24 Jan

Your Jubilee Is Here

Wouldn’t it be something if the United States Congress and President Obama declared that in 2012 all debts in the United States of America will be erased?  Now don’t get all political on me and start hollering about the growing extent and abuse of government under the current administration.  Work with me here!  If this were to happen, I’m not sure how excited the lenders would be, but I feel safe in saying that the borrowers would throw a party and dance in the streets.  It would be a time of immense celebration.

Amazingly, God organized the nation of Israel in such a way that this sort of thing and much more happened every 50 years.  It’s called a jubilee.  There are many redemptive themes throughout the Scripture, but one of them is certainly the theme of Jubilee.  The purpose of this article is to explore briefly the biblical foundation of the Jubilee, describe what a Jubilee entails, and then explain how the Jubilee is linked to us today.

The Biblical Foundation of the Jubilee
The biblical foundation for the Jubilee is rooted in the idea of the sabbath, which is the day of rest observed on the 7th day of the week.  Sabbath is first mentioned in Exodus 16:22-23.  While Israel was journeying from Egypt to the promised land of Palestine, God provided food from heaven for them.  On the sixth day of one week, God told them to gather double what they needed because on the next day, the 7th day of the week, He would provide no food.  It was to be a Sabbath.  At that time, the idea of a national Sabbath was introduced.

When God began to put forth His covenant with the nation of Israel through the 10 Commandments, He was sure to include an order concerning the Sabbath.  The 4th commandment says:

  • Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy, (Ex 20:8-11)

Notice that the reason for the Jewish week—6 days of work and 1 day of rest—was based upon the pattern of God, who did the very same thing during the creation week.  So, every week, the people of Israel were to enjoy a Sabbath.

But it wasn’t just the people.  God desired for the land to enjoy a Sabbath as well.  God instructs Israel concerning this regulation in Leviticus 25:1-5:

  • The LORD then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest’s aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year.

So, the land was to be worked for 6 years and then have 1 year of rest.  This 7-year cycle is called a sabbatical and was very important to Israel for grouping history.  We today think of history in terms of 10s called decades.  Israel thought in terms of 7s called sabbaticals.

God had one more layer that He wanted to add into this Sabbath framework of time.  He called it a jubilee.  God lays the directions for the Jubilee out in Leviticus 25:8-12:

  • You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its crops out of the field.

The scheme is now complete.  At the end of 7 sabbaticals (49 years), there was to be a year of Jubilee.  This year is also called the year of liberty/freedom (Ezekiel 46:17), and the favorable/acceptable year of the Lord (Isaiah 62:1 & Luke 4:19).  So, every 50 years one would be celebrated.

Our English word jubilee comes to us from the Hebrew word for “ram.”  Within the context of Leviticus 25, it’s referencing the ram’s horn—or a trumpet shaped like a ram’s horn—that was to be blown.  Literally then, Leviticus 25:9 could read, You shall then sound a jubilee abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month.  While the word is literally speaking of the horn that was used to announce the year, the word jubilee has come to mean a celebration because of all the good things that happen in the Jubilee year.

So what are these good things?

The Benefits of a Jubilee
The Jubilee was a tremendous blessing for the people of Israel because of all the benefits attached to it.  Maybe it’s helpful to think of these good things as the 5 Rs of the Jubilee.

1.  Release from slavery.
During the year of the Jubilee, any Israelite who had become so indigent that he had to sell himself into slavery would be set free.  At any time, the slave had the right to redeem (ie, buy back) himself or to have a kinsman redeem him, but if that was an impossibility due to poverty, he was released at the time of the Jubilee.  You can imagine the joy a poor slave felt the day Jubilee began!

2.  Return of land.
When Joshua brought Israel into the land, it was divided between tribes and families, and this family had ultimate rights over their part of the land continually.  From time to time, an Israelite would become poor to the point of having to sell his part of the land, but just like with slavery, he had a right at any time to redeem the land himself or have a kinsman redeem the land.  If the money just wasn’t there though, it would be returned to him any way at the time of the Jubilee.  The reason for this return of land is given in Leviticus 25:23-24.  Basically, God says the land’s His and that He wants the original family to have it.  Of course, beyond simply citing God’s prerogative, this statute also helped assure against continual poverty within a family.

3.  Relief from debts.
Surprisingly, the cancellation of debts didn’t happen just every 50 years.  It actually happened every 7 years—ie, during the Sabbatical year.  We find God’s command concerning this statute in Deuteronomy 15:1-2:

  • At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD’S remission has been proclaimed.

While there’s no direct instruction about absolving debts in the Jubilee year in Leviticus 25, given the connection of the Jubilee to the Sabbath, the relief of debts is certainly associated with the Jubilee.  Furthermore, there is some debate as to whether or not the Jubilee year was actually a separate year from the 7th sabbatical (the 49th year).  Some think that the 7th sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee were observed in the same year instead of consecutively.  Although I don’t believe this to be the case, if it was, then the relief of debts is directly linked to the Jubilee.

Perhaps the relief of debts is what’s behind the jubilaic language of Isaiah 61:1, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners.  Maybe this prisoner in mind is not a criminal but a debtor.  Unable to repay, what a joy it would be to be released after being thrown in debtors prison!

4.  Rest for the people and the land.
Agriculture is hard on the land and those tending it.  Therefore, God ordained that they both have a year of rest and renewal.  If the Jubilee occurred in the 50th year after the 7th sabbatical, this scenario would actually mean the land would remain fallow for two years.  Both the farmer, which was everybody in those days, and the land would enjoy an extended rest.  Rest is one of God’s sweet graces to us!

5.  Revelation of faith.
Everything surrounding the Jubilee was actually a test of faith and reliance upon God.  Yes, it was a blessing but a test nonetheless.  It takes faith in God that He will provide in order to just let a slave upon whom you depend go.  It takes faith in God that He will provide in order to cancel debts and give up purchased lands.  It takes faith in God that He will provide in order to not plant or cultivate crops for one to two years.

However, God did not leave Israel without a promise concerning their food.  Naturally, the people would wonder, “What in the world are we going to eat?  Will we starve?”  Therefore, God promised in Leviticus 25:18-22:

  • You shall thus observe My statutes and keep My judgments, so as to carry them out, that you may live securely on the land. Then the land will yield its produce, so that you can eat your fill and live securely on it. But if you say, “What are we going to eat on the seventh year if we do not sow or gather in our crops?” then I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years. When you are sowing the eighth year, you can still eat old things from the crop, eating the old until the ninth year when its crop comes in.

God’s supernatural blessing of the 6th year’s crops would cover both the Sabbath year and Jubilee year (consecutive or not), and He always comes through on His promises.  So, the question mark lay not with God but with the Israelites.  Would they show faith in God?  The Jubilee revealed who would and would not, and for those who passed the test, it was a great blessing.

All of this sounds very good, but what does the Jubilee have to do with us?

The Jubilee and Us
If one were to read only the Old Testament, you’d get the impression that the Jubilee has only to do with national Israel and nothing to do with us.  But we’ve got a New Testament to go along with the old one.  Therefore, due to the doctrine of progressive revelation, the Old Testament must be read in light of the New Testament because the New Testament is a later, fuller revelation from God.  In other words, the New Testament is authoritative over the Old Testament.

Isaiah 61:1-3 is a beautiful Jubilee passage.  It says:

  • The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

Verse 2 tips us off that the Jubilee is in mind when it mentions the favorable year of the Lord.  Here we see glorious, merciful jubilaic language.  The afflicted get good news.  The brokenhearted are mended.  Captives are liberated.  Prisoners are freed.  The mourning are comforted with a crown and the oil of gladness.  The faint are given a mantle of praise.  What beautiful promises from God!  Now, the context would seem that this promise of Jubilee is given only to the nation of Israel, especially if you continue on reading the chapter, but the Old Testament must be read and interpreted in light of the New Testament.

It’s in Luke 4:14-21 that we encounter this passage from Isaiah again:

  • And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all. And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus reads this passage and then basically says there in Luke 4:21, “I’m the agent of the Jubilee, the one who bring these benefits to pass.  The favorable year of the Lord is upon you!  If you have me, you’ll experience Jubilee!”  Man, that statement is colossal!  Jesus is saying that the Jubilee set forth in Leviticus for the nation of Israel was simply a type, a shadow, a precursor aimed to prepare the world for the true Jubilee found in Jesus Christ.

Friend, the Jubilee is given to all who will believe on Jesus.  In light of Isaiah 61, through Jesus Christ, the afflicted have good news, the brokenhearted are mended, captives to sin are liberated, prisoners of the devil are freed, the mourning are comforted with a crown and the oil of gladness, and the faint are given a mantle of praise.  In light of the 5 Rs mentioned above, through Jesus Christ, you are released from slavery to sin; the earth is returned to its rightful and original owner, namely the children of God; you’re relieved from the debt to God your sin has racked up; rest from works is yours forevermore in Jesus Christ; and your faith in God is revealed as you believe on Jesus.  If you are in Christ, the reality of the Jubilee is yours, and if you’ve never believed on Christ, it can be yours if you’ll only repent of your sin and believe on Jesus.

The Jubilee has grace, grace, and more grace written all over it!  God has done for us what we could not and would not do.  This reality is even more stunning if you consider the fact there’s a good chance Israel never actually practiced the Jubilee.  They didn’t do it!  It was too risky.  Their faith was too small, too weak.  They kept finding reasons why it didn’t apply to them.  But isn’t that the nature of sin?  We think our way is better than God’s.  Yet God has not left us to our disobedience, Jew and Gentile alike.  He has sent His Son proclaiming that the year of Jubilee is upon us.  May you know Christ and all His benefits.  May you rejoice because your Jubilee is here!

17 Jan

Can I Be a Preacher?

“Can I be a preacher someday, Pastor Ben?” said the smiling little 9-year-old boy across the desk from me.  One of my joys every Sunday morning is having some of the young ones come say good morning to me there in my office.  They usually want to show me their outfit, new toy, or doll, but yesterday, I had one wanting to preach!

The question certainly brought a smile to my face, but inside, my wheels were turning as to how I should answer.  I quickly decided on my answer.  “Well, there are four things it takes to be a preacher.”  I know:  leave it to a preacher to enumerate an answer to a 9-year-old!  Although what I actually said to him was much simpler, the following is the gist of my answer to him.

So, what does it take to be a preacher?  Here’s my answer given in order of importance.

1)  The man must have repented and believed on Jesus Christ.
I know that this prerequisite might seem so obvious that it need not be stated, but it’s of utmost importance.  First of all, I was talking to a little boy who has yet to be converted.  It was my chance to highlight his need for a Savior.  But even if I was telling a seminary professor, this point is where I would start.  I think this is where we have to start.

You see, the act of Christian preaching is born out of the reality of a living relationship with God the Father through the Son Jesus Christ.  A man truly has nothing to say unless he knows Jesus through conversion.  Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again,” (John 3:7).  It’s from his own well of experiencing the new birth which leads to mercy, grace, forgiveness, growth, empowerment, and gifting that the preacher will be moved to proclaim God’s truth.

Therefore, the man seeking to preach must give evidence of conversion.  Now for some, they look no further than asking if the man has prayed the prayer and walked the aisle, but there must be a more careful evaluation.  If we are truly born again in Christ, we are a new creature (2 Thes 5:17), and if so, there’ll be evidence of this spiritual change.  The great American pastor/theologian Jonathan Edwards pointed to these five marks of true conversion (found in Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney’s Jonathan Edwards On True Christianity, 85-94):

  1. A love for Jesus Christ
  2. An increased hatred for sin and continual defeat of sinful practices
  3. A hunger and thirst for the Word of God
  4. A love for truth and the things of God
  5. A love for other Believers and the Church

So, the man who might preach should give these evidences, proving well that he has truly repented and believed on Jesus Christ.

2.  The man must be above reproach in Christian integrity.
That’s the entire point of 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

  • It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

There’s really nothing remarkable about this list.  In fact, we should expect these things of every Christian.  However, what is remarkable is the combination.  Paul says that every one of these things should be present in the preacher/pastor’s life.  Many men shine in most of these areas but dim in a few.  For the preacher, on the other hand, he is to be above reproach, which means that he is to shine in all of these areas.  This, indeed, is a tall order, but God desires a man to preach who will model Christian integrity that is above reproach.

3.  The man must study and understand the Word of God.
This prerequisite is best summed up in 2 Timothy 2:15, Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. Of course, most of us know the KJV translation of this verse, Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The life of a preacher is one of studying the Word of God so that he might share truth with his hearers.  Therefore, there should be a hunger for the Word of God in this man’s life.  He should love to study the Bible and hear teaching.  The preacher should be a student of the Bible above all other Christians.  This fact doesn’t mean that a seminary degree is required.  Although I believe them to be a positive thing, seminary degrees are still only manmade things.  Men of only a 6th grade education can be as greatly used by God as a doctor of theology if he applies himself to learning the Bible.  No doubt that a seminary education will certainly help the preacher along, but more than anything else, he must know the Bible in and out.

But along with hunger, there must be understanding.  That’s what Paul is pointing to when he talks about “accurately handling” or “rightly dividing” the word of truth.  The preacher must be a man holding orthodox Christian beliefs, teaching the truth of the Bible.

It’s for this reason that the practice of an ordination board is of great importance.  To be honest, this practice has been largely lost today among our Baptist churches.  Most are mere charades scheduled the day of the announced ordination service.  I believe this practice to be incredibly detrimental to the man seeking ordination and the church issuing ordination.  Ordination boards should certainly be done before it’s announced that the man is going to be ordained.  Furthermore, the board should be extensive and testing.  Above all, ordination boards should be ready to say, “Brother, we appreciate your desire, but we believe that you just are not ready yet.”  The Apostle Paul seemed to be pointing to what I’m saying when talking about preachers in 1 Timothy 5:22, Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. It’s for this very reason that our churches developed the ordination system in the first place.  Preachers must study and understand the Word of God.

4.  The man must be called.
This reality comes from one source but is discerned or recognized by two different parties.  The one source for calling a preacher to preach is God.  All preachers are God’s preachers.  He’ll let you know if this is His desire for your life.  It’ll probably look like what Paul experienced in 1 Corinthians 9:16, For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. So, the source of the preacher’s calling is God.

But this calling is discerned by two different parties.  The first party is the preacher himself.  Again, like Paul, he’ll have a burden to preach.  He’ll personally feel that this is what God wants him to do. But just as important is the fact that the preacher actually wants to do it.  When Paul says that he’s under compulsion, he doesn’t mean that he’s preaching against his will.  Actually what he means is that his will to preach is so strong that he can’t help but preach.  Too many preachers, I think, play up this “I didn’t really want to preach” line.  Perhaps they didn’t at first, but at some point, if they are truly called of God, they had better have had a change of heart and now really want to.

It’s okay to want to be a preacher.  Some see actually wanting to preach as some sort of sign of ill motive, but remember what Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:1, It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.  Again, it’s okay to want to be a preacher.  God works His will through our own will.  Therefore, the preacher himself must discern God’s calling.

The second party that needs to discern this calling is the faithful believers around the preacher.  In other words, I’m talking about his church. They have to decide if the potential preacher is both gifted and qualified to serve in this way.  Is there fruit in the church’s life resulting from his ministry?  Is there anything troubling in his character which might hinder him?  If he has a wife and children, are they in order?  Is there consistency in him over time?  The church is instrumental in discerning a man’s calling.  This truth is especially crucial given the fact that humans often easily believe they are something that they are not.  In other words, a man can easily think that he is a great preacher when he is in fact not.  Therefore, a church’s confirmation of a preacher’s calling is every bit as important as the preacher’s own desire.

Perhaps you yourself are trying to determine if God is calling you to preach, or perhaps you are preacher who has to help other men determine if God is calling them to preach.  I pray that what I’ve laid out here is helpful.  Who knows, I may have been used yesterday by God to help lay the foundation for Him to call that boy to preach someday.  Whether God calls him or not, may our churches raise up many men who are capable, and may God send them out proclaiming His truth!

10 Jan

10 Ways to Be Comforted

The prophet Daniel got some really hard news in Daniel 8.  He received a vision from God telling him about this terrible ruler to come who would persecute and kill Daniel’s kinsmen and would even directly oppose God.  To be honest, Daniel didn’t take it well.  First, he swooned and passed out (Dan 8:17-18).  Then, he lay deflated and sick for days (Dan 8:27).  Daniel really didn’t find what the Lord had shown him and told him to be very comforting, but I’m convinced that God didn’t just mean it for knowledge’s-sake.  I believe He meant it for comfort’s-sake as well.

You see, in the face of difficulties, God certainly desires for His people to be comforted.  He wants them to have peace of mind and hope.  He wishes that anxieties and hopelessness be replaced with trust and hopefulness, even in the midst of trials and tribulations.  But really Daniel wasn’t in any sort of trial or tribulation.  Yes, he was in Babylonian exile but was living well in the king’s court.  In reality, Daniel was only thinking about tribulation to come, and just that caused him great emotional trouble and discomfort.  We see this sort of thing all the time in people’s lives.  Thoughts often lead to discomfort, anxiety, nervousness.  So, whether you are merely thinking about trials and tribulations or you are actually going through some, God desires for you to be comforted.  Therefore, the Bible is full of ways to be comforted.

In this article, I want to share with you 10 ways to be comforted in the midst of thinking about or experiencing trials and tribulations.  I’ll give you 4 things to know, 4 things to be, and 2 things to do.

1)  Know that all trials and tribulations are but for a season
You’ve probably heard and said the wise saying, “This too shall pass.”  Although that statement isn’t Scripture, the Scripture communicates that very idea.  How does it do it?  It does it through numbers.  Take for instance the 2,300 days prophesied in Daniel 8:14 concerning the number of days the saints of God would be trampled and the regular sacrifice would be removed.  We, especially me, immediately get out our calculators when we read a number like that.  We want to know the when of the number, but as I’ve thought and studied further on prophetic numbers, it seems that God perhaps first means for us to realize through the number the comforting truth that what we’re about to go through is only temporary.

It seems that that’s how God uses numbers throughout the Bible.  These examples are pertinent:

  • God told Noah that it would rain only 40 days and 40 nights, and then the rain and flood would subside (Gen 7:4).
  • God told Israel that they would be in the wilderness only 40 years, and then those remaining would enter the Promised Land (Num 14:33).
  • God told Judah that they would be in Babylonian exile only 70 years, and then they would return to the land (Jer 25:11).
  • God told His saints that we would experience the wrath of the Antichrist for only 3.5 years during the Great Tribulation at the end of the age, and then he’ll be slain by Jesus Christ, and Christ will set up His everlasting kingdom on the earth (Dan 7:25).
  • God told His saints that we would experience the millennial reign of Christ for just 1,000 years, and then something better—the New Heaven and New Earth—will come (Rev 20:6).

I submit to you that all of these numbers are given, maybe even first and foremost, so that we’ll know that their reference is only temporary.  It has an end, and there’s great comfort in this.

2)  Know that God is working all things after the counsel of His will
Ephesians 1:11 tells us something very important about God.  In that verse we find that God is a god who works all things after the counsel of His will.  The fact that God’s will is going to come to pass should bring us great comfort given His moral nature.  We usually focus only God’s attributes of being—that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present.  While there’s certainly comfort in these attributes, it’s only found when we couple God’s attributes of being with His attributes of character.  What I mean is that a god who does all, knows all, is everywhere, and is evil is a nightmare.  Therefore, our comfort is fully found in God’s perfect being and holy character.

You see, the God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present is also the God who is all-loving, all-just, and all-wise.  He always does what is ultimately loving, ultimately right, and ultimately best.  This sort of god is the sovereign God of the universe who has us in His hands.  He’s loving, righteous, and wise!  Therefore, His will coming to pass is a blessing.  We should rejoice that God works all things after the counsel of His will.  Remembering this truth brings great comfort because goodness will reign.

3)  Know that God is working all things for your good
God doesn’t just work things after the counsel of His will.  His will is worked for our personal good.  We find this truth clearly taught in Romans 8:28-29, And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. “All things” in v28 certainly includes trials and tribulations.  What I’m about to say is sometimes hard for our humanity to swallow, but it’s fully biblical.  Everything that happens has been ordained by God for a purpose, and for those who are God’s children, the ultimate purpose is to make us more like Christ.  Christlikeness is the good that God is working all things toward.

In light of Daniel 8, we see that this goal is sometimes accomplished through corrective discipline.  In Daniel 8:12, we read, And on account of transgression the host will be given over to the horn along with the regular sacrifice; and it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper. Even Antiochus Epiphanes, which is who the “little horn” prophecy was primarily foretelling of, was for Israel’s good.  Because of their disobedience to God, God used him to bring them back to Him and conform them to holiness.  God still works for this same good in His present-day saints, and that reality should give us comfort in midst of trials and tribulations.

4)  Know that there is unspeakable comfort in Christ
One of my favorite verses from Scripture was spoken by Jesus.  He told us in Matthew 11:28-30, Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Did you know that Jesus recognizes your burden?  He indeed does!  He’s not ignorant of your situation.  Even more, He desires to give you rest and comfort from your situation.

The second verse and chorus of the great hymn “It Is Well” offers an excellent example of finding comfort in Jesus Christ:

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed his own blood for my soul.
It is well with my soul, it is well, it is well with my soul.

The truth is that Christ is enough of a prize.  He’s the treasure hidden in the field (Mt 13:44) and the costly pearl (Mt 13:45-46).  If you have Him, you have the Kingdom.  Therefore, He’s more precious that husbands, wives, children, jobs, houses, cars, lands, and health.  If you have Christ, you have everything!  And nothing will separate us from Christ, as promised in Romans 8:38-39, For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s comfort unspeakable!

5)  Be wary of date-setters
Why?  They will steal your comfort.  Naturally, we want to escape trials and tribulations, but that makes us vulnerable to false prophets.  Men abound who want to set a date for the return of Christ, and we can so easily buy into their claims.  Many have to their near ruin.

Most of us here in Middle Tennessee have seen the billboards telling us that Jesus is coming back May 21, 2011.  What the signs don’t really tell you is who’s making this claim.  The self-proclaimed prophet’s name is Harold Camping, and Camping is a false prophet.  You see, he did this same thing about 16 years ago around 1994.  Coming into that year, Camping put out that Jesus was coming back September 15-17, 1994.  When that date passed, he changed his prediction to September 1994.  When October came, he changed his prediction to 1994.  When 1995 came, he changed his prediction to spring 1995.  When summer 1995 came, he announced that God had had a Jonah/Nineveh moment.  In other words, he claimed that his prediction had been right, but God had relented, deciding to put off Jesus’ return.

Well, Camping’s back at it again, and so are many others.  Did you know that author Stephen O’Leary counted over 200 similar claims between 1945 and 1995 alone?  Be wary of date-setters.  You see, even Jesus did not know the day or the hour.  We know this from Matthew 24:36-42:

  • But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37 “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 “Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.

Friend, I’m not sure how within the Trinitarian God-head the Father knows but the Son doesn’t, but that’s what Jesus tells us.  He didn’t know.  Therefore, we certainly can’t know.  Instead, Jesus simply tells us to be ever-ready.  Please don’t let date-setters rob you of the comfort God aims for you to have.  They’ll be wrong.  So, be wary of them.  Indeed, very wary.

6)  Be mindful that God’s timing will accord with His holy will and plan
You’ve been praying and expecting that your trial will soon end.  You’ve been praying and expecting that Jesus would return soon, and in both instances, rightly so.  But since we’ve already seen that God works all things after the counsel of His will, we should be mindful that God’s timing will accord with His holy will and plan.  In other words, what you’re facing isn’t over yet because God is not done doing what He planned to do through it.  Jesus hasn’t returned yet because God’s plan isn’t complete yet.

We see this insight most clearly taught in 2 Peter 3:3-9:

  • Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

What Peter is saying is that God’s not brought everything to an end yet because He’s not ready for the end.  His holy will and plan is not finished yet.  Specifically, Peter says that God has not saved all that He plans to save yet.  I pray patience over you, knowing that God has not forgotten you.  Rather than forgetting you, He’s just not finished doing what He’s planned to do.  Again, there’s great comfort in that!

7)  Be in preparation for persecution and the 2nd coming
You must be ready before difficulty comes because once it breaks out, it’s too late.  Just like athletics, where you must prepare beforehand so that you’ll excel and endure in the sport, you must prepare spiritually so that you’ll excel and endure in the tribulation.  Perhaps the best text on this truth is found in Ephesians 6:13-17:

  • Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

These are the spiritual things that you’ll need when trials come and Jesus returns so that you’ll resist the devil and stand.  I know from experience that I’m more comforted in the midst of something when I’ve prepared well for it.  Scripture says that we can prepare well, and doing so, we’ll experience comfort in the middle of tribulation and testing.

8)  Be careful to set your minds on heavenly things
Colossians 3:1-3 is an important passage concerning our comfort during trials and tribulations.  It says, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. You and I will be better helped along if our focus is set on heavenly things where Christ is instead of on earthly things.  Even though Jesus was God in the flesh, He withstood His temptation in Luke 4:1-13 because His mind was set on things above.  He told Satan, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE,’” “It is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY,’” and “It is said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”  He had His mind set on the things above.

Prophetically speaking, it seems from the book of Revelation that those who take on the mark of beast will be coerced into doing so because they will have their minds set on the earth and the things of the earth.  We read in Revelation 13:15-17:

  • And it was given to [the other beast] to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.

In other words, the beast will say, “Worship me, or die.  Worship me, or starve.  Worship me, or be without.”  Desiring earthly things more than heavenly things will lead people to worship the beast, and in his service, no comfort is to be found.  Therefore, I beg you to be careful to set your mind on heavenly things where comfort is abundant.

9)  Do not fear man but God only
Oh, there’s so much that I could say here and testify about from my own life.  I’m a confessed people-pleaser, and that often leads to trouble.  The Bible boils people-pleasing down to misplaced fear.  I often fear people more than God.  Therefore, I do things to make people happy that God wouldn’t necessarily have me do.  That’s why Matthew 10:28 is such a comfort, Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. This text tells us to get our priorities right.  Man might be fear-worthy, but not nearly as fear-worthy as God.  So, make pleasing God your priority.  Indeed, there is great joy and comfort in pleasing God above everyone else.

10)  Do the work of the evangelist
Satan will often try to spin tribulations to keep us quiet about the gospel.  People under threat often say, “Just keep your faith to yourself, and you’ll get by.”  But the Great Commission doesn’t leave room for that.  We read in Matthew 28:18-20:

  • And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Where in that passage does the Great Commission come with caveats to engage in it only if it’s convenient and safe?  It’s not there.  The commission stands in season and out of season.  It stands as long as Jesus is with us, and Jesus said He’d be with us until the end of the age.

We must never stop taking the gospel to others.  That’s exactly what Satan and the Antichrist wants.  Just imagine the joy you’ll experience when even though you were under threat of persecution, you still shared the gospel, and they believed on Jesus to salvation.  You will say, “It was totally worth it!” and there’s great comfort in doing something worthwhile.  Friend, the Great Commission is infinitely worthwhile, so never stop regardless the situation.

May these 10 ways help comfort abound in your life in the days to come!

03 Jan

Help Children Love Those Who Are Different

It’s inevitable.  One day your young child as he or she developmentally matures will have their eyes opened to fact that people are different.  People come in many shapes, sizes, portions, abilities, tones, traits, and trappings, and up to a certain age, your little one will innocently be blind to all of this.  But that will change.  One day they’ll begin to notice differences among people.

I’ll hope to never forget the moment when my little Zachariah, who was nearing four-years-old at the time, commented in 2009 while watching President Obama on TV, “Barack Obama has a brown face.”  He was just making observations, but it was at that moment when I knew that a switch had been flipped in him because his comment was born out of the reality that Obama’s skin tone was different from Zachariah and his family’s.  He was beginning to see differences.

As you well know from both giving and receiving, sinful humanity often sees differences and then makes these differences an opportunity to make fun or oppress.  Just watch a school playground during recess for while to see what I’m talking about.  Really, it’s a depraved coping mechanism we run to when faced with something not like ourselves.  In order to make ourselves feel superior, we verbally, physically, or systematically attack those who are different.  So much strife and hurt have been produced from this sort of action.

But that’s how those who live in the flesh respond.  We as Christians are not to be ruled by our flesh but by the Spirit of God.  Therefore, when we see differences, love is our response instead of ridicule.  However, given the natural gravity of our depravity, love has to be learned.  Parents must teach their children to love those who are different from them.

It’s for that reason that I appreciate so much John Piper’s sermon from January 17, 2010.  His aim is to equip parents to train children to love those who are different.  He provides eight ways for you to do this:

1)  Help the children believe in God’s sovereign wisdom and goodness in creating them with the body that they have.

2)  Help the children believe in God’s sovereign wisdom and goodness in making other people with the body that they have.

3)  Help the children believe that they and all other children and adults are made in God’s image.

4)  Teach the children that God tells us to do to others as we would like others to do to us.

5)  Teach the children and model for them that their own sin is uglier than anybody they think is physically unattractive.

6)  Teach the children that God loves them in spite of the ugliness of their sin and that he proved this by sending his Son to die for our sins and give forgiveness to all who would trust him.

7)  Teach the children that because Jesus died for them and rose again, he becomes for them an all-satisfying Friend and Treasure.

8)  Teach the children to love others who are different from them, not in order to be accepted by God, but because they already are accepted by God because of Jesus.

I would strongly encourage you to read the manuscript or watch the video of this message to get the full teaching behind these eight ways.  It’s really good stuff!

I pray that God by the power of the Holy Spirit will work mightily in our own hearts love for those who are different.  Then, may we pass this Christlike trait onto our little ones so that they’ll be encouraged to honor God in the midst of a glorious variety of people.  Love those who are different in spite of their differences because God has loved you in spite of your sin!