I am beginning a short message series tomorrow I’ve entitled “Encountering His Splendor,” and I’ve decided to allow one of my blogs each week be specifically related to my upcoming sermon I will share at SonRise Baptist Church. If you do not attend our fellowship, you can listen to my Sunday’s message online by the following Wednesday at www.sonrisebaptist.org. If you do attend, you can use this blog to help you prepare for worship. What do you think of when you consider the word splendor? A dictionary would define it as something that is magnificent and splendid in appearance; grandeur. When was the last time you encountered splendor? I’ve seen a few things in creation that would fall into that category: a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico viewed from a dock on Islamorada, the wide expanse of jungle viewed from atop a Mayan pyramid in Guatemala, the breathtaking beauty and color of a coral reef of the tropical waters of the Florida Keys, the unbelievable sight of the Grand Canyon, and looking out over the world from the top of a mountain in the wilderness of Colorado. Do you usually connect this view of creation to God’s splendor? Many of us do, and we worship Him as our Creator God – infinite in power. Can you imagine what it would be like to encounter God’s splendor first hand? I do not mean only seeing evidence of His power but encountering the reality of His presence.
God does not intend His splendor to be hidden from us. He does not mean for His presence to be elusive and unattainable. I believe this is one of the prominent messages of Christmas. God even chose for one of His names to be Emmanuel – God with Us. The question we must consider this week is how important is God’s splendor to us? Take a moment and read Luke 2:1-20. I know you might be able to almost quote the Scripture because you’ve heard it so many times, but read it again and think about the experience from the perspective of the shepherds. A shepherd was willing to risk his life to save his flock. He gave up everything in society to take care of his little family of sheep. He lived with them, he slept with them, and he watched over them. One amazing thing about this whole story is that in response to the angel’s message, the shepherds left their sheep to go encounter God’s splendor. We can assume they left someone in charge (how would you like to have drawn that straw?), but we don’t really know that. They may have all gone. Regardless, they left the sheep unattended or at least not adequately attended so they could go and see the Son of God.
One thing we must settle in our minds first, I suppose, is whether or not God’s splendor can be encountered. I have no doubt that it can be. Jesus even said in John 14:21 that he would show Himself to those who love Him and keep His commandments. The next question we must ask ourselves is this: “How big of a priority is God’s splendor to me?” Are you willing to leave everything to go meet with God? As you move into the Christmas holidays, are you willing to make encountering God’s splendor during this Christmas season a priority?
Some years ago, my family and I went to Salt Lake City to attend the Southern Baptist Convention. It was interesting to go into the heart of Mormonism to convene with representatives of the largest evangelical denomination in the world. One morning while driving to the convention hall, I sat in very slow moving traffic and figured this was typical Salt Lake City rush hour. As we inched forward, I discovered there was a stalled car at the red light causing the slowdown. I pulled into the lane to the left of the car to ease around it, and at the same time I did so, a man walked up to the window of the stalled car and tapped on the glass. I saw to my surprise that the car was not really stalled. The problem was that the driver of the car had fallen asleep at the light.
I was thinking about this event the other day as I was reflecting on Revelation 3:1-3: “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. ‘So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.” In many cases, the Church may have the reputation of being alive, but spiritually she is really dead. Unfortunately in our world, our indicators of “life” may not be God’s indicators of life. Large numbers of people, excellent music, and exciting children’s programs do not necessarily mean the Church is really spiritually alive. While the Church is asleep, we find ourselves sitting at a “green light.” We are living in a time of incredible opportunities. There has never been a time in the Church’s history where we have a front row seat to the setting of the prophetic stage as we are experiencing today. While no one can say with certainty that the events happening around us are definitely pieces of the prophetic puzzle being fulfilled, we can say that these events definitely have a prophetic ring to it. People are beginning to ask questions and circumstances are causing people to look around for greater solutions than the ones previously tried. The “green light” is the green light of the gospel. God is saying “Go!” as the world is facing greater challenges and encountering immeasurable need. If we do not actively move out and share our faith in loving and convincing ways and if we do not stand firm on the truth of God, choosing daily to walk in obedience to God’s commands, we are simply sleeping in the comfort of our self-deception thinking we are spiritually alive while in truth we are spiritually dead. Are you asleep at the light? Is your church asleep? Wake up!
Some amazing things are happening in the Middle East (even this past weekend), and it would do us well to keep our eyes upon that region. Remember that Ezekiel 38-39 speaks of a tremendous battle taking place against Israel sometime in the future. Israel’s enemies will be a coalition of nations, led by Russia (Magog), consisting of Persia (Iran), Cush (Sudan/Ethiopia), Put (Libya), Gomer (maybe Germany), and Beth-Togarmah (maybe Turkey). Many think this battle will take place just before the Tribulation Period, and the weapons, etc. of the defeated army will provide fuel for Israel to burn during the final 7 years before Christ’s Second Coming (Ezekiel 39:9). While we do not know for sure when this battle will happen, Ezekiel tells us a few things about it.
- The coalition will be led by Russia (Magog) and the Russian leader (Gog means leader).
- Israel will stand alone against her attackers (keep this in mind as I refer to a NY Times article in a moment).
- Israel will be “a land that has recovered from war” (Ezek. 38:8) and “a peaceful and unsuspecting people” (Ezek. 38:11).
- God will bring an amazing victory that will turn many Jewish people to trust Him.
While I could be wrong with my conclusions, allow me to share a few thoughts about how I see this coming about. God seems to be saying through the prophet that Israel will go to war and recover before this attack by the coalition, and this initial war brings about for Israel a time of peace that causes them to let their guard down. I cannot imagine this happening as long as Iran is still a threat and Hezbollah and others are on the loose. Something must happen to minimize these threats. This weekend some things happened that at least indicate the “pot has been stirred” one more time.
In a New York Times article from yesterday, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted as decrying the actions taken by the United States and others who appear to be snuggling up with Iran through a Geneva accord. Israel fears that while this agreement looks like Iran is stopping their nuclear weapons ambitions, this accord will actually just give them the cover needed to complete their nuclear bomb program. Netanyahu calls this agreement an “historic mistake,” and the article stated, “with many Israelis viewing the United States as having abandoned its credible military threat against Iran, they have stepped up talk of a strike of their own.” This article also indicated that “the weeks of harsh and personal condemnations leading up to the agreement on Saturday left Israel sidelined in the Geneva process.” The weekend events, and reactions to the events, seem to be pointing out several common themes presented by Ezekiel thousands of years ago:
- Israel is standing alone.
- This could be the war from which Israel recovers that leads to an attack by Russia and her bedfellows.
- A war that defeats Iran (it would also need to include Hezbollah and other threats) would bring Israel to a time of supposed peace.
I believe current events reveal we are moving toward the last days. What are your thoughts?
According to a New York Times article sent to me by my friend, Jim Wells, Brigadier General Herzl Halevi of the Israeli army is surprised Israel has not yet attacked Iran. Halevi is the commander of the Israeli army in Northern Galilee, and he is set to leave his post on November 28. Though he is surprised the attack has not yet happened, he is convinced it will happen during his successor’s tour. Though this article may not appear to have any impact on us, it is interesting to think about what is going on in the Middle East in light of Bible prophecy. Two significant events on the prophetic timeline, and possibly the last two events before the rapture (though the Bible does not say these things must take place before the rapture of the Church), are the destruction of Damascus (see Isaiah 17) and the attack on Israel by Russia and a 5-nation coalition that Ezekiel calls the Battle of Gog and Magog (see Ezekiel 38). Halevi’s comment about the forthcoming attack on Iran could point to an important piece of the puzzle leading to fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Even though Iran has indicated they will attack Israel without provocation, an attack on Iranian soil to wipe out Iran’s nuclear capabilities will be all the provocation Iran and her allies would need to retaliate against Israel. Ezekiel 38 also says that Israel will stand alone in this significant battle. If Israel attacks Iran right now, the rest of the world would certainly look upon this attack as aggressive. It seems many political leaders around the world are having a difficult time seeing Israel’s perspective that this attack would be a preemptive strike necessary for the future of Israel. If the world looks upon Israel with disfavor, I can easily see how no one will go to Israel’s aid when Iran retaliates.
We are living in exciting times. For the first time in history, the perceptive Bible student is able to watch current events unfold and connect many of them to Bible prophecy. While some of our “connections” are conjecture, it is easy to see the possibility of Christ’s coming in our lifetime. Let’s prepare as if the last days are upon us. Let’s proclaim Christ because the world is desperate to know Him and will be eternally lost if they wait too late. Let’s stand firm in the days ahead honoring Christ with our faithfulness and fruitfulness.
The opportunities to share the gospel are great. As the time of Christ’s return draws ever closer, people will become increasingly more open to the message of salvation. It is true that there will be many challenges and obstacles to our evangelistic ministry, but it is also true that circumstances will create desperation in the lives of people causing them to be open to a message of hope and to a life well lived. I say “a life well lived” because one of the greatest tools you have to make the gospel known to your friends and family is your life. I do not want to minimize the importance of actually speaking the truth to others, but many times, it is our lives that first cause an unbeliever to even be open to what we have to say. For example, everyone has trouble in this life, and an unbeliever will become softened to your message of salvation as they observe how you deal with trouble in your life. Who would not want a peace that passes understanding while going through the most difficult circumstances? Who would not want a hope that will never fade or diminish in the midst of what could be overwhelming odds of gloom and despair? A life well lived by faith and grace will herald the authenticity of the words of hope we share.
I was encouraged recently to read an article about a well-known media personality who boldly shared of her faith in Christ. I have seen Kirsten Powers on Fox News many times and was very grateful to read her personal story of her faith in Christ. I hope you will click on the link above and read her story as printed in Christianity Today. How can you share your story? There are people in your life that will greatly benefit from hearing of your faith in Christ. As our culture grows more secular and fewer people know of God’s love and offer of salvation, opportunities abound as you live out your faith and share of your hope in Christ.
The stories coming out of the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan have been heart-breaking and disturbing. While the number of deaths is unknown as I write this, the Red Cross has ordered 10,000 body bags in preparation for removing the bodies of those who were killed in this tragedy. Some have wondered if 10,000 body bags will meet the needs they will encounter. There are a lot of ways we should respond to this horrific tragedy. First, we should pray for those who have been so horribly affected. There are mothers and fathers weeping over their deceased children. There are families who survived the storm only to face the possibility of starvation. We can also give financially to help those who are suffering at this time. There are numerous agencies doing good work in the Philippines, but I would encourage you to use wisdom as you choose an organization through whom you can give to assist in the relief effort. I suggest you use one that has a good track record of careful stewardship of funds in the past. The Southern Baptist Convention offers a good means of support, as I am sure there are numerous other organizations, such as Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision. I like donating through the Southern Baptist Convention because 100% of the donation goes to the cause. All overhead is paid through other means.
I want to mention another response that we should have as we prayerfully consider the suffering of the people of the Philippines. Jesus made reference to the coming natural disasters as His return draws ever closer. Matthew 24:7-8 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” I suppose one could say I am outside the bounds of scripture when I connect typhoons to earthquakes, but I don’t think I’m too far out. While I acknowledge the specific prophecy is about earthquakes, I do believe the global climate of upheaval that will usher in the return of Christ will be stimulated by natural disasters of all kinds. Remember that global instability will be essential for the rise of the Antichrist and for the formation of a global government and currency. Disasters are fuel for the fire that will lead to global unification. It is my belief that as Christ’s return draws ever closer, natural disasters will continue to increase. Let’s pray for the people affected by this horrible disaster, but let’s also pray that God will give us eyes to see the signs of our times and ears to hear His call to faithfulness and fruitfulness in these last days.
Gratitude is a feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. One dictionary calls it a “state of being” while Psychology Today calls it “an emotion,” There’s really a pretty big difference between a “state of being” and an “emotion.” Emotions come and go based upon circumstances whereas a “state of being” describes one’s core or center. I realize, however, that gratitude can be either a state of being or an emotion. It really depends upon us. I can have a feeling of gratitude in response to someone’s kind action, but then the circumstance passes, and I return to being selfishly driven, oblivious to the kind actions of those around me. Or, I can wake up every morning and acknowledge that I am the beneficiary of many things and expressions I do not deserve – first and foremost God’s kind expression of grace through Jesus Christ. This daily attitude develops in me a “state of being” that affects all of my actions and attitudes all day long. I want gratitude to be a “state of being” for me. This will require several things to take place in my life and mind.
- First, I must daily admit my desperate need for God. If I live a life of self-sufficiency, I will never become a grateful person. I would live as if the only person I should be grateful to would be myself. When I recognize that I am lost without God, hopeless without Christ, and clueless without His Spirit working in my life, I become more cognizant of God’s activity in and around my life. Not only am I aware of my need, but I am relieved and grateful as I constantly see ways in which God is working on my behalf.
- Secondly, I must acknowledge that there are people around me every day who are doing things that benefit my life. Sometimes they do these things from a selfless motivation desiring to serve me and make my life better. Other times, they do it out of obligation because of job requirements, but nevertheless, they are still serving me in a way that benefits my life. We have a tendency to more readily recognize service from the first group of people, the selfless people, allowing gratitude to swell within us. If we really want gratitude to be a state of being, it means that we consciously look for things and ways we are benefiting from the service of others. This might lead us to notice the garbage man picking up our stinky trash, the police officer driving slowly through our neighborhood, or the co-worker who gets his work done on time. Regardless of one’s motivation, we should go out of our way to express gratitude. I have found that when I thank people for their service, the act alone causes me to be even more grateful. I heard a conversation the other day where a young man met an older man who had served in the army sometime in the past. I loved it when I heard the young guy thank his new friend for his service to his country.
- Thirdly, the state of being grateful is accentuated when we give ourselves in selfless service of others. Hopefully, as we become more aware of God’s blessings on our lives and others who are serving us, we have a desire to serve others grow within us. I do think that service to others is a natural byproduct of gratitude. We realize how much we have benefited from others, and we in turn want to bless those around us. I really have found that the more I serve others, the more grateful I become.
Thanksgiving is upon us, and it offers us a time to stop and reflect upon those who have blessed our lives. God should obviously be at the top of the list. I encourage you to take some time out in the next week and make a list of things God has done and thank Him. Also make a list of ways you have benefited from the service of others, and figure out a way to communicate your gratitude – it could be an e-mail, a note, a phone call, or a visit. It could be a tangible gift or a kind word of thanks. If we do these things, we will find our state being shaped by these actions and discover gratitude to be ingrained in our core.