Are You Watching for His Return?

96e2f6c4f55e967defc71fb5b92e3663c6419b5136If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:36-37).

My family and I were separated for nearly three months in the year 2000 while I started work in a large mega church in Cincinnati, Ohio (I am from England).  You bet I was counting the days for our reunion! How lonely I was without the ones I loved, it brought me to tears a number of times. As the time grew closer for our reunion, I began to prepare everything for us to be close again. I checked the flight times again and again, I planned where we would eat on the way from the airport, I cleaned the house meticulously where we would be staying, but most of all, I prepared myself. My time was spent in the days before their coming in much preparation. What joy I had when they arrived, we hugged and kissed repeatedly. I was so excited to show them around Cincinnati, the city where we would now be living. My girlfriend (my wife of 36 years) and my two children were coming home to their own country after 18 or so years of serving God in England.  You cannot understand the joy I felt to bring them back to their family and country.

If you are a Christian this world is not your home. Like me longing for my family, our Lord is longing for our reunion. He has spent nearly 2000 years preparing a place for us so that where He is we shall be also (John 14:1-3). What joy will flood His heart upon our reunion, how He longs to show us where we will be living together. It must be disappointing to Him that some would not even be watching for their reunion day–their hearts are not beating with the same passion that is in His. There are some who are just not aware of the days in which we are living; they are asleep and are not lovingly watching for His return.

Are you watching for His return? Are you avidly working and using your resources to advance the Kingdom of God here on Earth? As a fellow soldier on watch duty, can I call you to attention so that you may lovingly watch for Him? Isn’t it time to get excited about seeing Him and preparing for that time?

Prayer: Father, keep me awake in the midst of a world that wants to drug me to sleep.  I really want to be wide-awake and sensitive to you so that I may walk in eager anticipation for that great reunion day.

Keith Thomas

The Persecution of Pastor Tson

igreja-perseguidaIt was late in the summer of 1977 and Romania was under communist rule when the Baptist minister put all his worldly concerns in order after the manner of a dying man. Buoyed by the courage of his wife, Elizabeth, Pastor Tson prepared himself for certain martyrdom. He was to meet an officer from the secret police in the restaurant of a nondescript Romanian hotel. The communist officer had pledged to do what previous secret police officials had failed to do: silence Tson’s ministry by offering him a secular job in exchange for a promise that he never again preach the Gospel. Turning down the job spelled at least hard time in a prison camp. It might very well mean execution. Tson met with the man, and without flinching turned down the job.

“I told the man, ‘Now I am ready to die,’” Tson said. “‘You said you were going to finish me as a preacher. I asked my God and he wants me to continue to be a preacher. Now I have to make one of you two angry and I decided [it is] better [to] make you angry than God. But I know you, sir; you cannot stand this kind of opposition and you will kill me in one way or another. But I accepted that and you should know that I have even put everything in order and made ready to die. But as long as I am free, I will preach the Gospel.’”

The communist officer was equally unflinching in his response: He told Tson to go and preach the Gospel. “He [the officer] made up his mind that if I was ready to die for it, then I should have it,” Tson said. “And for another four years until they exiled me, I continued to preach with nobody disturbing me because that man, a key man in the secret police, decided I should be free to preach because I was ready to die for it.” He was arrested and imprisoned several times in Romania during the 1970s and charged with being a Christian minister. Each time he underwent several weeks of intense interrogation, beatings and mind games before finally being exiled from the country in 1981.

“When the secret police officer threatened to kill me, to shoot me, I smiled and I said, ‘Sir, don’t you understand that when you kill me, you send me to glory? You cannot threaten me with glory.’ The more suffering, the more troubles, the greater the glory. So, why say, ‘Stop this trouble’? Because the more [suffering], the greater the glory up there.” During one particularly harrowing session of interrogation, Tson told his inquisitors that spilling his blood would only serve to water the growth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Part of the theology of suffering, he learned, was that tribulation is never an accident but is part of God’s sovereign plan for building His church.

“I told the interrogator, ‘You should know your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying,’” Tson said. “‘Now here is how it works, sir: You know that my sermons are on tape all over the country. When you shoot me or crush me, whichever way you choose, [you] only sprinkle my sermons with my blood. Everybody who has a tape of one of my sermons will pick it up and say, ‘I had better listen again. This man died for what he preached.’ Sir, my sermons will speak 10 times louder after you kill me and because you kill me. In fact, I will conquer this country for God because you killed me. Go on and do it.’ “Dying for the Lord is not an accident. It’s not a tragedy. It’s part of the job. It’s part of the ministry. And it’s the greatest way of preaching.”

Tson said he has learned that Christians suffer for two primary reasons: as witnesses to the Gospel and to perfect the church of Christ. He recalled being encouraged by a valuable truth that a British theologian taught him: The cross of Christ was for the propitiation of sins, but the cross each Christian is called to bear is for the propagation of the Gospel.

The Strategic Parable of the Soil

sower11“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:4-15).

What I love about God’s Word is that there is often more than one way to interpret it. Often, Jesus speaks on two levels, for example, on the cellular level and the organism level. While we should receive it at the cellular level, we can also look at it from a strategic sowing and harvesting level of area, state or country. We have been commanded by our Lord to preach the Gospel to the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and the end will not come until the job has been done (Matthew 24:14). People resources and financial resources should not be spent on trying to raise a harvest on pathway soil, ground that will bring little return on the investment. Strategic thinking is required to find good soil.

Any good farmer will test the pH level of the soil to find out if it will grow what he wishes to plant. Let me illustrate what I mean. When I worked as a commercial fisherman with my father, we wouldn’t go hunting in the summer for the small fish called sprats. There were only certain times of the year that the sprats would school together in huge numbers. It was not strategic or pragmatic to put sprat nets on our towing gear and try to catch them. A fishermen needed the right kind of nets to catch the fish that showed up in whatever season it was. The times and the seasons determined the kind of investment to catch the fish. C. Peter Wagner uses the illustration of an apple farm:

“Suppose I have an apple farm with three fields. In the first field the apples are so ripe that one worker can reap five bushels in one hour. In the second field, only a few have ripened and it would take five hours just to reap one bushel. In the third are no ripe apples at all. I have 30 workers to send out to pick apples. Where to send them is not a difficult decision. I would not send all 30 into the first field where the apples are ripe, but I would send 29. I would ask the other worker to go into the second field and pick as many apples as possible, but frequently to travel over to the third field as well. When this worker returns, I do not expect to see a great number of apples. In this case, I am more interested in information than apples. Through this person I will know when the other apples ripen, and on that basis redeploy my work force. The harvest determines the quantity of workers employed.”[1]

Timing and location are important in bringing in the harvest. Countries and regions go through seasons of fruitfulness. Don’t misunderstand me. There are people in all countries ready to receive the Word of God and come to Christ, but revivals through which a country turns are often due to something that God is doing in a region or country. The Church of Christ needs to look strategically as to where God is working, where the field is ripe. Let me give you an example. Argentina was hard pathway soil that was trusting in its leadership council in the early 1980s. All that changed when the military leadership sent an invasion force to capture the Malvinas Islands or Falkland Islands from the British. Maggie Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, sent the British forces down to the South Atlantic, and after several battles, recaptured the Falklands with the loss of many lives. The Argentine national pride was humbled, and with it, a loss of trust in their leaders. God said,

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land…” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

The humbling of the Argentine people was used of the Lord to turn hard pathway soil to good, rich growing soil. A huge turning to Evangelical Christianity and a massive revival took place! Political situations are used by the Lord to create conditions of a ripening of the soil. God is working by His Spirit everywhere, and history shows us vast moves of the Spirit at different times and places, changing the spiritual climate of those countries.

I find it interesting that the parable refers to different conditions that can affect our readiness to receive and respond to the word of God. Hardship can cause some to forsake their faith. Is your faith firmly planted in Christ Himself? It is possible to put our trust and faith in people, and when those people let you down, you may feel that everything you believed and put your hope in was a lie. Your faith must be in the person of Christ. The relationship He offers you is real, and it is eternal. He will never leave you, and He will never forsake you. There are others, whose faith is tested not by trials, but by prosperity. They are lulled to sleep by pursuit of pleasure and do not see their need of Christ, so they do not give Him place in their heart. The Word of God is forgotten, replaced by worldly perspectives. These conditions can be in countries as well as people.

For the most part here in the United States, our soil condition (August 2016) is one of weeds. Fruitfulness is in the soil, but the weeds choke out growth. Our adversary, the devil, pushes hard to transform the culture into one of deception and evil, but I sense that God, out of His mercy, will not allow our complacency to continue! I believe that there will be conditions, situations, and events that will turn the spiritual tide for these United States in order to create the right conditions for a massive harvest among people today, especially our youth.

The USA saw a huge growth in the church during the Jesus movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It is time for another move of God, and we need to be ready to receive new believers by being disciples ourselves in order to disciple others and be those who are fruitful. Let us look at the ground of our own hearts and make sure that there are no weeds of bitterness or unforgiveness and deal with any hardness or unbelief.

Keith Thomas. Taken from the Luke studies in the middle column, Number 16, The Parable of the Soil.

[1] Strategies for Church Growth, C. Peter Wagner, Published by Regal Books. Page 65.

What on Earth are you Building?

p1010075-004As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these tremendous buildings! Look at the massive stones in the walls!” Jesus replied, “These magnificent buildings will be so completely demolished that not one stone will be left on top of another” (Mark 13:1-2).

Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem was one of the Wonders of the World in its day.  In the time of Christ they had been building it for 46 years (John 2:20), and as Christ was talking, the building had still not been completed.  The Jewish people were very proud of Herod’s Temple; it was one of the ways that Herod was trying to win his way into the Jewish people’s heart, even though he lived an ungodly life.  I have lived in Jerusalem for more than a year and a half of my life, and many times have walked up on the Temple Mount and reflected on the fact that every stone was literally thrown down just as Christ prophesied. It was totally destroyed in 70A.D. by the Roman General Titus. Josephus the historian speaks of more than a million Jews being killed when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and set fire to the Temple. The gold of the Temple melted into the cracks in the walls, so every stone was separated to get at the gold. The result being that each stone of the temple was thrown down from the Temple Mount.

When Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman in John 4, the big issue to her was whether or not she should worship at the temple that was in Samaria or the one in Jerusalem.  Jesus said, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (vs.21-23).  What was He saying?

God is not as interested about buildings—He is interested in us. What concerns Him is the temple of the heart.  Paul the Apostle wrote about this when he said “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). It’s seems to me like he was writing something that was 101 basic Christianity to the Church in Corinth using the words “Don’t you know” to remind them.

Isn’t it easy to get sidetracked into building what can be seen by men rather than what is seen only by God? I notice that the first Temple was called Solomon’s Temple, the second being Herod’s Temple.  Maybe that is why God allowed the magnificent structure of the Temple buildings to be destroyed. The buildings were about what men had built.  I don’t want to be disappointed at the end of my life by what I have built with my time, energy and money, and I don’t want you to be disappointed either. Jesus said that we were to not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-3).  Is it about me? Does it have my name on it? Why am I building it? Is my labor truly glorifying to Him or is it bringing glory to me? Is it magnificent to men but lacks value to God?

The things we build here on earth may be magnificent for a time but have little if any lasting value. The things that last are issues of the heart and character. I am convinced that many of you will be greatly rewarded for things that man has not recognized but God alone has seen.

Prayer: Please don’t let me get sidetracked into investing into things of this world; I truly want to build something that is glorifying to you.

Keith Thomas

Is the Great Tribulation the Wrath of God?

Destruction_of_Jerusalem9When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been (Revelation 6:9-11).

In Matthew chapter 24, Jesus was asked as to what would be the sign of His coming and of the end of the age (v.3). Verses 4 through 31 are an outline of the major events that will happen at the time of the end. These verses describe events almost exactly the same as the outline that the Lord gives us in Revelation 6-7 in the opening of the Seals. After chapter 7, the Lord gets into specific details. We are not told that these events all happen in the seven-year period that starts with a peace treaty in the Middle East (Daniel 9:27) over the land of Israel, but it is an assumption on most Bible teachers part. Jesus calls the first three and a half years after that peace covenant is signed “the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:8). As each seal is opened in the Book of Revelation chapter six, a corresponding event happens on the earth that makes the situation on earth so much worse, similar to a woman’s birth pains getting worse as the time for the birth gets near.

At the opening of the fifth seal (Rev 6:7), a great persecution will be initiated against believers in Christ and those Jews who will not take the mark and worship Antichrist. Some, perhaps many, believers will be martyred for Christ at the time of the fifth seal. The opening of this seal, I believe, corresponds to Jesus’ warning about the Great Tribulation (KJV) or great distress (NIV) that He spoke about in Matthew 24:21. I believe this time should be called the Great Persecution. However far ahead in time this is, we as Christians need to be ready to endure and not compromise our faith. Many will fall away when this persecution starts (2 Thessalonians 2:3). We cannot expect to be delivered (raptured) from the earth until some time into this Great Persecution of the saints.

There are some teachers who say we needn’t be worried about this time that is ahead (how far ahead, we do not know). They say that this period of time is the wrath of God being poured out on those who are left on the earth. They believe that the church will be raptured out of here before the Antichrist comes on the scene and the seals begin to be opened with terrible consequences on earth. They say that the tribulation is the wrath of God, and that Paul taught that, “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). How can the Tribulation or Persecution be the wrath of God? In the passage at the top of the page, we are told clearly that some believers who had died in the Great Persecution, will ask God, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10). This happens at the fifth seal, some way after the mid-point, perhaps well into the second half of the seven-year period. The wrath of God is the judgment on those who are persecuting His church. At the fifth seal and the persecution, the wrath and judgment has not started yet. The Lord answers for those believers to wait, “until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been” (Revelation 6:11). The rapture will not happen until sometime into the second half of the seven-year period and before the wrath and judgment of God begins. However, many years ahead this time is, we need to be spiritually ready. It’s time to put away our toys and get serious about our faith. It’s time to get close to Jesus. When the darkness gets worse, God will pour out His Spirit and the Church will shine with His love, life and light (Isaiah 60:1-2. Daniel 12:3).

Keith Thomas