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Friday, 25 September 2020

"I shall return"

The words that head this post are those referred to in the previous post. They were spoken by American General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur, to the people of the Philippines in 1942, as he left for Australia to command the Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Theatre in the Second World War.

Some 1900 years earlier, very similar words were spoken by Jesus of Nazareth to His closest disciples. One of those present has recorded the words for us: "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:1-3; emphasis added)

We know that Gen. MacArthur fulfilled his promise to the people of the Philippines. But what about Jesus? It's now heading towards 2,000 years since He made His promise - but it hasn't yet been fulfilled! 

Listen to another of those who were present when the Lord Jesus made that promise: "... do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up." (II Peter 3:8-10).

The event to which Peter refers - "... the day of the Lord ..." is, I would contend, the Second Advent when the Lord Jesus will return to deal with the forces of evil, once and for all. However, there is a prior event to which His words also apply. This is the event referred to by Paul when, in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, he writes: "... this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (I Thess 4:15-18; emphasis added).

This event is referred to as "the Rapture" of the true church. It is that event to which the Lord Jesus referred when He said: "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come." (Mark 13:32-33). There will be no warning. It will happen in an instant. Paul writes to the Corinthian believers: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed." (I Cor 15:51-52; emphases added).

There are, in fact, three "stages" to the Rapture. The first of these is the sound that will be heard. That will be the voice of an archangel with "a cry of command" - the command to those who have already died in the Christ; true believers from all previous generations; to rise to meet with Him, “… in the air …”!  That will be followed by the sound of the shofar (not the man-made metal trumpet, but that which is created by Father God). Vance Havner, an American preacher of an earlier generation, used to say, "I'm not looking for signs; I'm listening for a sound"! – the sound of the voice of the archangel, and of the shofar.

The second stage concerns the ascent that we shall make. Paul writes: "And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds…" At the Rapture, there will be two kinds of believer. There will be those who have already died, in the Lord.

This, it would appear, was the big concern of the Thessalonian believers. “… we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  Sleep is used in the New Testament to describe death. So Lazarus was “asleep”; the centurion’s daughter was “asleep”.

The disciples of Jesus in Thessalonica knew that the Lord would return for His people. But they also knew that some of their number has already died. Had these brothers and sisters in Jesus missed out? Paul confirms that this is not so! Indeed, he states that those who have died in the Lord Jesus will rise first!   That is, they will actually rise before the second group - those who are alive, who are left.  “… then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds …”. The Greek word that is translated “caught up” is much stronger than that. It means to “snatch up”, “to seize”, “to pull forcibly”.  This, of course, is in line with Paul’s inspired words to the Corinthian believers: "... we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,". 

I learned, recently, of a period of time known as a “nanosecond”! I use the expression “period of time” because I cannot think of anything more suitable. But a nano-second is one one-billionth of a second! That is, quite honestly, beyond my comprehension. I believe that if Paul had been privy to such information, he might well have written “… we shall all be changed in a nano-second.”! 

But Paul mentions another aspect of the Rapture that we must consider. He writes “… the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality." The resurrection body is not going to be a body of flesh and blood as are the bodies that we now inhabit, for "... flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." (I Cor 15:50). At the Rapture, we shall receive our new, and perfect, bodies, designed for eternity in the close presence of Almighty God!

The change will be a metamorphosis – just like a caterpillar that, taking much longer, changes into a beautiful butterfly. I don’t know about you, but that makes me really excited – and eager for that Rapture to take place!

The third "stage" in the Rapture is the union we shall enjoy. That union is, of course, with the Saviour, the Lord Jesus. Paul continues in that passage to the Thessalonians with the words: “and so we shall always be with the Lord.” This stage is connected to the procedures in a Jewish wedding – which is somewhat different to a wedding in either France or Scotland! However, to go through it in detail would make an already longer-than-usual post much longer still! Perhaps I shall share that in a separate post. Suffice it, for now, to say that the Bridegroom will have come for His Bride and that, while she does not know the precise moment, she may have an indication of it.

The written Word of God provides us with so many signs of the coming of the Bridegroom, - our Lord Jesus. Arguably the greatest of these is Israel, the nation, being reformed on May 14th, 1948 – the date on which, many are convinced, the prophetic clock started to tick!

As we look at the ‘signs of the times’, (yet another potential post!) there can surely be no doubt in any Bible-believing person’s mind, that we are in the very last days – that the Rapture is, to use an English-language idiom, “Just around the corner”!

This is the Rapture.

I want to leave you with just three questions;

1 Have you been washed – in the blood of the Lord Jesus?

2 Are you watching – for His ‘coming in the clouds’?

3 Are you waiting - ?

When that great shout is heard; when the sound of the shofar echoes throughout the world; may you and I be among those who are snatched up, in a nanosecond, to be forever with the Lord.

Note. I deal a little more fully with the Rapture in my first book, "Great Words of the Faith" - links at the top of the blog. ALL royalties sent directly to Release International. 

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Keeping your word!

USA General Douglas MacArthur had a long, and distinguished military career. However, he is, arguably, best remembered for a speech that he gave as he left the Philippines, in 1942, and told the people of the Philippines: "I shall return". He had retired from the Army in 1937, but was recalled to active service in July 1941, and conducted a valiant delaying action against the Japanese Forces, in the Philippines, after the USA was drawn into WW2 by the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. He was ordered to Australia in March 1942, and commanded the Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Theatre.

MacArthur was a man of his word and, two-and-a-half years after his departure from the Philippines, he returned and announced: "This is General MacArthur. I have returned!" In spite of overwhelming odds, the old soldier - he was, by then, 62 years of age - had kept his promise.

That kind of integrity is not easy to find in our own age. Nowadays - and, perhaps, especially over the past months and the Covid-19 situation - we question the promises of politicians; business can no longer be conducted on a handshake; parents have good reason to sometimes doubt their own children; and even those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus don't always do what we say we will do!

Solomon says "It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay."(Eccles. 5:5); while Paul advises the Colossian disciples of Jesus: "... whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." (Col 3:17). In the Book of Psalms, the shepherd-king of Israel, David, asks the question: "YHWH, who may go and find refuge and shelter in Your tabernacle up on Your holy hill?" (Ps 15:1; TLB). He then supplies the answer: "Anyone who leads a blameless life and is truly sincere ... [and] keeps a promise even if it ruins him," (vs 2-4).

So how does this apply to you, and to me? Do you keep your word, even if it costs you? Do I? For example, when we promise to pray for someone, do we actually do so - and for more than a couple of days? When we tell others that they can depend on us - can they? When we agree to deal with financial obligations on time - do we? Not one of us is perfect, but when we fail, do we admit our mistakes without making all sorts of excuses?

If we are truly disciples of Jesus, then we most certainly should - and if we aren't living like that, then we need to confess; seek the forgiveness that He gained for us at Calvary; accept it, and allow God the Holy Spirit to work freely in our lives.

May each of us do so - for our own good, and for the glory of the Father.

Advance Notice!! This post leads on to the next one - so watch this space, later in the week!

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Leaving Facebook

The following is the post that I published on Facebook when my 30-day ban ended. It is published here so that I have a permanent record of it!! 

Well, it looks as if I am back, and able to make use of all of the Facebook facilities!

May I, first of all, say a big "THANK YOU" to all of those who congratulated my wife and I on our Golden Wedding Anniversary. All of the good wishes were very much appreciated. I did publish a special post on my blog ( đŸ˜‡) which some might wish to read! You will also find, on the blog, a post explaining why I was, again, banned!

Secondly, I apologise to all who have posted about anniversaries, births, other special occasions, with no reaction/response from me. It was not personal!! 

The third thing that I wish to say is that I am now leaving Facebook. I suspect that, once a person has been banned, that person is "targetted" and, with a 30-day ban each time, I can't be bothered with the hassle. I am also unhappy with the "new" Facebook, and the fact that I am not permitted to continue with the "Classic" version. So, this seems to be a good time to part company.

However !!! It appears that I may do this in two stages - deactivation, and then deletion. My plan, therefore, is to "deactivate" until September 29th. This will allow me to continue to use the Messenger facility. Then, on Sept 30th, DV, I shall delete the account altogether.

Anyone who wishes to keep in touch may do so in either of two ways. You may use messenger, over the next two weeks, to provide me with an e-mail address. I shall respond to that and so provide you with my own e-mail address. Alternatively, at any time, you may access my blog and use the e-mail address proved there. It is not my primary e-mail address, so you may not receive an immediate response - but I do check it out every so often!

Once I have your own e-mail address, I shall also add you to the list of folk who receive our annual newsletter. If, having received your first one, you decide that you have no desire to receive further newsletters, just send me an e-mail with "Please cancel" in the subject line.

Okay! For two weeks, I shall endeavour to not upset the Facebook police. (No promises, of course!). 

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Strengthening others.

For my personal devotions, I am still working through the account of the Gospel provided for us by Dr Luke. I am nearing the end and, on Friday morning, I read these words of the Lord Jesus to Simon Peter: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren." (Luke 22:31-32).

If you read the rest of the chapter, and the remainder of the Gospel record, you will discover that, in spite of Peter's immediate bravado, he did indeed deny his Master - but, as we read on into the book of the Acts of the Apostles (also written by Dr Luke) we discover that he has become the de facto leader of the apostolic band.

It is a simple fact of life, and experience, that it is those who have gone through an experience who are best fitted to help other who are going through it after them. This is certainly true in the life of disciples of Jesus. We fail the Lord - but, like Peter, we may be reconciled, and be used to help and strengthen others who face similar situations.

My mind wandered to a man named Barnabas. His name means "Son of encouragement" so, whatever else we know about him, we know that was a man who encouraged others. That would appear to have been his primary gift - and what an important gifting it is. I remember a lady in a fellowship in which I was a member. She was a widowed woman who lived alone near to the top of a block of high-rise flats in Motherwell. Her big complaint was, she informed me, that she had no spiritual gifts. Yet there was no-one in the fellowship who was more welcoming than she was. That was certainly one gift that she had, and that she regularly displayed. Perhaps she had been ignored in a previous congregation (sadly, that can happen!), and she wanted to ensure, to the best of her ability, that no-one in this fellowship experienced the same rejection.

When I was in full-time pastoral ministry I had, on a number of occasions, the sad responsibility of conducting the funeral service for a young child, or even an infant. One thing I was never able to say to the parents was that I understood what they were going through - my children were safely in the manse, growing healthily. Some years later, after I had been called out of full-time pastoral ministry, my wife and I were foster-parents for about ten years. One of our foster-children was only about six days old when we received her. She had been born to a young teen who decided, thankfully, that rather than have her unborn child murdered in her womb, she would give birth, and have the child adopted. 

We had that child for a full year. We experienced so many of those special "firsts". She spoke her first word ("da-da" - to me!). She took her first step. She cut her first tooth. Then she disappeared from our lives! Now, in my head, I knew that the couple who had adopted her would give her a good life - indeed, my only concern was that they might spoil her too much! - but, in my heart, she might as well have died. Both my wife and I were heart-broken. How I wished that I had gone through that experience many years earlier!

Are you going through a difficult time, just now? Do you sometimes wonder how you will ever get over your current set of circumstances? Is your complaint that you have no special 'gifting'? Then take heart! If you are truly open to the working of God the Holy Spirit in your life, then a day will come when you will be turned around and, like Peter, be able to help those who are going through the same kind of experience that is currently yours. Of course, it is essential that you are open to the working of God the Holy Spirit in your life!

May you know His power in your life - both for your own good, and that you may strengthen the faith of others; and, of course, that you may bring glory to the Lord. Be blessed, in Him.

Friday, 4 September 2020

50 years - and counting!

Our wedding day.
It was today, fifty years ago (and it was a Friday then, as well!) that my (then) fiancée and I stood at the front of St George's-Tron Parish Church, in the centre of Glasgow, before our minister, the late Rev George B Duncan, and heard him pronounce us "husband and wife"! I was then allowed to "kiss the bride"!

That was the beginning of a fifty-year adventure that has seen us go through "richer and poorer", "better and worse", "sickness and health"! It has seen us produce our two much-loved daughters. It has seen us move house more often than anyone has hot breakfasts in a week. It has seen our love for one another deepen. I have been blessed with a great wife, for whom I give Father God thanks on a daily basis. We have few regrets.

Sadly, it would appear that we are a "dying breed" - a couple who have stuck with one another, no matter what. I hear of so many couples of my acquaintance who are separated, divorced and, in many cases, remarried - sometimes more than once. And that doesn't include those who have never been married, in a legal sense, in the first place! Of course, when there are such marital breakdowns, those who suffer most are any children of the union. 

The point is that I am convinced that those couples who are no longer together felt, on their wedding day, exactly as my wife and I did. So what went wrong? Well, I would suggest two reasons - but do so in a positive fashion! 

Fifty years on!
First of all, too many couples rush into marriage (or even co-habitation) much too quickly. They have never heard, or forgotten, or chosen to ignore, the old adage: "Marry in haste, repent at leisure!" They haven't become well-acquainted (and being 'good in bed together' doesn't actually count!). They haven't taken time to discover if they are in agreement in the important areas of life - such as what they believe in spiritual terms; how they will raise any children that result from their union; how they will manage the family finances. If areas such as these are nor dealt with before a marriage, they have the potential to destroy that marriage when they are, eventually, considered.

My second thought concerns that unity of belief in spiritual terms. My wife and I were disciples of Jesus before we ever met. We have sought, however poorly at times, to serve Him in what we do. We raised our children in a Christian environment. 

There is something special about a relationship like that. When, in a ministerial capacity, I counselled couples who came to me to be married, I shared with them the concept of "the eternal triangle"! No, not the one the involves a man, his wife, and another woman; or a woman, her husband, and another man. The "eternal triangle" to which I referred is a husband, his wife, and Almighty God. There are two important truths about that particular relationship. 

If one imagines a triangle standing upright on its base, then the two points at the base angles are connected, and each is connected to the apex. Now, if we imagine that the two base points are the husband and the wife, and the apex is Father God, we discover that a crack in the base does not cause the triangle to collapse and given the right conditions, it may be repaired. However, a crack in either of the sides - i.e. between either partner and God - will cause the whole structure to collapse. The teaching, there, is that it is our relationship with the Lord that is the most important aspect of our marital relationship.

The other truth is that if we imagine those base points (the husband and the wife) each moving closer to God, then we will see that they are, simultaneously, moving closer to one another. Again, the important factor is our individual relationship with the Father, that is only possible through a living relationship with the Son, as we seek to live our live under the guidance, and by the power, of the Spirit.

Have my wife and I had a perfect marriage, with never a disagreement? Of course not. We are two human beings! However, after fifty years, we can testify to the keeping power of Almighty God. May more who have entered this relationship - which Paul (and I!) often uses as an illustration of the relationship between the believer and the Lord - find that some of the above helps to safeguard their own marriages, It will be for their good, and to the glory of God.