either. I am ready to defend freedom speech and religion as far as is necessary.
The offense of agitation requires intentionality. In our Criminal Code the concept of intentionality is placed as criteria regarding the purpose of the author and the fact that the author perceives the nature of the act as a culpable legal infringement. In evaluating guilt, one must strive to genuinely understand the background and purpose of the author. As a Member of Parliament, I have been involved in the enactment of this precise amendment to our legislation. It did not even come to mind that my tweet or my opinions based on Christianity could be defamatory or insulting in any aspect.
I want to encourage others to use their freedom of speech and religion. This indictment shows that right now is the time to defend these foundational freedoms and rights.
The Prosecutor General has previously publicly said that she has, because of my cases, received inappropriate messages. I hope that no insulting messages would be targeted against her.
As recommended in The American Conservative blog, consider writing a polite but firm email to Ms. Raija Toiviainen, the Prosecutor General: firstname.lastname@example.org and to the Finnish Ambassador to the US, His Excellency Mikko Hautala, at email@example.com.
Anita, as a new international student, met Elva Craig back in 1984 at the University of Iowa. Meeting with friends for a weekly Bible study, Elva led Anita in understanding that following Jesus was not just a “Western religion,” but a matter for every heart in the world. And as they say, the rest is history.
Now Elva is facing the time we all will come to someday, some of us sooner than others. But there is no escaping that we will all come face to face with our mortality. Last week’s blog shared the decision we each must make before that moment, What will you do with Jesus, called the Christ?
Last week I asked Elva’s permission to share her latest newsletter with my blog, to show what it is like when you are walking with Jesus and facing what most people fear most. I added links for your convenience. What a delight, what a joy, what a hope those who know Jesus have! Death has lost its sting; the grave has lost its victory! Because He lives, we will live also!! Enjoy reading Elva’s testimony. _________________________________ From: Elva Craig Sent: Sun 1/31/2021 9:54 PM To: Subject: Feb. 2021 Prayer Letter
Dear Friends, I know I haven’t written for a while,but I kept waiting until I had something definite to tell you.
2020 is almost over and most are very thankful. Many things have happened since the beginning of the year. Retirement has not been good to me. In early January I had spine surgery. My lower disks were deteriorating and squeezing a nerve that caused pain in my hip and leg. They put four small titanium rods in my spine to keep the disks from squeezing the nerve.
One Saturday night I had a seizure, but I did not know what it was. I contacted my co-worker (a nurse), and after she brought me to the hospital, the doctors saw something that looked like tiny tumors. It was at this time we started the nation-wide quarantine.
Because I had a seizure I could not drive for six months and then another seizure took away all hopes for driving. As a result of both of those things I stayed home lot. I made a lot of cards to send to church people and others I knew who were also home alone.
In April the hospital took another MRI and determined that I had three small tumors in my brain, in the optic area. Two were close together in the front and one in the back. On April 24 I had brain surgery, where they actually drilled a hole in my head and took out a piece of one of the tumors to see what kind they were. The tumors are what they call glioblastoma, a kind that cannot be killed. I began taking chemo (pill) and radiation therapies. The chemo was every night and radiation was five times each week.
Then I signed up to help out with a research project to see how large doses of vitamin C might effect the brain tumors. For this they put a port put in my chest so they would not have to stick me with needles every other day. The vitamin C infusions were three times each week. It is a slow drip that takes 2-½ hours.
In between all these I met with doctors, had MRI’s, x-rays, and stayed away from people. This all went on for six and a half weeks. Actually the vitamin C part goes on much longer, but I have a month break.
On top of all that, came the covid virus when everyone stayed home. The tumors have affected my eyes so I cannot see small letters or numbers when they are close together (e.g., telephone numbers, check books, etc). Also I have trouble writing things clearly as well as memory problems. So if there are problems with spelling or grammar, forgive me. [very few, butc.a. fixed these.😉] After going through all these things, the doctors told me they had done every thing they could for me and it was now up to God, but he did not think it would be much longer before I went Home (not his way of saying it).
Now on to the brighter side of things. Through all of this, God has been very good to me in many ways, as He has promised. Ann, my co-worker, went to many of my early appointments and helped me understand what they were saying in plain English, not medical terminology. She also arranged for me to have rides to the hospital every day with different ladies from our church. I thank the Lord that so far I have not had any reactions or pain from chemo or radiation. I do get a little unsteady and tired. Also, now I have more time at home to enjoy longer devotional times. Because of my musical background, God somehow puts a song in my head, out of the blue, which usually stays with me all day. Two that I really enjoy are “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Take My Hand Precious Lord.”
In regard to CBF (Campus Bible Fellowship), we know things will be different at all the universities because of the virus. We did not have our Furniture GiveAway this past year and we do not know where we will get new contacts. I am having my own GiveAway, trying to give away most of my things. If you were here you would be welcome to them.
I told one of the social workers here at Iowa that we work a lot with international students. Some of the ones I worked with have gone back to their home countries. I have many contacts from the International Women’s Club where I taught English. I do not know if they will meet this coming semester. Our CBF group was so small, that losing some to graduation and jobs, we do not have much to work with. We do not even know if groups will be allowed to meet on campus. This semester we met by Zoom so we could see and talk to everyone.
I will close with another thing that has been very special. The doctors do not know how much longer I might live on earth. I have been able to live my life serving the Lord, so now when I think of dying, all I can think of is seeing my Savior and my whole immediate family. What a joy that will be! Every time I think about it I tear up.
Thank you, Lord, for your goodness and provision of salvation so we have no fear of dying. I said that to a social worker and she said, ”Are you thinking of committing suicide?”😄 I have been able to talk to some of the nurses about the promises God has given us. And I am looking forward to the Lord’s return. Here is a song that I sang with one of the ladies from church. It seems to fit the situation.
Chorus: He leadeth me, He leadeth me! By His own hand He leadeth me! His faithful follower I would be, for by His hand He leadeth me!
1.He leadeth me O blessed tho’t! O words with heav’nly comfort fraught! Whate’er I do, where’er I be, Still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
2.Lord, I would clasp Thy hand in mine, Nor ever murmur nor repine, Content, whatever lot I see, Since ‘tis my God that leadeth me!
3.And when my task on earth is done, When by Thy grace, the vict’ry’s won, E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee, Since God thro’ Jordan leadeth me.
Please keep praying for me, that I will remain strong. Looking forward to meeting you all in heaven. Hope to see you there. Elva Craig
News hits us faster than we can absorb it. This began with television reporting back in the 60s and 70s of the last century. The joke about our level of engagement came with a news anchor announcing, with a bright smile, “10 killed in hit-and-run on Broadway, film at 11.”
We are saturated 24/7, 1,440 minutes per day, with available information any time we look at our watches, phones or computers, most of which is unrelated to our daily lives, very little about which we can do anything, and most without consequence for any length of time, only lasting until the next broadcast or posting on social media.
But there IS something that matters, something integrally related to your life, something over which you have complete control, something that will last for all eternity: What will you do about the claims of Jesus, called the Christ?
Jesus is the focal point of history, changing for over half the world the way we count the days of our lives ever since shortly after He walked on earth. And He made some pretty audacious claims, so auspicious that I capitalize pronouns when I refer to Him. Nothing particularly holy about capitalization, but simply to reflect that He is higher, better, greater (every positive superlative of which you can think) than any other human, past, present or future.
To understand who Jesus claimed to be one must read His biographies, which we call the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the first four books of the New Testament. (Many online sources are available and each one can be read in your native language in less than an hour; my favorite source is at Biblegateway.com where you can see if your language is listed.)
Even those who do not trust Him as what He claimed to be admit something unusual happened after He left the world, something that transformed His followers from meek and frightened, politically disenfranchised jellyfish to robust and daring defenders of what they had experienced. What they experienced is recorded in Matthew 28, John 16 and 20, and Acts 1 and 2. And all but one of them died rather than recant; only John survived to old age, but that was in exile on a prison island.
These disciples who had deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, are next seen hiding in quiet rooms, afraid the High Priest, Sanhedrin or Roman authorities might be coming after them next. Their political aspirations were dead, their leader had been crucified and the Jewish leaders had ensured that none of the disciples could steal His body. They were confused and dismayed that the One they expected to lead Israel to international prominence, even over the Roman Empire, was dead and buried in a Roman-guarded sealed tomb. How much worse could it get!?
But rather than getting worse, some women went to the grave in which Jesus was buried and found it empty, encountering angels who declared, “He is not here, for He has risen!” Mary Magdalene, hardly an archetype of integrity, did not believe the angels and came at first to announce to the disciples, who were cowering in their chamber, that the tomb was empty. Two of the disciples, Peter and John, ran to the tomb to see for themselves and also found it empty. But then Jesus met Mary Magdalene in the garden where His tomb was and showed her that He was alive! A couple of others returned from Emmaeus and said they had seen Jesus alive!
In all of these encounters, the ones who knew Jesus best resisted the stories and did not understand the Old Testament scriptures and refused to believe tales of seeing Jesus. They still could not think of the things He had taught them about His death! It was just too much for a rational brain to take in . . . until He appeared to them in a locked room. (They were still afraid and could not sort through the events that were happening faster than the Fall of the Berlin Wall in modern times.) But when Jesus appeared to them, He showed them His wounds from the crucifixion and they finally believed.
This short blog does not allow nearly adequate space for me to show you from the Bible all that it teaches of who Jesus is, but you are all intelligent and capable learned people. Hey, you access a computer and blog! 😉 So do not take my word alone for this. Read the Gospels and discover for yourself if you can trust this Jesus to be what He claimed to be. What will you do? You MUST do something, either admit these to be true or reject them to be false. There is no middle ground.
If you believe, the next step is to receive Him. John 1:12 says, “To all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God.” Picture you came to my home and I offered to feed you dinner. You could believe I was going to provide a meal; you could thank me for it; we could sit at the table together and talk about the food in front of us . . . but if you did not reach out and take the food, you would leave my home as empty as when you came.
So, first, reach out in your heart and mind to Jesus. He is God and knows what is in your heart and thoughts even before you say it. So invite Him to come and live in you. Admit you are a sinner and have not let Him rule your life yet. Turn away (repent) from your self-guided life and tell Jesus that you will trust Him to lead the rest of your life. Do not worry that you are not perfect, or that you do not understand all this yet. Simply trust Him that He will come live in you and begin to work in you to perform His will. There are no special formulas for praying. Just talk to Him as you would your own earthly father.
Secondly, if you decide to do this, the next step is to begin reading the Bible. It is His directive to us, an ultimate guide for life and practice. Do not be intimidated by the size (it is actually a library collection of small books; just take one at a time.) There are numerous Bible-reading “plans” you can access, but just read!
Thirdly, if you talked with Jesus to invite Him to live in you, you have begun to pray. Keep it up. Again, there are lots of books and helps for praying, but remember, it does not take any special language. Plus, as you get to know Jesus better (not just know about Him, but knowHIM), you will find prayer is not just you talking to God. In times of His choosing, He will talk to you! Although the value of prayer cannot be measured by its volume, it can safely be said that prayer is valueless if you do not pray. Make time to pray.
Lastly, God does not call “Lone Ranger Christians.” Find a community of people who are seeking and experiencing the Presence of God. Some will be phony; some will be misguided or misinformed; some will be manipulative; some will be dishonest; but you need them as much as they need you. And as you pray and read the Bible, you will grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord and your Savior, Jesus Christ.
Certainly, there is no requirement or expectation for you to contact me regarding your Journey into Faith, but if you want to contact me, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. No question is off limits.
Finally, let me assure you from many years of Bible study and examination of world religions from Atheism to Zoroastrianism, from Buddhism to Hinduism to Islam to Jainism, there is no intellectual reason for rejecting the claims of Jesus. There is no text more authentically relayed to our generation than the Bible. There is no way to get to know who God is, other than through the God-Man, Jesus.
These are indeed strange days in which we are living.
Money will soon disappear as nations will digitize currency and make international exchanges and activity clearer and faster . . . and tracking more convenient.
Governments are testing new restrictions to protect us . . . and to control populations of enormous proportions.
Media is measuring just how much the outlets for information can be manipulated to educate us . . . and tell us what those in places of authority want us to know.
Everyone is walking in fear of the next announcement: . . . will there be any toilet paper in the grocers next week?
Really!? Toilet paper is being hoarded? Because of the coronavirus?
Yes, these ARE strange days in which we are living. But thankfully we do not have to live only in this world. We are citizens of two realms: one here and now on earth, and we would do well to heed our Master’s words: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) Interesting that this instruction was couched in the middle of His discussion on the end of time.
But there is another ‘country’ in which our higher citizenship is recorded (Hebrews 11:16). And there will be no shortages there. No pandemics. No currency manipulation; the streets are made of pure gold! Full freedom to be all that we were created to be. Wisdom and knowledge beyond our current brains’ ability to comprehend. And no fear. (Revelation 21:4) And since our citizenship is there, we have nothing to fear from this world.
A wise 17 year old once told me: “Nothing happens TO a Christ-follower. Filtered by His love, it only happens FOR us.” (Lane Martin) So as Dane Ortund says at the end of this week’s guest blog, “Be at peace. All is assured.”
______________________________________________________________ 8 Reminders in the Face of the Coronavirus Pandemic March 13, 2020, by Dane C. Ortlund
The Cure for Latent Anxiety These are strange days, days of fear, days of hysteria. In other words, days that simply bring all our latent anxieties up to the surface; anxieties that were there all along but are now made visible to others. What do we need to remember in these days of alarm?
1. The World of the Bible Now we know how the people of God felt throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. The Prophets and many of the Psalms speak to people who are caught up in mass hysteria or subject to pandemics. Maybe the current cultural moment is precisely the hermeneutic we need to read the Old Testament, which can otherwise feel so foreign, deeply for the first time.
2. Our True Trust Times of public panic force us to align our professed belief with our actual belief. We all say we believe God is sovereign and he is taking care of us. But we reveal our true trust when the world goes into meltdown. What’s really our heart’s deepest loyalty? The answer is forced to the surface in times of public alarm, such as we’re wading into now.
3. Neighborly Love When the economy is tanking, opportunities to surprise our neighbors with our confidence and joy because of the gospel surge forward. Now is the time to be outside more, to be loving more, to be hospitable more. Love stands out strongest when it is least expected, rarest, but needed most.
4. Family Discipleship Our kids’ teachers are telling them to wash their hands longer. Why? Their teachers won’t tell them, but it’s because there is a dangerous virus infecting thousands of people around the world right now — both young and old — and some of those people will die. Heaven and hell are staring every fourth-grader in the face. That’s why they’re being told to wash their hands for twenty seconds. We have an opportunity to instill in our kids a deeper awareness of eternity than they have ever known. There is a salutary effect to all of this because either heaven or hell awaits every fourth-grader, either taken out by a virus next month or taken out by old age, decades from now. Ten thousand years from now, the difference between dying at age ten or age eighty will seem trivial. This is an opportunity to disciple our families into the bracing reality of eternity.
5. Eschatological Hope Maybe this is the end. I doubt it, but maybe. Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36). Maybe the sight of Jesus descending from Heaven, robed in glory, surrounded by angels, is right around the corner. If so, hallelujah. If not, hallelujah. We’re being reminded that he will indeed return one day. Either way, let us rejoice our way through the chaos. From Heaven’s shore we will see how eternally safe we were all along.
6. Invincible Providence No infected molecule can enter your lungs, or your three-year-old’s lungs, unless sent by the hand of a heavenly Father. The Heidelberg Catechism defines God’s providence as, “The almighty and ever-present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty — all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.” That truth is like an asthmatic’s inhaler to our soul — it calms us down, allows us to breathe again.
7. Christ’s Heart In times of turmoil, in seasons of distress, Jesus is more feelingly with his people than ever. Hebrews tells us that Jesus experienced all the horror of this world that we do, minus sin (Hebrews 4:15). So apparently he knows — he himself knows — way down deep, what it feels like for life to close in on you and for your world to go into meltdown. We can go to him. We can sit with him. His arm is around us — stronger than ever — right now. His tears are larger than ours.
8. Heaven From Heaven’s shore we will see how eternally safe we were all along, even amid the global upheaval and anxieties that loom so large as we walk through them. The dangers out there are real. The cautions are wise. Our bodies are mortal, vulnerable. But our souls, for those united to a resurrected Christ, are beyond the reach of all eternal danger. How un-harm-able we are, we who are in Christ. Be at peace. All is assured. ____________________________________________ Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is chief publishing officer and Bible publisher at Crossway. He serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible series and is the author of Gentle and Lowly. He is an elder at Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois.
The quote from Francis Chan from his speech at Moody Bible Institute is important for Christ-followers to keep in mind as we face the ‘dangers’ of the Wuhan-Coronavirus.
UK Hospital, Lexington, KY
Lexington, Kentucky, just recorded the first case in the Commonwealth yesterday, March 6, 2020. When we had visitors from China last month they wanted to purchase N95 masks to send back to their families in their respective cities. However, as we searched for the masks, most of the outlets, e.g. Walgreens, Rite-Aid, Grogans, etc, were already out. We found them at Lowes and Home Depot and our guests cleaned out two stores of their N95 masks.
The fear associated to the virus is more frightening than the virus. For most people with ‘normal’ or nominal immune systems the Wuhan virus will only produce mild flu-like symptoms and we will get over it. The fear stems from the novelty of the virus: there is no vaccine, no effective treatment and no cure. If there are underlying health issues or any compromise of one’s immune system this ‘mild’ virus can quickly become fatal.
Attached is a Christianity Today article by Emmy Yang in which she looks at the advice Martin Luther, 16th century pastor and reformer, gave solid advice for people facing a 21st century pandemic. The links in the article should be active.
Remember that Father did not give us “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”(1 Timothy 1:7)
Is It Faithful to Flee an Epidemic? What Martin Luther Teaches Us About Coronavirus 简体中文繁体中文 The German reformer’s pastoral reflection on the plague can guide both medical students like me and Christians in China — and everywhere the Wuhan virus has spread. Emmy Yang, January 30, 2020, Christianity Today
From its epicenter in Wuhan, China, the current coronavirus outbreak is stoking fear and disrupting travel and business across the globe. More than 150 people have died from the virus in China alone, and more than 8,000 are infected across 20 countries — exceeding the SARS epidemic in 2003. [Update: As of March 4, more than 3,000 people have died in China, and more than 95,000 have been infected across 75 countries.]
Citizens in Wuhan, a major central city comparable to Chicago, are under lockdown by the government and public activities have come to a standstill, including annual celebrations for Chinese New Year (which began on January 25). Chinese Christians, in Wuhan and China at large, have faced difficult decisions about whether to join the millions of Chinese who return home to visit family (as is customary during the lunar holiday season), to flee from the mainland, or even to gather for regular Sunday services.
But are followers of Jesus right to flee an epidemic when people are suffering and dying? In the 16th century, German Christians asked theologian Martin Luther for a response to this very question.
In 1527, less than 200 years after the Black Death killed about half the population of Europe, the plague re-emerged in Luther’s own town of Wittenberg and neighboring cities. In his letter “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague,” the famous reformer weighs the responsibilities of ordinary citizens during contagion. His advice serves as a practical guide for Christians confronting infectious disease outbreaks today.
First, Luther argued that anyone who stands in a relationship of service to another has a vocational commitment not to flee. Those in ministry, he wrote, “must remain steadfast before the peril of death.” The sick and dying need a good shepherd who will strengthen and comfort them and administer the sacraments — lest they be denied the Eucharist before their passing. Public officials including mayors and judges are to stay and maintain civic order. Public servants including city-sponsored physicians and police officers must continue their professional duties. Even parents and guardians have vocational duties toward their children.
Luther did not limit tending the sick to health care professionals. In a time when Wuhan faces a shortage of hospital beds and personnel, his counsel is especially relevant. The city, one of China’s largest with a population of about 11 million, is in the process of rapidly constructing two new hospitals to accommodate growing crowds of coronavirus patients. Lay citizens, without any medical training, may find themselves in a position of providing care to the sick. Luther challenges Christians to see opportunities to tend to the sick as tending to Christ himself (Matt. 25:41–46). Out of love for God emerges the practice of love for neighbor.
But Luther does not encourage his readers to expose themselves recklessly to danger.
His letter constantly straddles two competing goods: honoring the sanctity of one’s own life and honoring the sanctity of those in need. Luther makes it clear that God gives humans a tendency toward self-protection and trusts that they will take care of their bodies (Eph. 5:29; 1 Cor. 12:21–26). “All of us,” he says, “have the responsibility of warding off this poison to the best of our ability because God has commanded us to care for the body.” He defends public health measures such as quarantines and seeking medical attention when available. In fact, Luther proposes that not to do so is to act recklessly. Just as God has gifted humans with their bodies, so too he has gifted the medicines of the earth.
What if a Christian still desires to flee?
Luther affirms that this may, in fact, be the believer’s faithful response, provided that their neighbor is not in immediate danger and that they arrange substitutes who will “take care of the sick in their stead and nurse them.” Notably, Luther also reminds readers that salvation is independent of these good works. He ultimately tasks “devout Christians … to come to their own decision and conclusion” whether to flee or to stay during plagues, trusting that they will arrive at a faithful decision through prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Participation in aiding the sick arises out of grace, not obligation.
However, Luther himself was not afraid. Despite the exhortations of his university colleagues, he stayed behind to minister to the sick and dying. He urged his readers not to be afraid of “some small boil” in the service of neighbors.
Though God’s children face earthly sufferings, those who proclaim faith in Christ share in a heavenly promise of freedom from illness and suffering. In an open letter calling for prayer from Christians around the globe, an anonymous Wuhan pastor affirms “[Christ’s] peace is not to remove us from disaster and death, but rather to have peace in the midst of disaster and death, because Christ has already overcome these things.” Both Luther and the Wuhan pastor express the reality of suffering but recognize that death and suffering do not have the final word.
This week, my grandparents in China messaged me that they are well but are dwelling “like rats” in their apartment, leaving only when necessary. Incidentally, in the Chinese Zodiac system, 2020 is the Year of the Rat — the animal that spread pestilence-carrying fleas across Europe in the 14th century.
My grandparents live west of Wuhan in the province of Sichuan, where more than 100 coronavirus cases have been confirmed. I cannot help but think of them and my other relatives living in China at this time. Hoping to send them masks now out of stock in many stores throughout Asia, my parents and I discovered this week that even US stores have been depleted.
In a climate of fear surrounding the outbreak, I come back to Luther’s letter for guidance. As a medical student and a future physician, I have a clear vocational commitment to caring for the sick — whether they have coronavirus, tuberculosis, or influenza. Precautions I will take, yes. But I am reminded by Luther that they are individuals deserving of care all the same.
“When did we see you sick?” ask the righteous in the parable of the sheep and the goats, to which Jesus responds, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:39–40). If and when the coronavirus encroaches upon our communities, how will we faithfully respond?
Emmy Yang is a Theology, Medicine, and Culture Fellow at Duke Divinity School and a medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
We want assurances that everything will be okay as we grow older; that our children will do all right, that we will find fulfillment in the tasks to which we feel called. We want a “fail-safe,” an assurance that our efforts will not be wasted.
“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10-11)
How does one make an effort to confirm an election? Is not an election final? Apparently, Peter did not think so! In the first chapter of his second letter he asserts that even though Father has given us everything we need for a godly life, some would be ineffective, unproductive, nearsighted, blind, and even forget that they had been cleansed from past sins.
The key for Peter laid in the participation in the divine nature by way of our knowledge of Him who has called us. This knowledge is the “everything” we need for godly living, but it is not knowledge that is alone. It begins with faith to which we add virtues, one of which is this knowledge. And the virtues he lists should be added “in increasing measure” (v 8) in order to make us effective, productive, and farsighted. Then what are these virtues we should be adding in increasing measure?
“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7) A wise man once said, “We are saved by faith alone, but not faith that is alone.” (Dr. Ronald Wright) And here Peter makes that clear.
Faith in God is a wonderful thing, but sadly there are many Christ-followers who are hardly “good.” They are carnal in their lifestyles, selfish in their choices and attitudes and generally unpleasant people. We are not supposed to be this way! If we believe in a good, good God, if we want to be like Jesus who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) should we not also be learning to be good? Should not people see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven? (Matthew 5:16) Examine your life and consider, “Does anyone think of me as good? Am I a blessing or a pain in the neck to those with whom I interact?”
You do not have to know a lot of stuff, whether Scripture or scientific facts or logical processes to be good. A very ignorant person can still be good. Someone who does not even know John 3:16 can be good. But having faith and being good is just the start of a life-long process that Father intends to work in us. He may accept us when we are ignorant and behaving stupidly, but He does not want us to stay that way!
Peter goes on in this chapter to describe the importance of the “prophetic word” that is the Scripture, as being more significant even than his personal experience of witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus (see Matthew 17:1-8). An ignorant fool can go to Heaven, but not becausehe is ignorant or foolish, but in spite of these handicaps. How much better to enter Heaven with a knowledge of the Holy? A knowledge that is both personal in our experience and confirmed by the Word of God? A knowledge that includes memorized Bible verses, awareness of how He has worked with His children in the past, and an understanding of the great themes of Scripture?
But do not stop now!! To knowledge we should add self-control. Whether by studying Scripture that gives marvelous guidelines for mental health or by consulting with godly counselors and others who have walked a long way with Jesus, we must come to a place where self-control is evident to those around us. Rudyard Kipling said in his poem, “If: A Father’s Advice,” “If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; . . .
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And – which is more – you’ll be a man, my son!”
If you think this is becoming too difficult, consider the next virtue Peter calls on us to add to our collection: perseverance! Hang in there! Do not give up! Paul and the author of Hebrews both warned we should not grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9). Our examples are our Father (Isaiah 40:28) and Jesus (Hebrews 12:3).
Which leads us to add godliness. Godliness, God-like-ness, is the process of our becoming more like our Master. This is what Jesus called His disciples to when He said, “Be perfect therefore as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) He seriously could not have been meaning for us to meet God’s standard of eternal, ontological, moral, intellectual and emotional perfection, but rather by Father’s grace to enter into a relationship that purifies us so that we become more like Jesus day by day (1 John 3:3).
The next virtues Peter advises us to add to our faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, and godliness are intended to complete that perfection in us. To all these we should add mutual affection and agape love. Here is a tenderness that recognizes another’s struggles and cares for the weak among us. It is a tolerance for the ignorant and out-of-control. And beyond this is a love that knows no boundaries, but loves even the unlovely, the outcast, the enemy (See ) This is God’s love for us.
And if we add these things “in increasing measure” we will discover we are fail-safe.
If: A Father’s Advice to His Son By Rudyard Kipling
“If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, And – which is more – you’ll be a man, my son!”