Thursday, November 28, 2013

Anticipating heaven

When was the last time you heard a sermon about heaven?

American negro slaves sang regularly of heaven ("Swing low, Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me home"). Former generations sang about heaven ("We're marching to Zion."  "Shall we gather at the river?")

Not quite so these days. In Christianity, there may be less interest in heaven than at any other time in history. Having settled that they'll go there one day (not by living a good life, or going to church, or doing good deeds, but by trusting in the atoning work of the Saviour) Christians seem in no particular hurry to get there. The truth is they seem to be having too comfortable a life down here, thank you.

In a new book about heaven*, Edward Donnelly bemoans the fact that many people who think they are going to heaven aren't.

"There is no evidence in their lives that they are joined to Christ. They are nurturing a false hope. We hear the flippant comments that are passed when famous men and women die. Someone says that they are looking down from above, pleasantly surprised by the large and impressive attendance at their funeral. We hear about how golfers are enjoying playing golf and fishermen are getting huge catches in heaven. They may have shown little interest in the things of God, they may never have professed faith in the Saviour, but it is taken for granted that heaven is where they now find themselves. To suggest otherwise is to be branded a ghoulish bigot. We talk to people who assume that they are going to heaven and yet they have no good reason for their careless assumption. They are facing a most appalling shock."

God offers to sinful, miserable human beings an eternity of unimaginable happiness. Jesus can bring you to glory forever. But Donnelly says we are not telling people that.

He goes on: "Most of the teaching about heaven in Scripture is not for evangelism but for pastoring the people of God. He explains heaven in his Word primarily for his own children's sake, to help and comfort us, to encourage and strengthen us, to make us more holy, to fill us with joy. . . It is an immense blessing to know much more about heaven. And we can know. . . With his Word in our hands we can know about heaven."

The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.

For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.

Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.  Phil 1:21 - 24.

When David Watson became ill with cancer, David Pawson wrote to him and pointed out that there is a difference between being willing to go to be with the Lord, but eager to stay, and being eager to be with the Lord, but willing to stay. It's said that David Watson took the words to heart, and prayed through until he was eager to go, but willing to stay.

I have no desire to go before my life's work is done, but the moment that time comes I want to experience the glories of heaven, and I long to see my Saviour's face.

"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
  Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love him."
But God has revealed them to us through his Spirit.  1 Cor 2:9, 10.

* Biblical Teaching on the Doctrines of Heaven and Hell. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A recipe for disaster?

Iranian negotiators agreed to curb some of Iran's nuclear activities in a six-month interim deal in Geneva at the weekend - in return for £4.3 billion in sanctions relief. The deal, with several world powers, followed secret talks between the US and Iran.

Iranian military forces launched a series of massive military drills across nine provinces codenamed Towards Jerusalem as negotiations were going on.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said "Iran is committed to giving up the prospect of nuclear weapons. It's perfecly clear." US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted the deal had made the world a safer place. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he thought Iran was "very sincere."

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal was a "historic mistake."

"Today the world has become  a much more dangerous place," he said. "For the first time, the world's leading powers have agreed to uranium enrichment in Iran while ignoring the UN Security Council decisions that they themselves led. Sanctions that required many years to put in place contain the best chance for a peaceful solution. These sanctions have been given up in exchange for cosmetic Iranian concessions that can be cancelled in weeks.

"We cannot and will not allow a regime that calls for the destruction of Israel to obtain the means to achieve this goal."

Israeli officials seemed incredulous that US President Obama could enter into such an arrangement. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said the current deal could actually bring Iran closer to the bomb . Middle Eastern Arab nations are also suspicious.

A step towards peace? Or a recipe for disaster?

Time will tell.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Forbidden to ask for help?

Homosexual propaganda seems to have seeped into every aspect of life in Britain.
This Friday, November 22. the House of Commons will vote on the Counsellors and Psychotherapists (Regulation) Bill at its second reading. The bill aims to ban therapists from offering assistance to people who want to reduce unwanted homosexual feelings and behaviours.

It would be a ban on the human right of people to ask for help if they wish to do so. It is based on the absolute insistence of the homosexual lobby - without any scientific proof - that a homosexual has the condition from birth and it cannot be changed. It flies in the face of the evidence of the many people who have repented of a homosexual lifestyle and have been set free from it.

Many homosexuals appear angry against non-homosexuals. Their worst anger seems to be reserved for ex-homosexuals. 

People who support the bill claim that practitioners of reparative therapy are motivated by homophobia and do not advance the welfare of the individual. They claim such therapy can cause harm.

People who oppose the bill say reparative therapy is about helping people who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression, and not about coercing people or forcing them to change against their will. Banning therapy would deny them the right to seek treatment and force them to accept a sexual identity they were unhappy with.

Christian organisations are asking people to e-mail their MP before Friday to ask him or her to vote against the bill. Contact, find your MP's name and click on the name to find his or her contact details.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Protecting the vulnerable

One of the remarkable things about euthanasia becoming legalised in countries in Europe is the rapid rate it increases in numbers and in scope.

In the Netherlands the number of deaths by euthanasia increased by 64 per cent between 2005 and 2010. The population grew by two per cent during the same period. Disabled newborn babies, including babies with spina bifida, are euthanised under the Groningen protocol, on the grounds of "their perceived future suffering or that of their parents." The Dutch are now discussing euthanasia for people with dementia, despite huge concens about informed consent.

Belgium is currently considering extending euthanasia to children. Euthanasia in Belgium has begun for organ donation, and for prisoners.

A new coalition, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Europe, has just been launched to protect vulnerable people in Europe from the threat of euthanasia.

Says the organisation's co-ordinator, Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick of Not Dead Yet UK: "The UK, France and Germany are currently considering legislation, but overwhelming evidence from jurisdictions where euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is legal, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, demonstrates beyond doubt how quickly and how easily euthanasia is extended to others, especially disabled people and elderly people.

"High profile cases have provoked international outrage, leading communicators to think of Belgium as the new world leader in exploiting euthanasia against those with disabilities and mental health issues."

The coalition's aims are to oppose the legislation of euthanasia and assisted suicide and work to repeal existing laws allowing them; to promote the best care and support for vulnerable people who are sick, elderly or disabled; and to affirm life through helping people find meaning, purpose and hope in the face of suffering and despair.

We wish them well.

Monday, November 18, 2013

When all you have is God

Eric Foley is co-founder of Seoul USA, an American missionary organisation which has dropped 50,000 Bibles into North Korea by balloon this past year.

Bibles are rare in North Korea. Houses are searched by Government officials. If a Bible is found, the family is either sent to a concentration camp or executed.

Christians don't reveal their faith to their spouses until years after marriage. They can't tell their children of their faith until they are at least 15, as teachers are trained to extract such information from pupils.

There are ways, however. One grandfather gathered his family together each week to give them the same 10 pieces of advice. Later, a grandson realised he was passing down the 10 Commandments. Christians can't risk gathering together because spies are everywhere. They worship in their own homes, or walking down the road out of the earshot of others.

When Communism took over and Bibles were banned, Christians chose four pillars of Christianity to pass on to new believers - theology through the Apostles' Creed, prayer through the Lord's Prayer, ethics through the 10 Commandments and worship through the Lord's Supper.

Foley estimates there are 100,000 Christians in North Korea, about a third of them in concentration camps. They regard concentration camps as a mission field, their purpose to carry out the task God has given them regardless of cost.

Foley asked a North Korean believer how he could pray for them. "Pray for us?" the Christian asked. "We pray for you. South Korean and American churches believe challenges in the Christian faith are solved by money, freedom and politics. It's only when all you have is God you realise God is all you need."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Establishing the kingdom (4)

The Bible says that Jesus will return to earth when the Jews are ready to receive Him, to deal with His enemies and set up His kingdom.

(If anyone tells you that God has washed His hands of the Jews, take no notice. It isn't true. Look at Rev 21:10 - 14, which tells how at the end of time the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven:

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,

having the glory of God. And her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal,

Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:

three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.

Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The names of the 12 tribes of the children of Israel, and the names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb.

If people tell you that God has finished with the Jews, ask them what the names of the 12 tribes of Israel are doing on the gates of the New Jerusalem.)

The glories of Christ's kingdom are described in many places in the Old Testament, for instance Micah 4:1 - 3:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
  That the mountain of the Lord's house
 Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
  And shall be exalted above the hills;
And peoples shall flow to it.

Many nations shall come and say,
  "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
  He will teach us his ways,
And we shall walk in his paths."
  For out of Zion the law shall go forth,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between many peoples,
  And rebuke strong nations afar off,
They shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
  And their spears into pruning-hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
  Neither shall they learn war any more.

We are told to pray that His kingdom will come (Matt 6:10). We are told that His is the kingdom, and the power and the glory (Matt 6:13).

The first five verses of Psalm 2 tell us how the kings and rulers of the earth will seek to shake off God and His anointed, but God will hold them in derision. Then comes verse 6, surely one of the most reassuring verses in Scripture:

"Yet I have set my King
On my holy hill of Zion."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Establishing the kingdom (3)

The Bible says that the Jews are going to become a believing nation. How is this going to happen?

The Bible says there is going to be what is known as the rapture:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  1 Thess 4:16, 17.

After the rapture will come the tribulation, a time of terrible suffering for those who remain on the earth. The Old Testament calls it the time of Jacob's trouble (Jer 30:6 - 9; Matt 24:15 - 28; Rev 7:13 - 17).

There may be a number of reasons for the tribulation. But one reason certainly is to bring the Jews back to God. How will they come?

In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness  Zech 13:1. What fountain is this?

There is a fountain filled with blood,
 Drawn from Immanuel's veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
 Lose all their guilty stains.

They will wash as Gentile believers have washed, trusting for forgiveness in the shed blood of the Jewish Messiah. See Zech 12:10 - 14. Then Jesus will return. Jesus cannot come back to earth until the Jews are ready to receive Him. Which seems like a very good reason to pray for the Jewish people. (In speaking of His return, I do not speak of the rapture, which could occur at any time. He does not come to earth at the rapture, but appears in the clouds to take His people home.)

His return is recorded in Rev 19:11 - 16:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And he who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on is head were many crowns. He had a name written that no man knew except himself.

He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God.

And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed him on white horses.

Now out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should strike the nations. And he himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

And he has on his robe and on his thigh a name written:

He will come back in power and great glory. All who have refused His forgiveness will find judgment. Those who went to be with Him at the rapture will return with Him. He will set up His kingdom on the earth.

What days!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Establishing the kingdom (2)

When the Jews rejected Jesus, what did Jesus do? Note what He said in Matt 23:37 - 39:

"O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem," - He was talking to the Jews - "the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

"See! Your house is left to you desolate;

"for I say to you, you shall see me no more" - note He did not say you shall see Me no more forever - "you shall see me no more till" - there's an 'until'! - "till you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'"

Jesus was saying that the Jews would see Him no more until they were prepared to welcome Him.

After the Jews rejected Jesus, God opened the gates of salvation to the Gentiles (Rom 11:11). The good news is that after the fulness of the Gentiles is come to faith, then God will turn again to His Jewish people:

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

And so all Israel will be saved.  Rom 11:25, 26 (but read the rest of the chapter).

Israel is going to become a believing nation. When God turns again to the Jewish people, they will be ready to welcome Him. The Jews must come to faith, because of God's promises. God cannot forget His promises.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Establishing the kingdom (1)

Jesus didn't come to the Gentiles: He came to the Jews. "He came to his own, and his own did not receive him" (John 1:11).

When Jesus sent out the 12 disciples, He told them: "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matt 10: 5 - 7).

Mark tells how a Syro-Phoenician woman came to Jesus asking for healing for her daughter. Jesus told her: "Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs" (Mark 7:27). Why did He say that? Because she was a Gentile. (It's only fair to point out that she got what she asked, but Jesus made it clear His ministry was not to the Gentiles.) 

The Jews were God's chosen nation, through whom He wanted to reveal Himself to the world.

And when Jesus came to the Jews, what did He preach? He preached the kingdom of heaven. "Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" (Matt 4: 17). "Now Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (v23).

Look at Matthew 13. "Another parable he put forth to them, saying: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field'" (v24). "Another parable he put forth to them, saying: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed'" (v31). "Another parable he spoke to them: 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven'" (v33). "The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom" (v38). "The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that offend" (v41). "Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (v43)."Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field" (v44). "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls" (v45). "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea" (v47). The kingdom is mentioned more than 50 times in Matthew's Gospel alone.

Jesus came to bring the kingdom. But the Jews couldn't have the kingdom, because they rejected the King.

The common people received Him gladly. Crowds followed Him. The Old Testament contained many prophecies of the Messiah. Jesus fulfilled all the ones that had to be fulfilled at that time. He did what He could to certify His Messiahship. He performed miracles they believed only the Messiah could perform. But the religious leaders of the Jews were another matter. They didn't like His message and they didn't want the man.

The Jews' final rejection came in Matthew 12:

Then one was brought to him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and he healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw.

And all the multitudes were amazed and said, "Could this be the son of David?"

But when the Pharisees heard it they said, "This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons."  Matt 12:22 - 24. 

So when the Jews rejected Jesus, what did He do?