Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Does the idea of "Judgment Day" coming soon weaken your faith?

I was visiting an online forum today, and one of the posters made this statement: 'The focus on "imminent end times" actually weakens ones Christian walk.'

Now, not being able to read his mind, there are a variety of things he could have meant. He could have meant that dwelling on the "tribulation" aspect of the end of the age frightens people and weakens their faith. He could have meant a variation of the old, "So heavenly minded that you're no earthly good." (not true, and a very good subject for an upcoming blog) He could have meant that speaking out on end times means you're not speaking the gospel, which could be true if someone is dwelling on end times in an "end of the world disaster movie" sort of way. He could have meant something that I'm not even thinking of. That's the nature of online written discussions and interpreting a stranger's thoughts.

But, what about that first idea? If a church, a pastor, me, whoever, speaks on "imminent end times," DOES that weaken your faith? I have a vested interest here, as that IS pretty much the focus of this blog. I would not want to be guilty of this:

Mark 9:42 "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.

Jesus doesn't appear to think it weakens our faith or deters from our Christian walk. In Matthew 24:42-44, He says,

 42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

What is He saying? He is warning that "that day" could come any time and to be ready. So, apparently, Jesus believes that watching and waiting will actually strengthen your Christian walk. In Luke, He even goes so far as to say,

Luke 21:28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

"When these things begin to take place," - in other words, imminent end times - "stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

End times - something to look forward to? Yes! Not a weakening of faith, but a strengthening!!!

And, look what Peter has to say:

2 Peter 3:3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. In Peter's day, people were looking for "imminent end times" - yearning for them - and others were scoffing at them. Peter is warning the scoffers that that day WILL come.

8 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. 9 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. Peter speaks to the believers, those who want "that day" to come (sound familiar?), to be patient.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.[a]

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives
What is Peter pointing out? That "Judgment Day" is coming, and therefore, be living as you should. In other words, talking about imminent end times, focusing on Judgment Day, actually HELPS our Christian walk. 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.[b] Here is the answer for those who want to focus on end times in an "end of the world disaster movie" kind of way. We look forward to the day of God - we WANT Jesus to come and we "speed its coming." How do we do that? We share the Gospel. As Peter says earlier, God is patient, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." Why are we still here? Because God wants more people to believe. And, thank goodness He has been patient. I was one He was patient with! That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

What is Peter's point in this passage? That God is patient, but that day IS coming. The warning of its coming calls us to live as we should and to share God's message of forgiveness through Jesus with any and all who will listen. It is a help to our Christian walk. And, far from threatening our faith, it should strengthen it. The time of destruction is also our time of redemption. This world is not forever; heaven waits!! No matter how bad things are here, eternal life in glory is coming!

Nearly every single one of the New Testament writers speak of end times. In some cases, it's in warning, to encourage repentance. In others, it's a comfort and a call to be patient: this world is not forever. Jesus WILL come. In fact, read through the letters to the churches in the Book of Revelation. Those are Jesus' words to correct problems in the churches. In how many of them does He use the idea of coming judgment in their correction?

Time is short, people! We are no longer talking hundreds of years. We may even be looking at months or weeks. Perhaps even today. Jesus is coming! Let your walk be strong and faithful, and others will be drawn to you because they want what you have.

As always, I'd love to hear from you. If you don't want to respond here, send me an email.

A few more thoughts, prompted by a friend's comment. Here's what she wrote with such sweet honesty:

"My question is this, how does one,like myself, do it all? Be the titus 2 woman, proverbs 31 woman, open to hospitality, witness to others, love everyone, and keep watch? It seems that you are saying watching is the most important, but I think what you mean is that all are important, right? For example, the man who is keeping watch and is prepared for the thief, also is mowing the lawn, and painting the walls, and inviting his neighbors over for bible study. I also know that I can do all things through Christ, I just cannot figure out why I am weary, when I am not supposed to be weary if I have faith in my Savior. "Come to me all who are weary..." Can you touch on these things?"

You may have felt the same way. There is a recent blog that touches on some of her exact thoughts, here. And, maybe this one, too: The next thing.

But, just in case I have mistakenly given you the same impression that I gave her, let me share my answer to her.

We are called to watch, yes, but, as my friend pointed out, watching among other things. (although, if you fail to watch, that's not a good thing).

Some are called to watch as a specific job. Remember this verse:

Mark 13:34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch

Were ALL the servants crowded around the door watching? No - or nothing would get done. The one at the door watched and yelled when he saw his master coming. And then it was repeated throughout the house.

Perhaps I am at the door yelling - and you, at your assigned task, hear me and repeat it to those near you. And then everyone makes their last minute preparations. I am at the door and have spotted the dust in the distance. Is it our Master? I think so, and so am calling out, "I think He's coming!!!" And, you, perhaps in the upstairs window, look out too, and also see the dust rising. Is it Him? Maybe. In any case, it is a warning that His return could happen soon and to be working hard at your assigned task, to do it as well as possible.

And, for those of you feeling weary, remember that word "assigned." You're not called to do everything - just those things He has given you. It is the fruit of the Spirit, not something you do in your own strength. There is a reminder, here, of how to live in the Spirit.

NOTE: In answering her, I have realized something about myself. Watching must really be one of my assigned tasks. I could no more not do it than not breathe. It is the whole reason I started this blog. I have seen the rising dust in the distance. Is it our Master? I really do think so - and so I call out, "Jesus is coming! Be ready!"

Monday, April 16, 2012

Yes, you do believe in the rapture

Have you ever heard someone say, "There's no such thing as the rapture"? Maybe you, yourself have said or believe the same thing: the rapture is a myth. Some will go so far as to say that not only is it a myth, but it was created in the 1800's by John Nelson Darby (not true, but that's a subject for another day). And, how many times have I read, "No passage in the Bible uses the word "Rapture""?

Fellow Lutherans, and all you mainline Christians out there, listen up. If you believe in the Bible, you believe in the rapture. The "rapture" is when Jesus catches away the believers into the air and takes them to be with Himself. Granted, a strange idea, but completely biblical. It comes from these verses:

1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

That word, translated "caught up" is harpazō (här-pä'-zō). It means: 
1) to seize, carry off by force
2) to seize on, claim for one's self eagerly
3) to snatch out or away

Kind of an odd thing, actually - but, it's the same word used here:

Acts 8:39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

and here:

2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. 

It's sudden. It's unexpected. It's harpazō.

Harpazo is a Greek word. It was the language of the day. However, as time went on, Latin became the language of the civilized world. So, in the early 5th century (early 400's), Jerome translated both the Old and New Testament into Latin. When he came to Paul's passage in Thessalonians, he translated harpazō as rapiemur or rapturo (Rapiemur and rapturo are two forms of the same verb, viz: rapio, rapere, rapui, raptus - "to catch or seize". Rapiemur is the first person, plural, future, indicative, passive. Rapturo is the future active participle. as here):

1 Thessalonians 4:17 deinde nos qui vivimus qui relinquimur simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Domino in aera et sic semper cum Domino erimus. 

That word in the Latin Vulgate, rapturo, became simply "rapture." So, those people who say that "rapture" is not found in the Bible are either revealing their ignorance or have something else they want to fight about. 

So, if you believe in the Bible, you believe in the rapture. What you may MEAN to say, is that you disagree with the rapture as presented in the "Left Behind" books - where Jesus comes, takes away the believers, and leaves everyone else to face horrible tribulation. That view of the rapture is called "Pre-Tribulational", meaning "before the tribulation." There are lots of other views, including "Post Trib," "Mid-Trib", "Pre-Wrath" "Rapture after no trib" and others. 

I've studied end times for a very long time. I've studied the rapture for a very long time. In all honesty, I've probably studied the whole end times issue more than 90% of the pastors out there. I want to say something in love. When I first studied the rapture, it was perfectly obvious that it was post trib. But, when I went back to it and studied it some more, I thought that mid trib or pre wrath might be closer to the truth. Then, I studied it more and became convinced that it was pre trib. In fact, it was obviously pre trib. Then, I studied it some more and realized that even partial rapture (a very controversial view) might have some elements of truth to it. So, I studied it some more (we are talking about 15 years of study here), and decided that I don't know what view is right. They may all be partially true. They may all be at least partially false. I just don't know.

One thing I DO know - those people who say that it's absolutely this or absolutely that - to the point where they say that everything else is unbiblical, haven't studied it enough. Don't be one of them. You may disagree with a view with your current understanding, but unless you are God, you don't know exactly how it's going to happen. Treat your brothers and sisters who have different views with love. Don't call them heretics. Don't call their views heresy.

And, by all means, don't go out and buy books like "The Rapture Exposed" by Barbara Rossing. She not only thinks that there is no rapture (we are not EVER caught away into the air to be with Jesus), but, in fact, thinks there is no literal second coming at all and that Revelation is really about environmentalism and healing the world. Good grief.

Jesus IS coming. And, one day, (if you are trusting Him as your savior), you WILL be caught up into the air to be with Him forevermore. We're supposed to encourage each other with this idea - that this world is not forever, and that Jesus really is coming for us. Suddenly. Unexpectedly.

Maybe you can't bring yourself to say Rapture. That's OK. Call it the Harpazo. Call it the "Catching away." Or, just say, "When Jesus comes to take us to be with Him. . ." Just don't say it's not in the Bible. Don't belittle people who have different timing views. Trust me, we're all going to be surprised by something on that day.  

That day, when Jesus comes for us, is a day to look forward to. There may be some very difficult days leading up to that time, but He is with us. He will lead us, protect us and keep us on His path. And, when that day finally comes, we will be with Him, forever and ever. No more good-byes, ever again.