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Thursday, 17 August 2017

Revelation - is it really about the future?

Yesterday, I completed my journey through the Book of Psalms during my private devotions. The question, then, is always "To which Book/theme do I now turn?" In the light of the previous post,I found myself, this morning, in the Book of the Revelation! This post is just sharing some thoughts on the first few verses - but I may well return to the Book (at least until Sept 23rd!).

The opening words of the Book are of great importance - but are often quickly skimmed over! They read: "The revelation of Jesus Christ, ..." Did you notice that?  Beside these words, in the margin of the specific copy of the Word of God that I use for my personal devotions, I have noted: "The prime purpose of the Book - a Person, not a prophecy!" Of course, as is not unusual in the words of the Bible, there is another meaning that does not contradict the first, and that is that the revelation being given proceeds from the Lord Jesus - having been given to Him by the Father. However, it is important that, in reading this amazing, and often confusing, Book, that we keep our eyes fixed on Him.

We may also note that, although the Revelation is sent to seven specific Christian fellowships (v.4), it is also meant for any reader: "Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near." (v.3). Those last five words have caused some to doubt the whole Book! If, as is as certain as is possible, John received this revelation towards the end of the first century AD, how could the time be "near"? We are now living at a time more than 1900 years later! Did John get it all wrong?!

The answer, not unexpectedly, is "No! He did not get it wrong." What the sceptic overlooks is the fact that God sees everything from an eternal perspective and, in the light of the very timelessness of eternity, a couple of thousand earth years are as nothing. Peter reminds us to "... not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." (II Peter 3:8). This, I would suggest, is not to be taken absolutely literally, but as making the point that our sense of time is not always how Almighty God views it!

Peter's subsequent words are also often forgotten: "The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." (II Pet.3:9). These end times have not yet been fulfilled because Almighty God, in His love, and grace, and mercy, is giving people time to enter into the saving relationship with Him, through the Lord Jesus, the Christ, that is the only assurance of eternal life - rather than eternal damnation.

Finally, for now (!), we must remember that this revelation was given to a church that was undergoing great persecution - the reason why John had been exiled to Patmos. Thus it came as a great source of encouragement to its readers as they (and we) were (and are) assured that, in spite of appearances, God is still on the throne; that Jesus will return as King of kings and Lord of lords. On a day when I have read of the atrocity in Barcelona; at a time when such atrocities have become almost common-place; at a time when there are concerns about an imminent WW III; at a time when disciples of Jesus continue to be persecuted - often in ways that those of us who live in the relative safety of "the west" can barely comprehend - such assurance is just as relevant and encouraging as it was to those who first read the Revelation.

I trust that you are ready for His appearing. If not, then I urge you to do something about it. "Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (II Cor.6:2).

Monday, 14 August 2017

September 23rd!

It started with a a link that I was sent, that took me to a YouTube video clip, that turned out to be one of many on the same theme! That theme was September 23rd and the claim that some momentous event is scheduled to take place on that date!

If you haven't viewed any of these video-clips, please permit me to save you the bother! According to those I have watched, on September 23rd, there will be the fulfilment of some of the prophetic words from the Book of the Revelation of Jesus:
"And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery." (12:1-2).

We are informed that, on that day, two constellations - Leo and Virgo - will be close to one another, with Leo being above the 'head' of Virgo. This is then interpreted as Virgo being the woman of the prophecy, and Leo being the crown of twelve stars. It is claimed - and I have no reason to disbelieve these claims - that on September 23rd, the sun will be at the head of Virgo, and the moon at the feet of the constellation. This will all be visible because there will be three hours of darkness, just as there was at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. That I find more difficult to accept!

The constellation Leo, with its nine stars, will form the crown on the head of Virgo. The three "missing" stars will be provided by Mercury, Venus, and Mars being in a conjunction with the constellation.

There will also be a star in the heavens that has only been seen twice before - at the time of Abraham, and at the incarnation of God the Son. This is the "Bethlehem Star", and it has allegedly been around for two years (well, since September 23rd, 2015!).

To be fair, none of the contributors to whom I listened specified exactly what would happen on September 23rd, 2017 - but they are all convinced that there will be a major, and cataclysmic, event.

Okay, let's look a little more closely at some of these claims. First of all, we are actually dabbling in the area of astrology, here. There is one fundamental problem with astrology - it is based, totally, on false premises! It is based on the ancient idea that the sky was a crystal semi-sphere upturned and sitting on a "flat" earth. All of the heavenly bodies moved on that sphere, and all were exactly the same distance from earth. Now, let me add that this is a totally unBiblical picture - but that is another story!

We know that this is not so. We know that, apart from our own Sun, the stars are all light-years away (a "light-year" for anyone who does not know, is the distance that light travels in an earth-year. As light travels at approximately 186,000 miles every second, that makes a light-year to be 186,000 x 60 x 60 24 x 365.25 - an amazing 5,869,712,600,000 miles! Actually, as the speed is a little above 186,000 mps, the light year is approximately 6,000 trillion earth miles!). The closest star to our solar system is a faint red dwarf star, Proxima Centauri. It is a "mere" 4.24 light-years away - that's well over 25,000 trillion miles!

When we look at what are called "constellations", we are the victims of a perspective-based optical illusion. Imagine yourself at one side of a very large field. You look at the other side, and you see a horse grazing beside a tree. However, when you walk over to the horse, you realise that it is actually much closer to you than the tree. So it is with the "constellations". The individual stars in any "constellation" are many light years away from one another, and all are many light years away from the Solar System.

That leads us to the next relevant point. Mercury, Venus, and Mars are not stars! They are planets that orbit our Sun. None of them ever "pass through" any constellation. They only appear to do so from our earth-bound perspective! So, if Leo is to have twelve "stars", then these three planets are non-starters! Nor, of course, do either the Sun or the Moon appear at the head, feet, or any other bodily part, of Virgo! We are also informed that Jupiter will be between the "feet" of Virgo, and that it will represent the child to whom she "gives birth".  Of course, Jupiter will not be within thousands of trillions of miles of any star in the "constellation" Virgo!

There is much more, but I hope that the above is sufficient to make clear that I do not accept these "prophecies" with regard to September 23rd. Of course, it may be that, on September 24th, I shall be obliged to "eat humble pie" - that is if I am still around to do so! Let me add a little more. I believe that, if there is indeed some significant event that is going to happen on September 23rd, that any "portent" in the sky will not be a simple alignment of current celestial bodies and/or "constellations" (that do not, in reality, exist). Whatever that sign is to be, I believe that it will be something totally new. However, I also believe that we will not receive any forewarning of it. It will come as a total surprise. Like the Rapture of the true disciples of Jesus, it will happen "... in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye ..." (I Cor.15:52);  like the Second Advent, when the Lord Jesus returns as King of kings, and Lord of lords, it will come "... like a thief in the night ..." (I Thess.5:2). 

A long time ago, I read some sound advice that I pass on to you: "Live as if He is returning today; work as is He will not return for a hundred years."! If we do that, we will not be sidetracked by attempts to "second-guess" the Omnipotent Creator and Sustainer of all that exists. We will also be ready to meet with Him, whether when He takes us to Himself in the air, or calls us home through that portal that we call physical death.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Prayer works!

On one of my study wall, above a large map of the world, is a wooden plaque that I have had for so long I am unable to recall its origin! It has just three words burned on to it: "Prayer changes things"!

The news of the past few days would certainly give credence to that claim. As some are aware, I have a long-standing interest in the persecuted church, and pray on a daily basis for my brothers and sisters in Jesus who suffer for their faith in ways that I am unable to fully comprehend. One of two specific individuals for whom I have been praying, is 39-year-old Maryam Naghash Zargaran who, in spite of various physical health issues, has spent the last four years in prison in Iran. There were occasions when she was permitted to be taken to hospital - albeit, chained to her bed - but she was then brought back to prison even although doctors insisted that she was not fit for continued incarceration. I, along with many others, was thrilled to learn that Maryam was released from prison on August 1st. 

The second person is a South Korean pastor in his sixties, Hyeon Soo Lim, who holds Canadian citizenship. Although he had visited North Korea on more than one hundred occasions, to do humanitarian work, in 2015 he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to hard labour for life. As anyone with any knowledge of North Korea will be aware, hard labour in the hermit country is no "open prison" life - even for a much younger man. My prayer, for some time, has been that this dear brother would be released, and permitted to return to his family in Canada - in spite of the life sentence. That, I was fully aware, was asking for a miracle. You may imagine my delight to learn that, on August 9th, Pastor Lim had been released and was on his way back to Canada.

Two wonderful "answers to prayer". However, what about others who remain in prison - someone like Asia in Pakistan, arrested and incarcerated in 2009 for the heinous crime of having offered a co-worker in a field a cup of water. The problem was that Asia is a disciple of Jesus; her co-workers were all Muslims. They claimed that her act was insulting to Islam, and she was tried, and found guilty, of "blasphemy"! She continues to await a date - that would be kept - for her final appeal to the Pakistan Supreme Court. I pray for Asia on a daily basis - why has that prayer not been "answered"?

The difficulty, it seems to me, is that so many only consider a prayer to have been "answered" if they get what they want! This, of course, is just silly. When my daughters were young - and even now, as adults in their own right - they did not always have their request fulfilled. However, they always received an answer! Sometimes that answer was, indeed, positive, and the request was granted. However, there were times when they were told that they would have to wait until they were older; and times when they were told, quite plainly, "No!". Always, however, as a loving father, I answered their requests.

Prayer, I would contend, is (as far as requests are concerned - of course, true prayer is NOT a "shopping-list" to be presented to Almighty God!) like that. Sometimes, in His infinite wisdom, God denies me that for which I have asked. His answer is "No!". That means that, whatever I in my human frailty and ignorance, may think, this is not good for me. On other occasions, the answer is "Wait!". I am asking for the correct thing - but my timing is wrong. Praise God for those times when I am walking closely enough to Him that I am in tune with His will, and His timing, and the answer is "Yes!". However, there is no such thing as "unanswered" prayer!

I recall the story - which I believe to be true - of an Episcopal Bishop in, if memory serves me well, Dublin, in the 18th century. A sceptic challenged him about prayer. "What you consider an answer to prayer is just coincidence", he claimed. The bishop was a much wiser man than I am. Instead of entering into a debate on the subject (as I would undoubtedly have done!), he merely responded: "You may be right. All that I know is that when I pray, the coincidences happen; and when I don't, neither to they. So I'll just keep on praying, and thanking God for His coincidences"!

If you are a praying person, who believes in the power of prayer, then be encouraged that no prayer reaches the Heavenly Father that is not answered in accordance with His perfect will, knowledge, and purpose. Do pray for those in the persecuted church. When some of them are interviewed by "westerners" that is their constant request - not that their suffering should cease (they may not have a Bible, or even be fully literate, but they will know the words of James: "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." [1:2-3]) but that we should remember them in prayer. 

Remember, too, those other words of James that: "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." (5:16). You and I have no righteousness of our own - but if we are truly "in Christ Jesus", then we are clothed with His righteousness - and that assures that we are accepted by the Father, and our prayers will rise to Him as incense.

Let us pray!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Everlasting life!

There is a Greek story of a goddess who fell in love with a mortal. The problem, of course, was that they both knew that he would eventually die, while she enjoyed immortality. The goddess went to Zeus, the chief god, and asked if she might be granted a request. Zeus agreed - but told her that she could have only one request granted, and was never to come back for another. Happily, the goddess agreed - and asked that the object of her love be granted everlasting life. Zeus granted her request, and the couple were married.

At first, all was well. However, as the years passed, they realised that they had made a major mistake. The husband lived on - but he kept getting older. His body deteriorated; his mind became fuzzy; while his wife lived on in her eternal youth. The point of the story, one may assume, is that everlasting life - in itself - is not something to be desired.

That story came to mind when I read a newspaper headline, earlier today: "Scientists find way to STOP ageing in development which could lead to everlasting life." Now, to be fair, they do claim to have found a way by which the actual process of aging may be stopped. It's all to do with telomeres - fragments of DNA which cap both ends of each chromosome and protect against the wear and tear of natural ageing. However, even the thought of "being around", in this human life, for thousands of years, is surely off-putting! And, of course, there is the practical consideration of population growth!

It may be more than coincidence that I came across that headline, and article, so soon after my previous post on the Final Frontier! Perhaps the Lord is speaking to someone specifically through this blog! Are you concerned about death? It isn't unusual! However, for those who have come, in repentance and faith, to Jesus the Christ and received the new life that He offers, there is no need to fear. He offers us, here and now, "life in all its fulness" (Jn.10:10) and, when our mortal life has ended, a continuing life in His nearer presence. It's not "everlasting" life, but "eternal life" - the Life of God Himself. and it is something that we enter as soon as we accept the gift of salvation that Jesus gained for us on the cross at Calvary.

Have you accepted that gift? If not, why not?! Perhaps you think that you are not good enough! Well, I'll not argue with you on that score! You see, neither am I! Paul wrote to the Roman believers (!) that "all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one;' " (3:9-10) and, again, that "... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (3:23).

That's why he made clear, in his letter to the Ephesians, that it is "... by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God -" (2:8). This year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation,and one of the great principles of the Reformers was "Sola gratis" - "Grace alone". Taste of that grace for yourself - you will never regret it, and you will know life that is truly rewarding (although not necessarily easy!), and that will be yours for all of eternity!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Final Frontier!

I suppose that I was, in its early days, a bit of a "Trekkie" - a fan of the TV series Star Trek. Some will recall the opening words: "Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5 year mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life, and new civilisations: to boldly go, where no man has gone before."

"Space. The final frontier"! Yet, is it? Many years ago, I regularly purchased copies of the Readers' Digest Condensed Books. They looked good on my bookshelves, but I never got around to reading them - until now. Over recent months I have read about a dozen - with three/four (condensed!) books in each volume. Today, I completed a true story, written by a medical doctor. The story is entitled "A Parting Gift" and recounts the short life of a boy named David who died, at eight years of age, from leukemia. Having had, myself, a cousin (who was, in effect, the sister I never had) who died from that same cancer of the blood cells, I was especially interested.

However, it was what Dr Sharkey learned, herself, that touched me most. The prologue reads: "During ... five years Dr Sharkey battled with every weapon at her command to save his life and, through helping David and his family cope with tragic illness, she finally confronted her own deep fears about death."

So, is space the "final frontier"? In one sense, it may well be. But, of course, few - if any- of us will have the opportunity to explore it. Death, on the other hand, comes to each one of us - at least until the Rapture (you may read more about that in my first book: Great Words of the Faith - details at the top of the blog!). So, might it be more relevant - and of greater importance, to consider death to be the true "final frontier"?

Of course, it is a subject about which people, in general, tend to avoid talking. When we do, we use euphemisms: "So-and-so has 'passed away'"; " I 'lost' my grandfather (etc)"; "Did you hear that Jimmy has 'kicked the bucket'?" So why should this be? It certainly was not the case in an earlier generation. Dr Sharkey writes: "I've stood before century-old (this was in the early 1980s) paintings showing deathbed scenes and thought how different those scenes were from what usually happens now when someone dies. In those days, no one kept family and friends away or asked them to step outside as the moment of death approached. In the old pictures, instead of the anonymity of a hospital room, there are always people grouped around the dying person. Death was important and something one's whole life moved toward, something one prepared for. People thought and talked about it openly. It was accepted; it was not a sign of anyone's failure."

I suspect that the problem for most of us, concerning death, is the "unknown" factor - and there is always an element of fear in the unknown! Yet for the disciple of Jesus, the Christ, there is no such fear. He is the only One Who has suffered death - even death on a cross - and risen from the grave (okay, the tomb, before some purist takes me up on my terminology!), never to die again (Rev.1:18). However, in John chapters 13-17, which is sometimes called the "Upper Room Discourse", Jesus gives comfort to His disciples by telling them two things. First, He told them that His death was to be the means by which they would dwell with Him forever. Second, He told them that during the time of His physical absence He would be even more present with them through the sending of His Holy Spirit, to dwell not only among them, but within them (see John 14:16-31; 16:7-15).

Paul wrote: "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.(Phil.1:21-23; emphasis added).

On my Study bookshelves is a slim booklet by the late Rev. Tom Swanston, entitled "Death with a Steady Eye". At the end of the booklet, he writes: "The illustration on the front cover of this booklet suggests men facing a firing squad. Three are blindfolded, perhaps by choice. The other faces death with a steady eye. He out of the four is not afraid. Who is this man? ... he is the man in Christ; the man who has hope for his future (Jer.31:17). ... ... because he has learned what so many fail to learn, that Jesus teaches us to die well because He teaches us to die safely. His own death was a safe death, since He died without sin of His own. That death becomes our safe death exactly because the sin with which He died was ours. ... For those who apprehend this and make it their own there is nothing to fear."

We will either face our own death with fear or with faith. It all depends on our response to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus told His disciples that He is the way, not just a way to heaven. Our response to the death of the Lord Jesus, the Christ determines our response to death, especially our own. Those words of the Lord Jesus, recorded by John, are the solution to the fear of death. I pray that you will trust in Him, in His death for your sin and in His resurrection that ensures eternal life for His own. Death will no longer be your enemy, because the death of the Saviour overcame death and its terror, to all who believe in Him.