Hebrews: Be Encouraged!

I’ve tried the “read through the Bible in a year” plans and I don’t like them. Not because I don’t like to read the Bible – I do. The Bible is light and life to me and nourishment to my soul. I don’t like those plans because they don’t give me time to soak up and meditate on the Scripture. I want to marinate in God’s Word. And I love to dig. So, if you’ll permit me to camp out on Hebrews 10:25 one more day, there is something important here I want you to see. The writer said, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” I want us to look closely at the very last part of this verse:  “all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Keep in mind that the writer is addressing Jewish believers who are growing weary of the oppression and persecution that accompany faith in Christ in this wicked world.  They want to go back to the Law. They want to give up on Jesus. But they don’t need chastisement. They need encouragement. And the writer offers it: “the Day is approaching.” What is this “Day?” Only the culmination of all of human history – the Day of Christ’s return.

Paul taught about the coming of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians – “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and . . . so we will be with the Lord forever” (4:16, 17). And then he added, “Encourage one another with these words” (4:18). What words? Jesus is coming back for us! He said so Himself: “I go and prepare a place for you, [and] I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:3). That never fails to give me hope.

When the struggle is real, when the days are hard, when the world is out of control the promise of Christ’s return changes more than my mood, it changes my whole life. “The Day” is near. The signs are everywhere. It won’t be long before our King comes back and everything will be made right. Be encouraged Beloved. He’s on His way.

The Day Jesus was Born

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A friend asked me about the validity of celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25th. The Bible doesn’t put a date on a calendar, and while we can get a good idea from tracing the astronomical records of a unique star, no one wrote the exact date into the annuals of human history. Many people have commented that shepherds would never have their flocks out in a field or on a hillside where they would be exposed to frigid temperatures. But several scholars have noted that generally, the temperature does not drop to those levels until after our traditional Christmas season, so there is reason to assume we’re pretty close.

I did say that the Bible doesn’t give us a precise date, but it does actually tell us when Jesus was born. Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman.” I find so much comfort in that. The Bible is chock-full of references to time, from the record of Creation to “the day [when] His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.” God actually does have a calendar of sorts – a divine calendar – and all of human history flows according to the plans He made before the creation of the world. Everything will happen “when the time has fully come.”

I hope you take that personally. Because the same God who established the universe’s timeline has your name on His calendar too. He is moving in your life according to His purpose and design. He is making things and people and events come together just as He planned. Beloved, your life is not some crazy quilt with pieces of all shapes, sizes, and colors haphazardly sewn together. It is a work of beauty, precision, and exactness, stitched firmly together with blood-red cords. Every moment of your life has been leading up to the magnificent finished project that will be revealed, “when the time has fully come.”

The point is not to know when He came, but to know that He came and why He came. To set you free from your bondage of sin and to give you eternal life. So feel free to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th with joy and thanksgiving for God’s perfect, divine plan. And remember that He’s an “on-time” God. It won’t be a second late. Nor will it be a second early. It will be “when the time has fully come.”

REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!

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He stood on the corner of a busy intersection in Tallahassee holding signs that read: “REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!” “JESUS IS COMING AGAIN! ARE YOU READY?” People gave him the middle finger salute of ridicule.  I doubted that his methods were very effective, but I knew that he was not wrong. The end is near. Jesus is coming back. Soon. But this has been said in every generation since the Apostle’s day. Before the dust had settled at the empty tomb, Peter and Paul were watching the eastern skies. Maybe I’ve just become very cynical in my “old age,” but I believe the signs are so prevalent that we really are in the last days.

Let’s consider Paul’s words in the context of our world today: “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves (the ‘selfie’ generation), lovers of money (how high did the latest lottery get?), boastful, proud (entertainers and athletes), abusive (people punching out random strangers), disobedient to their parents (ever raised a teenager?), ungrateful (see the previous), unholy (sexual deviants in church leadership), without love (mass shootings), unforgiving (how high is the divorce rate?), slanderous (politics in general), without self-control (how high is the illegitimate birthrate?), brutal (Antifa), not lovers of the good (Washington, D.C.), treacherous (I refer you back to politics), rash (daily shootings), conceited, (refer back to boastful and proud ), lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (pretty much the world in general), having a form of godliness but denying its power (the Western church). ” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, adapted).

Globally many things are coming together according to prophetic Scriptures of the end. Nationally, evil rules the day from the highest office in the land to the decisions of the local school board. Jesus spoke of the end of the age with an increase in war, natural disasters, famine, persecution of Christians, unholiness in holy places, and an increase of wickedness and a decrease of love. If you don’t recognize these things in the world today, you need to put down your phone.

But there is still time – at least a moment – before the end.

Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, are you spreading the gospel?

Beloved, it is time to repent because the end is near. Jesus is coming back. Are you ready?

Don’t Be a Fool

oil_lamp“The foolish virgins said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’” Matthew 25:8

Please Read: Matthew 25:1-13

This passage always puzzled me. Jesus often spoke of the importance of generosity on the part of believers, so why would He offer a parable about selfish women who won’t share their oil? It seemed a contradiction to me. But as I’ve learned to study the Bible, and especially Jesus’ parables, I’m learning to look for the deeper meanings and truths behind His words.

This parable is about so much more than sharing. It speaks of the church and of the return of Christ. It is part of a bigger series, called the Olivet Discourse that begins in Matthew 24 and continues through the end of chapter 25 where Jesus is teaching about His return. The disciples had asked “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (24:3). Jesus had a great deal to say about “false prophets” and the falling away of people who claimed to be His followers. He also spoke about the coming time of tribulation, which will weed out the false and reveal the true followers. (I firmly believe we are seeing the early stages of this “weeding out” process even now.) But the heart of all He said in Matthew 24 and 25 is simple: “Jesus is coming, and we must be ready.”

The skeptic demands to know when, but Jesus said “The Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (24:44), and that is an important point in the passage we are discussing. But to understand this parable better, we need a little “back story.” A wedding story to be precise.

A Jewish wedding in the time of Jesus was different from weddings today. No plans were set on the calendar, no invitations sent out, little to no advanced notice was given, even for the bride, the wedding party and guests. For that matter, even the groom had to wait until his father told him to go fetch his bride.  (This is another wonderful study that we’ll look at soon.)  The groom got the nod from his father and messengers went mere hours before him to tell the bride and the expected guests that the wedding was on – now! Being prepared was essential for everyone involved.

In this parable, the word had been spread that the bridegroom was on his way to claim his bride, but for an unknown reason, he was delayed. As the ten virgins waited, they continued to burn their lamps, and in the process, burned their oil. Jesus said five of those virgins were wise enough to bring extra oil, but five did not. But Jesus is not speaking specifically about oil – He is speaking about faith – that is faith in Him as Savior. And He is confronting those who are part of the crowd, but have not received the grace that God offers. They are the foolish virgins who first try to “borrow” from the wise virgins and then run to the market to attempt to buy what only Jesus offers. They are the ones who are left standing outside the door, denied entry because Jesus does not recognize His Spirit in them. They are foolish – but they have only fooled themselves.

We are talking here about salvation through Jesus Christ, for only those who have received Christ have the Spirit of Christ, and only those with the Spirit of Christ are received into eternal life. Paul expressed it very plainly in Romans 8:9: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” John makes it even clearer: “This is how we know He (Christ) lives in us; we know it by the Spirit He gave us” (I John 3:24).

Our churches are filled with wise and foolish people, some who have taken hold of the life that Jesus Christ offers and some who have not. Those who have are ready for the return of the Bridegroom have “lamps” that are full of the never-ending life of Christ, and when He returns, Jesus will welcome them to the wedding banquet. According to Matthew 25:46 “The righteous [will go] to eternal life.” Those who have not, no matter how much they plead on that day, have a different and terrifying destination – “They will go away to eternal punishment.”

My pastor/mentor says “The message of the virgins is that there are people who know about his Lordship, yet do nothing to obey the words of their Lord. They know ABOUT him, but have not considered him worthy of their obedience. Their condition is the height of foolishness. Their intentional ignorance (or perhaps ignorance born of apathy) has condemned them. So the bridegroom rightly answers with that terrifying reply – “I don’t know you”. This answer is consistent with Jesus words in Matthew 7:21-22 “Not all who say to me Lord, Lord shall enter…but only they who do the will of my Father…”[1]

We must, in this life, prepare for the next life. We must receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior by faith; we must accept the grace that is offered through the cross. Only then will we be prepared for Jesus’ return. Those who refuse Christ, and even those who are part of the “church crowd” but have never received Christ, are not prepared. When Jesus returns there is no more opportunity to make that decision. It will be too late.

Will you stop for a moment and ask yourself “Does the Spirit of Christ live in me?” “Is my mind set on the things the Spirit desires?” (Romans 8:5). “Is my mind controlled by the life and peace of the Spirit?” (Romans 8:6). “Do I put to death the misdeeds of the body and live by the Spirit?” (Romans 8:13). “Does the Spirit testify to my spirit that I am a child of God?” (Romans 8:16). If you cannot answer “yes” to these questions – questions that come straight out of the Word of God – please don’t wait until it is too late to prepare for the Day that is coming. Please receive Jesus Christ today and be right with God while there is time. I speak to you in Paul’s words: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” 2 Corinthians 5:20.

If you want to pray to receive Jesus, use this prayer as your own or as an example for your own words: “Dear Jesus, I know that I am not prepared for Your return. But right now, by faith, I receive your gift of salvation and eternal life. I receive You, Jesus as my Savior. Fill me and teach me to live according to Your Spirit. Thank you for dying to save me and give me life.  Amen.

[1] Personal comments by Rev. M. D. Shockley, Pastor, St. Paul’s UMC, Jacksonville, Florida.