End times: Why it matters & Why I’m a ‘dispensationalist

Our view of death determines our view of life. Biblical teachings on end times, known as eschatology, is essentially a Christian view of death. The recent trends to avoid or downplay this teaching is unhealthy. Over emphasizing the doctrine is also unhealthy. In the push away from end times I’m often asked why I am a Dispensationalist. My reply is I’m a little ‘d’ not a big ‘D’ because I don’t emphasize the doctrine or focus on the current possible details. The short answer: in studying scripture, it’s what I see it teaching. I submit we should not shy away from end times.

It’s taught in scripture
Avoiding the end times parts of the Bible is to miss significant teachings of Scripture. In Matthew 16, Jesus chides the religious leaders for being able to determine the weather but were clueless on “the signs of the times.” Paul taught on the rapture, whatever view you take on it, to a baby church plant. He then wrote twice to that baby church to clarify end times teaching. The book of a Revelation is all about end times. The Bible does give us a framework and does teach on the end times. It does not give us a specific time table and tells us to not worry about timing (Acts 1:7).

It’s a matter of encouragement and perspective
The rapture and Revelation give us both encouragement and perspective. These essentials are lost if we avoid the end times. The rapture is meant to encourage us when a saint dies. (A strong argument for pre-tribulational rapture.) We don’t mourn as others do because death is a temporary state. The end times give us the needed perspective so we can practice blessing people instead of returning evil for evil. A HUGE part of end times is God balancing the scales of justice of a world filled with injustice. How can I bless those who persecute me when a I’m faced with injustice? The end times gives us the perspective of why.

It’s a matter of God’s character
I’m a Dispensationalist because I think Israel means Israel in the Bible. As Hosea illustrates, God will go after and redeem national Israel as Hosea redeemed his wife from prostitution. I’d submit that spiritualizing Israel in the New Testament makes the Bible ludicrous. Why? What assurance of salvation do we have if God wrote off Israel? This is the issue Romans 9-11 addresses. Further, Paul makes a clear distinction between national Israel and Gentiles in Romans 11. God’s treatment of Israel gives confidence in His treatment of us and the church. God is the God of second chances, of grace, and He keeps His Word.

It’s a matter of our character
Paul’s states in Romans 11 that we should be careful as God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare us. Much rejection of Dispensationalsim is arrogance of the grafted in branches. End times keeps us humble before God. For sure humans tend toward arrogance. Churches often become arrogant as well. In Acts 1:7 Jesus didn’t say there is no kingdoms of Israel, he said the timeline was none of our business. In Revelation Israel is specifically mentioned as well as mentions of various nations. End times is a check on our character.

It’s a matter of faith
Hebrews 11 has an end times perspective. It is true that the big issue in theology is a matter of interpretation, but not all views are valid. I believe in the plain interpretation of the Bible, meaning what the author intends to communicate is the meaning. All other viewpoints have no true bearing in how to interpret Scripture. There is a pattern of literal fulfillment of prophecy throughout Scripture. Spiritualizing prophecy yet unfulfilled is to play hermeneutical voodoo. While God is mysterious and did not give us all the answers, He is predictable in that he keeps His word with an uncanny literalness.

The bottom line:
Avoiding the end times is to lose much needed perspective and clarity for godly living. While I do not major on a time line of future events, there is a framework given to us for the purpose of encouragement and perspective. Key to all this is that God is not done with national Israel, just like he’s not done with you or me. His grace, mercy and justice are evident in end times teachings of Scripture. Be carefully balanced, but do not avoid this essential doctrine of Scripture.

Side note:
Much of the antagonism towards dispensational thought started with Augustine who was anti-chiliasm (premailinalsim). While Calvin moderated (somewhat) on the matter, the antagonism towards pre-millennial viewpoints endured. As people act based in what they believe, much anti-semitism came from a non-dispensational viewpoint.

Thoughts on the creation debate

DSC_0059The debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye went as many perceived it would. Both sides made their points in a civil way, rallied their base and demonstrated clearly the issues. Sadly, I think both tended to speak past each other. Ken did a solid job presenting the Christian worldview, though more scientific evidence to support that would view would have mad his case stronger. He did clearly show that one can be a creationist and make significant contributions to science. I fear that point may be missed.

Bill Nye was either ill prepared or he really didn’t care to debate the issue. Either way, what came across to me was tolerating something he disdained to push a naturalistic viewpoint. Did he argue well? Yes, and I’d submit in terms of performance he edged out Ken. However, it came across clearly that he had no concept of the worldview Ken was coming from. A reasonable man would seek to understand and then be understood. Bill operated from a caricature of a creationist not from an understanding of a creationist worldview.

Bill and Ken were even on: failing to prove their thesis, being civil and rallying their base. Nye edged out and beat Ken on performance. In terms of being prepared, Ken was clearly more ready. Over all, I think Ken won the debate as he did show the viability of creationism, though he failed to prove his thesis. I think Ken over reached with his thesis.

The reasonable man
A reasonable man is one who uses analytical thought and understands a system before critiquing it. Bill failed in this. He clearly did not have any understanding of the Bible from Ken’s perspective. His case could be more clear had he more knowledge. A reasonable man would be more attentive to his question being raised. Frequently, Bill stated that if one could offer one proof it would change the world. Ken’s evidence of the tree encased in basalt was blown off. Ken’s rebuttal answered Bill’s question, but was ignored.

No evidence
Evidence’s chances of changing Bill’s viewpoint was small at best. Given his lack of preparedness, I don’t think Bill much cared. While he did conduct himself in a civil manner, he blew off two major points Ken was making: 1) the viability of creationists 2) historical vs observational science. Bill obviously disagreed, but his point came across as trite and pigeon holed creationists as anti-science. Ken’s case clearly demonstrated the opposite. I agree Ken should have offered more scientific evidence, but I also don’t think it would matter.

Jesus first
This debate demonstrated a key point of belief for me: It’s Jesus first, then creation. I am a creationist because of Jesus. Theologically, that is true of all creationists. I’ll write on that later. A key point that is this: How do you scientifically prove a supernatural creation? Is there any proof of that? Yes, his name is Jesus. The feeding of 5,000 plus and 4,000 plus demonstrates instant control over creation & matter. It was observed, recorded and in an environment that was antagonistic to Jesus. (The crowds loved the food, but also yelled crucify him later.) There is no way to pull off those feedings as a con. Also, Jesus rose from the dead as he said he would and when he said he would. This is a recent, verifiable and proven occurrence.

Given the authenticity of Jesus, the probability that Genesis 1-11 is correct carries weight. Jesus took those accounts as literal, and given his assertions as being one with the father, he was there. It is more reasonable to trust Genesis because of Jesus than evolution with billions of years and chance. While I’ve met people who came to Jesus because of a reasoned explanation of creationism, the main thing is Jesus. The biggest weakness of creationism is they don’t focus on Jesus enough when he is verifiably the best evidence that creationism is true.

Worldview is an issue
The debate demonstrated the need for Jesus. It is important for Christians to give a reasoned defense of Scripture and to treat the Bible as a legitimate source. Ken did that very well. At the same time, we must realize we are speaking a different ‘language’ than those who are not in Christ. The Gospel will and does come across as foolishness. This is where I think Ken was more prepared than Bill. Ken understood Bill’s worldview, but Bill did not understand Ken’s. Had Bill taken the time to understand Ken’s worldview, he could have made is point better. Whether from arrogance, disdain or plain lack of being prepared I do not know, but Bill failed at a key point. For Christians, it should demonstrate that a reasoned case for something is not enough. We don’t save anyone, only God does.

Creationism is viable
Ken answered the question that creationism is viable. He gave clear examples of creationists contributing positively to science and engineering- something Bill is pleading for. Ken and Bill agree there is a need for children to pursue science and engineering. That Bill did not make this point is sad. Ken demonstrated the reasonableness of creationism based on a Christian worldview, that creationists have and are contributing positively to science and that there are significant issues with evolution. While Bill made a case and argued well, he did not show that creationism isn’t viable. His lack of understanding a Christian worldview greatly undercut his point.

The bottom line:
First, seeks to understand and then be understood is a key rule of thumb when entering a debate. Second, you cannot argue people into heaven, but we should have a clear and reasonable defense for the hope that is within us. Third, evidence rarely matters when the issue is worldview. Finally, seek to make a difference and not a point. Even if you win the debate that evolution is wrong, if one doesn’t accept the message we received, the debate doesn’t matter. Jesus died and rose again on the third day. The key to passing on that message is a submissive spirit that does good works (1 Peter).

Our job isn’t to reach America, it’s to reach americans. ~Rick Warren

Book Review: Love Wins

 Guest Post by H.H. Comings of http://more-than-tennis.blogspot.com/2011/08/book-review-love-wins.html?spref=tw

I would strongly recommend Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, to anyone teaching a course on Christian worldview and philosophy. It would provide the class with three things. First, it is a book rich in worldview language such as story and imagination and dualismand the issue of a closed or open system of the cosmos. Second, it reveals how people who hold an orthodox view of doctrine are judged by those who do not and, on occasion, reveals things we do which exacerbate that judgment. Third, it reveals the convolution of thought which results from faulty presuppositions.
With regard to presuppositions, students would uncover and evaluate at least four which compete for primary-presupposition status.  There would be the proposition that the Scriptures are a trove of mystery messages with a preferred theme around which all those messages revolve. In this case, the theme is itself a proposition: namely that love is the overarching character of God and all other character qualities are malleable subsets. A companion proposition to these two would be the unspoken allegation that the author and his readers are capable of applying the proposition of love to the Scriptures and, thus, making an art form of adjusting defiant scriptures to fit the theme or else ignoring them altogether. Beyond that students would wrestle with the question of whether the human problem is rational misinformation, circumstantial confusion or treacherous rebellion and whether the answer to that problem has any bearing on the character of repentance.
Besides examining the consequences of faulty presuppositions, students would be exposed to twenty-first century expressions of Platonism, Gnosticism, Universalism and allegorical interpretation. They would also confront rhetorical reasoning fallacies such as circular reasoning seen in disparagement of people who think of themselves as being part of a self-righteous “in” group, a disparagement which puts them “outside” the author’s approved circle thus implying his own “in” group.
Other fallacies include but are not limited to:
  • Guilt by association (if you believe in the existence of hell you are one of those guys who berate people);
  • Straw men (if you believe separation from God is eternal you must believe if someone in hell begged for mercy God would say, ‘Sorry, too late’);
  • The excluded middle (the assertion that Paul’s reference to the rock in the wilderness in Israel’s story  as “Christ,” means other people may be worshiping Christ and not know it);
  • The appeal to antiquity (the statement that Origen held to this view and implies the student should accept the assertion that Origen is a great light in the church);
  • The appeal to sympathy (presenting anecdotes which call on the student to make a judgment based on insufficient information about the person or persons involved);
  • Appeal to the crowd (the fact that a lot of people are offended by those who believe in a literal and eternal hell or in the exclusivity of Jesus as one’s direct object of faith);
  • Faulty cause (people who believe in hell cause people to reject Christ);
  • Bifurcation (you cannot believe in an eternal hell and believe in a loving God); and,
  • False dilemma (seen in the rapid-fire sequence of questions at the beginning of the book – questions designed to break down resistance by implying dilemmas which cannot be explained).
Added to all of these learning opportunities, of special interest would be the author’s ability to dance a hermeneutical salsa with passages of Scripture until, as in the case of John 14:6, they say something completely different than the clear meaning the words convey based on simple laws of language.
In short, other than as a teaching tool, Love Wins translates to mean the Gospel, as set forth in Scripture, loses – not, in this case, because of the self-righteous demagoguery of those who misuse it, but because of the self-congratulatory twists and turns of someone who finds it easier to conform God to human specifications of love governed by human reasoning than to submit to God’s specifications of love governed by his revelation of holiness.

Planning, God’s Sovereignty and Cheese

In my first years of vocational ministry I was introduced to something incredible: 5x Sharp Cheese. Bill Anderson’s Farm Market carried it. My first taste was an all american made, fresh-baked apple pie. And with it? 5x sharp cheese. Mana from heaven must have come close to tasting like this. The cheese makes any store-bought “sharp” cheddar block seem like a playdough knife. Planning and God’s sovereignty is like 5x sharp cheese.

God has a plan for us
The Bible is clear on two things: 1) God has a plan for us and 2) We don’t know the details of that plan. The Bible teaches wise planning, crazy steps of faith, and that whatever happens God is interested in our Christ likeness more than anything. Consider this the ingredients of a plan: God’s Word, Faith, the Gospel, growth, wisdom of others and a leap of faith. Think of the flavor that will come as the image of Christ.

God gives all 24/7 to accomplish His will
A wise professor stated that God grants every person 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to accomplish His will, and some of that is sleeping. With all the ingredients to make cheese, that is all you have, cheese. Regular cheese just doesn’t taste great with all American made, freshly baked Apple pie. To get to 5x sharp heavenly goodness cheese you need one key thing: TIME. Working your plan is the aging process. It involves two key understandings: 1) Faith in a God at work and 2) Understanding that things will be clearer at the end of the process, not the beginning of it.

God loves celebration
The key to planning and working your plan is celebration. Celebration isn’t about what we’ve done. Celebration is savoring what God did. It’s that first bite of all American freshly baked apple pie with 5x sharp heavenly goodness cheese. All the pain, waiting, anticipation is worth it when we taste and see that the Lord is good. To get there takes faithfulness in our actions and waiting upon God.

The bottom line:
In starting a new chapter in ministry, I’m in the planning stage. I’m looking forward to celebrating what God will do. In drawing on the Spirit, the mentoring I’ve received, God’s people and the Gospel, I’m listening and seeking where God wants the ministry to go. It will take time. 5x sharp cheese isn’t made in a day, it takes years. It’s worth the wait, and that’s part of God’s plan.

Oh, and if you’re in Cortland, NY, look up Anderson’s Farm Market. Order some 5x Sharp Cheese. Obtain a freshly baked all American apple pie, and see how a good plan tastes!

http://www.billandersonsmarket.com/

God’s promises…

While driving through Montana I dreaded the view of upcoming rains. Funny thing about storms, no one wants them. Then God amazes you.

We saw 10+ rainbows over the mountains and valleys of Montana! Some faint others the most brilliant I’ve seen!

The rainbow started as a promise by God to mankind that he’d never flood the Earth again. Through the storm that was The Flood God brought beauty.

There is a beauty in hardship. It gives you a glimpse of God you cannot get any other way. I wish storms on no one. But in them, look for your rainbow(s).

The bottom line:
God is a God of mercy & grace. That’s what the rainbow represents. If we are faithless He remains faithful, for He cannot deny himself.

God is big, man is small

1 The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty ;
The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength ;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.
2 Your throne is established from of old ; You are from everlasting.

3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
The floods have lifted up their voice,
The floods lift up their pounding waves.
4 More than the sounds of many waters,
Than the mighty breakers of the sea,
The LORD on high is mighty.
5 Your testimonies are fully confirmed ;
Holiness befits Your house,
O LORD, forevermore .
~Psalm 93 NASB

God not so angry in the OT: The Law

Jesus summed up the Torah in two statements: Love God, Love people… I took the time to read Leviticus and Deuteronomy back to back… The theme? Love God, Love people.

Thinking on Jesus fulfilling the law
One aspect of Jesus fulfilling the law the law we often miss is Love God, Love people. Seriously. Jesus made it his mission to point people to God the Father, not himself. Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice so we might, through him, have a relationship with God and better relationships with each other. Love God, Love people. The law is more that the 600+ commands. It boils down to the big 2….

Write your own law
Write or think through your own law… What are the non-negotiables? What are the annoyances? What are the paths of reconciliation? What are the deal-breakers? How do you show and actively help the dis-advantaged? How do you show hospitality? While we may gawk and the huge 600+ some odd commands, the number doesn’t seem so huge when you start adding up your own decrees. Now that you have your own law written down, who does it serve: you or others?

Absolute perfection and absolute holiness
The law points to the necessity of Christ and the reality of what God being holy means. For example: I have an eye defect at birth. Based on this one defect, if I were a Levite, I would not be permitted to sacrifice. My youngest son has eczema, he would not be able to sacrifice either. God did not want any imperfection in His presence. With that in view, how significant is Jesus touching and healing the lame, blind, lepers, and prostitutes? Jesus fulfilled the absolutes and provided for the imperfects like you and I!

The bottom line:
I think we misunderstand God in the Old Testament. In looking at the 600+ commands, it made provision for the disadvantage, for mistakes, and for evil. It deals much with human conflict and depravity. Perhaps it is not so much that God is vindictive as it is people are depraved and do not want to repent. Take a look at your own “law.” Who does it serve, yourself, or focus on others? God rooted the Law in His nature  and the service of others. Love God, Love people.

God to us: Where were you when…

Job 38 is a good reminder that God is God and we are not. While it is ok to get mad at God, question Him, or even doubt, in the end we come to this conclusion: God is God and we are not. It is extremely hard to accept “I am God” as the reason for something happening. Even with all his questioning, Job did not sin. In his trial God clearly wanted Job to know that “I am God” more than the reason why.

1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, 2 “Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge ? 3 “Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me! 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth ? Tell Me, if you have understanding, 5 Who set its measurements ? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? 6 “On what were its bases sunk ? Or who laid its cornerstone , 7 When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy ? 8 “Or who enclosed the sea with doors When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb ; 9 When I made a cloud its garment And thick darkness its swaddling band, 10 And I placed boundaries on it And set a bolt and doors, 11 And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther ; And here shall your proud waves stop ‘?

12 “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, And caused the dawn to know its place, 13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, And the wicked be shaken out of it? 14 “It is changed like clay under the seal ; And they stand forth like a garment. 15 “From the wicked their light is withheld, And the uplifted arm is broken. 16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea Or walked in the recesses of the deep ? 17 “Have the gates of death been revealed to you, Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness ? 18 “Have you understood the expanse of the earth ? Tell Me, if you know all this. 19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light ? And darkness, where is its place, 20 That you may take it to its territory And that you may discern the paths to its home ? 21 “You know, for you were born then, And the number of your days is great ! 22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, 23 Which I have reserved for the time of distress, For the day of war and battle ? 24 “Where is the way that the light is divided, Or the east wind scattered on the earth ? 25 “Who has cleft a channel for the flood, Or a way for the thunderbolt , 26 To bring rain on a land without people, On a desert without a man in it, 27 To satisfy the waste and desolate land And to make the seeds of grass to sprout ? 28 “Has the rain a father ? Or who has begotten the drops of dew ? 29 “From whose womb has come the ice ? And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth ? 30 “Water becomes hard like stone, And the surface of the deep is imprisoned. 31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, Or loose the cords of Orion ? 32 “Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, And guide the Bear with her satellites ? 33 “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, Or fix their rule over the earth ? 34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, So that an abundance of water will cover you? 35 “Can you send forth lightnings that they may go And say to you, ‘Here we are’? 36 “Who has put wisdom in the innermost being Or given understanding to the mind ? 37 “Who can count the clouds by wisdom, Or tip the water jars of the heavens, 38 When the dust hardens into a mass And the clods stick together ? 39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, Or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, 40 When they crouch in their dens And lie in wait in their lair ? 41 “Who prepares for the raven its nourishment When its young cry to God And wander about without food ?

The bottom line:
Are we ok with God being God? Can we accept that?

If you were God…

…How would you make yourself known? Would you even bother? Which would you chose?

Creation: Make a perfect paradise for all to enjoy!
(+) There are no struggles. It’s perfect. As God, you get to walk among the world without getting mad or frustrated at imperfection.

(-) People will reject you made it or will choose to focus on creation and not you.

Miracles:  Supernatural events that go against your created laws of science.
(+) There is clear demonstration of your power that also demonstrates your compassion for people.

(-) People will say ya right, attribute them to something else, or deny it happened all together. Those who benefited or appreciate the act done will soon forget it and move on, things getting back to normal.

Mass-disaster: This can take on a few forms, but it results in massive destruction and death.
(+)This approach clearly demonstrates your power, builds fear and in some ways, like the flood, cleans out most of the problem people. It satisfies your justice.

(-) Long term the reason behind the disaster is forgotten. Short term people will adjust out of fear or will just get mad and more offensive toward you. Injustice remains.

Chosen people: Choose a specific group of people to declare and prove your existence.
(+) There is a constant and tangible revelation of your existence. There is also a model of how you would like people to interact and live among each other.

(-) Your chosen people can become arrogant and/or stop doing what you ask of them. Eventually, people may grow tired of you all together. Your chosen people may not be capable of following your instructions anyway.

A special object: Create or decree a special object as pointing to your existence.
(+) There is a visible and verifiable object pointing to your existence that is more tangible than mere creation. It can become a focal point for people to come together in community.

(-) People will end up worshiping the object instead. Others will try to get the object and use it for their own purposed. Some will get tired of the routine and begin to ignore the object all together.

Become a man: Add to yourself humanity so you can live and interact among people.
(+) You demonstrate humility, a virtue you most admire. You can better claim empathy and sympathy for the plight of your creation. You are able to model and teach in a way no one else can, cutting out the “middle man.”

(-) Plato’s Republic said that if a perfectly just man existed, we’d kill him. Likely those who are in error will become jealous. People may just refer to you as a good guy or teacher. Other will accuse you of being divisive. Oh, and you have to walk among unholy imperfection.

A Book: Have people record who you are in a book by telling them what to write.
(+) Words transcend time. They cannot be completely blocked or stopped. It can act as a guide to how people should live, declare who your are, and give your perspective. After all, words and ideas started massive movements in human history.

(-) People will ignore it or say it is not accurate. Others will abuse it for their own purposes. Even if you divinely keep its accuracy, people will charge that since it was written by man it’s not 100% accurate, or since its details cannot be verified, it will be relegated as myth or primitive. Many will take what you say out of context.

The bottom line:
Place yourself in God’s shoes for a moment. You can choose to reject there even is a God. You can choose to reject absolute truth (doesn’t work in math). You can even chose to not bother to make yourself know. But… If you chose to make yourself know, how would you do it? Do you think it would work?

Maybe God isn’t the problem. God did all the things and people in history to now took the negative of each point… no matter how clear or vague the chosen route is.