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Archive for the ‘Pleasing God’ Category

One day this will be the question that everyone is asking. Where their loved ones, co-workers, and neighbours? When the Lord Jesus was resurrected (came back to life after His death) and returned to heaven it was on the understanding that He will one day come back. There are many references to this and it is a fundamental part of the hope that believers in Jesus have. He is going to return, to reclaim this world as His own, to rule in perfection and justice. One day, heaven really will be on earth.

In one reference to His return He said: “so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Matthew 24, verses 39 – 42 (ESV). It is quite a famous passage and is often used to refer to the event known as the ‘rapture’. In refers to a day yet to occur when all Christians will be taken off the earth in preparation for the terrible events described in the book of Revelation. There are actually two views on this. The other is that everyone stays on the earth throughout the events of Revelation until the end when it is non-believers who are removed, with the believers remaining on earth. What there is total agreement on is that Jesus returns and then sets up His Kingdom on earth, so both are possible. However, my own opinion is that it is more likely that this passage refers to believers being removed prior to the events described in Revelation. First I’ll explain why, then why it is really important, and finally what it might mean for us.

If you read the entire passage (all of Matthew 24), Jesus says “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (verse 44), and that is the whole point of the passage. It is a day like any other. People are going about their usual business. In today’s language people are at work; they are sleeping; they are eating and getting on with life. As this is a split second occurrence, some will be starting their day, while for others it will be during the night. There is nothing out of the ordinary. Probably in some places there is crisis, there always is, but for most it is an ordinary day. Now read Revelation. If you had just gone through all that it would feel like the end of the world. I don’t know how much of everyday life would be able to continue. It would mean total economic and ecological collapse, along with out of control disease, famine and war. I think I would be expecting the return of the Lord in those circumstances! We also know that those events last seven years, so the end is not a surprise time. So for that reason I think it means that believers are removed prior to the events of Revelation. If I am wrong, it matters not. But if that is the correct sequence of events, we need to be ready for it. Personally, I think Rapture happens first, at a time like now. For most people the very last thing they expect is the return of Jesus.

So won’t everyone know what has happened? It is really hard for us to imagine what it will be like. My personal view is that the events of Revelation will be initially triggered by the removal of believers. Imagine millions of people suddenly going missing. There would be mass panic and economic collapse. Those are the conditions for any number of existing global tensions to be suddenly unleashed. I think we underestimate how fragile our world systems are. Sure, with all things going well we can cope with a disaster. But problems on multiple fronts are entirely another matter. If all the Christians suddenly disappeared people might realise what had happened, but that will not appear to be the case.

Yes, Christians will be taken, and others left, but it will not appear to be like that. Please read my previous post ‘Christians who don’t go to Heaven’ at this point. There are many Christians who are only culturally Christian. In some parts of the world ‘Christian’ means not being of another religion. They have no personal relationship with Jesus. And even in the West here, it is my opinion that most Christians are so in name only. They have no relationship with Jesus. Even within churches, I would not be surprised if the majority are left behind. Perhaps they will realise they have never really loved Jesus and make things right with Him. Perhaps they will form a real and new church immediately after the Rapture. Or, perhaps they will deny that it had anything to do with God and further harden their hearts. I have no idea, but obviously if it is the latter you would do well to avoid churches altogether at that point as there will be no real Christians left in them.

But there is a further major complication that most Christians don’t acknowledge. There are many people in the world today who are followers of Christ but are not identified as such. On the outside they appear to follow other religions, or none, but these secret believers are very much part of the church. So taking those two things together that would result in many churches remaining with few missing, while many people who are regarded as following other religions are missing. The ‘Christians’ who are left will say it is nothing to do with God, and they will point to all the people in non Christian countries who appeared to follow other religions as proof. It will not appear to be as it was.

So what does this mean for us? As believers we need to stay alert. If you, in the next minute, and completely expectantly, were to find yourself in the presence of the Lord Jesus, would you want to be ashamed. Would you want to have been just complaining or arguing or doing something else He wouldn’t like? And if you find yourself reading this after some very strange events, get into the book of Daniel, Revelation and the rest of the New Testament – especially Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The way to be saved has not changed. Repent of all you have done wrong, give your life to Christ and then ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in order to know what to do next. The world will have seven terrible years ahead, the like of which have never been experienced before. Make sure you stay close to the Lord and obey all He says. You will be a history maker.

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“Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool”. John 5, v 6 – 7 ESV.

I am increasingly convinced that God’s heart is to be good to us. That is not to say we will always have our prayers answered, God knows better than we do what we need at any given time. But God is good, we need to remember that and have hope. But while I most often hear of prayers not answered, I do sometimes come across prayers not asked, and God’s offer of help rejected. Yes, it is true that many reject God. Jesus came at Easter to set us free. Perhaps you have never met Him. I have news for you; he really is alive. That’s the whole story of Easter. Jesus loved us so much that he spent those hours on the cross slowly dying on your behalf. He willing gave his life to pay a ransom for us (see Matthew 20, v 28), but that was not the end of it. Three days later he came back to life and lives today. He longs to get to know you, and all you have to do is accept His offer of love and seek a relationship with Him. Read about it in the Bible, the book of ‘John’ and speak to Him about it today.

Perhaps you are a Christian thinking what a basic message that is, and how you cant understand anyone not taking up His offer. There are many Christians who have accepted the love of Jesus and responded by wanting a relationship with their Lord. But while I often hear of prayers unanswered, very little is said of rejected answers to prayer. Jesus asked the man at the pool, “Do you want to be healed”. We probably wonder what possible reason there could be for such a strange question. Everyone wants to be healed. Yet that would be wrong. Occasionally God provides an answer to a prayer that is left with the giver to accept or reject. Perhaps it is not what you had in mind. Maybe you would prefer a different option. Or maybe it involves giving something up in order to accept the gift God has for you; such as unforgiveness, pain, avoidance, relationships or something else. Whatever the reason; you say no to God’s blessing. I pray that you see how crazy that is and accept God’s best blessings for you today. It is “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5, v 1), so let us take all the goodness He has for us. It truly breaks God’s heart to see you living a half – life. He has come to give us full and abundant life.

The Lord Jesus, resurrected and in His rightful throne room today still speaks to us through those words. Sometimes He challenges us through them. “Do you want to be healed”? The reply of the man is interesting. It’s very polite. Here’s the thing; if I asked you today if you wanted to be healed (I’m referring to whatever the problem is – health, work, relationships, etc), and challenged you that God has already given you the solution, that He is waiting for you, not the other way around, you would probably be very offended. If it was me, and not Jesus, who said those words to the man his reply may not have been so polite. It might have gone like this: ‘can’t you see I’m paralyzed. What I’m I supposed to do, I try to get into the pool!’ I suspect your own reply might be similar. But I want to challenge you today. Do you want healing? You are applying for jobs. But are you applying for jobs you are likely to get? Why don’t you work as a volunteer? You’re lonely. But why don’t you reach out to other lonely people you know instead of chasing those who have many friends? You get the idea. It may not be an unanswered prayer so much as God waiting for you to act and take up what he has offered you. Do you want to be healed regardless of anything, or do you want healing on your terms?

I just want to end by saying that the vast majority of people and situations I come across are not within our ability to solve. Please don’t think I am saying that ‘its your own fault’. We live through so much, and God is with us through it. He is our comforter and he is gentle with us. But if your situation is one of those that God has provided an answer for, I would encourage you to take it up. He only loves you so much and wants you to enjoy His goodness to you. Ask God in all honesty if you are just not seeing what he has laid in front of you, and be open to all He has for your life. You won’t regret it.

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Matthew 7, v21 -22 (ESA)

Jesus said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven….On that day many will say to me ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name and do many might works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from me you workers of lawlessness’. 

There is a common perception that Christians go to Heaven while others do not.  Actually, the truth is that all genuine followers of Jesus who have come to Him for forgiveness, will go to Heaven to spend eternity with Him.  Not everyone with the title ‘Christian’ is indeed a Christian, and there are many secret believers in parts of the world where it is not possible to openly follow Christ who have other labels.  We might be surprised to know who the real Christians are.  It is no great surprise to read this. However, the point of this message is not about those who are clearly on the fringes.

Jesus is speaking here about those who we would assume are definitely Christians.  They call Jesus ‘Lord’  (v21). I don’t know many people who refer to Jesus in this way, and those that do appear to be the most committed Christians I know.  They are also actively serving God, as evidenced by their work (v22).  They are very active Christians, and are just as likely to be Christian workers.  These verses refer to serious, committed Christians.  They refer to ministers, evangelists, theologians, academics, elders, and other serving Christians.  And what do we read?  Jesus does not know them here on earth.  They are praying, but they are not genuinely praying to Jesus.  They are working hard, but not for Jesus.  We learn one final thing about them, they genuinely believe (“did we not”) that they are Christians and that their knowledge, speech and hard work was proof of the fact.

For a Christian this must be one of the most sobering passages in the Bible.  We think we are Christians, we think we are following Jesus.  We absolutely know how much work we are doing for the one we call ‘Lord’, and we have a position.  We may even have an impressive background and training in theology.  Yet for all this, ‘many’ of us will be found to have not been followers of Jesus at all.  Many are their own followers.  They are following their own pride and egos.

How can someone be in such a situation?  How can they know the way of salvation, know all about Jesus and yet miss out on actually knowing him personally?  The Bible answers with the simple truth that “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17, v9).  We all know people who genuinely think they love their wives, while to everyone else it is clear as day they do not. It is no different with God.  We believe what we want to believe.  I actually find these verses incredibly distressing.  For people to knowingly reject God is one thing, but to think they are reaching out to Him when in fact they are not is very sad.  It is our eternal future that is at stake.

So how can we avoid this situation?  The Gospel of John has the answer (chapter 4, v 23) “the true worshippers will worship the Father in sprit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him”.  We must come to God in spirit and truth.  Put another way, we need to really, genuinely come to Jesus for a relationship with Him.  It is possible to enjoy church, or theology, or Christian work, but not actually worship Jesus.  Put another way round, lets take everything we enjoy away.  If there were no nice music, no new things to learn, no fellowship with other believers, no privileges, just Jesus.  How would we feel about that?  Is it really Jesus we are seeking to know, or is it the trappings that we enjoy more?  In response to this we need to humbly come before God and make sure we know and have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus.  By doing so we will not only be assured of a warm welcome when we one day meet Him face to face, but we will also be bringing life and love into the Church.

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What would Jesus do?

It is often said that God is with us, which is true.  And yet he is more than with us, he is in us.  Paul wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (see Galatians 2, verse 20).  He is saying that as a believer, if we choose, we may invite Christ to live in us in our place.  In 2 Corinthians 6, verse 16 it says “For we are the temple of the living God”.  We may struggle with this concept but to the reader at the time they would know exactly what this means.  The temple was where God was located.  This verse is telling us something that would have amazed those at the time.  Rather than  God dwelling in the Temple, he now dwells in us!  Tozer in his book, the Incredible Christian, asks the question what would it look like for Jesus to walk on earth?  Or even more specifically to walk in our daily lives.  What would Christ do if he were in our exact situation.  The amazing thing is that we can very easily find out by allowing him to do just that.

 

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Fully obeying God

We have a tendency to ‘half do’ things for God.  Perhaps we are unsure if He has really asked us.  If that is the case we should go back and ask the Lord for clear direction.  Once we know the will of God we should not hesitate to fully commit to His work. A woman came to the prophet Elisha and begged for help as she had no money and a creditor was on his way to take her two children for slaves as payment.  His reply to her was to “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbours, empty vessels and not too few”  2 Kings 4, 3.  He then filled them with oil, miraculously, which she was able to sell and repay all her debts.  There are a few interesting things in this small story.  The woman did not have enough pots of her own.  She had to go out and ask neighbours who would be wondering why.  There was no hiding that she was doing something.  This required boldness.  God often asks us to work quietly and humbly.  But that does not mean that no one at all will see that we are doing something.  In fact very often the world will see that we are living differently, even if they do not know the details.  I often feel self-conscious when God asks me to do something.  Perhaps I’ll just request a few ‘vessels’, then it will be more low key I think to myself.  But think of the blessings this woman would have missed out on if she did not obey fully.  She went out and asked for every pot she could find, and God filled every one of them.  Partial obedience is disobedience.  When God asks us to do something, let us go all out to fully do what He has asked for.

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Who are the people of the talents?  Matthew chapter 25 (verses 14 to 30) contains the ‘parable of the talents’, and I would like to share some thoughts as to the possible identity of these people.  Jesus often spoke in parables, which are every day stories that contain a spiritual meaning.  In this particular parable Jesus spoke of a man going on a journey who called in his servants and gives them each some money to look after while he is away.  The money is in amounts known as ‘talents’.  Each talent was around 6000 drachmas which would be about twenty year’s wages for a labourer.  One servant was given five, another three and the last was given one.  The first and second doubled their investments, while the final servant simply hid his, so he still had one at the end of the story.  His master was not pleased with this and the parable ends with these words: “So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.  For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.  But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.  In that place their will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (taken from the ESV Bible).  The ending of this particular parable is a little different to many as, it makes it quite clear that the meaning is spiritual.  After all, the servants wouldn’t be expecting to keep the money they made, it was for their master, and the punishment is greater than we would expect for unwise investment decisions.  The people in this parable represent believers (with one important exception), and the talents are how they have used their abilities during their time in this life.  Interestingly the word used to describe the money – talents, is actually very close to the real meaning in our language.  Its all about our talents, or abilities, although money would also be part of this, as would time, opportunities and other things we possess.  The believer who used their opportunities in this life wisely was rewarded greatly.  The one with less was equally rewarded.  We can take these people to be Christians who make use of the opportunities that the Lord presents them with.  Interestingly the final example, the one with a single talent is probably not a believer as they are cast into hell as represented commonly by the terms in the final verse.  The issue we often have is translating this into our everyday lives.  What on earth does it mean to make use of our talents?!  This is the 21st century and we are all super busy, so is it just to be taken for granted that we are?  I would like to give three real life examples, not because these are exhaustive, but rather to get us thinking about how we can take the lessons from this parable on board for our own lives.

Our own opinions of ourselves are notoriously unreliable.  I would like to present a woman, Marianne Adlard   who lived in 19th century London, United Kingdom with her sister.  She was permanently bedridden but for years had used her time to pray that the evangelist D.L. Moody would come and preach at her church in London.  On hearing from her sister that Moody had come she exclaimed “I know what that means! God has answered my prayers!” 1  I would like to suggest that Marianne represents a five talent believer.  To the outsider she may not be a hero of the faith; she had few abilities and little to interest this world.  But she used what God gave her and He blessed her work with hundreds of people coming to know Jesus at that church.  In fact it was one of the most remarkable works that Moody had ever been involved in.  I would imagine that she will be richly rewarded in Heaven.  Now the three talent believer.  I would like to think this could be the faithful minister or missionary who has served God with their life, and will likewise be rewarded.  But let us not think that God’s heroes are full time Christian workers.  There are two reasons for this, God judges us by our hearts, and we all have equal opportunity to faithfully serve God where He has placed us.  Finally and most interestingly is the one talent person.  This past summer I have been watching and enjoying the Olympics.  There have been some pretty remarkable and talented people in there, but I doubt that many will be believers in the Lord Jesus.  I pray that they will of course come to know Jesus, but if they don’t they will not be in Heaven.  This is the sad reality.  All their amazing abilities will be lost and all they gave the world, their one talent, will have achieved nothing.  You see God does not see things the same way we do.  The gold medal is worth very little in comparison with the prayers of the saint.  I would like to leave this now with one startling message that many miss in this parable.  Notice what happens to the one talent: it is given to the one with five.  I would not be surprised if the formerly bedridden Marianne is in times to come known as one of the fastest, strongest athletes in the Kingdom of our Lord.  She never had those opportunities or physical abilities, but one day her works will be rewarded and it is quite possible that someone else’s talent will be given to her.

Let us take a couple of lessons from this parable.  As believers we are to use everything that the Lord has given us in this life to further his interests.  What we consider important is not important to God.  It is what God considers important that we should be concentrating our efforts on.  Interestingly we should not worry about opportunities to do fun things, or to advance our own interests. As a friend of mine often says ‘there is time enough for that in Heaven’, right now there is work to be done.  And finally let us reach out to everyone who wants to hear the Gospel.  I have been guilty of praying especially for people who I would like to see in Heaven.  But God knows best.  He will give to all the saints who have missed out in this life the blessings and abilities they missed out on.  There will be no boring people in Heaven because God creates interesting people.  Many of those we admire most in this life will simply have their talents given to someone else when they do not enter the Kingdom.  So let us reach out to the least of them recognising that God is creating a wonderful Kingdom people.

1  From John Pollocks excellent biography ‘Moody without Sandey’.

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Finding rest in Jesus

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11 v 28
Jesus invites us to come to Him and discover rest.  In a busy world this is an appealing statement, often enjoyed and then forgotten as we head back to the never-ending rush.  But this is a statement that deserves our meditation, and demands a response.  It starts with an invitation to do something.  Jesus asks us to ‘Come’ to Him.  In order to receive his rest we need to first go to Him.  There is no good in us saying that we didn’t receive the rest, if we first have not gone to him!  There is so much within this statement, so let us only consider two of the most important themes.  First, who are those who ‘labor and are heavy laden’.  It is in one sense everyone who is trying to earn his or her salvation.  People, who have read the Bible, read about sin, about our need of forgiveness, and our need of saving from our ‘default position’ which is eternal separation from God.  It is not a nice thought, it is terrifying to think of this and in order to avoid this situation, we start working hard and trying to become ever more religious.  But Jesus presents a different way, the only way when He said from the cross ‘it is finished’.  He has done all that is needed for our salvation.  We can be certain of going to Heaven and not Hell, and it has nothing to do with effort on our part.  To have such a wonderful assurance, we need only do one thing:  ‘come to’ Him.  It is as simple as praying (which is talking) to Jesus, who is alive today and telling Him that you want His forgiveness.  Tell Him that you want to know Him, invite Him to be Lord of your life, and He will indeed become your Saviour, and your very best friend.  We (humanity as a whole) have turned our back on God.  Its not hard to see that in the world today, after all God is practically non existent in our understanding of the world, our lives, our thoughts and our conversations.  Instead we live in a mixed up world where we look out for ourselves without much care for others (that is one aspect of sin).  It is so easy, and yet so hard for us to ‘come’ to Jesus.  But that is all it takes.  Then we can stop striving.  He has forgiven us and we will experience amazing rest from our efforts towards salvation.  This is a controversial thing to say.  Two thousand years ago when Jesus said that He, and only He is ‘the way, the truth and the life’, it offended people, and he was killed as a result.  It has offended people ever since, but I can honestly say that I have never met anyone who believed this, and took Jesus up on his offer who was disappointed.  It is almost funny how every one of us (me included!) struggles against God and gives so many reasons to avoid Him, and then when we turn to Him it all changes.  We are a bit like a child not wanting to go to bed, but once in there you can’t get us back out again!  Unlike bed though, you can’t get too much of Jesus, who is through and through good for us, and to us.  If you are curious to know more, check out http://www.lookingforgod.com.
There is also another aspect to this verse.  Many who have indeed come to Jesus and find peace from their salvation work are still working hard and striving.  It’s not to earn salvation, but it is for some other reason.  Maybe we feel we need to please other people, or perhaps we think we need to work hard to please God.  People’s opinion of us does not matter, and God already loves us completely.  Our striving is for nothing, and Jesus invites us to rest in Him.  There is no need to work to earn approval, or ‘to get things done’.  It is done.  God has got everything covered.  He certainly invites us to become involved in His work.  Some are called to do more than others do, but none are called to save the world for God (with perhaps, but not for).  Our society worships busyness (but interestingly it rarely leads to productivity!).  If we have made an idol of busyness let us say sorry to Jesus and come to him today.  He will indeed give us rest.  This is actually something that I have struggled with for a long time.  In fact everything on this blog is something that God is working out in my own life.  It is the qualification of any teaching, or sermon, that God will work it in the teachers own life before they are qualified to teach someone else, but that is a side issue.  I have found myself a slave to the ‘to do’ list and I thank God that He has shown me that it became more important than He was in my life, in other words an idol.  It is not easy to overcome such deep-seated habits and thoughts, but it is possible if we entirely submit to God and let Him change us.  Trying to change ourselves is just futile.
On a final note, how do we come to Jesus?  It is as simple as spending time with Him.  It is turning the television off, closing the door and getting alone with the Father.  It won’t come naturally, but my only advice is stay with it.  Keep spending time with God and don’t leave His presence until you have been blessed.

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