The Long Arm of the Lord
My best friend died.
Wait...let me back up. First of all, relax. It's not the way it sounds. I was in my school the other day using one of their computers during a long break between classes, perusing prophecy-related news as usual, and out of the clear, blue sky I felt the urge to google the name of an old childhood friend of mine. I've done this before on a few occasions, as I'm sure most of you have, just out of idle curiosity to see what ever happened to good old Michael or Mary or Jimmy or Jane.
Or Joe. Joe and I were born and raised in a small farm town in Central Illinois, and like most boys from small farm towns anywhere, we played baseball together in elementary school, teased girls together in junior high, and cruised the streets of our sleepy little town together in high school.
As you probably know, when you search on anyone's name on Google you invariably get a slew of results pertaining to 20 or 30 people with the same name who are not your long lost friend. I knew Joe was no geeky-techie type (that was my role), so I anticipated that I might have difficulty finding him online. Who knows...maybe a Facebook page, an entry at Linkedin, an arrest report perhaps. As I sifted through one false lead after another, my hopes dimmed as I came up with one handful of nothing after another.
Just as I was about ready to give it up and go back to what I had been doing, however, an entry caught my eye that appeared to be the website of a funeral home.
Well, that can't be him...
I hadn't seen Joe in at least 35 years, but I recognized him in the photo immediately. I went numb and glazed over, and after a few moments of struggling to process the reality of what I was looking at, I began to survey the information in the obituary. It listed family members, both living and deceased—some familiar to me, some not. As to how he died, all I found was a cryptic line about how he had "died at his home" a mere nine months earlier, in October of 2016.
"Died at his home"? Well, what's that supposed to mean...a slippery bathtub? A gas leak? Killer bees? For crying out loud, if it was a heart attack, just say so.
According to the obit, he had moved to a different, even smaller farm town in Central Illinois, was married with three young kids, and had previously owned a plumbing, air conditioning, and heating business. Sounds about right. I was reminded of the fact that our birthdays were only about six weeks apart (mine in March, his in April), and I was struck by the fact that apparently we had both gotten married in the same month of the same year (January 2003). Of course, we got married on opposite sides of the planet, but still.
As my mind went careening down memory lane, it was flooded with tangled snippets of my youth—memories that were fuzzy and formless at first, but gradually gained greater clarity and context over the next couple of days.
One major difference in our respective upbringings was that mine was a church-going family—Joe's was not. His father was a hard-bitten, hard-drinking truck mechanic, and I recall being at his house when his father and mother would fight in far more colorful terms than anything I would ever hear at home. Joe's parents had lost a son as an infant, as well as a daughter (whom I vaguely recall) at age five, and I cannot fathom the emotional pain that must have inflicted on his family. Later there were hushed rumors of infidelity—rumors that went both ways.
Although I knew Joe about as well as anyone, I can only speculate how all this affected him growing up. All I know is that he didn't talk about it much and seemed to shrug it off, but it might help explain his tough-guy exterior.
My family attended the local Assemblies of God church, and I got taken there every Sunday morning of my entire childhood until I was big enough and contrary enough to quit going in my late teens. I got saved as a kid (a couple of times, if memory serves). Sometimes they would couch it in different phraseology, like "rededicating your life to the Lord," etc., but I figured I knew the drill: It was a chance for backsliders to take another crack at getting saved, hoping it would stick this time around. If you cried, that was a good sign.
Maybe that was my problem—I never cried.
The bottom line is that I basically figured I was going to heaven because I had that salvation thing taken care of, yessiree. I was in there. At the very least I understood that if you asked God to forgive your sins and believed that Jesus died for you and was raised from the dead, He would—and that constituted getting saved. In my young mind, that's pretty much all there was to it. All you had to do was walk down the aisle during an altar call, pray that prayer, and that was that. And if you were saved, you were heaven bound no matter what else happened. The scriptural fine print was a bit hazy, but at least I thought I had a handle on that much.
A lean, mean, one-man evangelizing machine
When I was about 14 or 15, our church experimented with some sort of midweek street evangelism program. I would show up in jeans and T-shirt while some of the men in the group would often be in suits and ties, and I recall going with them once or twice to pass out gospel tracts at the entrance of a local supermarket. As a budding borderline Aspie, I could manage that since it could be done in a fairly mechanical, impersonal manner, with essentially no eye contact with strangers.
But then they talked of going as a group to speak to people on the town square and other places. That is so not happening. That was out of my league, and perhaps feeling a bit cheekier than normal, I sagaciously suggested that instead of tagging along with "a pack of preachers" (my exact words, still etched in my memory), wouldn't it be better for me to just go out on my own. You know, one on one, up close and personal with young people my own age and all that. The pack fell for it acquiesced, and I was turned loose as a lean, mean, one-man evangelizing machine.
This was a tactical error on their part, of course, because I would basically just go to the house of one of my friends to hang out and do the stuff adolescent boys typically do. In all fairness, however, I actually did make an effort to talk to my friends about God in the process. After all, I wanted to keep things square between me and the Lord. I figured it was the least I could do, what with me being saved and everything.
But since I could count my friends on the fingers of a hand that had held a cherry bomb a few milliseconds too long, likely as not I would end up riding my bicycle over to Joe's house.
As a lean, mean, one-man evangelizing machine, that is.
On one such lean, mean, one-man evangelistic mission, I rode over to Joe's house to see what he was up to. It was summer and still light outside, so we played catch in his backyard for a while. Later we went inside to make a snack in the kitchen, and then went to his room to shoot the breeze. And true to my mission, I broached the subject of spiritual matters.
I casually mentioned something about what church my family went to, and to my utter amazement Joe suddenly opened up and told me something he had never told me before. And for two boys who had grown up together in a small farm town and who had known each other since the age of six, that's saying something.
"Church? Yeah, I went with Paulie one time."
He told me how another boy named Paul, a mutual friend of ours we had both known since childhood, had once invited him to church—or at least his parents did. I knew Paul's family and knew they were good, church-going people, although they didn't go to the A. of G. Joe told me that he had gone one Sunday morning with Paul and his family, and then he asked me a question that caught me completely off guard:
"Hey Greg, did you ever get saved?"
Instant brain freeze. Hey, I'm the lean, mean, one-man evangelizing machine here. Who's witnessing to who? And how in the world does this son of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking truck mechanic know anything about getting saved, anyway?!
"Uh, yeah, sure. When I was a kid."
"Gre-gor-reee...did ya cry?" he inquired with a mischievous grin.
Joe often called me by my full name simply because he knew I hated it, and would use an especially singsongy tone when he sensed an opportunity to needle me about something. Defensive maneuvers were called for.
"No," I shot back, with a purely unintentional hint of bravado that made it sound like a lie, although it was the gospel truth.
There's a bit of history here. Once in the fourth grade during recess a teacher spotted us play fighting. Mistakenly believing we were actually fighting, she unceremoniously dragged us into the principal's office where we were both promptly paddled into low earth orbit—me first, then Joe. I didn't cry, he did, and neither of us ever forgot that. Thus, the potential opportunity to needle me about crying was just was too good to pass up.
I believed him, and we both laughed as he told me how after he got saved he got in a fight with some kid outside the church.
That was the last time we ever talked about spiritual matters.
After high school we slowly drifted, not so much apart, just along different paths. Mine led me in the direction of the Navy with a detour through a couple years of college, a path that ultimately led me to an unlikely career as a teacher of adult English in Taiwan; Joe's led him in the direction of gainful employment in the Central Illinois county where we had grown up.
And then he died at his home.
The long arm of the Lord
I knew in my spirit that it was no accident that I stumbled across Joe's obituary. Although I felt bad for my friend and for the loved ones he left behind much too soon, I knew God was trying to tell me something.
I just wasn't quite sure what.
The thick, smothering cloud of emotion that rolled in over me was the distinct possibility—and knowing Joe, the frighteningly real probability that he had never come to a saving knowledge of the gospel. My gnawing fear was that his brief exposure to church had been little more than some corny rigamarole he had gone along with to make Paul's family happy, and that it had never gotten through to him in any meaningful way.
And who was I to talk? I began to wonder if it had ever really gotten through to me when I was young. What kind of "Christian" had I been as a youth? What had I ever done to lead Joe to a deeper understanding of the things of God—spiritual things I so casually took for granted in my nice, church-going family?
Me? By the time Joe and I were 17 or 18, I was too busy riding shotgun, engaging in the same activities he engaged in to worry about anyone's salvation. Going along to get along and having a high old time, coming home night after night at all hours smelling of beer and other things. I have no doubt my parents spent many sleepless nights worried sick about me, praying that one day God would grab me by the scruff of the neck and slap some sense into me. They, too, no doubt feared that church had been little more than some corny rigamarole I had gone along with to make them happy, and I can't say their fears were completely unjustified.
In my case, God finally cornered me at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in the state of Washington in the spring of 1980. The long arm of the Lord appeared in the form of two young Navy guys about my age who sat themselves down at my table in the enlisted club late one afternoon for the express purpose of sharing the gospel with me. You got this—just talk the talk. Piece of cake. But talking the talk wasn't going to cut it with these guys, because they were packing heat: the anointing of the Holy Spirit. They weren't pushy—they didn't need to be because they had the real deal. They exuded a calm, disarming boldness that knocked me off my game, and my (somewhat rusty) Christianese bounced off them like BBs off a battleship. And as we talked, I suddenly became acutely aware that God had sent them directly to me, out of all the people in that crowded club.
An hour later, with my self-righteous façade shattered into a thousand pieces, the three of us got up and went outside to find a secluded spot to pray, and it was then and there I finally came to learn what it meant to be born of the Spirit. And although there were times when I went off the reservation after that, I look back at that afternoon outside the enlisted club at Whidbey Island in 1980 as the real beginning of my relationship with God. Prior to that, it's almost as if we had been casual acquaintances. Head change with little heart change and even less life change. A child whose adoption paperwork had gotten hung up and hadn't gone through due to a clerical error.
By the time the sun went down, however, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was part of His family for eternity.
That's all well and good for me, but now I was thinking about Joe. I was thinking about his eternal destiny in a way that I had never bothered to think about it when I was young. I grieved over the countless opportunities I had to influence him concerning God and the salvation His Son offers to all who believe in faith—salvation that I had so casually assumed I had the inside track on just because I went to church every Sunday morning and knew a couple of Bible verses. Opportunities that were tossed away and crushed underfoot like so many peanut shells on a barroom floor.
As I thought about Joe and my own youth over the next few days, the Holy Spirit led me to contemplate a few things.
1. I was not responsible for Joe's eternal destiny.
If it's God's will to save
someone, they will be
saved—and He will move
heaven and earth to do it.
Only Joe was. As grieved as I was over the distinct possibility that Joe had never truly come to a saving faith in Christ, and as grieved as I was over my own pathetic failures in pointing him in that direction in my youth when I had every chance in the world, the simple fact remains: It was his decision and his alone.
Joe's eternal destiny was determined at the same time mine was—before the foundation of the world. God knew from the very beginning that during my life three basic things would occur: At some point I would (a) hear the message of the gospel, (b) genuinely change my mind about my sin and my need for a Savior, and (c) believe in faith in Christ's finished work of atonement and that alone for the forgiveness of my sin.
And not necessarily all at the same time.
And because God knew I would do that, it was His will to save me and He arranged the time and the place in my life to do it. If He knew Joe would do the same, He would accomplish the same result in his life as well—somehow, somewhere, sometime. And at no point did it ever depend on anything I would ever do or fail to do. If it's God's will to save someone, they will be saved—and He will move heaven and earth to do it. The long arm of the Lord will reach them, no matter how fast or how far they run.
29For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30Whom he predestined, those he also called. Whom he called, those he also justified. Whom he justified, those he also glorified.
I sometimes read about people who are eaten up with guilt because they are convinced their failure to witness to someone is responsible for damning that individual to an eternity in hell, but nothing could be further from the truth of Scripture.
People send themselves to hell by consciously rejecting God's offer of grace and mercy expressed to us through Christ—and that's completely up to them and them alone.
Of course, I'm still human. I still felt bad that I didn't do more to influence him, but that's the scriptural reality of the situation. Each individual's eternal destiny depends on their personal, free will choice to yield and respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and as a result of the godly sorrow that yielding produces, repent of sin and believe in faith in Christ's death and resurrection for the forgiveness of their sin and their salvation.
No arguments here: I am personally convinced from Scripture that our God-given free will plays a role in our salvation. It does none of the work of salvation, mind you, but I am convinced it plays a role nonetheless. That's why God gave it to us in the first place—so we could choose to respond to Him (even though that also made it possible for us to choose to reject Him). If someone wishes to believe that our salvation is the result of God flipping a coin 50 billion times or tossing 50 billion darts at a salvation dartboard before the foundation of the world, that's fine. You'll get no argument from me—I have officially retired from carping at Calvinists. I will happily and wholeheartedly agree with you the day I get to heaven and Jesus walks up to me, slaps me on the back, shakes my hand and says, "Congratulations, you lucky devil!"
It's either that or resist the conviction of the Holy Spirit, refuse to repent, reject God's offer of grace, and go the way of the world in their belief that they are a good person and that a jolly old loving God—assuming He exists—will certainly take their heartfelt efforts into consideration.
Be advised, however, that He won't, because our "heartfelt efforts" are pretty much a stench in His nostrils (Isa. 64:6).
2. Everybody has a Joe in their life.
I am convinced that virtually every believer has, at the absolute minimum, one person in their life that God has arranged for them to influence. And that includes you.
One person you can share the gospel with; one person you can give an answer to when they ask you the reason of the hope that is within you. One person you can reach. One person who will listen to you, but who might not listen to others for whatever reason. Only God knows.
You may have to wait for the right moment, a moment that God will arrange. Be ready. Be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Don't be pushy—be bold. And there is a difference.
If you've read very many of my articles over the last several months, or have visited websites like Unsealed.org and others, then you're aware of the coming fulfillment of the REV12 sign on September 23 of this year, the first of two great signs in Revelation 12:1–5 that depict and at the very least herald the season of the catching away of the body of Christ.
The Rapture—the linchpin of the end-time scenario. The Rapture will serve as the trigger for the final sequence of events that will ultimately usher in the Tribulation, a cataclysmic period during which God will effect Israel's final purging and national redemption, as well as mete out judgment on a Christ-rejecting world that has persecuted His people Israel and foolishly rejected His grace and mercy.
Please understand that we are in fact being bombarded with signs that we are staring down the barrels of the Rapture (if you doubt what I say, spend some time at Unsealed.org, watchfortheday.org, and other such websites), and yet the bulk of the Church is fast asleep and blissfully unaware. Most within the Church have no clue what's going on, and many who fancy they do are busy hurling rebuttals at it that amount to little more than flimsy straw men in their vain attempts to maintain the status quo, cast doubt on the fulfillment of God's Word, and mock and disparage those who are being obedient to the Holy Spirit by sounding the alarm.
My point is that it's crunch time. We're almost there, folks, and it's time for those last few precious sheep to make their way through the narrow gate.
That narrow gate is Christ, and one of those last few precious sheep just might be your Joe.
3. God may just want you to let your Joe know you're a believer.
At this stage of the game, it may well be that your Joe just isn't sure about all this stuff about God and the Bible, and expresses no real interest in it. It may be that your Joe needs more "convincing" than you did, and thus his destiny may not involve being part of the Church—those who have not seen, and yet have believed. But consider:
As I said, we are staring right down the barrels of the Rapture. It could literally occur within a couple of months; but since none of us can prove conclusively from Scripture that it won't be several more years, we should be fully prepared for that possibility. Whatever the case, however, one thing is abundantly clear to me:
It can't be all that much longer.
Why? Because God is not a prankster. He isn't trying to play tricks on us. The literal fulfillment of the great sign of Revelation 12:1–2 on September 23, 2017 isn't the equivalent of a divine crank phone call. God is revealing a veritable cornucopia of signs that the Rapture and the subsequent Tribulation are just ahead, and He's not revealing those signs to play a practical joke on us—He's not calling us on the phone and asking if we have Prince Albert in a can.
God is revealing these signs for a reason,
and the reason is because it's the season.
But here's the thing: None of us can be 100 percent certain exactly how that "season" will play out in real time. Not to wag a bony finger or anything, but it strikes me that there are folks out there who would do well to devote a bit less of their time and effort to reading things into Scripture that are not there, engaging in unbridled speculation, and nurturing an unhealthy fixation on a certain date or range of dates.
The one primary, fundamental question that believers should be asking themselves on a daily basis is this:
Jesus could come for us tomorrow:
So how should I be living today?
As opposed to more speculative ruminations such as "What are some more reasons why the Rapture absolutely, positively has to happen on Rosh Hashanah this year?!"
When the Rapture does occur, although there will certainly be competing theories to explain it away, it is likely that one Big Lie will come to the fore in the aftermath of the removal of the Church from the earth. One predominant explanation will sweep the world, and most will buy into it—and it will have nothing whatsoever to do with the truth of what actually happened. Aliens from another galaxy snatching people away, Ascended Masters from the Pleiades snapping people into another dimension, whatever. Frankly I couldn't care less—all I know for certain is that it will be a hip, smooth-sounding lie from the pit of hell that people are even now being preconditioned to fall for hook, line, and sinker.
Untold millions will be deceived—millions who hardened their hearts toward God and closed their blinded minds to the truth of the gospel.
If your Joe is one who is left behind and he knows for a fact that you are one of those "snappees," AND he knows for a fact that you were a born-again believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ and remembers you talking about God and the Bible and prophecy being fulfilled and signs in the heavens and stuff like that, then he is more likely to be one of those who rejects the "official" explanation of the Rapture and seeks the God he now knows not only exists, but is about to bring the hammer down.
And he will find Him, thanks in part to the witness of your life and the impact it will have on him in a post-Rapture world that will be filled with unprecedented levels of demonic deception.
Give God some credit: The point is that we should never presume to know who or what a merciful God will use to draw people to Him in one way or another. God delights in using the weak and lowly things (and people) of the world to carry out His will—and if He can use someone like me, I guarantee He can use someone like you.
4. got synchronicities?
Yeah? Little "coincidences" that crop up? Why am I not surprised. I know this proves absolutely nothing, and I'm not going to make a big deal about it, but still. I had scarcely given any thought to Joe or my childhood memories associated with him in decades. And now, with the Rapture looming on the horizon, suddenly out of the blue I get the overpowering urge to search for him on the Internet only to discover that, much to my surprise, he died just a few months ago. Huh. What a coincidence.
The only thing I didn't get was why God would give me a nod about Joe only to leave me hanging about his eternal destiny like that.
Maybe He just wanted to make me understand the importance of not letting opportunities to share Christ with others slip away, because you never know when their earthly lives might slip away. Or when the Church might "slip away" in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.
I truly believe that God is tying up a lot of little loose ends in preparation for the Rapture, and I certainly see no reason why He wouldn't give His children who are obeying His command to watch and wait and who are longing for His Son's appearing a few such nods to encourage us down the home stretch. And I am hearing about such spiritual synchronicities from other believers on a regular basis these days, as well as experiencing a number of them myself.
When I first stumbled across Joe's obituary, I noticed there was a place where you could leave condolence messages. I glanced over the page, but most of the messages were relatively short, fairly generic, and from people I didn't know, so I didn't bother reading more than three or four of them.
Later, I went back to the website to leave a message of my own for my childhood friend and his family—a childhood friend that I genuinely feared had never come to faith in Christ. While I was there, I spent more time looking around and took a few minutes to read some of the other messages. Only then did I catch something I had missed the first time.
While reading through more of the condolences, I did a double take when I saw one that I suddenly realized was from Joe's wife. It hadn't caught my attention the first time, presumably because I don't know her and so didn't recognize her name among the people who had left messages.
As I read what she wrote, my spirit perked up as I instinctively recognized her words as the words of a believer. Something clenched in my spirit as she thanked God for their 13 years together, and thanked God that Joe was no longer suffering from the pain of cancer, and poured her heart out about how much she was going to miss her angel. Cancer?! He was always a smoker as far as I know, so I'm gonna go with lung.
And then I saw it, and the words jumped off the screen the instant my eyes hit them:
"You're in God's Kingdom now."
Well, if it was cancer, then it wasn't sudden like a heart attack...so he had time...he knew he was dying...his wife was a born-again believer...
Suddenly the reality of what she was saying hit me like an 18-wheeler.
The long arm of the Lord had come in the form of a believing wife, and after reading her entire message it was clear to me that she prayed him in. Glory to His holy name! A crushing wave of joy and thanksgiving flooded my spirit, and the only thing I could do was thank and praise my Heavenly Father for His grace and mercy.
And not just for Joe; not just for his wife whom I can't wait to meet after the Rapture; but also for his old childhood friend—me.
5For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy to all them that call on you.
(Psalm 86:5 AKJV)
Now I know I will meet my friend in heaven. And when that day comes, and I believe it will come very soon, I have no doubt that he'll be there, ready to greet me. I can just hear him now:
Only this time, he will have something to needle me about.
Greg Lauer / July 2017
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1. Deriv. of "Sunset Over Grass Field" © AOosthuizen at Can Stock Photo
2. "Lamb With Shepherd" © spetenfia at Fotolia.com
3. "Memory Lane Road Sign" © Andy Dean at Fotolia.com
4. "Church Pews" © stephaniemurton at Fotolia.com
5. "Wooden Spanking Paddle" © PicFreak [CC BY-SA]
6. Deriv. of "Young Man on the Phone" © tihiy_chelovek at Fotolia.com
(All CC-licensed works are via Wikimedia Commons.)
All Scripture is taken from the World English Bible, unless annotated as KJV (King James Version) or AKJV (American King James Version).