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.

Reflections on R13 conference

IMG_2359My reason for attending was to gain insight into the direction of culture & the church. The information and input were critical to setting up LFC’s direction. At the end of the day, the most important question at a ministry conference is who did God design your church to be. (Yes, in know it’s Jesus’ church.) I’ve heard and seen many churches get shipwrecked by returning pastors. Prior to the conference, friends reminded me of that fact and that the vision God gives me is important but as a pastor my job is to draw our the vision God gives the church.

Stop hedging
“Just say you like someone. I like Mark Driscoll. Nobody agrees with everything about a person. I don’t even agree with myself sometimes.” ~ Rick Warren
This jumped out at me for several reasons. 1) I’m often asked why I like XYZ, followed by all the reasons I should like XYZ. 2) I was anti-Driscoll for a while and then grew to tolerate him. Seeing how other leaders affected him and sharpened(softened ironically) his ministry I figured I should not hedge. I like Mark too. 3) I’ve frequently heard Rick Warren criticized, especially by followers of John MacArthur. Rick Warren is the first guy I’ve seen get down on his knees and pray for pastors out of all the conferences I’ve been too. I like Rick too!

Serving Jesus hurts
“When, not if… When, not if… WHEN, not if… I said, when, not if you are betrayed…” ~Crawford Loritts
The speakers talked about the wounds of ministry. The larger your influence the more criticism you will take. Betrayal is part of the ministry package. The danger in hurt is acting out of hurt. We must serve out of the Gospel in the Spirit’s power. The temptation to act out of hurt is great and doing such will not produce good fruit. Pain is part of the sanctifying work God is doing through us. Ministry is about being and becoming who God designed you to be.

Vision isn’t about you

“If you think your vision is about you and it’s your vision, then you will hurt people and fail in the vision.” ~Crawford Lorries

Each speaker warned about our identity being in our vision or in the church. What matters more than our vision is our character, who we are when no one is looking. While the push was to grasp a God-given vision, it is our growth in Christ that matters more. If our identity is in our vision and our ministry we won’t let things go and give things away – requirements of a pastor. We are given a message to pass on. (I like Crawford too!)

John MacArthur disappoints
There was no anger or bitterness at John. Many highly view him as a man of God and appreciate his passion to teach the Word. The feeling of John not showing up felt like a let down to people. All the talk about it being a stunt or a trap for John was not true. The X3Watch booth with the cardboard cut out of John and Mark was classic. We laughed at ourselves too. After all, the host speaker called us all stupid. That said, John was respected and he disappointed.

Wake up church!
“Stop practicing repentance leads to hypocrisy, stop preaching repentance leads to heresy.” ~Mark Driscoll
The church needs to actively and intentionally change gears and get back on message. A major paradigm shift in culture has come and gone. The last session unveiled a massive research project on the unchurched or de-churched. Key to this is that the meaning of tolerance has changed. The new definition of tolerance is highly intolerant of Christianity. I’m reserving judgement on “riot evangelism,” but I do believe that love & courage can go together.

The bottom line:
The conference and divine appointments at the conference were well worth the investment. I learned a ton, met with God, and enjoyed the Seattle coffee I missed so much. For sure, I miss judged Mark Driscoll in a few ways. I think the church can learn a lot from him and Mars Hill just as they try to learn lots from others. Perhaps the message of humility is good for all churches to hear.

Prayer Mentoring: Jesus

IMG_3319Jesus
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. ~John 15:5-7

Jesus is key to our prayer life. Our identity, our power and our effectiveness is Jesus. Often if our prayers seem to hit the ceiling if we feel overwhelmed or if we think we’re bigger than we are, it is time to go back to basics: Jesus.

In Christ
The greatest weapon we have in the spiritual warfare of life is Jesus. Too often we think it is about us. It isn’t. It never is. When we remember who we are in Christ, ministry is tremendous, prayers powerful and God moves. Why? God acts to glorify his name.

Jesus is present
When Jesus gave the church it’s mission to make disciples of him, he promised his presence. Jesus didn’t die and raise again and then that’s it. Jesus is still involved in leading and building his church. Jesus is the boss and CEO of the church. Elders, deacons, trustees, etc work for Jesus. He rescued us and enables us to serve.

The word
Sam Wolfe in his book “Building the House of Prayer” states this: Christ in us – Presence. His word in us- Power. Jesus said If my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. Living out the Word of God is key to an effective prayer life. It means being so in tune with God’s wishes that it’s a no brainer for him to act on our request.

Jesus saves, Jesus sends
Getting our focus back on Jesus isn’t just about Jesus saving us; It’s about Jesus sending us! God sent the son to reach us. Jesus sends us to reach others that belong to him. You cannot separate the mission from the savior. If our hearts are not about the mission, we’re not letting the words of Christ abide in us. Jesus saves us and then he sends us to proclaim what saved us.

In Jesus’ name
We close our prayers in Jesus name because Jesus is our great high priest who went and goes before the father on our behalf. Our fruit, success, power, effectiveness is in Jesus and the finished work on the cross. Because of Jesus we have a relationship with God, access to God and are able to effectively serve God. Abiding in Jesus is central to a great prayer life.

Prayer Mentoring: Attitude

Attitude counts. Like in any relationship, bad attitudes create bad results. When we pray, we need to make sure we have a proper attitude towards God.

Authentic
Matthew 6:5-15 describes the Lord’s Prayer. Before and after the prayer Jesus addresses our attitude. Prayer isn’t a check list thing, or showmanship. Prayer is a genuine conversation with a real God. Be real and be genuinely concerned for others.

Faith
James 1:5-8 describes the need for faith. Let’s face it, Jame’s words are hard to take. If we doubt then we’re unstable. Prayer is an act of faith where we realize and submit to God being in control. This is one of the hardest aspects of our relationship with God- waiting on and trusting in Him.

Obedience
1 John 3:22 describes the relationship between obedience and God acting. Again, like any relationship, if you violate the relationship things get awkward and out of sorts. A heart that seeks to live out God’s Word is key to God answering prayer. (Note verses 20! God is bigger than our mistakes!)

Humility
1 Peter 5:6-7 describes what is essential to any relationship and especially to God. Humility goes a long way in relationships. Key to this verse is submitting to God, recognizing He is in control. Note that these verses are not a legalistic pacify God thing. God’s heart is to exalt and to care for His own.

The bottom line:
Our attitude matters when we talk to God. If you sense your prayers are not heard or being ignored, check your attitude. Don’t focus on false piety- be real. God wants to hear from you and He wants to answer prayer.

Christianity is not a crutch, it’s a wheelchair

20120606-105500.jpg
Christianity is about God providing what you and I are incapable of providing. A frequent statement on religion is that it’s a crutch. As Christians we forget that without Jesus showing up, a crutch will not be enough. No, Christianity is a wheelchair because apart from Christ we’re broken.

The freedom of being broken
Christianity is about Jesus. Paul says in Ephesians how we were once dead but made alive in Christ. He further states that by nature we were children of wrath. The Bible also uses terms like enemies of God, unworthy, etc. Here is the key: Jesus showed up and did what we could not nor cannot do. Freedom results in being broken because we have no need to worry if we’re good enough or capable enough to earn God’s favor.

Big savior, not stingy one
God did not dispense grace with a teaspoon or an eye dropper. God poured it on. God demonstrated GREAT love, being RICH in mercy, LAVISHING grace upon those in Christ. God did this so you can show His IMMEASURABLE riches of grace in KINDNESS towards us in Jesus. This is not a God who is mad, reluctant or stingy. This is a God who is present, active and very willing.

A family for good
Jesus freed us to bless others. Because we don’t have to worry about being capable of earning Grace, because we don’t have to worry if God is willing enough to care for us, in Jesus you and I have the freedom to focus on serving others. We should serve because that is what God expects to do. Not as a “Jesus project,” but because loving God means loving the things He loves- people. A trophy of God’s grace is a vibrant Christian who serves.

Dirty boys are cool
Moms love it when their boys are clean. Dads love it when their boys are muddy. It’s time the church gets muddy. If we’re a family for good then we need to be willing to get messy. More people need the wheel chair of God’s grace because people cannot save themselves, they need Jesus. We need to love people because God loves people. We need to love people with no expectation of return, because that’s what Jesus did. If we’re willing to serve with no expectation of return that opens the opportunity share about Jesus. Let’s get dirty. There’ll be a time to clean up later.

The Bottom line:
When we realize that Christianity is a wheelchair not a crutch it frees us up to be what God created us to be. In being broken we can love humbly, seeing messy lives as us if it were not for Grace. In seeing a big savior we have full assurance that God is willingly and actively involved in our life. He is our life. In being a family for good we see purpose and intentionality. In getting into the messy things of life we see God gave us a mission.

One more thing…
I’m fine with Christianity being a wheelchair. Resting in God and having Him taking us to where He wants us to go is the most incredible experience of life. God doesn’t push the chair on clean streets. God wants to hit the mud puddles! We can clean up for the supper later.

Book Review: reWritten by Bruce & Heather Moore

“With each life opportunity, God reveals to us more of His story for our lives and the potential for what we can become if we trust Him to author our future.” p. 35

Many of us have wondered, is this really how my life is supposed to be? Maybe your life’s story is marked by poor decisions or the hurtful actions of others. How can you turn things around? Is God still interested in using you? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Rewritten guides you through five life opportunities to exchange your story for God’s story. When you become the person He designed you to be and accomplish the tasks appointed to only you, you will experience the greatest fulfillment you could ever know and bring hope to a broken world.

The authors
Bruce & Heather Moore made the most extreme decision of their lives by leaving a large suburb church to rebirth a dying church with one year to live. They have seen the radical transformation of a church and the stories of countless lives rewritten. Bruce serves as Senior Pastor at Christ Fellowship Tampa and they have a very active preschooler.

Layout
reWritten is logical and flows together well as a book. The book is written in three sections: Your Story, God’s Story and The Exchange. The aim of the books is towards those whose lives are a wreck, though anyone will benefit from reading it. The first part had me skeptical at first of the book, until I remembered that ministry is really that messy. The second part is well written. The third part is pure gold. I appreciate discussion and thought questions, ‘story builders,’ were well placed throughout the chapters than merely as an after thought.

Story as metaphor
The Moore’s use the concept of story as a metaphor throughout the book. The over all concept of exchanging our story for God’s story. reWritten reflects this in the layout. The metaphor adds significance to how God uniquely designed each one of us for His good purpose. What stands out from this is how approachable the book is; gracious and dealing with truth.

He said what?!
My heart leaped when I read the table of contents. We too often get locked into the idea that if life is good, then God is blessing. The Moore’s deal with the topics of humility and suffering! Too often these areas are ignored. Of note, the section of forgiveness is well done. It’s important to read the book from beginning to end to get the full scope, but mark the last section up well. It’s an excellent resource for counseling. I appreciate in how the personal stories shared makes God the hero. Some stories end exceptionally, while other end with ‘because this is what God wants of us.’

“With each moment that we suffer, God brings us gifts that change our perspective and allow other people to see His grace in our lives.” p. 139 on suffering

The writing
reWritten is approachable without being inaccurate. It is definitely written from a pastoral heart that cares deeply for people. The book has one of the best rhythms I’ve seen in a long time. The first section had me on edge a little as almost being cliché. When starting to read remember that, yes, ministry is that messy. We forget that too often. The second part is a clear description of God’s image in our lives and the rhythm really picks up there. The pattern of the book is one we should model in ministering to people; moving from where they’re at to where God wants the to be.

The bottom line:
reWritten is an excellent resource to help people to take the mess of their story and to seeing what God wants to do in their life. This is a book that pushes us to live Godly, seeking what He is doing in our circumstances. It builds a big picture of the great God we serve. Well written, the book also addresses topics we often ignore, such as humility and suffering. For those who actively council and minister to people, reWritten is a helpful guide to keep on hand.

On Humility: My guide to become a recovering fundamentalist Part 3

“You should read my book, ‘Humility and how I achieved it.’” ~Unknown
“Every side has it’s ‘fundamentalists’.” ~Joe M.

Admit it
You’re arrogant. We all struggle with pride. Arrogance isn’t exclusive to any movement. This is why it’s best to deal with heart issues; not create a strawman. For example, I interacted with two churches that made this statement:

“They’re not [blank] because they’re wearing [blank]. It’s important to [blank] to [do what God wants].”

One church was a hysterical fundamentalist church. The other was a progressive outreach oriented church. Both had the same heart problem and both make a good point. Name the issue and its most likely there is arrogance on both sides.

Humility modeled: Dr. Arp
“Right now, this is what I believe what the text is saying,” said Dr. Arp. My tongue dropped to the floor. I’m in seminary, the professor is to be the grand know all guru of all things Bible. Dr. Arp amazed me by his humility. He was a student of the Word. (And a really hard grader!) More than anything he discipled me to approach the Scriptures with humility and to listen. Confidence and humility are not exclusive.

Humility modeled: John Calvin
I read Calvin’s Institutes of Theology. I wanted to see if I was truly a “Calvinist” or not (a discussion for another day). I was amazed by the humility and grace Calvin projected in his writings. He demonstrated confidence in what he said, but also grace and approachability. Those who debate “Calvinism” could learn a lot from Calvin’s humility.

Humility prescribed: St. Peter
Peter had what I like to call “foot in mouth disease.” Ambitious or spirited people often struggle with that. He says this in 1 Peter 5: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” It’s in the context of shepherding the church. This attitude stands out as I see Peter struggling with this area.

Jesus
Jesus didn’t stand out in a crowd. He didn’t come into the world with much fanfare. As much as we bash religious leadership of his day, He did interact with them and some came to believe in Him. Jesus was a man’s man, and Jesus was fully God. Jesus dealt with and pointed to heart issues. There was times He was stern, and times he was very approachable. Our task is to be like Jesus. Without humility, we wont’ get very far.

The bottom line:
To become a recovering fundamentalist you need to be humble. Act with humility and grace instead of reacting to a strawman out of arrogance and vindictiveness. We all struggle with pride and arrogance. No movement claims a monopoly on this. Listen, be approachable, and seek to be like Jesus.

Civility, Civility, where art thou?

Last Thursday I wrote about my desire for my boys to live in a world of civility. The thought process started when Gavin said thank you to me after giving him a simple treat. I treasured the event. Given the grievous incident in Arizona, my wish for my boys grew even stronger.

Two wrongs don’t make a right
The Bible puts it this way: “A soft word takes away wrath.” I have no wish to take political sides on this blog. Even in irate anger, one can show the civility one so much desires. The political vitriol displayed lately is alarming. It is akin to fighting a fire with gasoline.

Evil and responsibility exist
There is evil and brokenness in life. Even with this, people are responsible for their own actions. Evil or brokenness is the root cause of tragedies such as happened in Arizona. Civility, compassion and graciousness are the greatest weapons against evil and brokenness. It’s what Jesus did.

Two prescriptions of civility:
1) Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger… Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. ~ Ephesians 4:26,29

2) This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. ~ James 1:19-20

The bottom line
We are responsible for our own actions. Anger is not wrong, but we must be prudent and thoughtful in how we exercise and work through our anger. For sure, in public discourse great restraint and gracious must be demonstrated. Truth can be declared without being inflammatory. Restraint isn’t a lack of authenticity or genuineness. Restraint  is an exercise of wisdom and humility. Our culture could use a large dose of both. These are skills I want my boys to have in abundance.

Why not Wednesday? Return to basics Phil. 2:5-11

My high school gold team was in a slump. Coach did what coaches often do, give a fiery lecture that made you prefer warm eternal regions of existence and then drilled marched us into basics. Not swinging, putting, chipping, or driving. We practiced our pre-shot routine… for what seemed like eternity: Choose club, pick target, grip, set up to the ball, repeat. We were not allowed to hit a ball until we had it down. Ministry has its own setup. It’s humility.

Humility is our pre-shot routine
Paul focuses on attitude before he instructs to work out our salvation. The attitude should be that of Christ. Summed up, our attitude should be humble. Christ shows what this looks like.

Choose club: Let God be God, and let God be enough.
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped

Pick target: Seek to serve not be served
7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Grip: Embrace humility
8a And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself…

Set up to the ball: Obey God’s calling
8b … and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!

The bottom line:
Get back to basics. Basics isn’t the shot, it’s the set-up. Have this down pat, and you will get to enjoy a great shot.

9-11 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Why I stayed in church

I’ve constantly dealt with the question of why 20’s and early 30’s were leaving the church. I never asked why I didn’t leave. Here is a first attempt at answering the question. It revolves around one key thing: God.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 1:6

Religion is a crutch
True. We do not need a crutch, we need a savior. We don’t need help or an aid, we need something that will radically change us. The biggest thing to me about the church is the Gospel. The central message of the Gospel is death to life; sin to righteousness. This isn’t found by a right of passage or a self-help crutch. It is founded on Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

Christians are just hypocrites
True. We’re also liars, thieves, fornicators, cheats, gossips, gluttons, drunkards, murderers, slanders, etc. Funny thing is, as I look across the human experience, I see the same thing. The church isn’t made of perfect people, and if it were, we’d at least be liars according to 1 John. Church is family. We’re not perfect, but being perfect is not the point. Again, it comes down to the central message of the Gospel. Church is filled with redeemed people not perfect people.

Church doesn’t meet my needs
True. Here is the paradox of church: If everyone comes to church focused on meeting everyone’s needs, everyone’s needs gets met. Church is not about what you can get, it is about what you can give to others. Why would someone join something that is not about them is a bit crazy. This goes back to the central message of the Gospel: Jesus gave Himself on our behalf. His focus was on our needs and the Father’s will, not Himself.

The Gospel
I did not quit because I believe Jesus died and rose again. Believing this means being a part of a community of people who also hold that belief and seek to proclaim the message of death to life. The Gospel is central. Church is not about what I get, but as Jesus modeled, church is about what I give. The hardest principle to get is realizing the church is not about me, it’s about Him.

The Church
I embrace the church because it is Jesus’ most prized possession. In pursuing Christ and helping others, ultimately our own needs get met. In getting the focus off ourselves we gain depth and a spirituality that can only come from the grace of the Cross. In church we realize the greatest need of all mankind and the only solution. We’re messed up, and knowing that fully, Jesus still reached out to us.

The bottom line:
I did not quit church because Jesus did not quit on me, those in the church, or those who still have not heard the Gospel. The church isn’t perfect and neither am I, and that’s ok. Christ is the one who makes us complete and perfect. The problems of church become less and when I pursue God and help others more.