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.

Civil rights may not mean what you think…

In reading comments about Arizona law issue it seems people have forgotten that religion is a part of our civil rights. Violating civil rights in the name of civil rights, discriminating to stop discrimination, bullying to stop bullying should cause us all to pause, rethink and refresh our civic interaction.

To say the bullying is justified because of intolerance merely fights “intolerance” with intolerance. There are many things that are lawful, but not everyone participates. We then come to who trumps who. The elephant in the room is our civil rights are being trampled on for another’s civil rights. Meaning, we all lose.

The ACA violates the civil rights of those who hold all life as precious. Given the recent news of abortion statistics, namely the massive slaughter Americans with African ethnicity, the violation of our civil rights, which includes religion, should give pause. The issue of homosexual marriage isn’t the only violation of religious conscience in recent history.

The news heralds the triumph of civil rights with the veto of the Arizona law. Truthfully, civil rights lost. For in the fear of discrimination a law was vetoed that would also protect homosexuals deeply held religious beliefs. And in law, there is now method or process of determining truly held religious belief or mere bigotry. All our civil rights lost.

We can do better, and we must. Perhaps in seeking to be understood we should seek to understand. With the rancor of the Arizona law it shows we’ve all lost. Bigotry isn’t dead, it’s target is merely changed.

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

Life matters

IMG_0105This past Sunday was Right to Life Sunday. This is a hotly debated issue. It is also a theological issue, not just a political one. Often the rights for an abortion are argued through the lens of single percentage issues. Navigating the importance of life while also being gracious to those faced with the issue is challenging. Ultimately, abortion is a human rights issue. Is life precious or is it not?

First, life is inconvenient. It is disruptive. I’d argue there is no convenient time to have a baby. Child bearing alone is a challenging process. Given the fall of man there is a cycle of life: birth, growth, adulthood, decline and death. At the return of Jesus the cycle ends as his resurrection conquered death. At the start God told mankind to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the Earth. This process is highly disruptive, but it is a joy. We are all here because of it.

Second, life is a gift. It is to be treasured. The fall of mankind places the majority of humans in difficult if not out right tyrannical situations. What enrages many is how unrighteous people prosper while innocent ones do not. One of the disruptive forces that often change this dynamic is children. Children growing up in challenging situations grow to make a difference or continue the problem. Children inflame the passions and virtues of parents or are ignored. Ecclesiastes talks about how life is a gift. Psalms 139 talks about life as planned by God. We simply do not nor cannot know the outcome of life. We can know that it is a gift.

Third, Jesus gives life. This gift is grace. Abortion is murder, and Jesus died and rose again conquering ALL sin. for those of us passionate about the issue of life, we should act as Jesus does, showing compassion and grace for those in challenging circumstances. The greatest gift of life isn’t being born, it is being born again to a living hope. This new life changes things, and ultimately it is what increases the value of life. In Jesus we see how valuable life is because Jesus died for us.

Abortion is plainly murder and the cessation of life. We can argue the nuances of single percentage issues, but the larger issue is how much we value life. The cost of playing god is millions of lives. What is worst is it damages our own souls as well. There is no such thing as a convenient baby. Even Mary, the Mother of Jesus could attest to that. But, the profound gift of life isn’t to be ignored. The best gifts are often the unplanned ones. We don’t know the outcome of such gifts, but if rejected, the outcome is loss for us all. The theif comes to destroy. Jesus came that we might have life. The answer to the abortion issue is found in Jesus.

Thoughts on Ducks and A&E

People need to seriously relax. The Duck Dynasty thing on all fronts is absurd. I’ve seen & heard few reasoned responses to this. Here are the key thoughts:

1) The comments that are creating the storm are woefully taken out of context. People are zeroing in on one part and ignoring the rest. Given who Phil is, his response to the question is consistent. That people are shocked is what is shocking. This can’t be stated enough: Phil consider’s himself a deviant because of his lifestyle prior to meeting Jesus. A&E’s response to this just polarizes the issue father. Expecting someone to be what they’re not is crazy. This whole thing shouldn’t be a crisis at all.

2) There hasn’t been a reasoned and/or civil discussion on the LGBT issue. Many states had the issue forced upon them by a court overturning a democratic vote. This is highly problematic and creates polarization rather than a calm and civil response. The LGBT could learn much from MLK, Ghandi and Jesus. Christians and other opponents playing on rigorous defense could also do the same. In polarization there is little listening and no peacemaking. How the story with Chickfil-A ended is a model BOTH sides need to move towards.

3) Ad hominem attacks are in poor taste. automatically labeling those who disagree with LGBT as anti-gay, homophobic, haters and/or ignorant doesn’t help their cause. Calling someone a hater when they’re not will destroy your credibility in the long run. You may vehemently disagree with another’s position, but doing what you can to silence and denigrate them will also lose you credibility in the long run. This also holds true for Christians who label LGBT community as anti-God with a one way ticket to hell. Bible makes clear all have sinned, it’s a matter of what sin, not if.

4)  The need for biblical clarity is huge, especially in peacemaking. The Bible describes all sex acts outside of a heterosexual marriage as sin. There are some who try gimmicks to work around that, but the Bible is clear on the matter. The biggest frustration I see in this crisis is many professing Christians who are really clueless on handling the Bible and communicate it in ways that unbiblical.

5) I can’t say this enough: boycotts are really lame. Be a peacemaker, stop adding to the conflict. Also, intolerance doesn’t solve intolerance. Hate doesn’t solve hate.

6) Stop shouting and start listening. GLAAD’s response to the situation and the response to those supporting Phil are both part of the problem. Could Phil’s answer be more gracious? Yes. Could GLAAD’s response been more gracious? Yes. Could people’s response today be more gracious? Yes.

7) The first amendment is an issue. I’ve heard a few times that “It’s ok for him to hold and discuss such views in private but it has no place in the public square.” That sentiment is expressly against the first amendment. I disagree with gay-marriage, but I’d fight tooth and nail for their right to discuss their belief in the public square. The reverse should also be true.

Let both sides of this issue take the harder road of listening and peacemaking. It’s easy to shout at one another. But, in the end we all lose. Let’s call this for what it is, as a society we all dropped the ball and could do better. Rather than fire Phil, have him sit down with those in the LGBT community and listen to each other and both learn from each other. We may disagree strongly, but we can still love, serve and live together as one community.

Finding a new church family

IMG_1394I’m asked often by friends and family advice on finding a new church family. This post is much longer than normal, and general advice on the issue, not specific to any one person. I say finding a church family because I despise the term church shopping.  You’re a brother or sister in Christ, not a consumer. Church is family (Ephesians 1). I’m assuming you’re praying over every step. Pray. Pray. Pray! Ok, here we go:

Step 1: Leave justly!
If you’re relocating or if the church is sending you to another ministry, you’ve left justly. Sin is where things get messy. Matters of conscience even more so. It is ESSENTIAL to deal with matters. Leaving quietly to not create a mess robs you & the church of grace. If you are avoiding conflict or are being explosive, repent and work towards reconciliation! If you’re leaving on a good note, you should still connect with the church so people understand why and grow. Be a grace multiplier not a grace robber.

I am not saying it is wrong to ever leave a church family. I am implying that in North America we trend towards consumerism or conflict avoidance too often. Don’t be a tool of satan or live the sinful attitude of church consumerism. To be clear: Make sure you leave justly. Let’s try to avoid awkward when we’re in heaven moments.

Step 2: Take a good look in the mirror!
You are a saint because Jesus paid for your sins. Until you see Jesus face to face you’ll struggle with sin. Second, you are a unique part of the body of Christ. Your struggles and your gifting (often two sides of the same coin) are part of church growth. Before seeking a new family, take time to look in the mirror. How are you doing spiritually? What lessons have you learned from you earlier church ministry? Is there a new passion or calling God is giving you? Are you pursuing God or yourself?

Searching for a new church family will put you in a critical spirit. You will notice lots of things you do not like or worse you’ll overlook things because your consumerism tendencies kick in. (A big sign of that is compromising your theology for preferences.) Look in the mirror and make sure you’re very well aware of the log that is in your own eye. Church is family, meaning your job is to love and support the family. Church is not about you, but do not neglect how God wired you. God may be calling you to a particular church because it lacks what you have to offer, worts and all.

Step 3: Theology then method then people
Sound biblical teaching & theology is essential. If they’re not teaching the Bible, RUN! There is a difference between teaching from the Bible and teaching the Bible. If the church doesn’t hold to sound theology it will not be good in the long run. We act based on what we believe. Key question: How big of a deal is Jesus & the Bible to the church?

Next comes method. If method comes first, repent of ‘methodolatry.’ For example, if you’ll only look at churches with certain music or a certain program like AWANA, chances are good you’re committing to methodolatry. Don’t overlook something because it lacks a method or has a method you’re uncomfortable with. Don’t write off methods either. Use discernment, ask questions. Methodology matters. Sometimes a method that is important to you, but lacking to a church may be a result of no one to lead or support it.

People are essential. Are the people messy or are they white washed tombs? A church can be totally modern, cool, with great music, etc and be a dark, legalistic, dead church. Energy, coolness & size are often inaccurate church health indicators. (For an extreme example of why, just think of the under ground church.) You’re not the savior, but you are family. Can you say I’m here to love, support and serve these people? Solid theology and method is about supporting people in the mission of the Gospel. Healthy churches are quirky and messy regardless of size. Key question: Is the church a happy dysfunctional family?

Step 4: Examine the church
Here are three things to look out for after Step 3: Character over charisma, service over sensationalism, and people over programs. Our culture is driven by consumerism, which means you and I struggle with this too. You’ll need to attend the church for over a month to get some sense of this.

Character: Is the church more interested in who people are or what they do? This is the issue of being over doing. Look for a church that is concerned with who looks at you in the mirror each morning. Key thing to look for: Churches will make mistakes, do they own up to it?

Service: Is the church quick to love and support its church family first and then the community? It’s hard to serve the community if you’re not caring for one another. Both are essential to the mission of the Gospel. A church that isn’t outward focuses isn’t healthy. A church that focuses outwardly but neglects inward care is unstable.

People: Does the church focus on building people up or one what they can get out of people? Does the leadership seek your help in reaching the pastor’s vision, or do they help people pursue God’s calling? Is the church a business or is it family?

Step 5: Making the choice
This will be awkward because it is different. There is no perfect church because church is messy. It may not have what you want because God needs you there to make it happen. It may not be the size church you like or are comfortable with. There will be things you like and things you don’t. At this step the question is: Can you call these people family? If not, why not?

If you’ve been deeply hurt by your earlier church, a key question to work through: Can I heal here? You cannot avoid the healing process. Healing isn’t always about feeling good again, it can be a painful process. Be upfront with church leadership about the need to heal. They’ll give you sound counsel, and may even recommend a church that may be more helpful.

Timeframe:
Finding a church family takes time. It’ll likely take 6 months to a year. Don’t rush the process. When you’re on Step 4 with a church, don’t work on creating a list of churches and then move to Step 5. If Step 4 checks out and Step 5 checks out, welcome home. For military families or others that move often, you’ll naturally pick up this process on a faster pace.

Children:
Don’t look for a church that has something for your children. Reverse the question. Look for a church where your children can be a part. Church isn’t about you and it’s not about your kids either. Activity doesn’t mean discipleship. A small church can be just as vibrant as a large one for discipling your children. Don’t fear large churches. Kids can be dynamically discipled in large churches too. We often hide our consumerism in the name of our children.

Discuss it as a family. Train your children to be mission minded. ‘Did you like’ is a bad question. What children need they often dislike. don’t ignore their input about dislikes, be cautious on how you respond to it. Children can be spiritual champions, we as adults often hold them back. Ask them if there are ways they can support and serve the church. Teach your children through this process that church isn’t about them. When you find your new family, remind your children that you’re there to love and support the people of the church.

What process do you use? What would you add to this?

People don’t have enough cheerleaders…

DSC_0527People don’t have enough cheerleaders, but they have plenty of critics. I’ve found the difference is really a choice a person makes. We can choose act as a cheerleader or we can choose act as a critic. In our hyper-critical church world, the choice is often to be a critic.

Biblical love is HARD!
Practicing 1 Corinthians 13 love, or Philippians 4:8-9 is HARD! How hard is it to trust and believe all things? Just by saying that the ‘Yeah, but’ crowd starts bubbling up about discernment or sin. Truth does not trump love nor love truth. How can I assume the best knowing that many are [insert the worst possible stereotype you can think of here]? Because that is what the Bible instructs me to do. After all, love is the more excellent way. Excellence is hard, messy and an intentional choice.

Act don’t react
Cheerleading is an intentional act, criticism is a reaction. Cheerleaders promote what they are FOR. Critics promote what they are AGAINST. Cheerleaders see what’s wrong, but push for what’s best. Critics see what is wrong, and push what is wrong. Cheerleaders praise in public and criticize in private. Critics criticize in public and (maybe) praise in private, hedged with said criticism. Cheerleading is hard because there are things seen that are frustrating. Criticism is easy because it is easier to destroy instead of build up. Cheerleaders trust God. Critics play God. What are you FOR?

Yeah, but the truth must be stated, right?
Promoting what you are for is stating truth. The statement “telling the truth is the most loving thing you can do” often puts truth above love. Think of it this way: out of the heart the mouth speaks. If I speak truth critically instead of lovingly, there is a theological error in my heart. We act based on what we believe. The ‘Yeah, but’ Crowd often speaks truth out of theological error.

God is God and we’re not
Paul didn’t mind his critics judging him or his motives. Why? Because God does. In fact, Paul didn’t even bother to judge himself for the same reason. Paul didn’t mind preachers making a name for themselves. Why? Because the Gospel was still being proclaimed. Paul didn’t go nuclear on false teaching in the Ephesian church. WHAT!? Paul sent Timothy to to instruct false teachers and bring them inline with the Bible. Cheerleading is a patient, long-suffering work that “GOD may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…”

The bottom line:
I choose to be a cheerleader rather than a critic. Praise in public, criticize in in private. Cheerleading is about building up. It is not being naive about faults. Cheerleading is recognizing the value of one’s strengths that we can learn from. The Holy Spirit is really good at his job. He will accomplish his task of making people Christlike. Keep what you are for as the main thing. Promoting such naturally and patiently deals with the things you are critical of.