Thursday, April 19, 2012

Prophecy: A Required Course for Christians

“How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken!”   Luke 24:25 (Jesus)
So you’ve got a few hours to spare…
What ARE you going to do with yourself??!!
Bubble bath, nap out on the hammock, a cup of hot tea and a magazine, go for a jog, watch a chick flick?  The possibilities are endless. 
But, why do any of those things when you can study the Bible prophets?!
(Huh?  What are you talking about Willis?)
When you think of ways to spend your free time, studying the Bible prophets doesn’t make the cut, does it?! 
Not for me, either.  In the past, if I had ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, I probably would not have prioritized studying the more “obscure” books of the Bible.  Especially the prophets.
Why not? 
I’ll give you my excuses.  See if they match up with yours.
#1:  TOO HARD.
I’ll be honest.  For most of my adult life, I have been less than disciplined about personal Bible study.  You know, the kind where you look things up for yourself.  Where you read the commentary.  Where you ask people questions about what you don’t understand.  Where you want to know not only how a passage comforts you but also what the writer hoped to communicate to his original audience.  The kind of study where context matters.  The kind where you grab on and don’t let go until you “get it”.
During those years when a minute alone was scarce, I frequently thumbed to the Psalms and gospels…the books I could understand…the ones I had already studied.  With all the fervor of a leisurely stroll, I would peruse familiar passages, walking by them and casually saying hello. 
I conveniently skipped the parts I didn’t understand.  That’s natural, right? 
Ok, I have 5 minutes.  Where did I stash that daily devotional book?  Oh, yeah.  It’s on the back of the toilet.  Because I don’t want to waste time…  That’s efficient, right? 
I know why that was my attitude.  I was busy.  Someone was always tugging on my sleeve, calling my name.  That’s legit.  My job was 24/7 for a season.  And, there are some books of the Bible that are very complicated. Ever tried to read through the book of Daniel?  Ezekiel?  Isaiah?  It’s not what you do between nursing an infant and fixing dinner for the family!  That stuff takes work.  Time.  Intention.  And a bit of divine intervention.
So why do it?  Can’t I just leave that to the pastor and then show up on Sunday and let him break it down for me?
If I had a dollar for every time somebody Christian shut down conversation about a complicated Bible passage by saying, “Well, we will never know…some things are just mysteries,” I’d be a rich, rich woman. 
This one is also an oldie-but-goodie: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard what God is preparing for those who love Him.  We just won’t know until we get there.”  Please, somebody read the rest of that passage!
If I listened to this nonsense, I would assume the case is closed.  No need to study the hard stuff.  According to these folks, nobody will ever know what the more challenging parts of the Bible really mean, so why waste my time?  I don’t really have the time to spare anyway. 
Whew!  Dodged a big one.  For a minute there, I thought maybe I’d actually have to do more than read my devo book while I’m on the potty!
Too bad Jesus thinks my excuses are lame.  He made it very clear how He felt about us knowing what the prophets say.  He wants us to be informed about prophecies so that we will be quick to believe in our hearts when they are fulfilled.   In Jesus’ school of life, ALL Scripture is a required course, prophecy included.  Hate to break it to you.  We are called to do the work.
I discovered that just this week as I was reading a familiar story in preparation for teaching kindergarten Sunday school.  (Cool how the Bible is meaningful for 5-year-olds and adults alike…how it speaks to me over and over in layers…how it is living and active….how it is NEW all the time.)
Let’s look at the story, and I’ll tell you what jumped fresh out of the book of Luke:
Cleopas and another man were walking on the road to Emmaus.  They were discussing all of the crazy events of the last few days.  All of Jerusalem was abuzz over Jesus.  They thought He was the Messiah, but then He was arrested and crucified.  A few women reported having seen an angel who claimed Jesus had risen.  But, when some of the disciples went to the tomb to check it out, Jesus wasn’t there—alive OR dead.  And, they were confused.  What was going on?  There were rumors flying all around.  Cleopas and his companion didn’t know what to believe.
Suddenly, a man appeared on the road with them, seemingly out of nowhere.  He said that he overheard them talking anxiously.  He asked them why.  They said (basically), “Duh.  Have you been under a rock?  Everyone in Jerusalem is going crazy over what may have happened to Jesus.” 
It was the mystery-man’s response that really caught my eye.  “How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken!”   Luke 24:25 (HCSB)
At that, the man began to unfold the Scriptures, explaining how the prophecies that pertained to the Messiah all pointed to Jesus.  And, then he reminded them that the resurrection was exactly what was predicted.  That it perfectly fulfilled what was prophesied.  That it HAD to happen that way.
Suddenly the men “got it”—they understood the Scriptures (the prophecies) for the first time—and then they recognized the stranger on the road.  It was Jesus!
Notice how the men recognized Jesus only when they understood the prophecies?  An interesting observation, I think.
The question in my mind is this: If Jesus thought the men were unwise because they were slow to believe the prophets’ messages about His birth, death, and resurrection, will He also think we are unwise if we are slow to believe the prophecies about His second coming?  When He comes again, will we even recognize Him if we are walking on the road with Him?
Now, I have heard many a great sermon that reassures me we won’t be able to miss Jesus’ second coming, so I don’t want you to go telling people I said we could miss it altogether if we don’t study the prophets!  I am posing the question to make you think…  We might not miss the actual return of Christ, but will we miss the signs that it is imminent?  And, if so, what will we miss DOING during that time?  How might that affect the kingdom of God one way or another?
If Jesus wanted people to understand Scripture then, wouldn’t He want us to understand Scripture now?  If He thought prophecy was important then, wouldn’t he think prophecy is important now?  What benefit could there be to us being awake, alert, and ready when we see the things prophesied coming to pass?
There are a bunch of Biblical prophecies that are still unfulfilled.  If the ones about Jesus’ first coming came true, won’t the ones about His return also come to pass?  If recognizing the fulfillment of the first set of prophecies required study and knowledge, won’t recognizing the fulfillment of the others also require study and knowledge?
This line of thinking shuts down my familiar excuses.  Too hard.  Can’t understand it anyway.  Not true!  Jesus said we don’t understand because we are slow to believe in our hearts.  It’s not impossible, we just lack faith.  And we are not tenacious enough to put it all together.  We’re lazy!  We want the 5 minute stroll, not the 4 hour marathon.  We want to be fed like baby birds—food that is already partially digested—instead of having to chew up the gristly meat for ourselves.
What Scriptures encourage us to become mature in our knowledge and in our faith?  What Scriptures support my argument that we cannot skip some books because they are “incomprehensible”?  What Scriptures support my argument that Jesus wants us to know what is coming?  If not the day and the hour, at least the signs?  Among many, these:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17
We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become slow to understand.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation.  You need milk, not solid food.  Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil…Now we want each of you to demonstrate…diligence for the final realization of your hope so that you won’t become lazy, but imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance.   Hebrews 5:11-14, 6:11-12 (Paul, to the Hebrews about maturing and not backsliding)
Matthew 24-25, when Jesus answers the question from his disciples, “Tell us, when will these things happen?  What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3b)  It takes Him two whole chapters to tell them what they should be watching for!
“Blessed is the one who reads and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it, because the time is near!”  Revelation 1:3
“Look, I am coming quickly!  Blessed is the one who keeps the prophetic words of this book.”  Revelation 22:7, Jesus’ words to John
And, the angel’s words to John shortly afterward: “Don’t seal the prophetic words of this book, because the time is near.”  Revelation 22:10  (Don’t you think if the angel said not to seal up the book that we might be able to comprehend it…at least at some point in time?)
And, my personal favorite: Daniel 11:32b-33a, speaking of the time when the antichrist is in power on the earth, “…but the people who know their God will be strong and take action.  Those who are wise among the people will give understanding to many…”
Jesus chastised the men on the road to Emmaus for being unwise and slow to believe.  But, in Daniel, we are told that if we choose faith and wisdom, we will be strong, take action, and give understanding to many at a time when there is chaos and despair.  We can be the light-bearers in a world that desperately needs hope. 
I want to be a light-bearer, don’t you?
I know it is not easy to study the prophets.  It isn’t easy to study the Bible at all.  It can be downright confusing.  But, we can do it—especially in a country with so many resources available to us.  I encourage you to not be deterred by those who would tell you that certain parts are not comprehensible or worth your time.  The bottom line is that studying Scripture in its entirety is not really optional.  Remember: Jesus Himself made prophecy a “required course.”
Will you do the work?  Will you be quick to believe in your heart all that the prophets have said?
Lord, help us believe your Word.  All of it.  Ultimately, only You have the power to open our eyes to who You really are and to truth in your Word.  We ask you to reveal it to us.  Light a fire under us.  Make us inquisitive.  Create a desire in us to search Scripture and to spend time studying until we “get it”.  Lord, help us not to disregard prophecy or think of it as weird and incomprehensible!  We humbly ask that you allow us to be the ones who are privileged to take action and instruct many should there be a day in our lifetime when that is necessary.  We don’t want to be unwise.  Don’t let the enemy tell us that parts of your Word are not worth our time.  Help us to take big bites of the real meat as we mature in you.  Don’t allow the milk to satisfy us anymore.  We trust that because your birth, death, and resurrection were prophesied and fulfilled, ALL of the other prophecies in Scripture are a sure thing.  Help us stay alert so that we can fulfill your purpose for our lives.  Amen.
READERS: Responses from Redemption Day are still coming.  It's not too late if you want to tell me what YOU did to celebrate!  In fact, who cares what day you celebrate?  If you missed it on the day after Easter, do it today.  Tomorrow.  Next week.  Then, email me your creative way of remembering that Christ will come again at

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Take the Confident Hope Easter Challenge!

(Read through to get the full story or scroll down to read the Confident Hope Easter Challenge—in bold—to find out how YOU can participate!)
If Hallmark can do it, so can I.  Create a new holiday, that is. 
I declare the Monday after Easter “Redemption Day”.
We celebrate Jesus’ birth.  We celebrate His death and resurrection.  But, we don’t celebrate His second coming—the day when He will make all things new.  The day when it is finally finished.
I know…it hasn’t happened yet!  But, we have got to keep our eyes on the prize.  We need to offer up to God a sacrifice of praise for what He is going to do.  In these days, thousands of years past the promise of Jesus’ return, we need a way to sustain our hope.  To declare it.  To celebrate it.  While we are waiting.  Expectantly.
Last year at Easter, I posted a story about my daughters’ first experience shopping on the internet.  After counting what was in their piggy banks and giving a lesson on the cost of shipping, we let them give it a try.  Each chose a toy and placed their order.  Three long days passed before the package arrived.  Each day waiting saw breathless little girls inquiring, “Is it here yet?  Is it here yet?”  When it finally came, what joy ensued!  We tore open the box in anticipation.  But, what we found inside was disappointing.  Only one toy came.  And, inside the box was a packing slip which read “partial shipment.”  The first waiting period had been so hard.  How could Mary Claire wait another day to receive her toy?  It wasn’t easy.  She got very discouraged.  Why hadn’t hers come, too?  But, her toy did, indeed come.  In the end, receiving the toy made her forget about the pain of the waiting.
I like to think of Easter as a partial shipment.  “Blasphemy,” you may say.  I don’t want to diminish Easter’s power or import at all.  For a Christian, it is simply the happiest day we celebrate—so far…   Jesus deserves our worship for what He has done!  But, I think we are often tempted to see Easter as the end of the story.  It’s not.  Scripture says so. 
Maybe that is because of these three words: “It is finished.” 
Undeniably, these are three of the most comforting words ever uttered.  As Jesus breathed His last breath on the cross, He declared this truth: I have finished what I came to do. 
What did He mean, though?  What exactly did He come to earth the first time to do?
It is worth a second thought because this phrase is actually uttered two more times in Scripture in the book of Revelation.  I didn’t know that until I studied it recently.  And, putting all three together really helps to shed light on God’s entire plan of redemption. 
If we look at all three “It is finished”(or “It is done”) phrases, we can see a quick outline of God’s plan for redemption.  And we can quit wondering why, if Easter is such a big deal, are we still living in a world full of bad things?  If I am free and forgiven, why do I still sin and suffer the consequences of sin?  If Jesus conquered death, why do people still die?  Why is there still so much pain here?  This is confusing—even for Christians—if we don’t know the rest of the story.
So let’s look at it ALL this year.  Let’s use our wide angle lens to see God’s bigger story.
“It is finished.” #1—John 19:30 “When He had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’  With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”
Jesus uttered these words on the cross as He died.  The great work of payment for sin—for everyone and for all time—was completed.  God’s work of mercy was complete.  And, when Jesus rose from the dead, we knew everything He said was true.  He was not just some crazy man who claimed to be God.  He was God.  And, He chose this seemingly crooked way to make our paths straight.  He chose it because there was no other way.  Who has the final word on sin and death?  Jesus does.  The cross and the resurrection say so.
“It is done.” #2—Revelation 16:16-18.  “So they assembled them at the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.  Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the sanctuary from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’  There were flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder.  And a severe earthquake occurred like no other since man has been on the earth—so great was the quake.”
This time, the voice uttering the phrase is God Himself, seated on the throne.  This time, the phrase announces the final execution of God’s judgment before Christ’s second coming.  When this part of John’s prophetic vision comes to pass, God’s work of judgment on the earth, the way it is now, will be complete.
Why would this be good news?  Because there needs to be a consequence for the evil that has caused so much pain for God’s people.  Because a holy God will not contend with rebellion and sin forever.  Because His balance of mercy and judgment is perfect.  We cannot know the right time or the right balance, and so God has warned us to leave the vengeance to Him.  But, come it will.  And, we will be glad.  We need rescue.  Without judgment, Christ’s work on the cross was unnecessary—in vain.
A friend recently told me he likes to think of God’s mercy and judgment this way: “God would not refuse health care to people just because they are not insured.”  But, that’s not the way the Bible says it works.  That might sound nice on the outside, but that line of thinking results in this conclusion: Jesus didn’t need to die.  And, God won’t punish sin.  Not only is that not how it is…If we think of it for a bit, we realize that isn’t really what we want.  We want mercy.  Sure.  But, we also want justice.  In perfect balance.  As only God can execute.
“It is done.” #3—Revelation 21:5-7.  “Then the One seated on the throne said, ‘Look!  I am making everything new.’ He also said, ‘Write, because these words are faithful and true.’  And He said to me, ‘It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life.  The victor will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son.’”
Again, this is uttered by God Himself, from the throne.  And, when this happens, my dear friends, God’s work of redemption—of people and of the earth—of all He created—will be complete.  Everything—and I do mean everything—that God allowed to cause us pain will be redeemed.  Bought back.  The curse will be removed.  And, God will restore all things to their former glory.  But better!
Better, you say?  Yes!  Many people have inquired, “Why would God have created a world with the potential for sin?”  Great question.  Maybe, just maybe, because after we are redeemed from sin, we will have a deeper appreciation for all God has done for us.  Maybe it will increase our capacity to worship Him, to have intimacy with Him.  Maybe it will increase our joy.  Maybe we will remember that from which we have been saved, and we will forever rejoice in the place God has restored with the people God has restored.  Suddenly, Heaven sounds more dynamic and interesting, doesn’t it?  Maybe the fact that we don’t think of it this way steals the hope we could have.  Maybe Satan wants it that way. 
Well, nice try, Satan.  You don’t have the wool pulled over my eyes anymore.   Does anyone else want to truly SEE?  Does anyone else believe that knowing the end of the story (and not just stopping in the middle) will help us to live more fully and more purposefully in the present?
This is my personal challenge to you:  Please join me in celebrating “Redemption Day”.
On Monday, when you are feeling deflated after your Easter celebration is over…when you are cleaning that massive pile of dishes in the sink, washing the stains out of the smocked Easter clothes, and finding half-chewed jelly beans under your couch cushions…will you choose to re-focus your attention on the “shipment” that is still coming?
I will be honest.  I don’t really know what “Redemption Day” should look like.  I don’t even think this way naturally.  So, how do I go about celebrating concepts and events I haven’t yet experienced?  I have been fleshing this out over the last few years.  As I have learned new truth, I have had to find ways to express it.  Change the words I use to describe things.  Change my habits.  Add in new methods of celebrating what I know is true. 
“Redemption Day” is my next personal challenge.  Will you make it YOUR personal challenge, too?
I am not even sure what I will do to celebrate.  I have some ideas.  But, I am kind of hoping you will help me figure this out…
I know you are creative.  I have learned lots of new ways to tangibly celebrate Christian Easter (beyond the chocolate bunnies and eggs) because of people just like you.  Now, we hide an empty egg (for the empty tomb) and give the big prize to the one who finds it.  We make resurrection eggs that help tell the Biblical story of Easter with things kids can touch and feel.  We bake resurrection rolls that turn out hollow on the inside.  And, just this week, a friend of mine posted a picture of a craft she and her kids made: an Easter basket with the word “forgiven” on it.  The eggs inside were decorated and labeled by the kids with things for which they have been forgiven (hitting my brother, disobeying, and--my personal favorite—coloring on the floor!).  Great ideas, all. 
With that said, I know if we put our heads together we can DO THIS.  We can create tangible ways to recognize the next part of the story and to teach it to our kids. 
What will YOU do?  I am sure you will come up with ways—big or small—corporate or private—of celebrating what God has promised to us.
Do something—anything—to celebrate “Redemption Day”.  Then, email me at and let me know what you did.
We will be celebrating together in spirit on Sunday.  Christ is risen! 
Then, with confident hope, join me in rejoicing on Monday.  Christ will come again!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Brake for Beauty

What crosses your mind when your eyes first behold the morning? 
For me, it’s my to-do list.  Don’t want to admit that. 
Before I’m steady on my feet--with brush in hand, fixing hair for my girls--I’m already thinking of what’s on my plate for the day.  Prepare breakfast.  Check.  Pack snacks and fill water bottles.  Check.
And, as I go about my business (or “busy”ness…), I am always thinking.
Gym?  Check.  Dishes?  Check.  Fold laundry?  Check.  Pick up bananas for Bible study?  Check.  Email baby shower hostesses?  Check.  Organize PTA volunteers for the school carnival?  Check.
Maybe I do this because I am afraid I’m going to forget something.  Doesn’t really work, though.  I forget things all the time.  There’s a lot to remember.  I can’t keep it all straight.
Today I went to the bank to get dimes for an Easter craft project for my Tween Time Bible study.  The teller and I both had trouble multiplying.  Dimes.  In denominations of 10. 
“I need 120 dimes.  How many are in a roll?”
“$5 worth,” she replied.
“Ok.  How many dimes is that?  If it is 5 dimes per dollar, that’s how many per roll?” I stammered, trying to calculate. (5 dimes per dollar?  What?!)
“I don’t know,” was her reply.
“Um, well, no, that’s 10 dimes per dollar, so that’s 50 dimes per roll.  So, I will need, well, 3 rolls.  Yeah, 150 dimes.” 
“So, you want $150 worth of dimes?” the teller asked.
“No…I need 120 dimes.  $12 worth of dimes.  2 rolls and $2 more…” 
You only wish it ended there.  It went on.  I hope no one waiting behind me in line knew me.  Or could hear.  It was that bad.  How embarrassing.  How hard is it to get 120 dimes at the bank?  Apparently, you and the teller need to be rocket scientists.
When you can’t multiply and divide by 10, you should probably sit down and have a snack or something.  Too little energy to the brain!  It was comical, really.  I had so much on my mind that I couldn’t function.
Definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting different results.  The bank debacle proved it.  List-rehearsing just makes me crazy, not more efficient.
No matter how hard I try, I never get to the bottom of the list.  An ambitious person (call it optimistic, if you will), I plan more for myself than I can actually accomplish in a day.  
What a way to feel defeated!  This is no way to live. 
This week, in my comings and goings, I passed a vast field of wildflowers near my home a million times.  I craned my neck on more than one occasion, taking a brief pause from my mental list-making and list-checking.  I wondered wistfully why I didn’t just STOP and breathe it all in. 
Today, there was more to do than I could finish by bedtime.  Mr. List was driving me.  But, he wasn’t a gentlemanly chauffer.  He was a mean city bus driver, unhappy about his route, his life.  He let me on the bus, but he wasn’t in the mood to make any stops.
Today I refused to be hijacked.  On my drive home from errand running, the Holy Spirit whispered: Something’s gotta give, Sarah.
It occurred to me: The focus has been my list.  The focus must be YOU, Lord.
As I approached that familiar scenery, something inside of me shouted to that mean bus driver, Mr. List.  “I want OUT!  I want OFF!” 
I almost crashed my minivan into a curb lined with red poppies and bluebonnets.  I braked like a mad woman, almost missing the gravel driveway that provided the only reprieve from the busy street.
Unsure of why or even how I stopped, I exited my door in a cloud of dust I stirred up with my car.  Taking hesitant steps, I emerged into the daylight, fished my iPhone out of my purse, and began furiously taking snapshots.  I couldn’t even see my screen for the bright rays of the sun.  I had no idea how these pictures were turning out.  But, I couldn’t help myself.  I took them in more rapid succession, wanting to capture it all.

I stood there for a moment absorbing the view.  What lovely serendipity.  In all my passing by, I did not notice the way the barbed wire fence framed the flowers and the field with tiny metal crosses.  I did not see the old mailbox, the gnarly, sprawling oak tree, or the rickety gate…much less the family ranch sign or the glory of an individual bloom. 
When I was looking at my list, I had missed so much beauty.
What have you missed today?  Will you join me and brake for beauty? 
Will you linger in the car until that worship song you love is finished?   Sing at the top of your lungs, letting the lyrics sink way down deep into your toes?  Who cares if you go into the grocery store 30 seconds later than you planned?  Who cares if a stranger sees you rocking out in your van?
Will you look long at that pile of laundry on your couch, the crumbs on your counter, the fingerprints on your windows, and buck the knee-jerk reaction that tells you there is more work to be done?  Instead, will you rejoice that children (albeit messy ones!) live at your house?
Strewn pieces of projects, stray socks, and half-eaten Goldfish are evidence—of life.
Will you brake? 

Will you drink in the beauty? 
In the big and little things, in the neat and messy things, in the finished and unfinished things, God is all around us.
“…I challenge you to relinquish the fantasy of an uncluttered world.  Accept each day just as it comes, and find Me in the midst of it all…Remember that your ultimate goal is not to control or fix everything around you; it is to keep communing with Me…Do not let your to-do list (written or mental) become an idol directing your life.”  --Sarah Young, Jesus Calling
Be on the lookout for my next blog post.  You won’t want to miss it!

Get ready to take the Confident Hope Easter Challenge