Is The End Near?

How You Can Know Fact From Fiction

Jesus didn’t talk about the future just to build a crowd or to fill his disciples’ brains with prophetic minutiae or to sell books. His purpose wasn’t to get them so hyped and overly focused on the second coming that they dropped everything to wait for his return. He always connected the future to the present, grounding prophetic truth in life application. That’s why he always challenged them with “watch and be ready for my coming.” Prophecy isn’t meant just to clue us in about tomorrow, but to clean us up today! If a so-called prophetic expert doesn’t provoke you to purity, walk away!

The Journey: Matthew 24:1-3

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

In other words, when is all of this going to end? Questions about the end of time have been around since the beginning of time. And those questions always betray an inner uncertainly people have about tomorrow, and their eternal future. That is why so-called prophetic books have always been popular, and to a large degree, speculative at best and misleading at worst.

So, since you and I are rightly curious about the end of time, just as Jesus’ original followers were, how can we tell speculative and spurious prophetic materials from those that are solidly biblical? Well, first and foremost, try reading what the Bible itself has to say about the future. Go to the one who is Master and Commander over tomorrow. You will be amazed at the confidence you gain simply listening to his take on the prophetic future.

And one of the things you will notice about Jesus’ prophetic teachings was that he always connected the future to the present. He always grounded prophetic truth in life application. That is a litmus test for the authenticity of prophecy. Twice in his prophetic sermon in Matthew 24, Jesus said, “Watch and be ready for my coming.” (Matt. 24:42,44)

Jesus didn’t talk about the future just to build a crowd or to fill his disciples’ brains with prophetic minutiae or to sell DVD sets. His purpose wasn’t to get them so hyped and overly focused on the second coming that they dropped everything to wait for his return. And so-called prophecy experts today should do no less. If they do, they are not representing Jesus very well.

Prophecy should never make us so heavenly minded we’re no earthly good. If it does, something is wrong! That’s one of the tests of authentic prophecy.

Another litmus test of authentic prophecy is its sanctifying work in our lives. The Apostle John, who wrote the most extensive prophetic work in the Bible, the Revelation, reminded us in his first epistle, “This hope makes us keep ourselves holy, just as Christ is holy.” (1 John 3:3, CEV) Prophecy isn’t meant just to clue us in about tomorrow, but to clean us up today! Authentic prophecy will provoke us to purity!

Yet another litmus test is if it produces an activistic faith. In other words, authentic prophetic interest makes us so heavenly minded we are more earthly good. In Luke 19:13, Jesus said, “Occupy—do business till I come.”

C.S. Lewis said, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

Here’s the unmistakable point of the prophetic: prophecy is given not only for predictive purposes, but to prepare and purify us for the future, and to make us proactive in the present while we wait for Christ’s return.

If you are looking for prophetic teaching that tickles your desires for the sensational, that places no demands upon your life right now, and that produces no changes in you today, then there are plenty end-time works in your local bookstore or on your favorite online video site to tickle your eschatological fancy. But if you want to know what God has revealed about his plans for tomorrow so that it will make a difference in how you live today, go to the Bible. And don’t come away from it until it produces a pure and proactive faith in you that is current.

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, you have promised an eternal future beyond imagination to me and to all those who long for your reign. We are getting closer to that reality every day. Make me ready—purify me and give me a proactive faith as I wait for your eternal reign.

They Also Serve Who Lead

Jesus Demonstrated Greatness In Stooping To Serve

Oswald Chambers said, “True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing [people] to one’s service, but by giving up oneself in selfless service to them.” Our greatest leadership is whenever we practice authentic servant-leadership. Our greatest influence is whenever we serve from a Christ-centered heart of love. Our most bless-able posture before God is whenever we humble ourselves in selfless service to those God has placed within our reach.

The Journey: Matthew 23:11-12

The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Oswald Chambers said, “True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing [people] to one’s service, but by giving up oneself in selfless service to them.”

If that be true, then our greatest leadership is wherever we practice authentic servant-leadership. Our greatest influence occurs when we serve from a Christ-centered heart of love. And we are most bless-able before God when we humble ourselves in selfless service to those God has placed within our reach.

Do you want to be a great leader, have influence over people’s lives and be positioned for Divine favor? Develop your servant-leader quotient. The late Dr. Earnest J. Campbell, Senior Minister at the historic Riverside Church in New York City from 1968-1976, gave a powerful commencement address at Princeton Seminary in 1978, and the title of his message was, “They Also Serve Who Lead.”

That title is a sermon in itself. In his address, Campbell gave some characteristics of servant leaders that I have found personally challenging—and definitely worth emulating. Give some thought to these as you think about your own call to servanthood and influence:

  1. The servant-leader is willing to assume whatever role necessary.
  2. The servant-leader understands that there is no job beneath his dignity.
  3. The servant-leader is willing to pay whatever price for stability, peace, and health [in his home, business or church].
  4. The servant-leader measures his success not in how submissive people are to him, but in how much they respond to his Christ-like example.
  5. The servant-leader takes responsibility for and watches closely the spiritual, emotional, financial and physical well-being of those in his care.
  6. The servant-leader is never too busy to or too important for interruptions to meet whatever need people may have at the moment.
  7. The servant-leader is quick to forgive, slow to judge.
  8. The servant-leader is ridiculously generous.
  9. The servant-leader e is willing to pay a high price, whatever the cost, to obey God.
  10. The servant-leader willingly puts his life on the life for God, his family, and his people.

Something to really think about, isn’t it?

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, make me like your Son. He was servant of all. Make me a servant, too.

The Stench of Hypocrisy

Saying One Thing But Doing Another Should Never Be Known Among Christians

Hypocrisy is the height of deceitfulness. Act by act, it layers the heart with calluses that will eventually prevent the Holy Spirit from doing his work: convicting the conscience of sin. It lures gullible followers into the same destructive patterns of behavior that are incongruent with beliefs. But perhaps worst of all, it hardens those who are turned off by the religious hypocrisy they witness among God’s so-called people from ever wanting to have anything to do with Jesus Christ.

The Journey: Matthew 23:2-3

The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: Sin is sin, and no matter what level of sin it is, it is always offensive to a holy God. Sin corrupts, it corrodes the soul, it prevents the blessings of God and if not dealt with, it will cause the gift of eternal life to be forfeited.

Having said that, have you noticed how Jesus seems to rail against one particular sin more than others? Jesus doesn’t’ beat up on prostitutes and thieves and good old run of the mill garden variety sinners like he does religious hypocrites. Just read through this chapter and you will see what I mean.

Hypocrisy is intolerable to God but religious hypocrisy is especially repugnant. It is the worst indictment the Divine could lay against you. To say one thing and to do another, to believe one way and live a different way, and to teach people one thing then personally practice another in the name of Christ will arouse God’s disdain like no other.

Why? Hypocrisy is the height of deceitfulness. It layers the heart, act by act, with calluses that will eventually prevent the Holy Spirit from doing his work: convicting the conscience of sin. It lures gullible followers into the same destructive patterns of behavior that are incongruent with beliefs. But perhaps worst of all, it hardens those who are turned off by the religious hypocrisy they witness among God’s so-called people from ever wanting to have anything to do with Jesus Christ.

How many times have you heard an angry, hardened unbeliever say, “If that’s what Christianity is all about, I want nothing to do with it!”? How sad! It may be that the hypocrisy they are reacting to will close the door of their heart for all eternity to God’s offer of salvation.

The challenge with hypocrisy is that is so hard to spot in your own life. Again, it is so effectively evil because of its power of deception and the hardening of the heart that it wreaks. However, if you are willing to lie very still on the Great Surgeon’s table and allow the Holy Spirit to apply the scalpel to your heart, I am confident that he will expose and excise any hypocrisy that has taken up residence.

Are you courageous enough to allow him to do some spiritual surgery on you today?

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, I open my heart to the surgery of the Holy Spirit today. Expose any hidden and unknown sin and remove anything that could hinder or destroy my relationship with you. And please, never let my inconsistent behavior cause another to turn away from you.

The One Important Thing

Just Love God Fully, Then Do What You Want Freely

Jesus said the only truly important thing you need to worry about in life is this: Just love God fully and love people as yourself. Do that, and you will have fulfilled the whole law of God and found the best and most satisfying use your life.

The Journey: Matthew 22:33

When the crowds heard him, they were astounded at his teaching.

Like the old E.F. Hutton commercial, when Jesus spoke, people listened. They were often left with the same reaction that Matthew 22:22 & 33 recorded: They were mesmerized. There was just something about this rabbi they has never encountered before among Israel’s many notable religious teachers.

What was it that the crowds were so amazed and astonished at whenever they heard Jesus teach? Was it his winsome personality and his engaging speaking ability that awed them? For sure, Jesus’ charisma and confidence were of a caliber that would impress even the most discriminating audience. Was it the miracles that often attended his exposition of the scripture? Certainly that would have impressed the people listening, since no other religious authority had been able to pull off signs and wonders in their sessions.

To be sure, those were factors in the public’s attraction to Jesus, but what really touched them at the core was how Jesus brought the long-awaited Kingdom of God easily within their grasp. Furthermore, the incredible profundity of the absolute simplicity of Jesus’ summary of the entire law of God into two simple, doable commands was music to their ears:

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Amazingly, the people in Jesus’ day had never heard God’s Word explained that way before. Instead, they had been led to believe that the law of God was comprised of a list of rules and regulations that had to be religiously followed in exacting detail in order for anyone to be pleasing to God. Unfortunately, this list of rules had become an ever-expanding playbook, and the goalpost of obedience kept getting moved further and further away from the worshiper’s ability to score.

But then Jesus came along and said that the entire law of God, rather than being a complex list of rules and unending regulations, could be simply obeyed by one important thing: Love for God! Loving God—to joyfully reverence him, to gratefully obey him, to gladly concern yourself with the things that concern him, and to authenticate that love for God by treating other people as you, yourself, expect to be treated—that was what it meant to fulfill the entire law of God!

That, Jesus said, was the whole law, the greatest obligation, the best and most satisfying use of life; that was the only thing people really needed to worry about; that was the one important thing in life that they needed to get right: Simply love the Lord God with all of your heart! Really, what Jesus was saying was summed up quite nicely a few centuries later by St. Augustine, who purportedly put it this way,

Love God, and do what you want.

Come to think of it, the complete profundity of the absolute simplicity of that one important thing amazes and astonishes me, too. Count me in with the crowd of the impressed!

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, give me grace to love you more!

The Free And Easy Plan

We Don’t Get To Tell God How We Are Going To Get Into His Heaven

Let’s be very clear about this: God is not willing that any should perish; He desires that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) But we don’t get to tell God how we are going to get into his heaven. We can only get there on his terms: Complete and total surrender to Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord.

The Journey: Matthew 22:14

For many are called, but few are chosen.

Have you ever noticed that when a popular public figure dies—a successful movie star, a music icon, a popular athlete or a charismatic politician–adoring fans assume that no matter what kind of life they led (and in some cases, what kind of perversity contributed to their death), these celebrities get a free and easy pass to heaven. How often have you heard a heartbroken fan trying to find some comfort in the death of the one they idolized say something like this: “I’ll sure miss ’so and so’, but I know they’re in a much better place. I’ll bet they’re smiling down on us right now.”

Of course, death is tragic, whether it’s a celebrity or not. And of course, God loves famous people just as he loves not so famous people, and has made room for all in his eternal kingdom. But no one gets a free and easy pass to heaven—unless, that is, they go through Jesus. He is the only free and easy way to the Father. (John 14:6)

“Many are called, but few are chosen.” Those sobering words appear at the very end of the Parable of the Banquet, and if you read that entire parable (Matthew 22:1-14), you find that Jesus is not painting the picture of a narrow, exclusive God. Quite the opposite—he invites pretty much everybody to the party.

The problem is, most reject the invitation. They want to come to it when they are good and ready. They don’t want to change into proper banquet attire. In the words of that famous theologian Frank Sinatra, the vast majority of people want to do it “my way.” But it doesn’t work that way. Only a few get chosen, not because of the exclusivity of God, but because of the resistance of those who demand entrance into the banquet on their terms.

Let’s be very clear about this: God is not willing that any should perish; He desires that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) But we don’t get to tell God how we are going to get into his heaven. We can only get there on his terms.

And his terms (not mine, but his) are very clear: Complete and total surrender to Jesus Christ as Savior AND Lord. We must receive him as the only one who can save us from our sins, because he was the one and only perfect sacrifice for our sins. And we must crown him as the Lord and Ruler of our lives–which means every dimension of our being, not just selective parts. It is on those terms that we are given the free and easy pass to heaven.

Yes, many get invited, but only the few who come on God’s terms will get in on the party that will never end.

Have you fully surrendered your life to God and asked him to give you eternal life on Jesus’ free and easy grace plan? If not, why not do that right now. Just ask, admit your sin, and accept Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life.

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, by your grace, through Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross for my sin, I receive your gift of eternal life. I confess my sin, I repent of my rebellion, I receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, and by your Holy Spirit’s help, as a debt of gratitude, I offer my whole life to you as a living sacrifice.

Christ-unlikeness

Don’t Be One Who Says, “I Will Go” But Never Does

Jesus’s Parable of the Vineyard is about the invitation to enter God’s will. And the will of the Father is for people to be conformed to the image of Christ. That’s the work of God in the world today: transforming your heart and mine into the likeness of Jesus. And that work is most needed precisely in the our where we are most unlike Christ. Where is that for you? Don’t neglect the Father’s urgent invitation to join him in his work there.

The Journey: Matthew 21:28-31

Jesus said to the religious leaders, “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. Which of the two obeyed his father?”

Jesus was talking to priests and elders about submitting to the work of God, but they were resisting, while unlikely tax collectors and prostitutes were embracing it. The Jewish leaders were unwilling to open their hearts to God, and they were jealous of Jesus—the miracles he was performing, the crowds he was garnering, the authority with which he was preaching—so much so, that a few days later, they would have him crucified.

Jesus knew all of this, so to expose their hardness of heart and yet one more time, gave them a chance to respond to the work of God, he told them a parable about two sons—one who was a problem at breakfast but a delight at dinner, and one who was compliant at breakfast but absent at supper.

Then Jesus makes a very clear application in verse 31. He asked which of the two sons did the will of his Father: The one who looked the right way and said the right things, but never really changed, or the one who seemed to be so way off track but at the end of the day responded to the Father’s will?

What Jesus was saying to the priest and leaders, and to you and me by extension, was that what matters is where you are when suppertime comes. You see, this parable isn’t about your intentions at breakfast, it’s about your actions at dinner. This is a supper story, not a breakfast parable. Jesus is talking about the invitation to enter God’s vineyard, which is a metaphorical way of talking about responding to the will of the Father. And the will of the Father is for people to be conformed to the image of Christ. That’s the work of God in the world today: Transforming your heart and mine into the likeness of Jesus.

What about you—are you a “breakfast boy” or are you a “suppertime son”? If you were to honestly apply this to your own life, are you saying “yes” to the vineyard—the work of God in your life—but never really following through on it? Or are you, even if you have so very far to go in the process of transformation, submitting your life to the Lord’s vineyard? In what ways are you looking more like Christ and in what areas do you still need to get into God’s vineyard?

Where are you unlike Christ? That’s where the work of the vineyard needs to take place as a priority. Robert Mulholland pointedly says, “The process of being conformed to the image of Christ, doing the will of the father, takes place primarily at the point of our unlikeness to Christ’s image.” Most of us have areas that need to be brought into the vineyard: our temper, our tongue, our thought life, our attitude…pieces of our lives that still don’t look like Jesus. We’ve set around the breakfast table and said, “you know, I better get into the vineyard in that area,” but we never really seem to make it there.

Changing to the image of Christ usually involves physical practices called spiritual disciplines—things we must do consistently over time that allows us to take on the character of Christ. If the Holy Spirit is prompting you say yes to God’s vineyard today, what does that mean? What action do you need to take? What spiritual practices do you need to begin? Write down that spiritual discipline you need to engage, share it with a friend, and get into the vineyard. Don’t be one who says, “I will go” but never gets there.

Jesus is inviting us to get into the vineyard, no matter what stage we’re at in the game, so that when suppertime comes, you and I will have submitted to what the Father wanted to do in our lives. There is a sense of urgency to this story; dinner is just about ready! So push back from the breakfast table and get into the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in those areas where you don’t look like Jesus?

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, my life is yours. My desire is that through me—body, emotions, intellect, relationship, abilities—I would honor you with every last ounce of my being. Take me over and make me into the image of your Son.

Good and Angry

Don’t Be Mistaken, Jesus Was No Pushover

B.B. Warfield wrote, “A man who cannot be angry, cannot be merciful.” The person who cannot be angry at things which thwart God’s purposes and God’s love toward people is living too far away from his fellow men ever to feel anything positive towards them. Perhaps it’s time, like Jesus, to stay good but get angry over the things that prevent the goodness of God from reaching people.

The Journey: Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the moneychangers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

Jesus was angry—so much so that he literally tossed a few people out of the church! Now that image may totally blow the picture you have of the Lord as the “Gentle Shepherd”. I hope so! There were times that Jesus was good and angry—and not to be so would have been un-God like.

To be sure, Jesus loved people, and that love especially came through in his compassion for the poor, widows and orphans, the sick and infirmed, and those who were held captive to sin by Satan. He was a man of love and peace who called people to a lifestyle of love and peace. But Jesus was no pushover. He had a large capacity for anger—righteous indignation—as we see here in this encounter with the moneychangers at the temple. Jesus didn’t go around picking fights, but when he saw injustice, it really ticked him off.

What pushed his button in particular was seeing how religious authorities would turn what should have been the worship of God into a way to manipulate people for their own purposes. It bothered him a great deal when spiritual directors stood in the way of the kindness of God reaching people in need, and when religious systems abused and enslaved people instead of ushering them into the abundance of God.

J. I. Packer, in his book, Your Father Loves You, writes of the many times Jesus’ anger flared at this sort of thing:

Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and saw a man with a crippled hand. He knew that the Pharisees were watching to see what he would do, and he felt angry that they were only out to put him in the wrong. They did not care a scrap for the handicapped man, nor did they want to see the power and love of God brought to bear on him. There were other instances where Jesus showed anger or sternness. He “sternly charged” the leper whom he had healed not to tell anyone about it (Mark 1:43) because he foresaw the problems of being pursued by a huge crowd of thoughtless people who were interested only in seeing miracles and not in his teaching. But the leper disobeyed and so made things very hard for Jesus. Jesus showed anger again when the disciples tried to send away the mothers and their children (Mark 10:13-16). He was indignant and distressed at the way the disciples were thwarting his loving purposes and giving the impression that he did not have time for ordinary people. He showed anger once more when he drove “out those who sold and those who bought in the temple” (Mark 11:15-17). God’s house of prayer was being made into a den of thieves and God was not being glorified—hence Jesus’ angry words and deeds. Commenting on this, Warfield wrote: “A man who cannot be angry, cannot be merciful.” The person who cannot be angry at things which thwart God’s purposes and God’s love toward people is living too far away from his fellow men ever to feel anything positive towards them. Finally, at Lazarus’ grave Jesus showed not just sympathy and deep distress for the mourners (John 11:33-35), but also a sense of angry outrage at the monstrosity of death in God’s world. This is the meaning of “deeply moved” in John 11:38.

Any form of spiritual manipulation, control, abuse or neglect that prevents the goodness of God from reaching people, no matter what form it takes, or who is perpetrating it, doesn’t make Jesus very happy. Not then…and not now.

Religious leaders, televangelists, youth directors, or anyone who has spiritual influence over others, and use that influence for their own financial gain, to garner name recognition, for sexual gratification, to feed their own hunger for power, or who deliberately prevent God’s abundance from reaching his children, will sooner or later have to stand before a righteous Jesus. And as we just saw, the real Jesus is perfectly capable of anger. One day there will be an accounting for the mismanagement of spiritual authority—and it won’t be pretty.

Jesus, the Gentle Shepherd, the Prince of Peace, got good and angry over a few things. Maybe it is high time Christ followers got a little fed up with sin as well.

So if it is called for, go ahead and get angry. Just make sure you are good—literally—and angry.

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, teach me to be angry at the things which anger you, but stay good, as you always are. Touch my heart with that which touches your heart..