A Zealous God

Lord, your hand is lifted high, but they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame; let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them. (Isaiah 26:11 NIV)

We often read about, and think about our God as omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient; we think about His love, His mercy and grace, and His provision, but how often do we consider that our Father God is zealous?

The Bible tells us that we are to be zealous for the Lord, (Romans 12:11; Proverbs 23:17), but what does it tell us about His zeal? Well my friends there is much. We should recognize that zeal, or zealousness, can be defined by a number of other terms. According to Webster zeal is defined as: “energetic and unflagging enthusiasm, especially for a cause or an idea.” Expounding on the idea of zeal we can include the terms passionate, fervor, and jealousy. A thesaurus provides several other synonyms and when we use those terms we are led to the many Biblical promises of God's zealous love and provision for His people. The cause of God's zeal is His people.

When God made His promise through Isaiah of the Messiah to come, the prophet concludes the oracle with, "The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:7b emphasis added) The phrase was repeated to Hezekiah as the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, and his army are sent packing, and God promises the people of Jerusalem that they will recover from the Assyrian invasion. (Isaiah 37:32; see also 2 Kings 19:31)

One of the most profound utterances our Father God has left with us is found (again) in Isaiah. "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:10-11)

This passage follows the familiar verses of Isaiah 55:8-9, where God asserts His majesty and sovereignty. He declares that He is unchanging, His word is dependable; "We can take it to the bank!"

John Piper labeled this zeal of our God "The Exuberant Omnipotence of God" He writes, "What we need is a big picture of a great God who is utterly committed to joyfully demonstrating his greatness in doing us good. That is, we need to see the majesty of God and know the splendor of God overflowing toward us with exuberant omnipotence. It is not enough to believe that God is big and strong and fearsome – which he is. We must experience this magnificence as the explosion of God's uncontainable zeal to satisfy his creatures by showing them himself." (Taste and See, John Piper, 1999)

I would have to ask, "Why would God have provided all the beauty and majesty we are privileged to be surrounded by were He not zealously in love with His creatures?" Why would He tell us that He has "knit us in the womb" and that He has "ordained our days before one of them came to be"? (Psalm 139:13,16) Why would He have exhorted us some one hundred times throughout His Word, 'do not be afraid' – 'fear not', if He was not zealous in His love and devotion to us.

Our God has also declared that He is a "Jealous God", (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; Josh. 24:19) From a human point of view we understand jealousy to be a prideful characteristic, brought about by distrust and covetousness.  But speaking for myself, your author revels at the thought of God being jealous for me.  The upside of that thought is that only a caring, loving, zealous God would bother to be jealous for me. The downside of that thought is that I must have transgressed such that I have caused that jealousy; a path I surely want to avoid. But just to know that He cares enough to be jealous – Wow!

A final thought –  Christ promised His apostles that He was leaving them to " go to His Father's house to prepare a place a  place for them" (John 14:2). The NKJV renders this house as 'mansions'. Two things to consider here – first imagine the mansions of our LORD God – how magnificent they must be. I believe John's attempt in Revelations to describe his vision of a heaven with streets of gold and gates of pearl was woefully inadequate. But the second consideration must be that this same God who is 'zealous' for His people has had these many thousand years to prepare our homes in heaven. Look around you – look at all the beauty and magnificence He created in just six days. What mansion has He created for us in the interim???

"What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Cor. 2:9 NIV)

"For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His." (2 Chron. 16:9a NASB)

Who of us could or would sacrifice our child that we might be reconciled to another – A zealous God did – a God zealous for reconciliation with you and me – That's the height and the depth of His love.

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long, and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:17)

All the fullness of God – Imagine that!!

Be blessed . . .

Rapture

Almost everyone has heard at some time or another something pertaining to or about the Rapture. Some believe it, others do not. Some understand it, and surely others do not.  Whether you choose to believe or not, that’s entirely up to you. With that said, lets try to shed some light on the subject.

Some fifteen years ago Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins authored a wonderful fictional account of the rapture, followed by their interpretation of the seven year tribulation and Christ’s second coming. I believe the twelve book series, though sophomoric, is a great read, and faithful to the scriptures.

The word rapture comes from the root word for “caught up”. The root word for “caught up” in the Greek language is harpazo, which means “to snatch away” or to take away suddenly. In the Latin Vulgate Bible, the words “caught up” are translated as rapturo. Christians have since chosen to describe this soon-coming event of the Lord suddenly snatching away His true followers from the earth as the rapture. The rapture according to the bible in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says… Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord”.

This is when Christ Himself will descend from heaven with the shout (also known as a trumpet blast) of the Arch Angel, to take all those who believe in Him. (Also known as the church or the body of Christ). Those believers who have died are raised from the grave first. Those who are alive, are then caught up to meet Christ in the air. 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 Behold I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trump shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality“. (See the NLT translation)

What this verse means is that we will not all die or taste death. Some of us will be changed as we yet are alive. In the twinkling of an eye… approximately 1/100 of a second! Our bodies must be changed into glorified bodies and therefore incorruptible. We will be given perfect bodies; no blemishes, no scars, no imperfections, no overweight and sorry, no tattooed or pierced bodies, We will be clothed in fine white linen and be made ready for The Bridegroom.

This is not the time of Christ’s second coming on a white horse with an army of angels that we find in Revelation chapter 19 and forward. That second coming is seven years after the event of 1 Thes. 4:17. The rapture will occur with no warning – no stars falling, no red moon (Rev. 6:12). In what is called the “Olivet Discourse” in Matthew 24, our Lord Jesus informed His disciples of what was to come, regarding His return.

He warned them of wars, of natural disasters, of false prophets and teachers, and that the nations would be at each other’s throats. He warned them of persecution, hatred and betrayal. Now we might say “now is such a time!” But we find that the spiritual writers and speakers of every generation as far back as we have documentation, each felt their generation was surely facing the days of the rapture. As sinful and godless as we may perceive this time, so too did our predecessors in the faith. And yet the Rapture has not come. . .why?

I think Peter addressed that in his second epistle; “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, BUT EVERYONE TO COME TO REPENTANCE.” (2 Peter 3:8-9 emphasis added) In this case God is the Master Procrastinator. . .waiting – desiring that more and more of His creation would come to Him before the hammer falls.

I think there are a couple of most important issues we must tattoo onto our mind and heart. First and foremost – it (the Rapture) could happen now – RIGHT NOW! The Bible tells us there will be no warning of when Christ will come to “gather His elect” (Matt. 24:30-31) Jesus originated the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared”. What about your life would you change if you knew He was coming tonight????

And secondly, there is what you must do to be prepared. . .

It is assumed that as a Christian you have surrendered yourself to God, confessed you sin before man, and repented of all wickedness. That being a given, we further assume you are abiding by the commandment Christ Jesus delivered to the Pharisees as told in Matthew 22:37-39, and that you are counted among the sheep as depicted in Matthew 25:34-40.

We never get it perfect my friends – hard as we may try. But God knows those who love Him and are sorrowful of their failures to meet His standards. It is only as we are sure of His mercy and forgiveness that we can boldly come to His throne and eagerly anticipate the Rapture.

As for your author. . .I say “BRING IT ON!”


Going Home

“For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thes. 4:16-17 NLT)

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matt. 24:30-31 NIV)

“For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27 NIV)

There’s a wonderful old hymn, “When we all get to Heaven”, an upbeat, joyful song of hope and victory, and that drives my spirit to another hymn titled “It is well with my soul”. I don’t specifically recall ever singing the two back to back but certainly when we get to Heaven – it will be well with my soul. Victory and quiet satisfaction – all in Jesus.

An old, and true, axiom says that two things in life are sure – death and taxes. But we know an even surer truth, and that is that Jesus will return. We have looked for Him on the plus side of two thousand years now – just as He said we should.

False prophets and seers have duped countless souls into an advocacy of a date, even the hour of His coming. If you find yourself drawn to that deadly flame you must run away, for all such predictions are lies, be they purposeful or accidental – they are products of Satan. Christ Himself did not – and perhaps still does not – know the hour of His return. Not the angels in heaven, only the Father knows. (Matthew 24:36, 40 & 42). Jesus told the apostles that His return will come like a thief in the night – best you keep those lamplights burning. (Matt. 25:1-13; Luke 12:35-37; 1 Thes. 5:2)

I think there is a lot of misunderstanding and even ignorance of what the Bible teaches us about Christ’s return. Much of the imagery from Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation is difficult to piece together into a complete picture. What of that is metaphorical or analogical; which is is to be real??

What is much easier to grasp, at least for me, is the definitive statements of Matthew 24, 1 Thessalonians 4, and 1 Corinthians 15.

HE IS COMING TO TAKE HIS ELECT HOME AND NO ONE KNOWS WHEN!!

So what should we expect? Next week I hope to unpack the rapture and Christ’s second coming. But for today think on this: Jesus told His disciples (John 14:2-4), that He was going to ‘prepare’ a place for them (us too), and that He would be back. God created this big blue marble we call Earth, all the beauty we enjoy, the complexity of our minds and bodies, the rhythm of nature, all the stars and galaxies, etc, etc. He did all this in SIX days. Since then He has these many THOUSAND YEARS to prepare our home with Him in Heaven. Can you even imagine?? (1 Cor. 2:9)

Be blessed.


God Unashamed

 

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.  Hebrews 11:16

I want very much for God to say to me what He said about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “I am not ashamed to be called your God.” As risky as it sounds, could this really mean that God might actually be “proud” to be called my God? Maybe He would say, “Not only am I not ashamed to be called your God, I am proud to be called your God.” Possibly “not ashamed” might only mean, “I am pleased to be called your God.” But it seems that “not ashamed” is really an understatement for “proud.”

So I would really like to know what would make God proud to be called my God. Fortunately this wonderful possibility is surrounded (in Hebrews 11:16) by reasons: one before and one after.

Take the one after first: “God is not ashamed to be called their God, because He has prepared for them a city.” The first reason He gives why He is not ashamed to be called their God is that He has done something for them. He made them a city—the heavenly city “whose architect and builder is God” (verse 10). So the first reason He is not ashamed to be called their God is that He has worked for them. Not the other way around. He did not say: “I am not ashamed to be called their God, because they made for me a city.” He made something for them. That’s the starting point. The pride of God in being our God is rooted first in something He has done for us, not vice versa.

Now consider the reason He gives in the front. It goes like this: “They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.” “Therefore” signals that a reason has just been given for why He is not ashamed. The reason is their desire. They desire a better country—that is, a better country than the earthly one they live in, namely a heavenly one. This is the same as saying they desire heaven, or they desire the city God has made for them.

At this point we take liberty by some assumptions. Scripture does not enumerate a promise of heaven to any of the patriarchs mentioned in the verses leading up to 11:16. God’s relation with and promises to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, et al varied.  But the resounding commonality of the ‘great crowd of witnesses’, the ‘faithful’,  is just that – their faith in God.  That ‘they desire a better country’,  is allegorical of desiring compliance with God’s will.  God knew the heart of each of these faithful, just as He knows our own, and thus He would appropriate our faithfulness as an ultimate desire to be joined to Him in heaven.

So two things make God unashamed to be called our God: He has prepared something great for us, and we desire it above all that is on the earth. So why is He proud to be the God of people who desire his city more than all the world? Because their desire calls attention to the superior worth of what God offers over what the world offers.

In other words, the reason God is proud to be our God is not because we have accomplished something so great. But because He has accomplished something great and we desire it. There is nothing to brag about in desiring. It’s like getting hungry when you are shown a delicious meal. That is what the city of God is like.

What a city it is!—no pollution, no graffiti, no trash, no peeling paint or rotting garages, no dead grass or broken bottles, no harsh street talk, no in-your-face confrontations, no domestic strife or violence, no dangers in the night, no arson or lying or stealing or killing, no vandalism and no ugliness. The city of God will be perfect, because God will be in it. He will walk in it and talk in it and manifest Himself in every part of it. All that is good and beautiful and holy and peaceful and true and happy will be there, because God will be there. Perfect justice will be there, and recompense a thousandfold for every pain suffered in obedience to Christ. And it will never deteriorate. In fact, it will shine brighter and brighter as eternity stretches out into unending ages of increasing joy.

When we desire this city more than we desire all that this world can give, God is not ashamed to be called our God. When we make much of all He promises to be for us, He is proud to be our God. This is good news. God loves to magnify his work for us, not ours for him. Granted, it’s humbling. But if you want mercy more than you want merit, it’s good news.

So open your eyes to the better country and the city of God, and let yourself desire it with all your heart. God will not be ashamed to be called your God.

 

Heavenly Rewards

God created the earth and all that’s in it and the universe that surrounds it in six days.  Now think about this – All that we know or can dream of He made in just six days.  Since the end of that sixth day, He has now had five thousand years to prepare our home in Heaven with Him.  Can you just imagine what lies waiting for us?

In the book of Revelations, Chapter 21, John relates what was revealed to him as a description of Heaven; streets of gold, walls decorated with precious gems, and each of the twelve gates made of a single pearl.  Don Piper, in his book ’90 Minutes  in Heaven’ tells of lights and sounds that were (are) too wonderful, too exquisite to put into words.  I personally wonder if the physical sights and sounds will begin to compare with how our hearts will burst with joy at the sight of our Savior.

I am reminded of Mercy Me’s song “I Can Only Imagine”:
“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine”

But what are the rewards awaiting the faithful?  Scripture is clear that not all will receive the same rewards.  “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” Matt. 16:27.  See also Romans 2:6, 1Cor. 3:8, Hebrews 6:10, 2 John 1:8, Rev. 2:23 and 22:12

Whether or not we will be aware that some receive greater or lesser rewards is not clear but Jesus did promise that “…He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” (Rev. 21:4)

I have asked the question before – Will we be aware of the fact that our reward is not as great as it could have been had we been more fruitful, more charitable, or more obedient?  Will we recognize that others in Heaven have greater rewards than we?  And if we are aware will we be saddened for our lack of charity and obedience while on earth?

I find it hard to believe there would be anything even related to sadness in Heaven, so then the question becomes, if we won’t know the difference when we get there, what’s the incentive or motivation to do our best now?  Obviously some people are better equipped financially to give, but then Jesus was only impressed by the woman who gave her last two coins (Luke 21:1-4).  Some people are by nature more compassionate; God created them that way.  Does that mean that He created some people to have greater rewards in Heaven?  Again, I think not.

I am reminded of David’s words to Araunah, the owner of the threshing floor where he was to build an alter to God.  Araunah offered to donate the site including the oxen, but David told him, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:24)  God isn’t impressed by the size of our offering.  God is impressed by our giving our last two coins, by our sacrificing something of ourselves, something that cost us.

I remember a story of a very poor couple who at Christmas had no money with which to buy the other a gift.  The man loved to smoke his pipe, which he had carved himself.  It was a wonderful pipe, but he could rarely afford the sweet smelling tobacco he preferred.  His wife had long beautiful hair and she loved to brush it, sometimes hours at a time, but recently the old brush had broken and she found it very difficult to use the now handle-less brush.

On Christmas morning they arose to find on the kitchen table two gifts wrapped in plain paper, each gift marked with the names of the husband and wife.  She opened her gift first.  It was a beautiful new hair-brush, adorned with mother-of-pearl and other small gems.  She smiled at him curiously with a small tear in the corner of her eye.  It was the husband’s turn now to open his gift.  As he did he laughed out loud upon seeing a brand new tin of pipe tobacco.  He asked his wife where she got the money for such a gift.  They had no money.  She very coquettishly took the scarf off her head to reveal that her long beautiful hair was gone.  She had sold her hair to buy her husband the tin of tobacco.  He then had to tell her why he had laughed at seeing his gift – he had sold his beautiful, hand carved pipe to buy her the hair-brush.  Each had sacrificed something so very dear so that the other might be blessed.

Let me sum up what at first glance would seem to make some more likely to receive the ‘greater’ rewards.  It isn’t what you have been able to give of your finances, your talents or natural abilities, nor of your time.  It is that you have given till it hurts.

That is the kind of giving that impressed our Lord God.  That we sacrifice in our giving.  Our sacrifice determines our reward, and oh, how great those rewards are.  Paul borrowed something from Isaiah when in his letter to the Corinthians when he wrote. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9 – Isaiah 64:4)

I recall my first visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  My wife and I had traveled down from Reno and arrived at the canyon very late in the day.  I had seen many different photos and videos of the canyon and was sure it was going to be spectacular.  In my years in the U S Navy I had been privileged to visit much of God’s great blue marble.  I remember waking up and stepping out onto deck when up in Puget Sound and being impressed by how very green green can be.  I had the occasion to climb Fujiyama in Japan and remarked at its beauty and how beautiful yet different that mountain was from Mitre Peak on the South Island of New Zealand which rises to a height of one mile straight up from the coastline.  None of this prepared me for the Grand Canyon.  As I noted, we arrived around sundown.  I remember like yesterday my first view.  GASP!!  I could not have spoken if my life depended on it.  The beauty was just overwhelming.

The beauty of Heaven I foresee will be an eternal GASP.  The spectacle, the peace, the joy, the relationships will all combine to bring us everlasting days of GASP.  Let us all be ‘storing up for ourselves treasures in Heaven.’  God’s cash register is ringing up for us with each act of kindness, charity, and love.  Jesus tells us that “even a cup of cold water”, is counted as a reward; “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

Be blessed.