Question #1: Hi Bob,
I enjoy blogging with you because you are not satisfied with simplistic
answers to complex questions. Gone are the days when I naively could
take a 1611 King James Bible word for word and say, God said it, that
settles it, I'll just take it literally! Or when, as a Catholic, I could
just take the Pope's word or my parish priest's word on a spiritual
matter! Now I know that in order to fully grasp the true meaning of a
passage , one must also know 1) the context; 2) to whom written and
their cultural and historical background; 4) the intent of the writer;
5) something about the grammatical constructions in Hebrew and Greek; 6)
have some sort of feel for how a particular passage fits into Gods big
picture! And that takes years of training! All bets are off for any
interpretation of end-time prophecy from me until I have had a chance to
go to Israel myself and look at the archaeological, historical, and
cultural backgrounds. I'd take an honest look at current events to see
if they are really trending towards fulfillment of a prophecy.
For example, I take the "great Tribulation" in a very general as well as a particular sense. Christians who are taking hard positions on things like a pre-trib rapture could be in grave trouble when their faith is tested. There has always been great tribulation! Just ask the victims of the Pakistani earthquake, the Sri Lanka Tusanami a year ago, or the New Orleans refugees from Hurricane Katrina. Ask our soldiers in Iraq! Just ask the martyrs of the Inquisition or the now glorified believers who were torches for Nero's gardens back in the first century. They went through Great Tribulation!
There is a real risk of great tribulation in all our lives today, some more than others. BUT there is a still Greater Tribulation that the world has not yet seen that will dwarf all our present troubles! Which brings me to my headline: the Threshold of Denial. I define the Threshold of Denial as that level of pain and suffering where the pain becomes so intense that we will do ANYTHING to escape that pain, even selling our soul to Satan or taking the Mark of the Beast. As I consider my own threshold of denial rather low (it takes all the self discipline I can muster sometimes just to resist a sexual temptation) this is of some concern to me as far as my readiness to endure martyrdom is concerned. I feel I cannot promise God that I will endure extreme pain an indefinite amount of time in order to demonstrate that my faith is real. I think we all have a Threshold of Denial. Jesus said that if he testing of the elect had not been shortened, there would no flesh be saved. The only thing I seem to get from the Spirit on this is "Practice being faithful in the small things, and you will learn to be faithful in the big things.
Only God knows, but I think that those who denied Christ under extreme torture, perhaps as prisoners of war, in many cased are still saved IF their lives up to the point of denial showed they were true believers. What came out of their mouth under duress did not represent the true cry of their heart. There is no evidence that Peter lost his salvation when he denied Jesus, though Jesus gave Peter a piercing, convicting look.
Response #1: Thanks for your
thoughtful e-mail. I absolutely agree with you that great tribulation
often comes into the lives of believers, even though in the history of
the Church only a small percentage will find themselves in the middle of
the Great Tribulation. In fact, that sort of intense personal suffering
is the theme of the Peter series (whose sub-title is "Coping with
Personal Tribulation"), and the point is made throughout that series in
addition to most other things I have written. For me, that is in fact
one of the reasons why the erroneous pre-Trib rapture is such a
dangerous position. Not only does it open contemporary believers up to
the danger of finding themselves in the midst of the Tribulation
unprepared, but it also gives a false sense of "rapture security" and
thus diminishes the sense that we might find ourselves in troubles every
bit as intense from a personal point of view. In a sense, it is a sort
of an eschatological "prosperity gospel" falsely suggesting that good
believers won't ever really have to face tragedy etc. As a result, if
such badly mis-informed believers do find themselves in the midst of
intense personal tribulation there is a real temptation to blame God and
lose faith, failing to understand what this world is really like and
what their role in it is: i.e., this is the devil's world and we are
here to serve Jesus Christ; this is not a personal garden of Eden
wherein we have been placed to "have a good life" while we "nod to God"
every once and a while.
As far as the "threshold of denial" question is concerned, I believe that there are some very simple principles that apply, but how they may apply to different individuals and different circumstances is not independent of the individuals and circumstances in question. For example, your contention that everyone has a breaking point may be true (it is true enough for more than enough people that we certainly need to consider it anyway). But consider too that nothing is impossible for God, and that what may be your or my breaking point today may not be the same tomorrow. Abraham sinned and failed in some fairly spectacular ways, but his success in his willingness to sacrifice the son of promise, the very hope and desire that occasioned some of his past failures, shows beyond all doubt that at that moment on Mt. Moriah he was one of (if not the) greatest believers who have ever lived. God knows who we are and where we are spiritually, and He also knows what is coming. He loves us and wants us to succeed, not fail, and is more than capable of preparing us for what lies ahead. Sometimes this preparation is very long and very time consuming as it was with Abraham, and for many reasons, not the least of which is our tendency as human beings to be very thick-headed and to repeat the same mistakes over and over again before we finally learn. Often, this learning process involves stiffer and steeper penalties in the form of divine discipline, but if we keep on with our commitment to the Word of God, learning it, believing it, applying it, and if we keep on in our attempts to correct our behavior, whatever our shortcomings, then, in time, we will become vessels of honor fit for the purpose that God has for us. If we add to this two other principles: 1) God knows our limitations and will not let us be tested beyond what we can endure – even if this is way beyond what we think we can endure (1Cor.10:11:13), and 2) God's grace is in fact sufficient to get us through whatever it is that we are called upon to endure (2Cor.12:8-10; cf. Ps.91; Matt.6:25-34; Heb.13:5-6), then we have a divine recipe for spiritual success. We may not yet have the faith of Daniel, to be dropped into the midst of ravenous lions but still trust that our Lord will deliver us (*Dan.6:23), but we can rest assured that our Lord will make sure that we have developed that kind of faith before He lets us be deposited in the lion's den. And there is an important "flip-side" to that principle as well: if our Lord has allowed us to be dropped into the lion's den, then beyond all question we do possess the faith, the experience, the truth, and the divine resources necessary to pass the test of great tribulation whether or not we think we do! So how should we react if and when we find ourselves in such a "fix"? We should trust God; trust our Lord Jesus Christ that He knows us and our situation far better than we do, trust Him that whatever our eyes may be seeing, whatever our ears may be hearing, whatever the world around us is telling us, that He is faithful, and that He loves us, and that He is sufficient to bring us forth from the lion's den in total spiritual victory, even though we may feel that we are still inadequate to such a trial. For He knows where every threshold of endurance lies, and we have to trust His character. Jesus went into the darkness for us, to die for us, to endure the punishment for every single one of our sins, past, present and future, and did this for us before we even existed. While we were still His enemies in principle, He poured out His precious life to buy us out of hell. He is not out to get us. He is out to save us, and to be glorified by our responsiveness to Him. In truth, if we find ourselves in the lion's den, rather than bemoaning our fate, we should praise our Master that He has found us faithful enough to glorify Him in this way, so that whether He means us to live or to die we may do so in a way that is well-pleasing to Him. In truth, the times of ease and plenty that the world longs for are merely interludes where the wise prepare for those times when the world will inevitably show what it is really like. The moments that will define our lives as believers in Jesus Christ will in many cases be those very times that the world fears, but that we as those who have committed ourselves to Jesus Christ ought to learn to embrace. Not that we seek pain, but we know that we have a better country, a better body, a better life beyond what these mortal eyes can see. When the time comes to show by our actions that this world means nothing but that Jesus means everything to us, that is the time which will define who we really are. Jesus knows our hearts, and knows just how to prepare us, and just how and when to let us show what we are really made of – demonstrating not the physical courage of this earth, but the spiritual courage that comes from knowing the truth that this world means nothing, but that our Lord means everything. We may stumble, we may falter, we may not get it right the first or the 100th time, but if we persevere, that very perseverance and unwillingness to turn away in spite of failure, disappointment and broken bones is a testimony to the genuineness of the faith that resides in us, and to the faithfulness of the dear Savior who bought us. If we will but continue to learn to trust Him more and more, see more and more His hand in all we encounter, and deeply drink in the truth of the Word of God, then not only will we have nothing to fear in truth, but in truth the very things that the world fears will never be able to quench our faith or take control of our hearts (Ps.49:5-20).
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
1st Thessalonians 5:18 NIV
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who wins the victory, I will give to him the hidden manna, and I will give to him a white stone, and on it will be written a new name which no one knows except the one who receives it."
May we learn to accept
His will in all things, looking forward to that new name on that great
day in the hopes that it will reflect our running of a good race of
faith on behalf of the One who died for us, our dear Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ. If we persevere in our spiritual growth through eating and
living the Word of God, we can be sure that God will indeed prepare us
for whatever tribulation we are going to have to face, even if it turns
out to be the Great Tribulation. Stay strong in the Lord, my friend, and
He will prepare you for every test and trial He has made you for, and
your life will be for His glory, just as He has always intended.
In Jesus Christ,
I am beginning to feel guilty about looking forward to asking you different questions. However I am always blessed by your answers, and by that I hope to be better informed and prepared for service. What scriptures would you recommend sharing with those who lost everything in hurricane Katrina. I have talked with some of these people, and I need to be better prepared with Gods word to encourage them.
Good to hear from you.
I appreciate your good words, but I'm not sure I am capable of living up
to them adequately. This question is a good case in point. I do believe
in the power of scripture and even of particular scriptures. And I do
believe that the Spirit does use all the truth we know, whether that
truth be distilled or come in the form of particular scriptures.
Generally speaking though, I find myself personally (and I think in this
that I also have the Spirit of God) that when and if a particular
scripture does pick us up, reorient us, and fill us again with the power
and the encouragement of God's own Spirit, that it does so through the
remembrance and validation of the truth we already know and have
accepted. This process of encouragement is not only good and necessary –
and I commend you for your efforts in the Lord and encourage you to keep
on in them in the power of the Lord –
it is also a basic and important
function of every Christian and a main purpose of our true assembly as
believers (cf. Heb.10:25 - coming together with other believers in any
venue should have such mutual encouragement as a main focus).
To that end, I would not really wish to delimit either the power and ministry of the Spirit or in any way restrict or micro-manage your own ministry in the Spirit's power. Paul told the Corinthians that while he was sorry about their distress, he rejoiced in the sure and certain knowledge that wherever and whenever Christians are distressed, the comforting ministry of the Spirit - the comfort that is our birthright as believers in Jesus Christ – is a reality which far exceeds any such distress - one has only to access it (2Cor.1:3-11). How best to do this for other believers is circumstantial, and it is unquestionably the case that some believers are more gifted at giving comfort than others, especially in times of extreme stress – we all have our own gifts, our own ministries, our own effects from the Lord.
I am confident that as a mature and growing believer in Jesus Christ, ministering in the power of the Spirit, that what you say and when you say it through the Spirit will indeed be valid and good and appropriate. I am not saying that preparation is not important. Far from it. What I am saying is that you are preparing to comfort, encourage, guide, lead and teach others every time you study your Bible, every time you devote yourself to learning more about the truth of the Word, every time you take pains to believe and remember and apply the truth to your own life. Therefore what I would say here is that the best scriptures, the best principles, the best observations, the best analogies, and the best words in general that you might use are likely to be the ones which you have found powerful and effective in those cases where others have ministered to you, and which you have found powerful and effective in those cases where you have had to, like David did, "encourage yourself in the Lord" (1Sam.30:6) whenever things seemed to be falling apart but instead of falling apart with them you entrusted yourself to the Lord and found yourself renewed (cf. Is.40:28-31).
In my experience, sometimes in the most difficult situations and under the most intense grief, platitudes, even when they be carefully chosen and prepared, even when they be excellent scripture suggestions, can easily be more of a trial for the receiver than a help. They already know what you are telling them, and now they have to worry about how their response looks to you ("I must be failing this test, otherwise, why would he/she be pounding me with these scriptures?"). Sometimes, the best we can do is to show that we care, to remember that person in prayer (and to let them know we are doing so – and if we say we are doing so we must do so in all earnestness), and to provide whatever is appropriate in the way of material assistance. Sometimes, moreover, what people in such trials really need is for someone to listen, rather than to talk. It says in Proverbs that a well placed word is like "golden apples in settings of silver" (Prov.25:11). If we make ourselves available to our fellow believers in their time of need, listening, praying, and helping, it may well be that they will need a well placed word to remind them of what they believe and to reorient them to the eternal truths beyond what the eye sees and heart now feels. But in my experience, we need to be extremely sensitive, extremely attentive, and let the Spirit guide us to that well placed word, when and if the occasion arises for the Spirit to use us in that way. When and if He does, if we have truly been devoting ourselves to the truth of the Word of God, then the Spirit has a well-stocked arsenal in our hearts of doctrines, truths, principles - and even Bible verses - so that we may be confident of offering a word that truly does lift the spirit in a good and right and genuinely Christian way. Such "well placed words", directed and planned by the Spirit rather than by forethought on our part, and delivered by a mature believer who is manifesting genuine concern, have a gravity and a power that far outweighs anything that we could ever plan ahead of time.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29 NIV
I'm not sure that was
the answer you were looking for, but it's the best word of encouragement
I can give you on this one. Keep up the good work for Jesus Christ! I
draw encouragement from your continued production for our Lord.
In our dear Savior Jesus Christ.
God has given you the wisdom I needed to hear. I believe that my ministry is as you have said. I think my only failure is when I choose to do nothing. God can take my stumbling prayers and touch hearts by the Holy Spirits power. I was looking for some directional reading to help me prepare to do so adequately.
Well we both seem to be
on the same Holy Spirit wave length then. I know what you mean about
doing vs. doing nothing. It takes spiritual maturity and experience to
strike just the right balance. We want to push, but not farther than
Lord would have us do. We want to avoid being pushy, but not so as to
avoid doing what the Lord would have us do. When we give our will over
to the leadership of the Spirit, we can be confident that He will use
according to His perfect timing and knowledge, and we can relax in the
assurance that He is doing what is needful and also what is appropriate.
On directional reading, on the one hand, there isn't much "secondary" material that has ever really spoken to me personally, and, on the other hand, there is not a book in the Bible that hasn't deeply moved me. If I had to narrow it down, I do find the Psalms, hymns of praise to the Lord which in their own right are filled to over flowing with specific truths, to be of great encouragement. For the Psalms have a way of stimulating positive and godly emotions in response to the specific truths they contain, reminding us that God rules and is worthy of all praise, that He is in control and cares for us, that He forgives us and will deliver us no matter what - and so praising Him for His goodness, greatness, and mercy. The Hebrew name for the book is tihilliym, "Praises", and I find when I let my own personal troubles melt away into appreciation of the Lord, all He is and all He has done for me, that I find the peace and joy that Jesus meant me to have in the midst of the crucible.
Our labor in the Lord is not in vain, but is working out an inestimable and eternal weight of glory that will never dim nor die.
In Jesus Christ our Savior.
Dear Bob Luginbill,
I am writing to thank you, and to say, that the work you're doing is helping a lot of Christians like me. I've been a Christian all my life, that is for the past almost four decades, and have had a life of trials. Even though my family has always been Christian, life has not been easy for us. We've had hardships and illnesses, which after a while, made me question my belief.
For a while I didn't really feel like being a Christian anymore, I still went to church, but didn't really follow through all God's commandments. I married a non-Christian, very much against God's will (He made it very clear to me), but I married anyway. I was the victim of violence, and divorced. I felt abandoned by my church after the divorce, because my pastor did not understand why I was divorcing, and I felt rejected by everyone. Since then I have coped with numerous tribulations, including serious illness, serious financial pressure, and others too painful and personal to delineate here, but the Lord delivered me from them all.
I hope that next time I write to you, I'll have started a new chapter in my life. I hope, that the lessons being learned will serve to help people in the future. People who might be going through difficult times. I then will be able to "feel" for them and give them my testimony and a word of encouragement.
God bless you
Very good to make your
acquaintance. You have certainly had a rough time! It sounds as if you
have undergone the testing of Job. I praise God that you have done so
with the patience and faith of Job as well. Your testimony is extremely
encouraging. To hear how you have not only survived in your faith and
faithfulness to our Lord Jesus, but have actually thrived and continued
to grow in spite of such severe testing is inspiring in the extreme! It
makes me realize (and I am sure will make others realize as well) that
God is able, no matter what the circumstances, to support and sustain
us, even in the midst of the most severe personal tribulation such as
you are undergoing.
You are a strong and powerful witness for our Lord and for His truth! I encourage you to stand fast in that truth and in your faith. I will be praying for you.
Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words about this ministry. I am overjoyed to hear that it has been some help to you, especially seeing that you are enduring where I and many of our fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus might not have the strength to do so.
Thank you again for your inspiring witness!
In the One who is able to keep us from falling, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.