Monday, March 28, 2011

Paradise Restored

Road Signs

I remember just about a year ago getting geared up for a trip to my daughter’s wedding in Tucson, Arizona. Five of us planned on going from Hot Springs, Arkansas. Flying was not an option because ticket prices were too high and I just hate flying. I’m okay with the pat downs and luggage checks, it’s just that flying is a two fisted assault on me, igniting my claustrophobia and motion sickness. We rented a comfortable car and set out on the near 20 hour trek across the Southwestern US towards the heart of the Sonora Desert.

One of the constants on our journey was the ubiquitous road signs. They let us know if we were on the right highway and how far until our next destination. In the big, flat, straight, boring expanse of Texas they also assured us we were not caught in some dimensional wormhole that would keep us perpetually in the midst of oil wells and cattle ranches, that indeed, the New Mexico border was getting closer and closer.

Without the road signs we would have had many doubts on the journey. We were able to coordinate with our map and make sure we were on the right interstate, and even able to identify some landmarks. Road signs became even more important as we passed through larger cities like Dallas and El Paso where the octopus of exits and overpasses offered confusion to the casual traveler. We made it to our destination without getting lost once, and also had a safe return.

I believe the Lord Jesus Christ has provided us road signs concerning his return as well. Have you noticed a lot of talk about them lately? I woke up this morning to a fresh round of them on Facebook. The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan. The growing crises in the Middle East including Libya, Syria and Yemen. Growing hostility towards Israel. All signs that the end is near and Christ is standing on the threshold waiting to return. At least that’s what people are saying.

Does anybody remember a guy by the name of Hal Lindsey? He wrote a bestseller in 1970 titled, “The Late Great Planet Earth.” Lindsey is a pre-millennial dispensationalist. I know, that’s a mouthful. What does it mean? Basically that a series of dispensations, or events will occur before the end, and that the church will be raptured (or immediately taken) out before a period known as the Tribulation and will return for a 1000 year reign with Christ before the creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth. Go ahead, google it, look it up on wikipedia if you are curious about further details. People of Lindsey’s opinion believe the end can be foretold by watching these events. His book sold millions and was a New York Times bestseller. He was sure he knew when the end would come. He had seen all the signs as foretold in the Bible. He believed it would happen in the 1980s. You guessed it, he was wrong.

The funny thing is Lindsey has revised his book and his calculations. Of course he is not alone. Since the 1st Century people have been trying to figure out when Christ would return. Many preceded good old Hal, and many have succeeded him in seeking to predict the date. Maybe you have heard of Harold Camping who has predicted the rapture of the church will occur May 21 of this very year? He has a complicated mathematical formula that has led him to this precise date. Never mind the fact that previously he had predicted it would happen in the 1990s. He has recalculated now and is sure he has it right.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for that first generation of Christians? Take a moment and pretend you are back in 70 AD as the Roman Army marches into Jerusalem, raising the city and slaughtering thousands of people. When they come to the temple, they totally destroy it, not leaving a single stone unturned. Wait a minute, that sounds familiar doesn’t it?

As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of one another!” (Matthew 24:1-2 NLT)

I’m sure right there on that day many people felt the end had come. But really, it was just beginning. As the old Jerusalem fell down, I’m sure many anticipated the arrival of the Messiah heralding the creation of a New Jerusalem, but again, the end was just beginning.

Over the course of chapter 24 in Matthew, Jesus addresses his disciples’ questions about when he will return to set up his kingdom. It’s easy to see shadows of these events today. We see nation rising against nation. We see widespread famine. We see devastating earthquakes…and this is stuff he mentions in just one verse! Take note of what he says to his disciples in verse 6 though:

“Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.”

Skip down to verse 8:

“But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.”

In a way Jesus is warning his disciples, “If you think this is bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

The coming calamity that Jesus describes eventually grows to catastrophic levels that have never been witnessed including the sun and moon giving no light and stars falling from the sky. Not only will the earth be shaken, but the heavens will be too.

The funny thing to me is that people are quick to point out all the natural calamities leading up to the end, but Jesus gives other signs. More than any of the natural disasters disturbing me lately it is one of the spiritual disasters that leaving me rattled:

“And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.” (Matthew 24:11 NLT)

A prophet is one who claims to bear a message from God. Have you noticed the number of people bearing false messages from God lately? You’ll find one on the bestseller list right now, Rob Bell with his book “Love Wins.” His false message is this: God loves everybody so much that he would never send anybody to eternal torment in a flaming pit called Hell. That disturbs me more than earthquakes and famine. Even more disturbing is the number of Christians who are embracing this false message!

Road signs. Yes, they are all over the place. On the trip to Arizona the road signs told us how many miles until we reached our destination. That is one thing the road signs to the end do not tell us. How many more miles? How many more years, or months or days or hours? Jesus answered that question:

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36 NLT)

Not Hal Lindsey. Not Harold Camping. Not your friend on Facebook. Nobody knows. Do not be an alarmist shouting, “The end is here! The end is here!” Do not ignore the signs and live like all is well. Live with a sense of urgency. Look forward to the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. Offer comfort and hope in his name to those that are overwhelmed in this crazy world. Don’t try to calculate and decipher exactly when he will return, but be ready right here and right now if he should crack the horizon with the brilliance of his coming glory. Tell other people how they can be ready as well. Share the message of his Gospel, of his love, mercy and grace. Put your faith in Christ, not in somebody who worked up a formula based on their interpretation of Daniel + Ezekiel + Revelation.


Monday, March 14, 2011


But even if we, or an angel fro m heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (Galatians 1:8 NASB)

I sat with a group of about 15 youth at the Juvenile Detention Center a couple of weeks ago. We had just watched a video from the 13 Letters Curriculum (from Reach Records) on the book of Colossians. The primary focus of our discussion was the character of Christ. The young men were doing a good job discussing who Jesus was and then I moved to the subject of him being the only way to salvation. I made a concise statement, “Jesus is the only way to heaven. Anyone who puts their faith in anything else is going to Hell.”

Complete shock overcame the group. All of them agreed that Jesus was the son of God. All of them agreed that Jesus had died for their sins. All of them agreed Jesus had risen from the grave three days after his execution and now sat in heaven at the right hand of God. However, the exclusion of all other faiths as paths to salvation just overwhelmed them.

“What about Muslims? Are they all going to Hell?”

“What about people who don’t believe in God? Are they going to Hell?”

My “yes” hit them like a baseball bat to the jaw. Despite their confession of who and what Jesus was they had a hard time making the leap to him being the only route to salvation. Such views are politically incorrect and intolerant. My group of youth had been raised in a culture that taught tolerance. However, the definition of tolerance had changed from their generation to mine.

Tolerance once meant respecting other people’s opinions. Now it means accepting other people’s opinions. Big difference. Our young people are being indoctrinated into this view. The ability to hold two contrary views as truth was once considered a sign of insanity. Now it is labeled intelligence or maturity. It’s an insidious philosophy that has crept into our learning institutions from the lowest to highest levels. My view earns me the label of small minded or bigoted or intolerant.

Logic itself dictates some conclusion other than opposing sides are both right. If Christianity and Islam cannot agree on the divinity of Christ how can they both be right? If Christianity is built on the divinity of Christ, how can it ever be reconciled with a faith system that denies he was anything more than a good teacher or a prophet? Logically, either one side is right and the other wrong, or both are wrong.

To try and reconcile it by saying that God is bigger than our ability to understand him and works through various ways to reveal himself is a logical fallacy as well. If we accept that God is all powerful and all knowing, then we must assume that he can clearly articulate the truths of who he is through a medium that we can understand. Is he the author of order or the author of confusion?

Honestly I have more respect for the atheist who believes none of it is true than I do for the faithful who want to embrace a buffet of spirituality saying each is good in its own way and reveals parts of the whole truth. I’m not much for riding fences. I stood in the atheist camp for decades and for me it was always an all or nothing affair. Either you believe or you don’t. Saving faith revolves around how you define who and what Jesus is. We cannot attribute words to him that indicate he is the only way (John 14:6) and then say other ways are possible paths as well. In that case instead of calling him Lord we are calling him a liar.

We live in a culture of tolerance today where we are encouraged to avoid exclusivist statements. We might offend somebody. We might even be accused of hate speech. However, I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Galatians again:

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 NASB)

Take a minute and go back and read Galatians 1:8 over. Paul says anybody who says something different about the Lord Jesus Christ is to be “accursed.” The Greek word is “anathema” which means “a person or thing doomed to destruction.” I think it is all clear. I am judging nobody; I am merely presenting the truths of the Gospel. God sends nobody to Hell; people end up there because of the choices they make. Do not be afraid to share the true Gospel with other people. Don’t ride fences. Remember the words of Jesus:

And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:32 NASB)

Only one truth can be the truth.

Randy Alan

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Paradise Created

I started a new sermon series on Paradise this last Sunday. You ever wonder what it was like in the Garden of Eden? Take a look at it with me in this message.