The Gifts of the Spirit

The Gifts of the Spirit
Vol: 147 Issue: 23 Monday, December 23, 2013

I remember one Christmas when I was a little boy and my little brother got a gift that I had really, really wanted. I wanted his gift so badly that I didn’t even care about the gifts I had already received.

I would have traded any of mine for his, but that’s not how it worked in my family. Once you received a Christmas gift it was forever yours — but only yours. And you had better like it — or be prepared for a long speech about the expense and effort that went in to choosing it –( just for you)!

Plus, there was always the risk that next year, you would get the ‘gift of the ungrateful’ — which was no gift at all. That way, one would have a reason to be ungrateful.

Most Christians are aware that God also bestows spiritual gifts on each of us at birth. What most Christians are NOT aware of is that spiritual gifts are given to each human being, not simply to Christians.

The Apostle Paul reveals that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” (1st Corinthians 12:7)

The main spiritual gifts are; 1) a word of wisdom; 2) a word of knowledge; 3) faith 4) healing; 5) discernment; 6) divers kinds of tongues; 7) interpretation of tongues.

Other’s have identified other spiritual gifts; the Pentecostals have identified nine, others have identified twenty-eight . . . but we’ll stick with these seven for the purpose of our study.

That is not to say that there are only seven, or exactly twenty-eight. I personally agree with Zola Levitt, who defined a spiritual gift as “anything a person can do supernaturally well.”

We are born with our spiritual gifts — whether or not we choose to accept them as such doesn’t come until salvation. But the gifts are there. Have you never looked at an unbeliever and thought to yourself, “what a waste of such a gifted individual?”

There are particularly gifted secular analysts; political, social, economic, strategic, and so on. These folks have the gift of discernment. It isn’t something you can learn so much as something you can’t help. Analysis demands the gift of discernment.

Some believers are gifted with the gift of healing. So are some unbelievers. Many unbelieving but gifted healers enter the health profession, demonstrating their considerable gifts without ever acknowledging the Spirit Who bestowed them.

The same can be said of wisdom, knowledge, even tongues (in the sense of having a ‘gift’ for languages). Not to mention faith. Many unbelievers are gifted with incredible faith. (Believing in evolution takes more than just ‘faith’ — it requires, to quote Hillary from the Petraeus Hearing, “a willing suspension of disbelief” — but its adherents are nothing if not faithful.)

Muslims have faith. Buddhists have faith. Even atheists have to take it on ‘faith’ that there is no God, since they have even less proof of God’s non-existence than believers have of His reality.

The issue isn’t over whether or not one is gifted, but rather how one uses those gifts. One can use one’s God-given gifts to serve themselves (and the enemy) or one can use them to serve the Lord.

“For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Romans 11:29)

You can’t repent to get a gift, and God won’t repent the gifts He has already given you. Note that each of the spiritual gifts are not so much something you have as something you are. Take the gift of discernment, which is one of my spiritual gifts.

One day, my brother was visiting and he commented on a news story we had just seen.
The story was blatant propaganda (to me) but my brother totally missed it. So I broke it down and showed him the various parts that, when put together, painted a picture that was entirely opposite to the actual truth.

He looked at me and said, “The way your mind works scares me. You see a hidden agenda behind everything! How can you stand it?”

I’ve always had the gift of discernment — it’s just that it wasn’t until I came to Christ that I began to use it for the purpose God intended.

Paul makes the point that, while ‘the manifestation of the Spirit (spiritual gifts) is given to every man to profit withal’, not every man accepts the call to use his gifts in the service of the King.

I know many a gifted speaker who can sway thousands with that gift but who use it exclusively to their own profit.

The interesting thing about gifts is that we almost always see our own as inferior to somebody else’s. I am always stunned when a church soloist or music minister comes up to me and gushes, “I wish I had your gift!”

First off, I always wished I could sing. Secondly, I wouldn’t wish the gift of discernment on anybody. (Trust me. Ignorance is bliss.)

Believers are gifted to a Divine purpose. We don’t know exactly how God uses our gifts but we know that God has a plan.

Paul notes that, as believers, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

For that reason, Paul says, “the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?”

To further illustrate his point, Paul asks rhetorically, “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” (1st Corinthians 12:13-17)

The issue of spiritual gifts is one of those divisive doctrines that reminds me of being a kid at Christmas. We all want the gifts we don’t have, often to the degree that we fail to recognize the ones that we do.

We noted that both the ‘gifts and calling’ of God are ‘without repentance’. The Spirit gifts us, then calls us to use those gifts in His service. Whether we accept or reject the call, the gifts remain ours.

How can you know if you are using the gifts God gave you? The best answer to the question is found in the great Zola Levitt’s definition of spiritual gifting — spiritual gifting is something that you can do supernaturally well.

I know a preacher whose gifts are music and faith. (Those gifts are most apparent when he preaches. He has a great voice and he has faith that nobody else can tell he has neither knowledge nor discernment.)

Similarly, I know a music leader who is doubly gifted in knowledge and discernment — (and HIS gifts are most apparent when he sings.)

Each of us is gifted by the Spirit for the express purpose of edifying the Body of Christ. You can’t tell if you are using the gifts God gave you or the gifts you wish God gave you.

But you can bet your life that everyone else you know can.

Note: We pray today’s Letter gives you encouragement to use the gifts the Lord has granted you  for those who need salvation in the upcoming festivities.  Pete Garcia’s column Dispensational Truth: Part IV gives us an overview of the Churches through the Book of the Revelation.

The Gift

The Gift
Vol: 147 Issue: 21 Saturday, December 21, 2013

One Christmas, my son gave me a book on the history of the Irish race. I was stunned to learn that the history of the Irish kings dates back to the time of Solomon, and that the Roman historians of antiquity considered Ireland to be an ancient kingdom when Rome was young.

The Irish nation has maintained its history with an attention to detail surpassed only by the nation of Israel. The book, “The Story of the Irish Race” by Seumas MacManus, was published in 1921 and contains more than seven hundred pages of history.

Today, I want share my Christmas gift with you. A little bit of that history –specifically, the story of King Conor MacNessa. Stay with me, it will be worth the effort. I promise.

King Conor was the Ard-Righ, or High King of Ireland in the first part of the first century.

King Conor was described by a contemporary historian of his day as,

“A tall graceful champion of the noble, polished and proud men stood at the head of the party. This most beautiful of the kings of the world stood among his trops with all the signs of obedience, superiority and command.He wore a mass of curling drooping, yellow hair. He had a pleasing, ruddy countenance. He had a deep blue, sparkling, piercing eyein his head and two branching beard, yellow, and curling upon his chin. He wore a crimson, deep-bordered, five-folding tunic; a gold pin in the tunic over his bosom; and a brilliant white shirt, interwoven with thread of red gold, next to his white skin.” – the herald MacRoth to Queen Medb of Connaught.

In King Conor’s day, Rome had not yet constructed the Colliseum and had just conquered what would become Britain. While King Conor’s life was fascinating, it was the circumstances of his death that are of interest here.

Conor died from a brainball that sunk into his skull, fired in battle by Cet MacMagach, a Connaught champion, whom Conor had pursued following a Connaught cattle raid.

It didn’t kill him directly — the brainball lodged in his skull, and his physician, Faith Liag, would not remove it because it would have instantly killed Conor.

With care, Conor might live long, provided he live quietly, avoiding passion and violent emotion and live a life of peace such as few kings of antiquity knew.

Under Liag’s care, Conor lived seven more years.  One day, writes the historian, the pagan-King Conor MacNessa’s court was, quoting MacManus directly,

“thrown into consternation by finding broad day suddenly turned to blackest night, the heavens rent by lightening, and the world rocked by thunder, portending some dread cataclysm.”

Conor asked his Druids and wise men for explanation of the fearful happening.

The Druid Bachrach, a noted seer, told him that there had been in the East, in one of the many countries under the dominion of Rome, a singular man, more noble of character, more lofty of mind and more beautiful of soul, than the world had ever known, or ever again would know — a divine man, a God-man, who spent his life lifing up the lowly and leading the ignorant to the light, and giving new hope to a hopeless world — one too, who loved all mankind with a love that surpassed understanding — one, the touch of whose gentle hand gave speech to the dumb, sight to the blind, life to the dead. He was the noblest, greatest, most beautiful, most loving of men.

And now the heavens and the earth were thrown into agony because on this day the tryant Roman, jealous of his power over the people, had nailed him high upon a cross, and between two crucified thieves, had left the divine man to die a fearful death.

Fired to rage by the thought of the terrible injustice meted out to such a noble one, Conor MacNessa, snatching down the sword that had not been unsheathed for seven years, and crying, “Show me the accursed wretches who did this base deed!” burst through the restraining ring of courtiers, leapt into the storm, fiercely hewing down their bending branches and shouting, “Thus would I treat the slayers of that Noble man, if I could but reach them.”

Under the strain of the fierce passion that held him the brainball burst from King Conor’s head — and he fell dead. (The Story of the Irish Race by Seumas MacManus, pp. 26-27)

King Conor lived three hundred years before St Patrick introduced Christianity to the Emerald Isle. The story of Conor MacNessa and the circumstances of his death, were known and recorded in Irish history before Patrick arrived to tell The Greatest Story Ever Told and was surprised to find it was already part of the history of the Irish kings.

Macmanus says in a footnote on the page, “Some say that it was a Roman consul (who informed Conor of death of Christ).

Still others say it was the Royal Branch champion, Conal Cearnach, who had been a prisoner of the Romans and who had been taken to the limits of their Empire.

In the course of which expedition, he was in Jerusalem on the day of days, and witnessed the Crucifixion. “A representative of every race of mankind was on the Hill of Calvary at the dreadful hour.”

Conal Cearnach represented the Gael (Irish). The beautiful story of Conal Cearnach at the Crucifixion is related by Ethna Carberry in her book, ‘From the Celtic past’.”

This is not just a beautiful story, but is part of Irish history attested to by the pagan generations who recorded the events long before Christianity came to the Emerald Isle.

“And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.” (Luke 23:45-47)

When Jesus was crucified, the Bible says the darkness was all over the earth for three hours. Not just in Jerusalem, or in Israel, but the whole earth — a FACT of history attested to by Scripture, and also attested to by the history of the pagan High-Kings of pagan Ireland.

Causing even the pagan-King of pagan Ireland, Conor MacNessa, to echo the Roman centurion who stood at the foot of the Cross.

“Truly, this Man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)

Truly. Merry Christmas.

This Letter was originally published: January 5, 2003

‘Christianophobia’ in the Last Days

‘Christianophobia’ in the Last Days
Vol: 147 Issue: 20 Friday, December 20, 2013

I confess that when I was young in the Lord, I used to have trouble picturing one of the major elements of end times’ prophecy. I always had trouble imagining Christian persecution taking place in the West.

I’d heard about Christians being persecuted in faraway lands during the Communist era, but that, somehow, seemed normal — probably because all I knew of Communism was that it was godless and therefore, doomed to eventual collapse.

I never doubted the eventual victory of the West, because I knew God was on our side. I grew up in a world where the government used to fund broadcast messages admonishing me to remember ‘to attend the church or synagogue of my choice’ this Sunday. THAT’S why I knew, even when I was young in my faith, that we would win over the Communists.

How could a political system that regularly encouraged its citizens to worship the God of the Bible possibly be defeated by a system that imprisoned its own citizens for doing the same thing?

The answer is obvious. There is only one superpower in the world today.

But in recent years, the competition for that title has gotten serious. Russia is no longer a serious candidate, but both the godless United Nations and the post-Christian European Union think that they are.

Under the spiritual principles that have governed my entire adult life, that would mean they can expect to meet the same fate as the Soviets.

But America is rapidly entering its own post-Christian era, voluntarily stepping out from under the umbrella of Divine protection that has made it the safest, wealthiest and most powerful nation the world had ever known.

The Vatican has just coined a new word; “Christianophobia”. Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican’s second-ranking diplomat, defined it in a speech given to a US-organized conference on religious freedom.

“It should be recognized that the war against terrorism, even though necessary, had as one of its side-effects the spread of ‘Christianophobia’ in vast areas of the globe,” he told the conference.

Assessment:

Type the phrase ‘Christian values’ into Google’s news search engine and most of the returns that come up are about efforts in America to stamp them out.

Stuff like designating a Christmas tree as a ‘holiday tree’ or explaining why school districts that order all references to Christ be dropped from what are now called ‘holiday pageants’ is a good thing.

A new greeting card released by Planned Parenthood for this Christmas season depicts a winter theme with snowflakes on the front above the words “Choice on Earth.” Inside, the message reads “Warmest wishes for a peaceful holiday season”.

By replacing ‘peace’ with ‘choice’, the greeting card mocks the angelic proclamation of the Birth of Christ while linking abortion to the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Democratic strategist James Carville recently said that the Democratic Party had to be “born again” in order to reclaim the White House in four years.

Education, the arts, entertainment, architecture, public monuments, and many other areas of society in which religion was once honored or deferred to, have become thoroughly secularized as the Christmas holiday itself.

For the first time in American history, prominent individuals and established political movements, not to mention many movies and television programs, are openly atheistic and hostile to religion, seeking, in the name of liberal tolerance, to drive religion out of the public sphere altogether.

Or, to be more specific, they seek to drive Christianity out of the public sphere. Non-Western religions such as Islam are welcomed with open arms.

The only Christianity tolerated by these left-liberals is a desiccated Christianity that keeps up the external forms and formulae of the faith but no longer adheres seriously to any Christian beliefs that are distinct from those of liberalism.

The Apostle Paul described it as ‘having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” (2nd Timothy 3:5)

Even conservative Christian leaders have given up the traditional idea of America as a basically Christian society and now subscribe to the liberal view of America as a level playing field where different beliefs, including non-Western beliefs, can strive for influence.

A Florida church advertises something called ‘open baptism’ . The church website also says, “Lack of ‘belief’ is not an obstacle to belonging or to participating at St. Christopher’s by-the-Sea.”

And in the words of a Fargo, North Dakota, cathedral’s website: “Whoever you are and wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are always welcome at the table of the Lord.”

A Boston Globe editorialist recently commented;

“The Christian agenda is one of exclusion. They want to take away our rights, not protect them. The constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage would be the first amendment enacted to take away rights from the people, not bestow or protect their rights. It is anathema to the spirit of the Constitution and our core beliefs as Americans.”

An article in San Diego’s North County Times opined; “There is no denying that the Christian religion was intertwined with government in our early days but that is not a reason to rejoice, because that very element brought out some of the worst features in our history.”

The Boy Scouts are under constant legal attack because they require their members to express a belief in God. Thanks to their unwillingess to boot God out of their charter, most Boy Scout troops have been booted out of the mainstream.

Not only is it unfashionable to be a Christian in mainstream America, in some cases, it is actually illegal.

As Spanish philosopher Georges Santayana famously observed, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The Nazi holocaust began with a systematic national campaign to blame the Jews for the world’s evils. It began shortly after the 1933 election of Adolph Hitler. Six years later, the ‘Night of the Broken Glass’ signalled the declaration of open season on Jews throughout Germany.

Six years after that, more than six million Jews had perished at the hands of the most cultured and educated populations on earth at that time.

The Bible predicted a world-wide persecution of Christians and Jews in the last days, that will, under the administration of the leader of a revived Roman Empire, make the Holocaust look like a dress rehearsal by comparison.

The stage has been set. In a single generation.

“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” (Matthew 24:34)

Note: Today’s Letter is a look into the recent past of Christian persecution in America.  The once godly nation has certainly come a long bad way in a short period of time.  Alf Cengia’s, “Expecting the Unexpected” gives some personal experiences that caught him unaware but shares how the Lord comforts the hearts of those who love Him. 

Thereafter What??

Thereafter What??
Vol: 147 Issue: 19 Thursday, December 19, 2013

The formal name for the last book of the New Testament is ”The Revelation of Jesus Christ to St John” and not ”The Book of Revelations,” or ”Revelations” or ”The Apocalypse of John.”

John himself never titled the Book he penned while in exile on the Isle of Patmos.  The Book was titled by Jesus Christ Himself:

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by his angel unto His servant John.” (Revelation 1:1)

The word “revelation” is the English equivalent to apokalupsis meaning, “unveiling” or “lifting of the veil” which is why it is also sometimes called the Book of the Apocalypse

The Lord divided the Book into two parts; “the things which are and the things which shall be thereafter.” (Revelation 1:19)  

The first part of the Book is written to the seven churches; identifying them as the “things which are.”

At the time of John’s exile, there were seven major churches in Asia Minor; Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. (Interestingly, all seven were located in modern-day Turkey, which is 99.8% Muslim, according to the CIA Worldfactbook.) 

If the “things which are” referred to those seven specific cities, then we would now have to be centuries into the period Jesus identified as the “things which shall be thereafter.”

Jesus concludes His revelation about the “things which are” with a cryptic message, intended not for the natural man, but understandable only to those already indwelt by the Holy Spirit:

“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” (Revelation 3:22)

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

At that point, there is a jump from the “things which are” to John’s hearing a trumpet, and a voice telling John that what comes next are “the things which shall be thereafter.”

“After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” (Revelation 4:1)

John says in the next verse that “immediately I was in the Spirit” and the next thing he saw was “a throne set in heaven.”

Let’s stop here for a second and summarize. The Book of Revelation is the Revelation of Jesus Christ.  It is not addressed to John, it is sent to John.  It is addressed to the ‘servants of Jesus Christ’ – look at it again.

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by his angel unto His servant John.” (Revelation 1:1)

Who are the “servants of Jesus Christ?” Ummm, lessee. Angels?  Nope? Individuals? Maybe, but Jesus said of individual believers,

“Henceforth, I call you not servants, but I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)

The servants of Jesus Christ are the individual Churches that exist within the Body of Christ.  

The Book is distinctly divided into two parts; not three, not five, not fifteen or eighteen, but just two.  The first division is identified as the things which are.

The second division is what “shall be thereafter.”  Which leaves the obvious question remaining.

Thereafter what?

Assessment:

Jesus assigns specific characteristics to each of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor which correspond historically with seven distinct epochs within the Church Age. 

For example, the first of the Churches mentioned, Ephesus; bold in resolute endurance, discerning, intolerant of departures from the faith, this is the Apostolic epoch. 

There was Smyrna, battling nobly with trials and danger, in the midst of poverty and suffering but rich in faith and good works. The Age of the Martyrs.

Then comes Pergamos, married to the world. This church epoch began with the Emperor Constantine declaring Christianity to be the State Church of Rome.

The Church at Thyatira was condemned for its continual sacrifice and the introduction of new doctrines, corresponding historically with Dark Ages. (Purgatory, indulgences, and the Inquisition).

Sardis was the ‘dead’ Church, as it had become by the time of the Reformation.  Sardis gave way to the period of revival following the publication and distribution of the Word of God to the common man.

The period from the Reformation in the 15th century to the end of the 19th century, was the epoch of the Church of Philadelphia. This was the ‘missionary church’ that took the Bible to the New World, to darkest Africa, to China and the far corners of the earth.

The end of the Philadelphia Church Age coincided with the ‘Enlightenment’ in Europe, brought about by ‘modernist’ thinking near the end of the 19th century which ushered in the Laodicean Epoch, the era of Church history that unmistakably corresponds with the time in which we now live.

From Philadelphia to Laodicea, distinguished for its worldly riches, its high-toned profession and spiritual pride; yet lowest in the scale and standard of all, neither cold nor hot — a religion of boasting words, but devoid of moral strength — “poor, blind, and naked.”

The center of the Church of Laodicea isn’t Jesus, but rather, it is what its name implies; Laos, (people) and dike meaning, “decision” — or the “Church of the People’s Decision”.

The name wasn’t chosen by accident. If ever there was a generation of Christians to whom that description fits, it is this one. 

At the Church of Laodicea, Jesus isn’t inside, but stands on the outside and knocks, waiting to be invited in. 

Given our perspective of 20/20 hindsight, there are but two possible conclusions concerning the period of time Jesus said would be identifiable as the “things which are.”

It either refers to the historical period in which these seven specific churches existed in Turkey, in which case we have been living in the period “which shall be thereafter” for about 1200 years now, or it refers to the period from the Apostolic era to the conclusion of the Church Age at the Rapture.

If it means the former, then it became irrelevant the moment that the churches in those cities ceased to exist. Doesn’t it?  Can it mean anything else?  What is left?

If the Revelation of Jesus Christ to His servants is to have any meaning to His servants, then it logically follows that His message to the Churches was a continuing message relevant to the entire Church Age, and not just to seven long-lost church communities in Asia Minor.

The Church Age is the period that encompasses the “things which are”.  That which “shall be thereafter”is the Tribulation Period, which begins when John hears a trumpet, and the voice of an angel, and the scene instantly shifts from the physical to the spiritual and relocates in heaven. 

That event is specifically identified as the commencement of the “things which shall be thereafter.”

We’ve gone the long way to get where I wanted to go, but that was because I wanted to ensure as air-tight a case as possible.  There are many well-meaning and sincere Christians that believe that this generation of Christians will be present for all or part of the Tribulation Period. 

But the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ specifically divides itself into the physical here and now and the spiritual thereafter.  The “here and now” ends with translation, alive, into the spiritual hereafter. 

This occurs before the opening of the first seal, (antichrist) before the ride of the next three horsemen, (War, Famine and Death) before the moon turns into blood and before the seventh seal pours out the Wrath of God.

FIRST comes the Trumpet (the Rapture).  Then, two chapters later (suggesting some element of time has passed) comes the onset of the Tribulation Period.  

No matter what kind of Scriptural gymnastics one resorts to, there is no way for the “things which are” to also be the “things which shall be thereafter.”

The “things which are” include the Church at Laodicea all the way up to when the addressees of the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ find themselves in the Spirit before a Throne set in Heaven.  AFTER that comes the “things which shall be thereafter”.

The dividing line imposed by Jesus can only be in one place – the place where JESUS divided it.  At the Rapture – and it doesn’t fit anywhere else. 

If it fit at the sixth seal, then that is where Jesus would have divided His Revelation.  If it fit at the first seal, (the revealing of the antichrist) then that is where Jesus would have divided His Revelation. 

But Jesus divided it at the conclusion of the Laodicean Church epoch. The Apostle Paul described the conclusion of the Church Age from the perspective of Planet Earth.

“For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

The Apostle John described it from the perspective of Heaven:

“After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” (Revelation 4:1)

Both Apostles are describing the same event from different perspectives!

Note also that John is in Heaven for some time before the first seal is broken – and therefore, so is the Church, or the symbolism is meaningless. John witnesses the events that precede the breaking of the first seal – and so does the Church.

So the indwelt Church cannot be both present on earth when the first seal is broken AND present in heaven to witness the breaking of the first seal.  

Here is what that means.  From where we sit, we are so close we almost think we can identify the antichrist – there is a whole new sect of Christians emerging that believe they already have.

But the Bible clearly tells us the Rapture comes first.  So if we are so close we can almost identify the antichrist, the Rapture of the Church is that much closer. 

And with all the chaos and war and upheaval and financial and natural disasters coming upon us, the Apostle Paul says of the Rapture;

“Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)   

Words of comfort.  Not words of terror.  There is a difference.  It would be far less comforting to me if I believed it was addressed only to the survivors of the first six judgments. 

And it would make far less sense.

Note: Jack poses a good question for us to consider as we see what is befalling the world.  J.L. Robb shares a current example in his column, “A Duck Dynasty Christmas“. The war of Christmas and Christ continues and it is our duty to share the Good News in the midst of all the bad.

The Indictment

The Indictment
Vol: 147 Issue: 18 Wednesday, December 18, 2013

According to the Bible, one day as Jacob was cooking a red stew, Esau came in from the wilderness ‘and he was faint’. Genesis 25:29 tells us of the episode that gave Esau his nickname, “Edom.’

“And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.” Which means red).

The Bible doesn’t go into detail about Esau’s condition beyond that, but it is worth considering the context.

Esau was out ‘in the wilderness’ at a time when the ‘wilderness’ was a huge, dangerous and inhospitable place populated by wild animals and roving bandits.

When Jacob demanded Esau’s birthright as first-born in exchange for a bowl of red stew, “Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?”

Clearly, Esau was ‘faint’ with hunger and exhaustion, but given context, Esau could have been in very bad shape.

It was a dirty trick on Jacob’s part, and it set the stage for conflict that continues to this day.

The Prophet Obadiah picks up the story of the Edomites and their abuse of God’s people, God’s land, and God’s Holy Hill, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Obadiah accuses Edom of “violence against your brother Jacob.” (v.10) Not just an ACT of violence, but constant, systematic and unrelenting violence.

Some Bible prophecy is near term, some long term, and, in come cases, like Obadiah’s, it is a single glance that encompasses a a broad period of time. Obadiah’s vision spans the entire scope of history from the first destruction of the Temple to the end of time.

That Obadiah’s prophecies extend into the present day is evidenced by his references in verse 15-17 to the Day of the Lord, the recovery of the Temple Mount and references to land not yet recovered by Israel. Obadiah’s prophecy begins with the ancient Edomites and tracks their physical and spiritual descendants to the last days.

So, can we determine their modern identity with any degree of confidence based on the Scriptures?

Assessment:

The most compelling Scriptural evidence to identify the Edomites is found in Ezekiel 36:5.

The first fifteen verses of that chapter give God’s viewpoint regarding the ownership and eventual disposition of what the world calls the “West Bank.”

Ezekiel describes a conspiracy between the nations of the world and “Edom” to misappropriate that land that God had granted to Jacob.

The book of Obadiah is also closely related to the prophecy of Ezekiel 35, which is a prophecy against the same group of people.

“All the men of thy confederacy have brought thee even to the border: the men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee, and prevailed against thee; that they eat thy bread have laid a wound under thee: there is none understanding in him.” (1:7)

The ‘Palestinians’ are a ‘confederacy’ rather than a people. They have conspired with Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iran and the Saudis to lay claim to the West Bank as their ‘ancestral homeland’. Jeremiah 48-49 includes prophecies against these modern Islamic states, and provides additional support for the identification of the Palestinians as the Edomites.

Further nailing down the identification of modern Edom is Obadiah 1:8:

“Shall I not in that day, saith the LORD, even destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of the mount of Esau?”

The ‘wise men out of Edom’ are the imams and Islamic preachers who preach the destruction of Israel from the “Mount of Esau” (the stolen Temple Mount v.16).

Let’s examine some of Obadiah’s indictments against Edom and compare them to Israeli-Arab conflict:

1) Violence against Jacob: “For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever.” (v. 10)

2) Celebrating Israel’s calamities: “But thou shouldest not have looked on the day of thy brother in the day that he became a stranger;” (v.12a)

3) Handing over the Jews to their enemies: “neither shouldest thou have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither shouldest thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress.” (v. 12)

4) Taking possession of the Jewish holy places: “Thou shouldest not have entered into the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; yea, thou shouldest not have looked on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor have laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity.” (v.13)

5) Mocking the God of Israel and His People from His Holy Hill: “For as ye have drunk upon my holy mountain, so shall all the heathen drink continually, yea, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been.” (v. 16)

6) And finally, the destruction of something Obadiah calls “Mount Esau” — a symbolic reference to Esau’s deity, Allah, on ‘Mount Zion.”

“And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD’s.” (v.21)

In case that doesn’t make the case for you, Obadiah’s chief indictment against Edom is its systematic, constant and unrelenting violence against Jacob.

Let’s revisit that verse, substituting the word ‘violence’ with its Hebrew equivalent and look at the indictment one more time in context:

“For thy HAMAS (violence) against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever.” (Obadiah 1:10)

Note: Today’s Letter gives evidence that the Bible is not a book of fables and its predictions are true.  Pete Garcia’s, “Dispensational Truth:Part III” provides more scriptures of a Biblical rapture and how it will reveal who the church is. 

Wherefore, Contend With One Another Over These Words

Wherefore, Contend With One Another Over These Words
Vol: 147 Issue: 17 Tuesday, December 17, 2013

From time to time, there are periodic eruptions in the forums from new members or guests who believe that it is their mission in life to correct our allegedly mistaken views on doctrinal issues like eternal security or a pre-Trib Rapture.

The Omega Letter was designed to be a private fellowship of like-minded believers who can expect consistent and prayerful teaching on the deeper points of doctrine.

One can find many different ministries that claim a number of doctrines that aren’t shared by the Omega Letter.

There are Catholic ministries, Pentecostal ministries, Baptist, Methodist, non-denominational, ministries that believe in a pre-Trib Rapture, as well as those who believe in pre-wrath, mid-Trib, post-Trib — there is even a mainstream doctrine that denies there will ever be either a Rapture or a Tribulation Period.

I don’t enter into debates with believers who take a different view. It is my contention that doctrinal differences within the Church are deliberate.

The Genesis story of the tower of Babel is instructive in more ways than simply providing the answer to the question of where all the different races and languages came from.

In that story, the men of Babel, hoping to avoid another flood, decide to build “a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven.” (Genesis 11:4)

The narrative goes on;

“And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:5-7)

Clearly, God knew that the men of Babel could NOT build a tower that reaches to heaven. Just as clearly, God knew that there ARE restraints on men, and there ARE some things that men cannot do, even if they imagine they can.

It is true now, and it was even more true then.

But, without the confounding of languages, the people WERE one, in that they had a single king who sought, by his own effort, to bring all the people of the earth together under a single banner in an expressed effort to thwart the purposes of God.

So God confused their languages, not because He couldn’t ‘put down’ a man-made effort to usurp His authority, but out of mercy, to prevent the necessity of having to punish them all.

In confusing their languages, God separated mankind into individual nations, preventing the rise of a global dictator like Nimrod who was determined to bring the whole world under a single, rebellious dictatorship.

In the beginning, the Church was one under Jesus Christ. To ensure that one man didn’t take over and begin dictating his own terms after the Lord ascended, Jesus left the Church under the care of twelve apostles.

Three hundred years later, one apostle was elevated by men to become the titular head of a single united, Christian Church, under the authority of a single man heading a single denomination.

The consequence of that effort is known to history as the ‘Dark Ages’.

Once the Church became ‘one’ under the papacy, there truly was ‘nothing restrained from them’ spiritually. The Popes of the Dark Ages appointed and removed kings from their thrones. History is filled with the accounts of the Papal wars and inquisitions.

Under the power of the papacy, the power over heaven and hell was taken from Jesus and given to the papal Church. The papal Church claimed the power to forgive sins or retain them, and made keeping Church doctrine a condition of salvation.

At its extreme, the papal Church began SELLING free passes to heaven, known as ‘plenary indulgences’, turning salvation into a commodity to be bought and sold.

It took a millennia for the power of the papacy to be broken by the Reformation, which resulted in the Church being separated into denominations, like the world was separated into individual nations at Babel.

The various denominations hold differing doctrinal views that keeps them separated into individual church groups, or denominations, preventing the rise of another superchurch.

Assessment:

According to the Book of the Revelation, in the last days, spiritual Babel will rise again, under the headship of a single man, energized by Satan, and known to Christians as the antichrist.

“And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. . . and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” (Revelation 13:7a, 15b)

During the Church Age, no such leader could ever deceive the entire believing church. There are too many minor points of doctrine that divide us for any one man to unify us under a single banner of united Christianity.

The proof is the Omega Letter. Our fellowship are all professing believers, all saved by grace through faith, all witnesses to the saving power of Christ, and all expecting to spend eternity in heaven.

Despite all that, the doctrinal differences that exist between us on a single point, the timing of the Rapture, is enough to divide us into two camps. From what I can read, there will be no compromise.

Those who reject a pre-Trib Rapture argue that expecting a pre-Trib Rapture will make believers so blinded to the antichrist that when a European leader arises who confirms a peace covenant with Israel, declares himself Israel’s Messiah, and demands global worship in exchange for a Mark that, without which, they will be unable to buy or sell, that they will accept the Mark.

According to this view, because the Rapture hasn’t happened, Christians in the Tribulation will not recognize the antichrist.

Consequently, there is no fellowship between the two camps. When they come together under one roof, all the points of common agreement fall by the wayside as each side attempts to ‘convert’ the other to their point of view.

It wouldn’t matter who came along, or how charismatic he might be, there is nobody on this side of the Church Age who could get every Christian to accept his headship.

It is the doctrinal differences that divide us that prevented the rise of antichrist during the Church Age, just as the language division broke Nimrod’s power at Babel.

To many Christians, ‘ecumenism’ is a dirty word. ‘Ecumenism’ is a doctrine that seeks to set aside theological differences in an “organized attempt to bring about the cooperation and unity of all believers in Christ.”

Why is ecumenism such a dirty word? Because a single Church body, under a single banner, sets the stage for the rise of a false prophet as described in Revelation 13. That is why most non-denominational Christians oppose it.

Every ministry has its own statement of faith. Why is that? Because they are different.

The Omega Letter’s statement of faith holds to the inerrant, Divine inspiration of Scripture. We believe in salvation by grace through faith.

I personally prefer the King James Bible for preaching and teaching, but we take no dogmatic view as a ministry.

We believe in the Virgin Birth, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, eternal security, dispensationalism and a pre-Tribulational Rapture.

One can find other, sincere, honest and Christ-honoring ministries who differ with us on several points. As a consequence, there will be no evangelical ‘pope’ who can authoritatively dictate doctrine to all Christians during the Church Age.

But the Bible says such a one will exist during the Tribulation.

The Omega Letter will hold fast to its statement of faith, because, unlike our critics, we believe that God has His purposes in this age, just as He did when he confused the languages of men at Babel.

It is not our mission to convince skeptical Christians that the pre-Trib Rapture is the correct view. We believe it is the correct view, but reject any notion that the timing of the Rapture has any bearing on salvation.

We teach it because we believe it is correct, but we have no contention with those who believe otherwise. And we have no wish to engage in pointless debate, either in our publications, or within our forums.

Having taught the Rapture in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-17, the Apostle Paul didn’t conclude by saying, “Wherefore contend with one another over these words.”

Instead, he said, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (1st Thessalonians 4:18)

I find little comfort in confrontation.

Note: Christmas is coming and with it; family and friends.  Today’s topic provides two important tools; an outline of the Omega Letter’s pre-tribulational view and Jack’s warning on what not to do with it.  Wendy Wippel’s “The Christmas Coup” also adds to our arsenal of knowledge of the historical time that Jesus was born into.

The Greatest Mystery: Unlocked

The Greatest Mystery: Unlocked
Vol: 147 Issue: 16 Monday, December 16, 2013

During His First Advent, the Lord Jesus unlocked many mysteries for the Church, not the least of which is what happens when we die.  The Old Testament doesn’t provide a lot in terms of specifics, since OT believers operated under the terms of a different Dispensation.

During the Dispensation of the Law, believers were not immediately whisked into the presence of the Lord at the moment of death.   The blood of bullocks and lambs was insufficient to cover their sin. 

Old Testament believers expected to stand in the Resurrection at the Last Day, but had no expectation of eternal life in the sense that the Church understands it.

“As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.” (Job 7:9)

“For in death there is no remembrance of Thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (Psalms 6:5)

“For the grave cannot praise Thee, death can not celebrate Thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth.” (Isaiah 38:18)

Until Jesus defeated death at His resurrection, death was still pretty much a mystery. The general understanding was that first a man dies, and then he awaits the resurrection of the dead at the last day.

The Book of Job, chronologically the oldest book in the Bible, spoke of the resurrection of the dead even before the time of Abraham, confidently saying;

“. . . all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. . . ” Job awaited the call of the trumpet at the Rapture, thousands of years before it was generally known as doctrine. “Thou shalt call . . .” (Job 14:14-15)

“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:25-27)

The Lord Jesus filled in the missing details about death and the grave under the Dispensation of the Law when He told the story of the rich man and Lazarus.    I want you to note that Jesus did NOT say, “learn the parable of the rich man.”   He began with a definite statement of fact: “There was a certain rich man. . . ”

And Jesus says that there was a “certain” beggar named Lazarus.  The rich man and Lazarus were real people; this is not a parable or Jesus would have identified it as such.   

“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried.  And in hell, he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”

 Let’s stop there for a second and examine this newly-revealed truth.   Until now, OT believers thought that when they died, they stayed in the grave until the Resurrection.   They had no expectation of continued consciousness – until Jesus revealed the truth to His Disciples.

Jesus told them that the rich man went immediately to hell.  Lazarus was immediately carried by the angels into a place called “Abraham’s bosom.”

 This was a totally new revelation.   The Lord revealed that hell was divided – there was a place of comfort for the righteous dead with Abraham on one side. 

In the middle was a great gulf or chasm, and on the other side was hell, a place of flames and torment and loneliness.  Moreover, the Lord reveals that those in hell could see across to Paradise. 

There are several other things we learn from Jesus about hell, and about those who are condemned to it. First, the rich man has no name, whereas Lazarus is addressed by name throughout the passage. The rich man needs no name. Nobody will ever call it again.

He is eternally separated from God; to all intents and purposes, he is ‘dead’ to God, and to everyone who ever knew him. He is only alive to himself. But the rich man is cognizant of his life, how he ended up in hell, and those he left behind. His memories of his earthly life are intact:

“Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (Luke 16:22-28)

Jesus teaches us that those condemned to hell are; a) in fiery torment, b) are self-aware, c) are nameless and without hope of reprieve, d) are conscious of their situation, and, e) their memories of their earthly lives are intact.

The Book of the Revelation teaches that what we call ‘hell’ is more analogous to a county jail, where prisoners are held pending trial and conviction. Once a county jail inmate is convicted, he is transferred to a state penitentiary to serve out his sentence.

“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:13-14)

When John describes the judgment against the devil, he writes: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

Note two things. First, the beast and false prophet ‘are’ – present tense — in the lake of fire. They were not consumed. Secondly, it is a ‘lake of fire and brimstone’ and its inhabitants ‘shall be tormented day and night forever and ever’.

Thus is the fate of those we fail to reach in our effort to discharge our Great Commission.  It’s a sobering thought.

Jesus taught specifically and incontrovertibly that, when the moment of death comes, our conscious spirit lives on, AWAITING the resurrection of the dead, which is when our spirit is united with our new and improved physical bodies.

At the Cross, Jesus told the repentant thief, “Verily I say unto thee, TODAY shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

When Jesus descended into hell after His Crucifixion, He went to Paradise to “lead captivity captive”, the Scriptures say.   He went to Paradise to preach the Gospel and to present Himself as Savior and bring them from Paradise to Heaven.

Our spirits exist and have substance, and they are not only conscious after death, they are completely self-aware.  Death is not the end of our existence. 

Death does not, evidently, even impair our consciousness. 

Assessment:

During the Dispensation of the Church, the Apostle Paul noted that for believers to be ‘absent from the body’ meant to be ‘present with the Lord.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2nd Corinthians 5:10)

The Apostle Paul wrote of physical death as it pertains to believers, saying; “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” (1st Thessalonians 4:13)

But yet we do sorrow when a loved one dies. Even when we know that our loved one is now safely resting in the arms of Jesus.  We know that our loved one’s race is run and their burdens have been lifted. 

They are now where we all wish to be – but that does little to dry our tears. It is one of the conundrums of Christianity – everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

Why do we sorrow when we know the truth?  Would we be sad if our loved one had won the lottery?  Of course not.  But Heaven is the ultimate winning ticket.   When your number comes up, you win. 

And all your family and friends cry. 

Why is that?  Does that mean that their faith is weak?   Are they really secret doubters?   Paul intended to offer words of comfort  — indeed, the chapter closes; “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

Paul offers words of comfort because of the sorrow that comes with losing a loved one.  Being sorrowful at the loss of the loved one is not evidence of a lack of faith.   If you think about it, your sorrow isn’t because you have any doubt that your loved one is safe in the arms of Jesus.

You haven’t betrayed the faith.  You sorrow because they aren’t here.  Our loved ones are a gift from God given to us to make our sojourn on the Big Blue Marble bearable.   The gift is deliberately temporary, which is what gives it its value. 

When a loved one dies, we lose the gift of their companionship.  Even though we know loss is also temporary, which mitigates the tragedy – it does little to ease the pain of loss in this life. 

Our sorrow is not for our loved one – it is for ourselves. Their gain is our loss.  It’s just that simple.  

There’s nothing selfish in that – if one of my children got a fabulous job on the other side of the world I would be very happy for him – but personally devastated by the loss of his companionship. 

The fact that I know I would see him again would mitigate the sense of loss. But it wouldn’t keep me from missing him while he was gone.  Or wishing he was still here.  (Or make me feel guilty because I did.)

Death comes to us all – we know that.  But death doesn’t come to us once.  It comes to us all the time – death is the one certain part of this existence.   Our own death is simply the last one we have to endure. 

At the Rapture, some believers will not yet have experienced death. They will be instantly changed into their incorruptible bodies. Those who have experienced physical death will be reunited with their bodies, which will be raised and changed.

But their spirits and consciousness are already awake and alive and in the presence of the Lord. Those who are ‘asleep’ in Christ are those who have experienced PHYSICAL, but not conscious death.

At the Rapture, the “Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise (physically incorruptible) first: Then we which are (physically) alive and remain (in our natural bodies) shall be caught up together with them (changed and incorruptible) in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1st Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Our loved ones who have gone home to the Lord are ALREADY in His Presence, enjoying Heaven and its unimaginable joy and riches. They are NOT mouldering the grave, unconsciously awaiting the call of the Trumpet.

They are alive and aware and eagerly anticipating the opportunity to meet with us in the air and embrace us once more.   We will see them again.   We will recognize them and they will recognize us.

“. . .  and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.” (1st Thessalonians 4:18)

Originally Published: July 31, 2010