11/30/2014 § Leave a comment
Many people, without any definitive understanding of what it takes to get to heaven, believe that they are indeed going to heaven after death.
“People have different ideas about heaven. Many have no understanding of God at all, but still like to think of heaven as the ‘better place’ where we all go when we die. Most people don’t give heaven much thought until they attend a funeral or a loved one dies. It is popular to refer to heaven as the place where ‘the good people go.’ And of course, everyone they know and love is included in the category of ‘good people.'” 
“According to a recent news poll from a major news organization, 85% of people who believe in heaven but are not necessarily Christian believe that they will go to heaven. Even more surprising is the fact that 77% of people who claim no religious affiliation feel that they are good enough to go to heaven because they feel they are a ‘good person.’” 
If this is true, then there would be little need to talk about heaven and hell at all; however, we need to remember our true state before God and that the way to heaven is hardly a multi-lane expressway:
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)
Being a “good person” also indicates a belief that what you do in life and how well you treat other people will tip the scales towards one going to heaven instead of hell. What people fail to take into account is the sin in one’s life that prevents a person’s ability (or inability) to fellowship with God.
Without the atonement of sin, man cannot enter into a relationship with the holy presence of God. Even when Jesus was on the cross, He lamented over the deep separation and abandonment that He experienced when He took the world’s sin upon His body:
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:45-46)
The words uttered by Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophetic message of Psalm 22:1, but His sacrifice on the cross was the only remedy over the power of sin and death.
“2 Corinthians 5:21 says, ‘He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ It is possible that at some moment on the cross, when Jesus became sin on our behalf, that God the Father, in a sense, turned His back upon the Son. It says in Habakkuk 1:13 that God is too pure to look upon evil. Therefore, it is possible that when Jesus bore our sins in His body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24), that the Father, spiritually, turned away. At that time, the Son may have cried out.” 
It is the power of sin that prevents one from fellowship with God; moreover, it presents the eternal dilemma as to how a person can become righteous before God. The answer is that no one is righteous (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10-12) and all are unable to come anywhere near God’s standard of holiness and righteousness (Romans 3:23).
The difference for man between heaven and hell is only realized through God’s provision of grace in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and in the recognition of the need to accept His saving grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). He has promised that He forgives all sin as it was left on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). The power of sin cannot be overcome by anything that man does on his own (Isaiah 64:6). It is faith in the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ that cleanses the stain of sin (Isaiah 1:18; Psalm 51:7; Ephesians 5:26-27).
In the same way that “Abram (Abraham) believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6), man must believe in Jesus Christ as Savior in order to have fellowship with God in heaven. Even the thief on the cross received Jesus’ eternal promise because of faith in Him and recognition as to who He was (Luke 23:42-43).
Anything less than faith in Jesus Christ means that man cannot be righteous before God, and man is subject to the consequence of spiritual separation from God. It is not God rejecting man, but man rejecting the saving grace of Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:8). When God is rejected, there is no other place for man to go than hell. Again, while those who practice lawlessness without repentance will go to hell, so will those who believe they are “good enough.”
Consider the doctrine of Oprah Winfrey, who was elevated to the status of a spiritual icon by USA Today:
“Oprah speaks less about salvation through Christ than she does Christ-consciousness. Likewise, she describes heaven not as an eternal destination but an inner realm of consciousness. And she dismisses the idea that there is ‘one way’ to God, when she says, ‘There couldn’t possibly be just one way. One of the mistakes that human beings make is believing that there is only one way to live,’ she said. Instead, ‘there are many paths to what you call God.'” 
Scripture warns of false prophets and false teaching (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Peter 2:1-3), for they will only confuse people from knowing and hearing the true gospel that is rooted in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
1 Article – S. Michael Houdmann (n.d.). Who Will Go To Heaven? © Copyright 2002-2014 Got Questions Ministries, Colorado Springs CO. gotquestions.org. Retrieved June 10, 2014 from http://www.gotquestions.org/who-will-go-to-heaven.html
2 Article – Jack Wellman (2012). Who Goes to Heaven? Do Good People Go to Heaven? Copyright © 2010-2014 Telling Ministries LLC. whatchristianswanttoknow.com. Retrieved June 10, 2014 from: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/who-goes-to-heaven-do-good-people-go-to-heaven/
3 Article – Why did Jesus cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, Nampa ID, CARM.org. Retrieved June 9, 2014 from http://carm.org/questions/about-jesus/why-did-jesus-cry-out-my-god-my-god-why-have-you-forsaken-me
4 Article – Steve Rabey. Oprah’s ‘gospel’- Entertainment mogul preaches ‘many paths’ to God. (2008). Christian Examiner® El Cajon CA. Retrieved June 9, 2014 from http://www.christianexaminer.com/Articles/Articles%20May08/Art_May08_02.html
Copyright © Melvin Gaines
05/04/2014 § Leave a comment
A summary of a message presented at Akron Alliance Fellowship Church, May 4, 2014:
2 Corinthians 2:14
But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.
Believers in Jesus Christ are reminded by Scripture to be confident in their faith, but often, this is easier said than done. Perhaps you have experienced difficulties or setbacks in your faith because of life’s circumstances. These are completely normal and understandable. You can be a believer in Jesus Christ and experience different degrees of hardship. In these experiences, there is a lack of confidence in your circumstances.
Where does this lack of confidence come from?
- First, it begins with a loss of focus on Jesus Christ
- Next, it continues with doubt–something is not right, and now you’re not sure about the outcome of the situation
- Finally, the loss of focus and the doubt is stirred up with a potion of fear.
A loss of focus is a huge distraction in your walk of faith.
Doubt is the opposite of faith.
Fear creeps in when faith is absent.
In order to get back to a place where faith can be placed at the forefront, you need to overcome the greatest obstacle that perpetuates doubt, and that is fear.
Fear comes from the available information, or a lack of information, which leads to a perception or anticipation of a negative outcome.
There are many different ways that fear become manifest in the life of a believer. Here is a top ten list that encapsulates how fear can overshadow a person’s life:
10. Losing your freedom
09. The unknown
Fear is a real emotion, but it is debilitating to your faith.
The result of fear, in your doubt and lack of focus, is a believer who is outside of the place where God wants you to be. It’s a place that is unsettling at best, and dreadful at worst.
Fear is not a switch that one can turn on and turn off. In our flesh, there is no such thing as an absence of fear. Fear is like a wound that needs ointment and a bandage in order to promote healing.
In order to overcome fear, which allows us to combat doubt and regain focus on Jesus Christ, there is a remedy. Fear must be suppressed with a reliance on God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Fear must be met with courage.
Courage is the essence of a believer that drives the necessary change to promote growth of your IMAGE in Jesus Christ and the ability, in spite of any life difficulty or circumstance, to proclaim the good news for the Great Commission.
God reminds you of the importance of being courageous. It takes your mind off of the things that you are fearful of. He gives us many reminders and words of encouragement throughout Scripture.
2 Timothy 1:6-7
6 Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.
Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.”
“Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Fear is anxiety and can be driven by impatience. God wants you to be patient.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and courageous.
Wait for the Lord.
God wants you to experience rest and comfort as you rely upon the Spirit to overcome fear.
I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
Fear is the absence of trust. God reminds us to trust in Him. Leave the results of your anxiety at His feet.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
6 think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom should I be afraid?
There’s no need to go it alone. There’s strength and courage in numbers. Stay in a fellowship.
27 Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel, 28 not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction for them, but of your deliverance—and this is from God.
Trusting God in your fear leads to confidence that there will be a good result…but even more than this…that God will be glorified.
15 Now if you’re ready, when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, drum, and every kind of music, fall down and worship the statue I made. But if you don’t worship it, you will immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire—and who is the god who can rescue you from my power?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. 17 If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”
What amazing courage! But make no mistake about it…your courage is far from your own strength. God provides the ability for you to overcome fear and be strong in Him.
11 I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.
25 Don’t fear sudden danger
or the ruin of the wicked when it comes,
26 for the Lord will be your confidence
and will keep your foot from a snare.
8 But you, Israel, My servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
descendant of Abraham, My friend—
9 I brought you from the ends of the earth
and called you from its farthest corners.
I said to you: You are My servant;
I have chosen you and not rejected you.
10 Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand.
God offers Himself to you for comfort, healing, preservation and love, which overcomes all fear. He is your confidence. He is our confidence that we will succeed in any difficult situation or circumstance.
His love overcomes fear.
1 John 4:17-19
17 In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, for we are as He is in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because He first loved us.
Copyright © Melvin Gaines
05/02/2011 § Leave a comment
The death of Osama Bin Laden is a momentous occasion because of his role as the antagonistic front man in the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of Americans ten years ago. Most of us will recognize this as a watershed moment in American history, and there is an unmistakable emotional connection to the demise of Bin Laden to the infamous events of 09.11.2001 that many of us are reliving today.
We should note, however, that while I have no problem with the righteous expression of patriotism in the same way that the United States rallied together as a nation after the attacks, this is not the time to gloat or feel joy over this event. Yes, justice was served, and there is the beginning of some sense of closure for the families of the victims of the attacks, but that is as far as we should go over this issue. These words may ring hollow or be dismissed by many, but I was reminded that God truly sees everything (including our own behavior) by a post from a friend on Facebook:
Don’t gloat when your enemy falls, and don’t let your heart rejoice when he stumbles, or the Lord will see, be displeased, and turn His wrath away from him.
This approach is likely the exact opposite of how many will react; however, this mindset is the proper response. It removes the emotional aspect of the response and allows you to review and keep matters in the proper perspective. While this may seem to be an impossibility with such an emotional topic, the presence of God in our lives, through the enabling of the Spirit, helps us to keep a Christlike approach to life’s ups and downs and fast-changing events.
You may also recall that the United States was subjected to ridicule after 09.11 by our enemies with protests and flag burnings. In spite of arguments that we did not need to be involved in the Iraq conflict, our overall response to the terrorist attacks was rooted in righteousness.
Do not rejoice over me, my enemy!
Though I have fallen, I will stand up;
though I sit in darkness,
the LORD will be my light.
The “revival” of the American spirit in the aftermath of the attacks was unlike anything I had ever seen. You would like to believe that we could have maintained that energy and resolve over time and recognize the importance of Almighty God in their lives. We rallied together for a moment, but we lost the fervor over time, only to see it revived for a brief moment today. This is exactly why we need to see a greater focus of Jesus Christ as a part of our daily life. His presence calms our emotions, smooths our bumps and heals our bruises. He gives us the ability to approach life with the proper balance through the provisional wisdom and understanding of the Holy Spirit.
Today is marked by many as a day of vindication for what occurred long ago. While we had the right to pursue Bin Laden, may we always remember that the Lord is the one who corners the market on vengeance…
If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But
If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
My prayer is that, after all of the initial noise, emotional responses and fast-paced commentary over this issue, people will slow down long enough to take into account that God is never unaware of the events of this world, and that he values our focus on Him in all things. Our focus is not to jump for joy over Bin Laden’s death; instead, we should seek the Lord for wisdom and guidance as we move forward, for we are in the midst of more than just the ongoing threat of terrorism on American soil. We are in the midst of a fight for our very livelihood that is unlike any other time in our history. Are you paying attention? God certainly is.
Copyright © Melvin Gaines. For more content, please see melvingaines.com and melvingaines.blogspot.com.
03/12/2011 § Leave a comment
As we live from day to day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, milestones of events that are like snapshots mark the days that come and go. Everybody knows the date of his or her birthday (since Mom and Dad told you so). Most people remember when they graduated from high school or college. Some remember (or try to forget) when their wedding anniversary is. A few will make the point to remember when they met their wife or husband for the first time, or their first kiss, or when the wedding proposal took place. All of these are dates of importance, but did you consider the most important date of all…do you remember the day that you got saved?
The day that you were saved is truly a milestone day of your life. It is a day that you may or may not remember in the same way that you would remember your wedding day or a first date. What should be noted, however, is that it really is not all that important whether or not that you remember all of the details as to the day you were saved…what is most important is knowing that you ARE saved. It is best to know that you are saved, and to know what you what being saved really means.
First, let’s discuss the definition of the word “saved” and how it relates to the term “salvation.” To be saved indicates that a type of rescue or a removal from a dangerous situation or circumstance must take place. When a person is rescued from a burning building or from a possible drowning or a similar calamity, there is a certainty that life would be lost were it not for the rescue effort. In the same way, referring to the spiritual condition of a person, to be “saved” is to avoid the end result when you are not rescued…a certainty of death. What kind of death? Not just a physical death, but also a spiritual death. The spiritual death, in its simplest form, is the result of man’s inability to have a relationship with God, who is holy. Spiritual death is the equivalent of a separation from God.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned.
Sin is what separates us from having a relationship with God. It would not take us very long to recognize this sin in our lives, especially if you review what the Bible says about the tendencies of mankind:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also.
The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick—who can understand it?
Then He said, “What comes out of a person—that defiles him. 21 For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22 adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, lewdness, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”
And keep in mind that the knowledge of God, the Creator, will not be a deterrent for the person who chooses to live a life of sin.
For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. 20 From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. 21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. 24 Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Thankfully, the Bible also provides a remedy for our sin—Jesus Christ, who is the provision of our salvation. He provides salvation because he loved us before we could even begin to love Him, and He loves us more than we can begin to imagine! He is the provision for our sin that allows us to fellowship with Him, and rescued us from eternal separation and eternal punishment for our sin. We cannot ignore that God punishes sin because He is a holy God that judges unrighteousness (John 8:21-24; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 16:22-31; Revelation 20:11-15).
But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we have all turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.
The key to all of this is that a person has to come to a point where the life that they are living has a need for a change. The natural man does not have the desire, nor the inclination, to reach for a lifeline, a Savior, or for salvation—for the simple reason that they do not believe that they need to be saved. In fact, the flesh that we are in does not have a desire to seek the Lord. The flesh actually repels from God. If it were not for the amazing love of God through Jesus Christ, who makes the provision for our salvation, we would have no hope for spiritual life with Him. His desire is for each of us to be rescued from the fate of eternal separation from Him. He wants us to be with Him through eternity.
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
Salvation is a gift from God through Jesus Christ. It is not an assumption or an afterthought. The believer in Jesus Christ must recognize the gift and accept it. Many see the love of Christ and recognize that they have a gift—if only they would just ACCEPT it! There are people who know about the gift of salvation but won’t accept it for fear that there must be a catch to it. What’s the catch? Try to think for a moment how the flesh looks at this:
“But I still want to have fun! Isn’t being a Christian boring?”
“I want to live my life the way I want to!”
“I can still go to church and to the club, can’t I?”
“I’ve got plenty of time to accept the Lord!”
The person who allows the Holy Spirit, who gives the person the ability to see the wonder of the gift of salvation for what it truly is, receives the gift with the proper attitude. This is what leads to a person being truly saved. It is a true salvation—not a concoction in the mind of the person who is still embracing the flesh and living a life outside of God’s will.
How does a person know that they are truly saved? A person who is truly saved must do these two things—almost simultaneously—when a decision is made to live for Christ. First:
- The person who is truly saved MUST have a heart of repentance, a desire to avoid unrighteousness, and a desire to seek righteousness.
The key word here is a heart of repentance. Remember the verse that says our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9)? The deceitful heart does not have the desire to seek God. God must give us the heart to seek Him through repentance. We must repent of our sin in order to begin moving down the path of righteousness to Him. We must have desire to put aside the world’s pleasures and to live in such a way where we want to live for Him. This is the first step towards being truly saved. Next…
- Acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the person who died for you—you personally, and receive His gift of salvation.
You would think that receiving a gift is a simple thing to do. Well, it is, and it isn’t. If you think about it, most of us will have a feeling of gratitude for receiving something for nothing from a stranger, but we also may have an awkward feeling that comes with it. In fact, some of us are compelled to now look at the first opportunity to give that person who gave us the gift a comparable gift in return, as if it was a gift exchange. Well, we cannot put Jesus Christ on a gift exchange plan and give Him a comparable gift. There is no gift that we can give that comes close to His gift of life for us from His death on the cross. All He wants from us is for us to be obedient to Him. That’s it!
Salvation is a personal gift from Jesus Christ to you. He just wants you to sincerely receive His gift. We say “thank you” to Jesus by just living in a way that pleases Him. It is your ongoing “thanks” to Him because you recognize His love for us in how we love Him in return.
Please note that this is a personal gift for you. You cannot say that you are truly saved because you are in the midst of a group of believers. You are not truly saved if you were raised in a Christian home. You are not truly saved because you have a talent to memorize Scripture. You must make the commitment to make your own personal declaration that Christ died for YOU! Remember that Jesus Christ knows you personally because you are part of His creation.
For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.
This is a testimony that every single one of us is special to Him—the time, the detail, the knowledge of God devoted to creating each one of us. It is a testimony that you are not here on earth by accident. You are His creation, and He knows you intimately.
But even the hairs of your head have all been counted.
If He knows you personally, shouldn’t you know Him in the same way?
If you have done these two key things, you are truly saved. If you have not done these two key things—repented from your life of sin and accepted the gift of salvation by trusting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior—then you are still operating as an agent for the Adversary, Satan. Satan does not want you to acknowledge Jesus Christ, and he does not want you to do this because there is enmity between Satan and Christ. In contrast, Jesus Christ wants all of His human creation to come to a saving knowledge of Him—not just knowing Him or who He is—but a saving knowledge.
1 Timothy 2:3-4
This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Peter 3:8-9
Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: with the Lord one day is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years like one day. 9 The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
This saving knowledge of Jesus Christ seals you for redemption of your sins. It is God’s assurance to you of protection of your soul…your spiritual life after you leave here. He seals you for the purpose of being with Him for all eternity.
With these declarations, the lines are clearly drawn between those who are in the world and loving it, those who are in the world and miserable over it, those who think they are with the Lord and yet they are lost, and those who are truly saved. To be truly saved is to be separated from the world—to be in the world but not living as the world does. Those who are truly saved have this understanding.
1 John 5:18-20
We know that everyone who has been born of God does not sin, but the One who is born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true One. We are in the true One—that is, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Do you now remember the day when you were not just saved, but truly saved? If you do, you know with confidence where you stand with God through Jesus Christ. If you’re not sure about this, make it your desire to learn more by seeking Him right now. Let today be the very day that is the most important day of your entire life. Make it a day of rejoicing for you and for your eternity.
Copyright © Melvin Gaines. For more content, please see melvingaines.com and melvingaines.blogspot.com.
04/12/2010 § Leave a comment
The following is a summary of a sermon presented to Akron Alliance Fellowship Church on October 5, 2008 featuring a discussion on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
I was at work Monday morning when I received an email from my wife informing me of some rather shocking news. She had heard through a friend of hers a rumor that the roller skating rink that we had attended faithfully on Thursday evenings for the last four years was permanently closed. The rink owner had apparently informed customers the night before that he would be closing his doors. At first, I did not want to believe it. I wrote back to Lynn to be sure that this information was true because (a) I did not want to necessarily take the word of the person who had sent her the email because she had been sending a slew of emails that turned out to be urban legends, and (b) while I knew that skating rinks over the years were becoming more and more extinct, I did not want to accept that yet another rink that had been in existence for many years was now gone. After receiving more information later in the day, it was apparent that the roller rink that Lynn and I had just attended four days earlier was indeed closed forever. It seems that the owner’s financial condition finally forced the move. To all of us who attended the rink, however, this was a sudden and unpleasant development. One day, the rink was open and well attended, and the next…gone.
I must confess that one of my great loves is roller skating. It is an ongoing passion of mine, and anyone who is around me long enough knows full well what my interests or hobbies are… ministry, spending time with my lovely wife, football, and roller skating. When I finally realized that the rink that I had frequented was now closed for good, it was, to me, as if someone had died. I was very, very sad when I received the news, and I was in a state of mourning over the turn of events. What was even more striking to me was the suddenness of the event. The rink was open for at least three sessions since that Thursday, and there was no indication of a problem. I had, in fact, just spoken to the rink owner that past Thursday, and he did not seem to give the impression that the rink was closing.
If we think about the sudden events in our lives, whether they are business closings, major or tragic events, or even life and death issues, they almost certainly will have a lasting effect in our lives, and the endings almost always are as memorable as the events that occurred prior to the end. The endings are remembered because they are abrupt and unexpected occurrences. When we are enjoying something that is ongoing, it is hard to accept when all of it comes to an end. And so it goes with life. Just as we have days that we live, we remember that those days are not promised to us. It doesn’t change how we feel; which still makes it hard for us to accept when there is a sudden change. It is one thing to know in advance that something is going to happen, as it is human nature to “prepare” for the event. Not knowing of the change when it occurs is often, for all its worth, a shock to our system.
This turn of events reminded me of what Paul said to the Thessalonians when he was encouraging the believers to remain strong in their faith. He had a brief visit during his missionary trip to Thessalonica but was there only about three weeks due to persecution, as he had to leave the area. He wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 that he wanted to return to see them, but his efforts were hindered by Satan. It was apparent, however, that his heart was with those that he had preached to in Thessalonica and he had many things to say to them, and he was compelled to do so because he feared that Satan was attacking them, as well. Paul knew that the people needed encouragement, and that they were reminded that it was important to remain steadfast in their faith and in Christ…no matter what was going on in their lives. We need few reminders to know that Satan is a powerful enemy, and we are reminded that we overcome Satan’s temptations and distractions by putting on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:11). Sudden events tend to rattle us and shake us out of our comfort zone. When all that we can see around us is uncertainty, the very uncertainty that we experience can be unnerving. How do we overcome the uncertainty and navigate through the stormy seas of life? See what Paul had to say to the Thessalonians in a prayer to the church as to how they were to always maintain a high level of focus on God:
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13
Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you. And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we also do for you. May He make your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. Amen.
This prayer sets the stage for Chapter 4, where Paul not only continues to encourage the Thessalonians but also seems to address questions about life and death, and the sudden events of life that may occur. There must have been specific questions from the Thessalonians about what happens when someone dies. We know that when someone dies it can be sudden and unexpected, or it can occur soon after one is taken ill. In both of these situations it can be extremely traumatic for those who are looking at it from the outside. Paul provides an answer of reassurance and comfort with his response:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.
Then comes the additional encouragement which must have been hard to grasp and yet ever so wonderful to hear as a reassurance that some of us will not experience death as we understand it:
1 Thessalonians 4:15-18
For we say this to you as a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.
This is the only mention throughout Scripture of the events that are known as the rapture. Why was this revealed as it was specifically to the Thessalonians? We cannot know with all certainty, but we can surmise that God must have known that the people needed something to look forward to that explained that God promised life after death and fellowship with Him. This would also encourage the Thessalonians to stay true and obedient to God, as there was something to now look forward to once life on earth was over. Not everyone needs this incentive, but it is nonetheless provided for all of us so that we can see that God does indeed love us and intends for all believers to have eternal life with Him. What an encouragement!
Sudden events may rattle us or knock us off balance, and Satan may have an active role in these occurrences, but God is our eternal refuge that gives us comfort, security and safety. The psalms proclaim Him as our refuge.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also rests securely. For You will not abandon me to Sheol; You will not allow Your Faithful One to see the Pit. You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in your right hand are eternal pleasures.