Watch and pray … and trust.

We do not live in a bubble. The birth pains Jesus foretold affect us all. These days, fear and worry do not nibble occasionally at the edges of our lives. No, they are bold, marching right into our hearts and minds, taking over our thoughts and emotions, and dictating our behaviors.

How do the children of God, followers of Christ, live through the birth pains?

While Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 give Jesus’ description of many terrifying things that are yet to take place (and are already taking place), tucked into those chapters are our Lord’s words on how to live in these days. The three chapters are almost parallel, all of them echoing the same thoughts.

“Don’t panic.” These things must happen. The earth will go through these birth pains before the new can come. Don’t panic. Hold on.

“Pray for strength…” Those who endure to the end will “win their souls.”

Severe persecution will come, “but this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.” Our mission is to make new disciples, and Jesus promised that we don’t need to worry about what we will say when we stand trial for our faith. The Spirit will speak through us. Many of us are not yet under arrest for following Jesus, but we do stand at times “on trial” in front of those who oppose Christ’s teaching. I do tend to worry about what to say in these situations, but let’s claim this promise and pray it in our war rooms!

“Remember, I’m coming back. Watch for me. Be ready.” Luke adds these words from Jesus: “Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let the day catch you unaware.” (Luke 21:34) Carousing and drunkenness don’t hold much sway in my life, but the worries of daily life? Yes, they can dull my heart. I need to stay alert.

And then, as we seek strength and wisdom to live in these birth-pain times, we also need to go to the fourth Gospel. John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, also records words from Jesus as the Lord looks toward the future.

But John concentrates on a completely different aspect of how we are to live through these times of birth pains.

In John’s account, very little is said about events. Instead, as Jesus spends the last hours of His life preparing His disciples for what’s coming in the future, He says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (John 14:1)

There it is, all wrapped up in two short sentences.

Jesus goes on to talk about:

* the coming of the Spirit, who will guide and care for His followers. Depend on Him!
* living always in the presence of God. Stay connected to the Vine.
* loving each other and finding joy overflowing.

Some of the most loved and treasured passages are there in John 14 and 15, as Jesus talks about how His followers are to live in the time between His leaving the earth and the time He returns.

John records only one of Jesus’ warnings about coming events:  Terrible persecution. The hatred of the world. A time when “those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.” Sound familiar?

Fear and worry came stomping into my head a few days ago as I considered some of these things that are now touching my life.

I needed to hear the assurance of my Lord and promises concerning how we can endure through these times.

Everything is summed up in those two sentences: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” I’m going forward, basing everything on that trust.

 

 

 

*

Psalm Prayer:

I am trusting you, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.
(Psalm 31:14-16)

*

© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Birth Pains

In my Bible, each of three Gospels have a section with the same heading: Jesus Foretells the Future. Isn’t that what we all want to know? What’s going to happen between now and the time Jesus comes back? What are the signs that we’re almost there? How will we know that we are living in the very last chapters of this earth’s history?

The disciples wanted to know, too. Jesus had told them He was leaving. Well, when can we expect you to be back? they wanted to know.

If you’re looking for an answer here, I do not have it. We are given much prophecy about the future from Jesus Himself, from the Old Testament prophets, and from the apostles, but Jesus said explicitly that no one knows the day that He will again appear here. No one except the Father.

In many ways, we are like the Jewish nation who waited so long for the Messiah to be born, looking into prophecy, waiting, looking forward to the day when the Redeemer would arrive. We are doing the same now.

But to know the exact time? If we try to sort it all out, we quickly run into seeming contradictions and confusion. Even those who devote their lives to studying prophecy cannot agree. I suspect that is because there are many things we simply will not understand until the events actually play out. Then we will be like some of the folks we read about in Scriptures who suddenly said, “Aha! That’s what was prophesied long ago. And now it’s happened!”

I used to avoid reading those prophecies of what we call “end times.” I saw it only as grim, scary stuff. I didn’t want to have to think about what was coming.

But, of course, now we’re reading about all of it in the newspapers and on the Internet. The things Jesus foretold are happening today. And for many generations, people have been reading prophecy and looking around at the world and seeing everything Jesus foretold come to pass.

Jesus did not know when He would be back. But He could look ahead at the world’s history and tell His disciples what we can expect. His foretelling is recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

And when we sit with the Spirit and read these three passages carefully, we find them full of hope.

Yes, hope.

In the midst of natural disasters, man-made horrors, and severe persecution of Christ’s followers (I don’t need to elaborate. You can read these chapters or look around at the world today), we find hope.

Where is there hope in all of that?

As Jesus talks of these hard times, two of the three Gospel writers record these words from Him: “But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” (Mark 13:8)

Birth pains. The beginning of the new!

As Jesus looked ahead into the future human eyes could not see, He wanted to prepare His followers for what was coming. But He also saw events on earth through an even longer-range lens; He saw our history within the scope of God’s eternal plans.

And thus He saw the birth of the new—the birth we wait for and are counting on. He looked beyond the terror and agony of these times to the coming birth of a new world.

He said that when we see these things come to pass, we can know that these are birth pains, increasing in intensity (and pain) until at last, at last, the new is born.

Yes, we are looking forward to the new, but…it’s hard, isn’t it, to look beyond all the terrible things Jesus foretold? How do we live through the birth pains?

Come back tomorrow.

 

 

 

*

Psalm Prayer:

I am trusting you, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.
(Psalm 31:14-16)

*

© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Celebrate the second arrival

As we go into the Christmas season this year, I hope that while we celebrate and rejoice in what has happened in the past—Christ’s first coming to this earth—we will also look forward, with even greater joy and expectation to what will come in the future—His second appearance in our world.

And how different from the first that second coming will be!

The first arrival was quiet, hidden from most eyes and understanding. Even the one who brought Him into the world, His mother, could not quite grasp what was happening. An angel had explained the plan to her, but … can you imagine her bewilderment and wonder at it all? “She pondered these things in her heart” must be a description of every day of her life as the mother of our Messiah.

And as the boy Jesus grew up, life in the world around them went on as usual. He lived unnoticed by the world in an ordinary village.

He entered the public eye for a few brief years—and even then, the world in general didn’t know what to make of Him—who was He? What was He after? What was He trying to accomplish? Yes, even some of those closest to Him were still “pondering” after they had seen Him dead and then alive again.

And when He was killed, in the eyes of the world, He had seemingly accomplished nothing.

But none of that will be true of His second arrival!

He will be seen by everyone. (see Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27; Revelation 1:7)

Instead of a tiny baby, He will come as King and Judge, in all His power and glory.

This time, there will be no doubt about who He is.

And there will be no doubt about His power and what He has come to do.

The world who has ignored and scorned Him will know it is about to be judged. But for those who belong to the King, He said we will be able to “stand and look up, for your salvation is near!” (Luke 21:28).

It will be obvious to all — He has come to accomplish everything He said He would do!

I am thinking… We make quite a big fuss over remembrance of the first arrival. What if we shifted our focus and made our “Christmas” a day to celebrate and rejoice in our expectation of the King’s arrival yet to come?

Seriously. Think about it. Did Jesus ever say, “You must remember the day I was born…”? I don’t think so.

But He did say, over and over again, “I’m coming back. Be ready. Watch for me.”

What if we celebrated our expectation of that coming as intensely as we throw ourselves into December 25?

 

 

 

*

Psalm Prayer:

I am trusting you, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.
(Psalm 31:14-16)

*

© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

WHEN will Christ be back ?????

I don’t know how it happens, but I apologize. Every week, I tell myself I must keep these posts shorter. Make them more concise, easier to read. Try not to follow too many wandering, detouring thoughts.

And then, before I know it, the words and thoughts are stampeding—and a post is twice as long as usual!

(sigh)

Thanks for sticking with me anyway.

So, today’s gonna be short. Well, at least shorter.

***

Our full and overflowing redemption lies ahead of us, fellow pilgrim. It is everything we long for. It’s what we were created for in the beginning.

When will it come? When will we see our King face to face? That’s the big question. The disciples asked exactly the same question of Jesus.

The answer is short: No one on earth knows. Not the angels. Not even Jesus.

And so, of course, it’s easy for those who don’t believe to ridicule such hope.

Peter replies to those who scoff and say, It will never happen. It’s a fairy tale.

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent…Our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved (2 Peter 3:9, 15).

And for us who do believe, it’s easy to forget what we are truly destined for, and thus let our earthly day-to-day living sweep over us and flood our minds and sap our energies…and we simply forget who we are and where we’re headed.

Let’s not lose sight of what is coming.

Because Jesus has said, “Be ready all the time. I’ll be back when I’m least expected.” (see Matthew 24:44)

Only God the Creator knows exactly when that will be.

For at just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. (1 Timothy 6:15)

When God says so. “At just the right time.”

That’s the answer to our question. It’s good enough for me.

And I’ll concentrate on being ready for it all!

 

 

*

Psalm Prayer:

I am trusting you, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.
(Psalm 31:14-16)

*

© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Christ’s return: full, final rescue

For more on our hope for the future, we look to the past. Centuries before Christ even walked on the earth, Psalm 130 was written. Entitled, “A song for pilgrims,” it’s a song for all pilgrims in all times. That’s us. Citizens of another kingdom. On pilgrimage toward home.

The psalm opens in the depths of despair. (Ever know any moments like that?)

It acknowledges the hopelessness of our sinfulness. (Have you seen it in yourself?)

But…

The Lord comes, with His forgiveness, so that we will come back to Him.

And here’s a line. Probably written just for me, in 2015…

“I am counting on the LORD.”

We pilgrims are counting on the Lord and on His promises. Why?

The song ends: “For with the Lord there is unfailing love. His redemption overflows.”

That’s why.

***

What does that have to do with the future ahead of us pilgrims?

The key is in that phrase—His overflowing redemption, or, as another translation puts it, His full redemption. It’s more than enough, complete, totally thorough and comprehensive.

Couple that with His unfailing love—and aren’t you glad His love has not given up on His creation?—and our future starts to come into focus.

We have been redeemed and rescued from the grip of sin and death, yes, but there is still more redemption to come. Full redemption. It’s what the Scriptures are referring to when they talk about Christ returning to earth again to bring our salvation.

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:27-28).

The first time Christ came to earth, it was to settle the matter of our sins. We were separated from God the Creator and Father. The next time Jesus comes, it will be to accomplish our complete rescue. (The word salvation means rescue.)

Rescue?

Yes, a final rescue from death and decay. We have been forgiven by God, but we still live in a world under the curse of death. We all know it. Can’t escape it. Death tears at our lives, wounding us, breaking our hearts. We live with the decay of mortal bodies.*

And there will be a final rescue from the evil that stalks this world. Christ will come back to bring His judgment and justice to this world and deal with the evil that twisted and corrupted His good creation.

We will be free of the evil that stalks our souls. Our pastor reminds us that Satan doesn’t care one bit about us—all he cares about is his war against God. And he would love to use us as his pawns in the war. Christ’s return will signal the end of the war within us. Finally, our transformation into sons and daughters of God will be complete!

His creation will be rescued—a resurrection. New bodies, new earth, new heavens, a new world. A new creation! I’m excited about being a part of that!

And in His full, overflowing, complete redemption, Christ’s return will rescue us from our separation from God. There are many debates about exactly how Christ will return, but one thing is clear in Scripture—He will gather His people to be with Him. No more barriers between us. We’ll see and know Him, exactly like He is.

The next time He comes, He’s coming to rescue us—fully, completely, finally.

My hope waits with great expectation.

.

* (I sometimes wonder, though, if death and decay provide for us the ultimate illustration of how God uses everything for our good. In God’s reality, death ushers us into life, and the decline of our bodies pushes us to let go of them…that’s a subject for another day, another post.)

 

 

*

Psalm Prayer:

I am trusting you, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.
(Psalm 31:14-16)

*

© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)