July 2015 Posts

The Tension of Joy & Pain

The Tension of Joy and Pain

Our son died on April 7, 1979. Kyle’s death was totally unforeseen. Never in my life would I have thought Kyle’s time on earth would last for only five and a half years.

My joy fled when Kyle was gone. But James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Joy? With Kyle dead and my heart broken? How could I ever be joyful again? It didn’t make any sense at all.

Before losing Kyle, I would have been more likely to define joy as the lack of pain. How could these two apparent opposites be reconciled? But James understood a truth that I desperately needed to understand: pain and joy can coexist. In fact, they go hand-in-hand.

When we use the word consider today, we usually mean “to think about” or “regard” something. But when James says to “consider it pure joy,” he means to account it as joy. It is a function of the mind rather than the heart.

Joy is the emotion you experience when you have been set free. It is the lifting of your soul in the midst of pain. It is far more than just being happy; it is the excitement that comes with being liberated. It is the enthusiastic spirit that results from receiving an unexpectedly pleasant surprise.

James doesn’t say we should experience joy “because of” the painful trials we are going through. Rather, he says we need to use every opportunity to experience pure joy because our Father is sending us something that will set us free from pain’s downward pull. We need to have the eyes of our heart open so we don’t miss His surprises.

Many people think that if they can accumulate enough things and avoid enough pain, they will experience joy. But that is not how it works. Only as we learn to live in faith, in a relationship built on trust and dependence on God, are we able to experience His joy and blessing. Only then can we discover all that He has designed us to be.

I knew it in my head, but I had not put it into practice in my life on a daily basis. I simply had not given it enough time to sink into my heart. The more I understood that truth, the more God was and is able to be all He wants to be in my life.

One of the many things God wanted to do for me was give me a greater freedom in the expression of my personality. I now laugh more, cry more, love more and feel more anger when I see injustice.

I still miss my son’s presence and aliveness with our family. Dealing with the loss of our father-son relationship has proved to be a difficult journey. But going through that process has brought me so much closer in my Father-son relationship with my heavenly Father. As I’ve come to know the Father better, and as our relationship has become more alive and intimate, I’ve come to enjoy my wife, my family and my own aliveness in a richer, fuller way.

I am freer to live without worrying about “what if” and “what might have been” that used to stifle me. I have a greater sense that God is in charge. And when new circumstances come into my life unexpectedly, instead of being overwhelmed, I know God has a way to help me through every one of them.

 

 

(Portions taken from: Dr. Rick Taylor, When Life Is Changed Forever, Harvest House Publishers)

Prophecy: The Great Tribulation

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Imagine someone who has never seen a football game before coming to America in January and hearing one conversation after another about the Super Bowl. They don’t understand, so they ask you to explain what the Super Bowl is. You begin by telling them a little about the game of football and how it is played. They stop you and then say, “Oh, I’ve seen the Super Bowl. I just didn’t know that’s what it was.” “When did you see the Super Bowl?” you ask. “I saw some young boys playing that game in the park on the way over here today.” Then you say, “Well, there are many football games played by many different players. But there is only one Super Bowl each year.

People have faced many tribulations over the centuries, but the Bible makes it clear there will be only one “Great Tribulation” that will yet occur, and it will be unlike any other tribulation the world has ever seen.

The prophets of old first introduce this Great Tribulation in the Old Testament:

For thus says the Lord, I have heard the sound of terror, of dread, and there is no peace. Ask now, and see if a male can give birth. Why do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in childbirth? And why have all faces turned pale? Alas! for that day is great, there is none like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s distress…. – Jeremiah 30:5-7 (NASB)

Later Daniel writes about this time, and talks about the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. He records that it will be a desolate time (see Daniel 9:24-27).

Referring to this period as “the day of the Lord,” Joel chimes in with this:

The Lord utters His voice before His army; Surely His camp is very great, For strong is he who carries out His word. The day of the Lord is indeed great and very awesome, And who can endure it? – Joel 2:11 (NASB)

Daniel tells us when this period will begin, what will happen (in a nutshell) and how long it will last (Daniel 9:24-27). Many other passages from the Old Testament also allude to and/or describe this yet future period of great tribulation.

This Great Tribulation will be a 7-year period (Daniel 9:24-27) that will have two halves. It will start on the day the leader of the western coalition of nations signs a 7-year treaty with the nation of Israel.

In Revelation 4-18 we get a graphic depiction of what this period will be like. We are told that halfway through the 7-year treaty period, this leader of the western coalition of nations, called the beast or antichrist, will break the treaty with Israel, and will unleash his fury on the Jewish nation and any believers in Christ who have come to faith in Him after the church was raptured. We are told there will be a great revival of the people of Israel and 144,000 of them will be sealed and sent as missionaries all over the world. The response will be multitudes of people beyond counting that will receive Christ.

While the antichrist is carrying out his reign of terror on believers, God will unleash His judgmental fury on the whole world. God’s motive is to get as many people as will to turn to Him and away from this false impostor of Christ, the antichrist.

God’s judgment, this Great Tribulation, will see disease and plagues affecting the world, all sea life will die, all fresh water will be contaminated and sun bursts of energy will fry the flesh of people and animals, along with ongoing darkness as well as unrelenting earthquakes, volcanoes and 100-pound hailstones all over the world.

And the response of the people of that world in that day who have not already received Christ? It paints a picture of people climbing to mountaintops and shaking their fists at God, cursing Him, and crying out for Him to just kill them and get it over with. Not repentance. No pleas for mercy. Just get it over with.

By the end of this time, over half of the world’s population will have died, the planet will be an ecological disaster and the world will be on the brink of a world war that includes all the nations on the planet, converging on the Middle East to do war with God.

According to Revelation 19 this Great Tribulation will end with all the armies of the world gathered under the command of the antichrist, with the goal of defeating God and His angelic army, the hosts of heaven. But it will not end well for the antichrist or any of his followers. They will all be slain in one fell swoop by Christ, as the Lord of hosts, in the Valley of Megiddo of northern, modern-day Israel.

Some claim this tribulation has already taken place. Some say it just represents hard times in life. But you can’t truly study all the passages of Scripture that deal with this period of time and claim it has already happened – unless you are willing to fudge on a normal, literal interpretation of the Bible. But if the Bible does not speak authoritatively on this and other prophecy, then we have undermined the Scriptures from being the final authority and made ourselves or our theology the final authority.

There are many football games but only one Super Bowl. There are many tribulations in this world, past and present, but only one Time of Jacob’s Distress, Day of the Lord: The Great Tribulation. And it is yet to come.

Prophecy: The Church

Prophecy-The_Church

The church is referred to with various images in the New Testament. It is called “the body of Christ,”[1] “the bride of Christ,”[2] “the gathering,”[3] “the flock,”[4] “the household of the faith,”[5] “the pillar and bulwark of the truth”[6] and “the Way.”[7] But there is another expression used in the New Testament to describe the church: the Mystery.

Different things are labeled a mystery in the Bible, but clearly in Romans 11:25 and Ephesians 3:3 Paul reveals the mystery that God has set the nation of Israel aside for a period of time until the time of the Gentiles, His church, is finished.

The reason the church is called a mystery in the New Testament is because the full extent of God’s plan to set aside the nation Israel for a period of time and work in and through Gentiles all over the world was not so clearly revealed before. Paul explains:

By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…. – Ephesians 3:4-6 (NASB)

In this same passage Paul goes on to explain that he was called by God to preach to the Gentiles “and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden…so that the manifold wisdom of God might be known through the church…” (Ephesians 3:8-10, NASB). Paul also says, “Of this church…that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints…” (Colossians 1:25-26, NASB).

Just as the nation Israel has been and will be part of God’s prophetic message, so the church is living out its prophesied role in God’s plan. The church is living in the prophetic present right now. This is the first prophecy regarding the church. But there is more foretold about the church.

Regarding the prophetic future of the church, there are certain promises yet to come. In another prophetic promise we are told the church will be raptured, caught up to meet the Lord in the air – both living and dead church saints – to be with the Lord forever:

But we do not want you to be uniformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up (raptured) 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. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NASB, parentheses added by author)

Here Paul is writing the church at Thessalonica informing them there will be a time when those who are part of the church – both those who have died and those who are still living at the time – will be raptured up to meet the Lord in the air. This is distinct from other resurrections. (More on those later.) It is not the picture we will see later of the return of Christ to the earth. This is meeting Him in the clouds. This is a promise to the church, unlike any promise to anyone else.

There is no little amount of debate about when this rapture will take place. I will not delineate all these positions and their arguments. However, I will say most biblical students who hold to a normal, literal historical and grammatical interpretation of all the Scriptures agree the text seems to point to this rapture taking place before the Great Tribulation described in Revelation 4-18. This is the view I believe best takes into account all of the Scriptures on the subject.

A third prophetic promise regarding the church, after we are raptured, is we will stand before the Lord to receive our rewards, as athletes stands on a platform to receive their medallions. Notice these words of Paul to Timothy:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done…. – 2 Corinthians 5:10 (NASB)

The church is presently living out the past prophetic promise that it would come into existence as a mystery revealed. But it is promised yet in the future that it will eventually be raptured to meet the Lord in the air, be rewarded, and in their glorified bodies, they will reign with Christ forever (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 22:5).

 

[1] Ephesians 4:12

[2] Ephesians 5:24-27

[3] Acts 1:15

[4] 1 Peter 5:2

[5] Galatians 6:10

[6] 1 Timothy 3:15 (NRSV)

[7] Acts 24:14