My life is full of firsts. 

For instance, last month the radio reception in my fairly new Jetta Sportwagen pooped out. Dead. Lifeless. Or “Kaput” as they say in Volkswagen. I mean I could be sitting at the base of a 50,000 watt broadcast tower and barely hear the station it transmits on my car radio.

So I took the car in to the local dealer for diagnosis. They found the problem. There is an antenna wire running under the seats and carpet which connects the radio with the built-in antenna in the rear window glass. Problem was there were now two wires; the wire was broken somewhere under the seats or carpet. My joy at finding the problem turned to misery after they told me two things. First, the cost to repair the impudent wire was going to be $1,000. I detest that sort of news. Second and even more offensive was their statement “I’ve never seen that before!” There you have it—INSTB. You probably have some of your own.

INSTB’s have been following me around for the majority of my life, usually popping up right when they are least appreciated. Last year we had a 503 stainless diisocyanate bag filter that continually blew O-rings—and the minds of engineers trying to fix it. You guessed it—no one had ever seen a problem like that before. It’s like watching an Olympic gymnast—one easy somersault away from winning a gold medal—perform a rare nose-plant mattress kiss, and the announcer’s voice drones “I’ve…never...seen that before.” INSTB, all of `em.

INSTB’s can leave us with the feeling that our problems are a distinctive dark cloud designed to make our lives uniquely miserable. But unique experiences don’t have to be bad experiences — they can also be instructive and necessary. In fact each of these scenarios pale by comparison to three final “firsts” that lie directly ahead for our world. They are:

A Time of trouble such as the world has never seen. We’ve read about it in Scripture, and probably wondered “Could it really be that bad?” “Bad” is a variable, and the final Time of Trouble is worse in a couple ways. For one, it encompasses the entire world. There will be no pockets of tranquility in Kashmir, Lucerne Switzerland, or the Salina Turda Salt Mines. It will be Global Troubling, differing from Global Warming in that it is real — and similar to it in that it really is man-caused. The Time of Trouble will also showcase Hi-technology in a way that the world has never seen, and the coercive hand of control will attempt to close around every living person. So how should we relate to it?  By stockpiling ammunition, food and batteries? It wouldn’t hurt to have some food stored away, but may I suggest a simpler approach? Let our preparation consist of storing the Word of God in our hearts, and filing the warning of oncoming Global Trouble away in our minds and not dwelling on it. When it comes, then we can say “Oh I remember reading about this.” God has promised to take us through till the End, and He sends Michael, our great Prince to oversee this one-of-a-kind Trouble Time. We will find the path to heaven consecrated by His footprints.

The first time that humanity will be completely divided into two camps. Throughout history, the fence that separates humanity has had billions of loafers sitting on it. Fence straddling is an art practiced by the spiritually undecided, the nuanced non-committal, and the proud aloof. Don’t care about the things of God? In the past people tried to avoid them by saying “I’m a good person, and I don’t wish to be a religious nut.”  Or “I don’t want to get involved, I'll just sit here on the fence.” First off, that doesn’t work, because of a verse in Luke 11 “He who is not with Me is against Me” (v. 23). Secondly, there is no one good — all of us need Jesus, and He is the only Door (John 10:9). 

And fence straddling is coming to a complete end. Like Grandpa said “Straddling a fence can cause a sore crotch.” There are invisible lines going across the earth as people are being divided into one of two camps. It’s happening in families; it’s happening in churches; it’s happening in schools and neighborhoods, and it’s happening in the heavenly sanctuary. People are polarizing, friend. If you haven’t seen it going on yet, then your eyes aren’t open. There are only two camps when Jesus returns. Sheep and goats. Wheat and tares. Righteous and unrighteous. Good and bad. What happens to the lukewarm? They go one way or another. Hot or cold.  This is the reality of a great polarizing trend that the world has never seen before. Committed evil contrasted with committed faith in Jesus. This is what Jesus meant when He said “The Harvest time has come” (Mark 4:29; Matthew 13:47). We’ve never seen this work of global separation before.

The first time people will walk right into heaven. Down through history, there has been only one thing strong enough to lock down our decision for God. Our death. Death seals the probation of an individual for eternity (Enoch and Elijah notwithstanding). “They rest from their labors and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13). And “. . . it is appointed unto men to die once and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Someone who dies “in the Lord” will not ever change their mind—their decision is sealed for eternity.

But, at the great Return of Christ, there will be people go straight into heaven without experiencing death first. “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds . . . and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). These people will have an unalterable commitment to the Lord. With no death to seal their decision, they must be sealed another way. This is accomplished with a special work of the Holy Spirit — a sealing in the forehead illustrative of their irrevocable decision for Jesus (Eph. 4:30; Ezekiel 9:4; Revelation 9:4).  This en masse people are fitted with a robe of righteousness woven in heaven; their death to self is complete; their decision sure. The universe has never seen this before. But we will, and it will be marvelous!

"Call unto me and I will show you great and mighty things that thou knowest not" (Jer. 33:3).

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