Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Signs of Christ's Return

Signs of Christ's Return
How Then Should We Live?
Christians have been looking for Jesus’ Second Coming ever since He left the first time. We have always longed for the time when our Savior will come from heaven and make everything right once again on the earth. I hope you’re looking for it because Paul says at the end of 2 Timothy that there is a crown awaiting all of those who are longing for His appearing. Are you longing for it? Do you get up in the morning thinking, This could be the day?

by Skip Heitzig

Christians live with hindsight and foresight. We look back to our redemption: the once-for-all finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf. And we look forward to restoration, where there is a total do-over, a make-over on Planet Earth, and Jesus Christ rules and reigns.

As we look forward, how should we live? The Apostle Paul wrote in Titus 2:12-13: “Live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

As we anticipate, what should we know? What should we be aware of? Consider the parable of the fig tree that Jesus tells in Matthew 24:32: “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.”

Notice that Jesus did not say, “Interpret what the fig tree means.” He simply said, “Learn a lesson from it.” He didn’t say, “Now you go to your theological libraries and try to figure out every little meaning of every detail.” He just said, “Look at the fig tree. Take a lesson from it.”

I believe there is a simple, straightforward meaning to the parable of the fig tree: You can tell what’s coming ahead by what you see right now. Jesus gave a series of signs earlier in this chapter—massive worldwide persecution (Matthew 24:2-13); worldwide evangelization (Matthew 24:14); the abomination of desolation and the mass exodus of the Jews from Jerusalem (Matthew 24:15-20); and the cataclysmic catastrophes that occur on the earth and in the heavens (Matthew 24:21-31).

Jesus said these signs would be “the beginning of sorrows.” The word that is used to mean sorrows is the same word that means birth pains. Birth pains are different from abdominal pains. Birth pains are more frequent and more intense. And when the birth pains come, you know the birth is about to take place.

If you ever travel to South Dakota, there’s a little town there known as Wall, and there is a drug store called Wall Drug. When Ted Hustead started the store back in the 1930s, he knew it would not get much traffic from his small town, so he put up signs—everywhere. He decided that everyone should know about his store. So he put a sign in all 50 states that tells the distance from that state to Wall Drug, S.D.

In Memphis, the sign reads: “Wall Drug: 1,192 miles.” In Paris, France, it says: “Wall Drug: 5,961 miles.” At the South Pole: “Wall Drug: 9,333 miles.” There’s a sign in Moscow and Kenya. There’s one outside the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. But if you’re driving on Interstate 90 and you’re 45 miles outside of Wall, you can count 53 signs in that 45-mile stretch leading into the little town. The signs get bigger and brighter. So, just seeing a sign for Wall Drug isn’t necessarily an indication that you’re close, but when those signs become more frequent and more intense, you know you’re almost there. Jesus gave a whole list of signs, or time indicators, so that already we can say, “I’m noticing the world shaping up toward His coming.”

Matthew 24:35 gives us a promise: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” There are two parts to this promise: The world of men will end, and the Word of God will endure. If you’re a materialist, I feel sorry for you. If your only hope is that new home or that wonderful garden or the new car, enjoy it now, because it’s all going to burn. The Lord has been faithful to remind me of this throughout the years. It seems that every time I buy something new, even though I try really hard to take care of it, it gets dinged or scratched. It still works, but it’s as if the Lord is saying, “It’s all going to burn.”

Matthew 24 closes with a parable about a wealthy master who leaves for a period of time and places all that he has with a servant. He comes back and catches his servant “in the act.” But what does he catch his servant doing? If the servant is wise, he is working; if the servant is foolish, he is wasting time.

The foolish servant says, “The lord is delaying his coming,” inferring that his master wouldn’t come for a long time, if at all. And in this section of Scripture Jesus goes on to tell two other parables. One speaks of 10 virgins going to meet the bridegroom, and the bridegroom is delayed in his coming. The other is the parable of the talents, in which a man gives his servants money and immediately goes on a journey. In that parable Jesus said, “After a long time, the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.”

It seems to me that, in telling these parables, the Lord was preparing His disciples for what would turn out to be a long absence. He was using imagery to say, “I’m going, and I’m coming back—but it’s going to be a long time.”

And the question for us is this: What are we to be doing in the meantime?

The answer is found in this story in Matthew 24. There are two kinds of servants: wise and wicked. The wise servant is caught in the act of faithful service. The wicked servant is caught in the act of fickle selfishness.

We who follow God are His servants. He is the Master. I want to remind you that if you are a Christian, Christ owns you. When you gave your life to Christ, you gave your life to Christ. He is the Boss. He calls the shots. You can never see your life as independent from God. In fact, that’s the very essence of sin.

Jesus says, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?” (Matthew 24:45). This indicates a task done in God’s household, the church. How are you helping to build up other believers in God’s household? How are you sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who don’t know Him?

Notice that the first servant is given two adjectives, faithful and wise. Let me ask you: What if your car started one out of three times? Would you say the car is faithful? What if you didn’t show up for work two or three days a month—just because you didn’t want to? Would your employer say you are faithful? What if you decided to make your mortgage payments most of the time, but a couple times a year you didn’t, because you wanted to buy something else? Would the bank say you’re faithful? In the same way, if you just come to church sporadically, but not enough to get involved, are you faithful?

Wise is the second adjective. Wise means you have enough insight that would prompt your obedience. Do you know that the wisest way for you to live is in absolute surrender to Christ? Romans 12:1 says “I beseech you, therefore, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” It’s the smartest way to live. It’s faithful and it’s wise.

And it’s how we are to live in light of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Skip Heitzig
Skip Heitzig is senior pastor at Ocean Hills Church, in San Juan Capistrano,
©2009 Skip Heitzig

from the February 2009 issue of "Decision" magazine

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Proclaiming Christ's Return

Proclaiming Christ's Return

I have felt for a long time that the church has long neglected prophetic truth and, as a result, has failed to carry out God’s revealed program not only for the church itself but has failed to tell the world of God’s plan for the future.
by Billy Graham

The church has failed to keep divine objectives in view because she has neglected the prophetic message of the Word of God. This neglect has caused Christians bewilderment, confusion and ignorance in a world that seems to be disintegrating around them. Many Christians needlessly wring their hands and ask, “What is going to happen to us? What does the future hold?” Many of them are filled with fear, even though our Lord said, “Fear not.”

I believe there is a worldwide tragedy as a result of a neglect of the prophetic Scriptures. Through the centuries men and women have been experimenting with their own social, national and international programs. They have been trying to bring about a righteousness that is not of God and, therefore, it is not obtainable. Instead, it results in a recurring national collapse and sometimes in worldwide calamity. We are heading for one of those collapses at the present hour.

Today, when the church should be leading the way out of the darkness that covers the Earth, it is all too obvious that we are unable to do so because of our spiritual impotence and lack of knowledge. The church today stands sadly in the midst of the ever-increasing ruins of a civilization the church itself helped to create but seemingly has little power or even desire to save.

Acts 15:14-18 is the record of the first all-church conference. It was held in Jerusalem and concerned the work of the church in the first century. The chairman of the conference was the Apostle James. He said: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: “After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things.” Known to God from eternity are all His works.

Thus the program of the church is outlined. It begins with the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, His resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It continues with the Great Commission to go into all the world and proclaim the message of the Gospel.

The church is not a political organization or a social reform society. Individual Christians may work for political reforms and for social betterment, and in many cases we should do so. As the salt of the earth, we have a responsibility for being the preservative of society. As the light of the world, we must let our light so shine that people seeing our good works may glorify our Father in heaven.

But the church must keep on the main highway outlined in the Word of God and witness to the nations not only concerning the truth of salvation but also the truth of the program of God for the whole world, especially witnessing to the glorious consummation of the age when Jesus Christ is going to return.

This is what the Apostle Paul did when he preached to the Athenians as recorded in Acts 17. Taking his text from the altar of the unknown god, which he discovered while walking around Athens, he declared, “In Him we live and move and have our being” and “we are also His offspring” (Acts 17:28).

Warning against the worship of gods of gold and silver and graven stone, Paul continued, “These times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30, 31).

The church should be boldly proclaiming the deity and authority of Jesus as the powerful antidote to the present trend toward world chaos. The whole human race is going after false messiahs and false prophets, false religions and other gods. They will continue this way unless they are continuously taught that God has been manifested authoritatively in the flesh and the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

While there has been a great evangelical revival in the church throughout the world, there are many evangelicals who neglect the prophetic program as laid out in Scripture. Therefore, millions of people and millions of professing Christians have little hope in the future. They have not been told that our hope is in the return of Jesus Christ.

Many have turned from regeneration to the philosophy of humanism. This supposedly universal solvent in the last analysis is truly the opium of the people. It blinds them to truth so that while they ignore the reality and nature of evil, they are also deluded into believing that even the present evil is some sort of process of change for the better. They declare that even this latest reversion to savagery is but the birth pangs of a better day. The progressive humanistic interpretation of the message of the Bible is the basis of many of the programs of so-called Christian conferences today, and the gospel of social change has taken the place of the Gospel of regeneration.

Don’t get me wrong. I am for social change. In many countries of the world it is desperately needed. Even in our own country some of the structures of society need to be changed, even though most people do not know how they need to be changed or by what methods they should be changed. I have yet to find a person to tell me where the ideal government exists in the world. There can be no ideal government based upon human nature as it is. That is why it is so important that human nature be changed. That is why Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).

There is one clear mandate to the church, and that is to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples of all nations. The results of the church’s neglect of the prophecies of the Bible are pathetic and tragic. Had we kept the message and program true to the prophetic Word, it would have been kept in its proper spiritual orbit. There would never have been the deadly ecclesiasticism of the Middle Ages—which caused the church to glory in her form, ceremonies and temporal power. There might never have been the divisions that followed the Protestant Reformation, which brought a section of the church to the truth and yet created confusion in the world by sectarianism. The expectancy of Christ coming again would have kept the church unified, holy, otherworldly and energetic, balanced with a passion for social reform and social justice.

I have found that where churches are preaching the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the churches are evangelistic and concerned with the social needs of the people round about them. These churches also recognize the Bible as the authoritative Word of God instead of denying it.

Only God knows the future and can foretell it with accuracy. In this connection, Peter says, “we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:16). But he did say that in the message of prophecy there shines a light in a dark place, until the darkness of this day is over and the day of the Kingdom of God dawns.

The Bible teaches that the future Great Ruler of the world will be Jesus Christ. He shall rule in righteousness and equity, and shall make the knowledge of God to cover the earth as the waters cover the seas. He shall destroy wars and its miseries. Upon His shoulder, world government shall rest. His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.

If you don’t know Christ, you can come to know Him personally today by confessing and turning from your sin, and receiving Christ into your heart right now, and you can be prepared for the future. ©BGEA

from the February 2009 issue of "Decision" magazine

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Life I Planned by Beth Moore

Has someone seen the life I planned?
It seems it's been misplaced
I've looked in every corner
It's lost without a trace
I've found one I don't recognize
Things missing that were dear
Promises I'd hope to keep
And dreams I'd dreamed aren't here
Faces I had planned to see
Hands I planned to hold
Now absent in the pictures
Not the way I told
Has someone seen the life I planned?
Did it get thrown away?
God took my hand from searching
Then I heard him say,

"Child, your ears have never heard
Your eyes have never seen
Eternal plans I have for you
Are more than you could dream.
"You long to walk by sight
But I'm teaching eyes to see.
I know what I am doing
'Til then, you must believe."
He's done so much, I felt ashamed
To know He heard my moans
To think I'd trade in all He's done
For plans made on my own.
I wept over His faithfulness
And how He'd proved Himself
How He'd gone beyond my dreams
And said to Him myself,

"No, my ears have never heard
My eyes have never seen
Eternal plans you have for me
Are more than I could dream.
"Yes, I long to walk by sight
But You're teaching eyes to see
You know what You are doing
'Til then, I must believe."
I felt His great compassion
Mercy unrestrained
He let me mourn my losses
And showed me to my gains.
I offered Him my future
And released to Him my past
I traded in my dreams
For a plan He said would last.
I get no glimpse ahead
No certainties at all
Except the presence of the One
Who will not let me fall.
Are you also searching
For a life you planned yourself?
Have you looked in every corner?
Have you checked on every shelf?

Child, your ears have never heard
Your eyes have never seen
Eternal plans He has for you
Are more than you could dream.
Perhaps you long to walk by faith
But He's teaching eyes to see
He knows what He is doing
Child, step out and believe.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind
has conceived what God has prepared
for those that love Him." 1 Corinthians 2:9