False Prophets, Figs and Faithfulness

blood-moons

We’re a curious species. And as the saying goes, “Curiosity killed the cat.” I’m not saying that it’s bad to learn. God gave us these wonderful minds and we commit sacrilege when we discourage honest inquiry into reality. God also gave us boundaries such as the inability to see the future or to know for certain what happens after death. Scripture condemns the aspiration to transcend these boundaries as divination.

“But what about prophecy?” you say. Yes, God does speak through the prophets but there is a difference between information that God gladly gives us and that which we attempt to take. Prophecy seems to come in two forms: First, there is often very clear instruction about how to react to something yet to come in the immediate future for a specific group or individual. Second, there is vague, general information about that which God will do in the distant future as with the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament or with Revelation. God does things this way because he knows how dangerous our divine pretensions can be and how we crave to know all that is yet to come.

Jesus’ own disciples revealed their vain curiosity on the Mount of Olives near the end of Christ’s ministry. In Matthew 24:1-2, Jesus gave them a peek at what was to come a few short decades into the future, that the temple would be demolished. The disciples immediately rushed toward this cracked door, hoping for full disclosure, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age.” (Matt. 24:3b).

Christ’s words in response to them command our consideration as well, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Matt. 24:4) Jesus knew that our speculative urge can easily be turned toward Satan’s purposes. For evidence of the blinding nature of speculation, one need look no farther than most commentaries on Matthew 24 itself. It seems that almost everyone looks at this passage as a foretelling of what will be at the end of time. Yet, Christ didn’t respond to the disciples’ probing with, “Okay, okay, since you guys asked.” Instead, he said, “Watch out!”

As Christ prepares to leave his disciples to engage a spiritually diseased world, he gives them an inoculation against speculation. Here on the eve of the fourth blood moon in this most recent tetrad, with BSF for the first time ever venturing into Revelation and the secular media replete with post-apocalyptic movies, I’d like to offer the church Christ’s prescription:

  1. A lot of people will buy the devil’s lies. It doesn’t mean they are true. vs. 5
  2. World events are neither predictive nor insignificant. Like birth pains, they declare, “It’s getting closer!” vs. 6-8
  3. The time between Christ’s first coming and second coming will be filled with persecution, apostasy, false religion, ever growing wickedness, and the worldwide proclamation of the gospel through the church. vs. 9-14
  4. The destruction of the temple will have no eschatological significance. So, don’t buy in to the end times hysteria which will immediately follow that event. vs. 15-25
  5. There will be no secret return of Christ. When he comes back, his presence will fill the sky like lightning and every eye will see him. The heavens will declare his coming and a loud trumpet will herald his approach. Both his enemies and his friends will know he has come again. His friends will be gathered to him at that time. vs. 26-31 (Rev. 1:7)
  6. The first coming of Christ has begun the last days. People often stumble over vs. 34 here but its always best to let scripture interpret scripture. Jesus said, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.” What could that mean? We’re either left with somehow coming up with a secret return of Christ within the lifetime of those standing with him which was just precluded or we look for another understanding. First of all remember Christ’s purpose with these teachings, to safeguard his disciples from speculation. If Christ was giving a 50 year window for his return, then he would have been defeating his very purpose. So, what could he have meant? I believe the answer can be found in the verse which follows directly after, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” We are all the generation under Christ by his words. He has no successor nor is there any mediator between us and him. In these words, Christ has precluded every Mohammed, Joseph Smith or David Koresh. This meaning fulfills his purpose and fits the immediate context.
  7. Anyone who says with any certainty or specificity when the end will be is a liar. If Jesus didn’t know, then William Miller didn’t know and Harold Camping doesn’t know. Our job is to live today like Christ will return today. Period. Exclamation point! vs. 36-51
Link

Growth Groups Questionnaire

Growth Groups Questionnaire

 

This tool, based on Neil Cole’s Life Transformation Groups, is designed to facilitate a one on one/one on two discipleship process.  As with LTG’s, participants gather for one hour per week to ask and answer the accountability questions.  At the meeting they agree upon a passage of Scripture to read on their own through the week.  Unlike LTG’s, Growth Groups require participants to make weekly commitments to pray, join Christ in his mission and to obey his Word through Scripture.  Because of this dynamic approach, we needed a means to update commitments on a weekly basis.  So, we created this online form.  Give it a try and see where it grows.  

Boots On the Ground, Part 1

Jesus prayed.  He got up early to do it.  He stayed up all night in it.  His first disciples followed his example devoting days on end to prayer.  Every saint throughout history who has ever done anything worth remembering has been devoted to prayer.  So why do modern Christians devote so little time to this discipline?  I believe that it is because they have not learned to pray.

Luke, the evangelist, highlights Jesus’ prayer life.  In 5:16, Luke relays that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  It seems that Jesus did not pray with his disciples much if at all and yet they knew he was praying.  Jesus told his disciples to pray and gave them specific things to pray for such as in 10:2.  I’m sure they did this but when compared with the vibrance of his own experience they seemed to know their practice of prayer was lacking.  So, they asked him to teach them to pray.  According to Luke 11:1, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.'” Over the next twelve verses Jesus gives a perfect lesson on prayer.  Beginning with this post and over the next two, I will expound some of the content of that lesson.

Jesus’ lesson on prayer comes in three movements.  In the first movement, Jesus gives his disciples the very words to say to God.  He does this because learning to pray is far different from learning about prayer.  Learning to pray is like learning to ride a bike or learning to swim.  In each case a person must engage in the activity in order to begin learning it.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray;” not “Teach us about prayer.”  So, he had to get them actually praying.

The words he gave them had to be without fluff or flaw.  They say practice makes perfect but that presumes proper technique.  Really, practice makes permanent.  So Jesus gave them a very short prayer that they couldn’t mess up.  Each phrase of the prayer reveals the priorities of the kingdom and the heart of God.  Let’s take each in turn.

“Our Father” – To address God as “Father” is to come to him in the bold humility of a child.  We’re not God’s distant relatives who stammer out requests for small, short-term loans.  We are his dear children who dare to bring him our every need and who quietly trust that he knows our need better than we do.  God is my father but he’s not just my father, he is our father.  We come to him as part of a larger family.  We are to come to him together in united prayer to our father.

“Hallowed be your name” – Everyone who has come to know God as father longs for the rest of humanity to see his glory.  Imagine standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon and on either side of you stands scores of people facing the desert.  Wouldn’t you be compelled to get them to turn and face that breathtaking view?  Everyone who has experienced God through the gospel of Jesus Christ shares that same longing for everyone to see and admire him.  We instinctively loathe anything which would diminish him in the minds of others.  Our purpose in life becomes to glorify him that many others will cry out with us, “Hallowed be your name.”

“Your kingdom come” – Many who have learned this prayer have no idea exactly what it is that they are asking for when they use this phrase.  I would suggest that the kingdom comes first to individuals.  Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is in your midst.”  As people embrace the gospel of Christ’s reign, they come under the liberating authority of God.  Individual lives so changed begin to influence families and entire cultures.  People will never be at peace with each other until they are at peace with themselves.  People will never be at peace with themselves until they are at peace with God.  Jesus has come as Christ the king, the prince of peace.  He has announced peace with God to all who will lay down their arms and join the triumphal procession.  The kingdom has come.  It is coming.  May it come!

“Give us each day our daily bread” – Those who have joined the Father’s cause can be assured that he will care for their needs.  Just as soldiers on active duty need not worry over their rations so Christians on mission need not fret over their material needs.  So often people want to come to Jesus for bread without taking up his cause.  Jesus is not running a mission.  He is on mission to bring the kingdom of God and spread the glory of God.  Our job is to follow Jesus and trust that the provisions will follow.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone who sins against us” – We do not take up the cause of Christ as if we were Christ.  We are first recipients of his grace and also agents of it.  We do not go to fix the world but to admit to the world that we are broken and being fixed by the same One who will fix them.

“And lead us not into temptation” – As I go into the mine field of a fallen world, God knows which mines are particularly configured to my tendencies.  I do not know my own heart and am prone to overestimate my strength.  I need our Father to guide me through enemy territory without fatal incident.

Well, that’s the first installment.  Next time I will unpack the what I believe to the be centerpiece of this section, “The Friend at Midnight.”  I hope to build some discipleship material around this prayer which will become a page on this blog later on.  Check back for it and the next post.

Polite Revolution

I’m reading Luke this week with my LTG. In chapter 24 vs 28 Luke tells of how Jesus nearly walked on by his disciples once they reached their destination. He had to be urged strongly before he would join them for a meal.
At the meal, they came to realize his identity.

This is how Jesus works. He introduces himself but will not invite himself. When a person hears his story with burning heart, they will not let him pass by. They may not have yet grasped his identity but they will not be denied the opportunity to get to know him better. He waits to break bread with such as these. With such as these he carries on his polite revolution.

In Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand tells the story of Piotr, a Russian soldier occupying Romania who came to faith through this story. Out of all of the amazing stories of Jesus recorded in Luke, this one struck a cord. Piotr commented, “The Communists are impolite. They force us to listen to them from morning to late in the night…We have to listen continuously to their godless propaganda whether we like it or not. Jesus respects our freedom. He gently knocks at the door of our heart.”

God is looking for a relationship of love. Love does not behave itself rudely. He means to overturn the hate and hurt of our world but he will only heal and help the willing. Those who have experienced him willingly join his cause. This is the polite revolution.

Hell? No!

I’ve had several conversations with atheists and agnostics regarding the existence of the God of the Bible. After all is said and very little done, their objections almost always come down to disbelief in a character who would create moral beings knowing they would sin and then cause them to suffer eternally for sinning. They say something like, “If such a being exists, he doesn’t deserve my allegiance let alone my love.” I have to admit they have a point.

That being said, I am a believer in the God of the Bible.  I will never apologize for the Being presented within the pages of Scripture.  I will in no way minimize his severity or avoid a discussion of his judgments.  I’m “all in” with God as revealed in holy writ.  Any other god does not deserve my allegiance let alone my love.

So, what are we to do with the doctrine of Hell?  Many Christian thinkers have struggled with this question.  C.S. Lewis expressed in his book, The Great Divorce, the belief that those in Hell lived in an environment which reflected the misery of their choosing and could at any time choose Heaven.  More recently Rob Bell mused in Love Wins that it’s likely that every created being will at some point accept the supremacy of Christ and be welcomed into the kingdom of God.  I understand the motivation behind these ideas but scriptural support for them is thin at best.  We mustn’t allow our personal disdain for a doctrine to push us into forging new ones.  For this reason, I disagree with these two men whom I otherwise respect.  The Bible teaches that Hell is a real place prepared for Satan and his angels and that those who fall under God’s wrath will be sent there as final judgment.  I do not, however, believe that God will cause anyone to suffer eternally.  I am under this conviction because that’s what I understand the Bible to teach.

In Matthew 10:28, after predicting that his followers would suffer persecution to the point of execution, he cautions, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Emphasis mine NAW)  The word translated, “hell” is gehenna which referred to the Hinnom Valley just outside of Jerusalem.  Gehenna was used as a garbage dump where trash was burned.  Jesus warned that God was not only able to destroy the body but also the soul in his celestial garbage dump, Hell.  Hell is not a place of eternal torture but an incinerator for the destruction of sin-spoiled souls.

Someone might protest, “But what about all those places in the New Testament which describe Hell as eternal?”  Good question.  Let’s look at a case in point.  Mark 9:47-48 says,

 “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’” (NIV 2011)

When he said this, Jesus was partially quoting Isaiah 66:22-24 –

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure.  From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord.  “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (NIV 2011)

So let me ask the question: Is this passage describing conscious people eternally suffering?

Jesus will return to judge all people who’ve ever lived.  Some will live forever in a new heavens and new earth.  Others will be cast into Hell where they will be completely destroyed as the Bible teaches.  So, pertaining to God’s justice, has he not the right to destroy what he has created?

I have much more I could say about this doctrine and what the Bible says about it it but I’ve got other things to do right now.  Maybe later.  For an exhaustive treatment of this topic, I suggest reading The Fire that Consumes by Edward Fudge.

Strategic Planning

I just reblogged a post on Islamophobia.  I agree with the facts related in the post and with the contention that many people fail to call out the misdeeds of Muslims out of fear of backlash or worse.  However, I would not say that Islam is ultimately to blame for the evils committed by some Muslims around the world.  Islam just provides a convenient palate upon which the sinful hearts of humans mix the blood-red hues of their hatred.  Other convenient ideologies have been churchianity, Communism (rational atheism applied), nationalism, and racism to name a few. For the real issue check this sermon I delivered on November 11th.

Strategic Planning

Testimony

In Bill Hybels’ book, Just Walk Across the Room, he challenges his readers to write out their faith story in 100 words or less.  Here is my 105-word attempt:

As a young person I dreamed of growing up to become a doctor.  Then, I saw a “20/20” special on successful people who had attempted suicide.  Their reason: Once they had reached their goal in life, they still felt empty.  I projected myself into their shoes.  I thought, “If this is all there is then life is meaningless.”  So, I began reading the New Testament.  Within those pages I met a man who transcended the vanity of this mortal coil.  His name is Jesus.  He invited me to train under him and so to become like him.  I accepted and have never regretted that decision.