Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Un-Christian Desire for a Pre-Trib Rapture

I have been, at the request of my youth Sunday School Class, teaching through the book of Revelation.  The more I read this apocalyptic, prophetic letter (I see Revelation, primarily, as a letter) the more I see the main point being that those who suffer with Christ will also reign with Christ.  It is interesting, then, that a couple recently told me that the main point they got from a study of Revelation is that we should hope for a Pre-Tribulation rapture so that we do not have to suffer.

How is it that we have created a Christianity that truly believes that suffering is something to be avoided at all costs, or that we deserve to not suffer because we have come to believe in Jesus?  Isn't suffering at the very heart of the gospel?  Doesn't Jesus call us to suffer for his name?

Here is a quote from The Believers Church Commentary on Revelation:
"The central message of Revelation is suggested [in 1:9]: those who endure persecution with Christ will rule with Christ.  The word persecution means "pressure" or "tribulation" (John 16:33; Acts 14:22).  John expected immediate persecution for the church of his day (see also Matt. 11:12; 2 Tim. 3:12) because of the imposition of emperor worship."

And the following is a quote from a letter Anna of Rotterdam (preserved in the Martyrs' Mirror) presented to her son, Isaiah, at nine o'clock in the morning, as she was preparing herself to die for the name and the testimony of Jesus:
"Where you hear of a poor, simple, cast-off little flock (Luke 12:32), which is despised and rejected, by the world, join them; for where you hear of the cross, there is Christ; from there do not depart."

May we, with joy, pick up our cross and carry it.  May we, with the help of the Spirit, embrace pressure and tribulation as a mark of God's saving grace in our lives (Rom. 5:3-5, Matt. 5:11-12, Luke 21:10-19, James 1:2-4).  May we not make the "wise" choices that lead to security and success, but instead the "dangerous" choices of loving our enemies and the enemies of the powerful, giving away the wealth that makes us comfortable so that others can survive, and welcoming strangers into our homes and communities trusting that by doing so we are offering hospitality to Jesus himself.  These are the kinds of activities that, when radically lived out, show us that tribulation is a part of our world right now.  Jesus doesn't call us to run from it, he calls us to embrace it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Gospel: What Is it and How Do We Share It?

The Bible is replete with metaphors, images, and stories of salvation. When they are all taken together, however, common themes emerge which reveal what is most significant or necessary to understand what is taking place between God and humanity, specifically in the person and work of Jesus Christ. First, humanity is in a situation that is less than ideal. Second, there is an action of God to remedy the situation in which humanity has found itself. Third, humanity moves towards God, whether this is a response to the second, in conjunction with the second, or precedes the second can be argued. Fourth, through the process humans find themselves not only better off than they started, but actually in the best possible situation which could be imagined.

Whether it is pictured as dirt, disease, adrift, naked, guilty, poor, hungry or any other number of metaphors, what is obvious throughout the biblical story is that humans have found themselves in a less than stellar situation. Also, while there is obvious culpability on the part of humanity, pictures such as humans in bondage, specifically to Satan, humanity living in the kingdom of Satan, people at the mercy of unjust rulers, and people living in the midst of darkness at least raise the possibility that the situation people have found themselves in is not entirely or completely their own fault.

However, the picture quickly changes as we see that God is not satisfied to leave people there. God enters the world, in the person of Jesus, incarnating himself in humanity, living, healing, teaching, dieing, rising again, and ascending back into heaven. By doing so God purchases humanity for himself, takes their sin on himself so they can have new life, heals their diseases, liberates them from their oppressors, and defeats death, sin and Satan. God does this for many reasons, one of which is a simple display of power.

Humans participate in the movement from their past misery by ripping their hearts, cutting out the unnecessary pieces that hold to the old situation, drinking the cup of living water offered to them, and following in obedience. Just as a tree sucks up water and nutrients, responds to pruning, and grows towards the sun, humans participate in the work of God that takes them from a dry seed to a full grown, healthy, fruit-bearing tree.

This is where humans then find themselves. Rather than simply inhabiting the same space but with the bad gone, they find that God is creating something more beautiful and perfect than could ever be imagined. He gives them a new heart, captures them from their kingdom of darkness and takes them as spoils of war back to his kingdom of light, enfolds them into his flock, clothes them with the very best of clothing, and makes them his bride.

As we interact with seekers or non-believers it is easy to offer a synthesized or systemitized version of the gospel, such as what I offered near the beginning. You are bad and in a bad place but God has done something amazing and if you simply respond to it everything will be made right. However, it is instructive to realize that the Bible rarely, if ever, offers the call to salvation in this way. Rather, God has communicated with us through story and metaphor which can be both more inviting, easier to connect with, and becomes more deeply implanted within the heart and mind. I can still remember the presentation of the gospel that touched my heart and led to a response. It was the Donut Man talking about how we each, like a donut, have a hole in our heart that can only be filled by Jesus. While this can seem corny and elementary, this metaphor did more to build faith in my elementary heart than any systematic, theological presentation ever could or would.

This causes me to stop and wonder how we could do more to present the gospel as a story. How can our churches paint a picture, perhaps literally, of what it means to be rescued from misery and brought into intimate relationship with God? This ought to be our highest goal.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Seminary Trip to Turkey

You may or may not know that Dana and I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Turkey together as part of my seminary education.  We visited Istanbul (Constantinople) as well as the seven cities of the churches of Revelation and the island of Patmos, where John received the vision.  I was asked by Biblical Seminary to write a blurb about the trip for them to use (for promotional purposes).  I'm not sure if I gave them what they were looking for, but in the process of writing a short blurb for the trip I felt like I summarized what the trip meant for me in a way that was worth sharing here as well.

"Turkey was a transformational experience. Interacting with ancient human history, Old Testament biblical history, early church history, and the recent transition from Muslim to secular society all within the same space was sobering, enlightening, and challenging. Two things that stick with me from the trip are 1) sitting in a theater built in 450 B.C. thinking about the number of generations that had passed since that theater had been built and 2) hearing a Polish Franciscan priest tell stories of Muslims converting to Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox). I came back from the trip more convinced than ever that Jesus, God incarnate, rose from the dead and inaugurated a monumental shift in history which we now participate in. The trip encouraged me to listen to the Spirit more and seek Christian community both within my cohort at Biblical as well as in my church and community."

Dana and I could not have gone without the support of many friends and family (we raised $7000 in order to go together) and we truly appreciate having had this opportunity.  We saw the hand of God as we prepared for the trip and throughout our travels.  I'm sure it is not something we will quickly forget.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Setting Goals

I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions.  I've found that many people make resolutions at the new year without putting much thought into it, only to break those resolutions within a few weeks and then never think about them again.  Instead I like to take time to evaluate and set goals that can be reevaluated at a later time and revised.  I think that there is a place for resolutions, but these are very serious things and not to be entered into lightly.  I think about Ecclesiastes 5:4-7:
When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.
So last year Dana and I thought about and set 5 and 10 year goals, but this year I wanted to focus our thoughts a little bit differently.   Rather than starting with what we would like to accomplish in 5-10 years, I devised some questions for us to consider individually about who we want to be (as individuals, a couple, and a family).  In a few weeks we will look over our responses and then reevaluate where we would like to be in 5 years (2020) and 10 years (2025), maintaining some of our goals from last year, adding more, or taking some away.

Since I took the time to write these guiding questions I thought I would share them here.  Feel free to use them as you evaluate your own life, who you are and who you would like to be.
First, I would encourage you to read something our previous pastor, from Christ Community Bible Church, sent out for the New Year as people think about goals and resolutions.

Personal Goals: Who do you want to be?  How do you want people to remember you?  Think of 5 character traits that you want to be defined by and prioritize them (most to least important). What do you want to do?  What impact do you want to have?  Think of 5 things that you do (or want to do) that define you as a person (who do you think of yourself as? Be specific: eg. a runner, a fisherman, a pray-er, a gardener, a reader, etc).  Is there anything that you want to change Physically/Mentally/Emotionally/Spiritually?

Family Goals:

How do you want to live as a family?  If someone were to write a description of your family, what would we want them to say?  Think of 5 descriptions that you would like your family to be known by (eg: busy, accomplished, efficient, loving, etc).
What is a family?  How do you live as a family?  How do you live NOT as a family?

Career Goals:
What does career mean to you?  What place do you see career having in your life?
What do you see yourself contributing to society?  How are you compensated for this (it does not need to be money)?
Is there something that you could see yourself doing that brings enough value to another person (or group of people) that they would be willing to compensate you for your efforts?
What do you create that is valuable?  What do you do that is valuable?
How have you seen God provide for your needs this past year?  Would you rather be defined by what you give or what you receive?  Are you willing to live with less in order to give more away (time/resources)?

Financial Goals:
What 5 items would you like to purchase/replace in the next 5 years?
What are 5 things that you currently spend money on that you could live without (or less of)?
Is it more important to give to those in need or save for your perceived future needs (medical, retirement, etc)?  Of the money that you make beyond your annual expenses, what percentage do you think you should give away and what percentage should you save for future perceived needs (not actual needs like a house, car, computer, etc, but needs that don’t currently exist like saving for a day when you can’t work or for things that could go wrong medically, etc)?  So an example would be saying that of your extra money you should set aside 80% for your future use and give away 20%.  Or perhaps you think you should set aside 30% for your future use and give away 70%.  How does Jesus’ parable speak into this?  How about these verses?

After you've taken the time to consider all of these questions and write them down, you can start to turn your dreams and desires into concrete goals and action steps.  Perhaps some of them will be important enough for you to commit to them as a resolution, perhaps others will be goals that will guide your planning throughout the year but may be cast aside or changed at some point in the future.  In any case, I hope and pray that by considering these things you will be drawn closer to God and desire to be made more in His image.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Adulthood: When Does it Start?

I wrote the following article for our church's newsletter.  I would welcome any feedback.

When does someone enter adulthood?  The obvious answer most would give is, “When they turn 18.”  Those who are a little more thoughtful, or consider their own life, may give a benchmark: When they graduate from high school, when they support themselves financially, when they get married, or for some even, when they have children.  Both fall short, though.  What about the person who never marries, are they not a true adult?  Or if a couple decides not to have children or are unable to have children, do they remain children themselves?  And on the other side, what about someone who, at sixteen years old, is working a full-time job in order to support their single parent and younger siblings: have they not entered adulthood simply because they haven’t reached some magical age?

I have come to see the transition to adulthood as just that: a transition, a process.  So if there isn’t a specific time that you “become an adult”, if adulthood isn’t measured by an age or a benchmark in life, then what is adulthood?  Why do we even differentiate between someone who is a “child” and someone who is an “adult”?  In the simplest terms, our society defines adulthood as the age when an individual can be held responsible for their actions.  So when you are 17 years and 364 days old, you are not responsible for a great number of possible actions.  In fact, not only are you not held responsible, but your parents can actually be held responsible for what you have done.  Rather than looking at it as a day, though, a moment in time, I would suggest that one enters adulthood when they begin making decisions that will affect the rest of their life.

Some may argue that this makes everyone an adult.  A 6 year old can make the decision to jump out of a window or not, and that decision will very well affect the rest of their life.  I would agree and even take it the step further to say, in that small area of their life that 6 year old has more responsibility, and is closer to adulthood, than an infant, who cannot make that decision.  In effect, I am defining adulthood as responsibility.  In our culture we recognize adulthood as a time when a person can be held responsible, so parents allow their child to live under their roof, adding no value to their own life or the lives of others, and then suddenly when that child turns 18 the parents expect them to hold a steady job, pay rent, and make life altering decisions.  But in reality, that “child” was already making life altering decisions, they just weren’t being held responsible.  And since they weren’t being held responsible, they didn’t feel responsible.

So adulthood is responsibility: making decisions that will affect the rest of your own or somebody else’s life.  But I would make a further distinction between adulthood and maturity.  Adulthood is when society allows you to make decisions that affect the rest of your life; maturity is when you realize that the decisions you make are affecting the rest of your life (and others’ lives).  So, the 25 year old who continues to live in their parents’ basement playing video games instead of trying to get a full-time, life supporting job has made a decision that will affect the rest of their life.  They have decided NOT to pursue a life-sustaining income.  However, they do not yet realize that by deciding not to act they are altering the outcome of their own and other’s lives, so they are an adult, but they are an immature adult.  And the 16 year old who takes everything seriously, tries their best at school, and thinks about where and who they want be in 10, 20, and 50 years but whose parents still control every decision that they make: not allowing them to get their driver’s license, choosing their college for them, and perhaps even pushing them into a career, is mature even though not being allowed to function as an adult.  In fact, it is possible to have mature children not functioning as adults because of immature adults who are parents.

Adulthood doesn’t entitle you to anything; in fact, it requires things of you (maturity, wisdom, and caring for those who can’t care for themselves).  Too often we’ve presented adulthood to our children as an age, a point in life, rather than teaching them how every decision they make has consequences.  We shouldn’t teach our children to be adults, we should teach them to be mature; and once we see maturity then they can be rewarded with the responsibilities (and privileges) of adulthood, even if only in some small area of their life.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Regret, Realism, and Hope

When I look back at my life, there are things that I wish I had done differently. I wish, when I was a preteen and read countless books a year, that I had been more interested in learning and read more non-fiction rather than fiction. I wish, when I was a teenager and making money with little to no financial responsibilities, that I had understood investing, finances, and compounding interest more fully. So how do I handle those experiences and my reflection on them? It seems to me that there are two common ways of dealing with past mistakes: we can learn from them and move forward with more confidence and wisdom, or we can wallow in them and live stuck in the past and full of regret.
Recently, I've been finding myself living more and more in that place of regret rather than learning, and today I began to realize that and consider why it was. As I followed the thought processes that went through my head, I realized something I was doing that led to a point of regret. When I considered alternative scenarios, had a made a decision different from the one I made, I only considered the good things that could have come from it. Also, when considering the effects of the decision I had made, I only considered the bad things that had come from it.
But the truth is, every decision that we make brings both good and bad. We are always faced with opportunities, and by the very nature of time we will take some of those opportunities and others we will leave behind. So I am going to work on being more realistic when thinking about where I am at, where I have been, where I will be, and where I could be.
Life will always contain good and bad, but ultimately what defines us is not our situation, but our relationship to our Father. We are not what we could be, but we are what He has made us to be; we are not where we should be, but we are where He wants us right now.
So, may you live out of a love for God, recognizing your faults and failures, not so that you beat yourself up and live in the past, regretful of what you have or have not done, but so that you can accept His love and forgiveness, turning from yourself and your sin, and running into the future that God is preparing for you in Christ Jesus. He is our hope and he is our salvation. Trust in him and you will never be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Update: Life and Blogging

I haven't had any time to follow up on my Bible Study plan from the beginning of the year.  I still plan to do an in-depth study through Scripture on the nature of the atonement, but work and seminary have been keeping me pretty busy so far this year.

I always wrestle with what to post on this blog.  My original intention in starting this blog was for it to be a place for me to write things I was wrestling through as I got to know God and understand His mission, but since I now hold a position in a church where my ideas influence the beliefs and lives of others I recognize that it may not be wise to post everything I work through personally and theologically.  Sometimes the path of learning, especially when it comes to hearing and discerning the voice of the Spirit, can take us down some odd trails.

So rather than writing intellectual pondering only, which is what this blog has mostly been up until this point, I may throw in some personal/life updates as well.

I was asked recently where I saw God at work.  Here is how I responded:

God’s really been working on my heart as far as future direction in ministry. Nothing concrete, but wrestling through whether full-time “church work” is the direction I’m heading, or if bi-vocational ministry is more the direction. On Sunday morning I really felt God give me the affirmative that some of the ideas I've been toying with are from Him and not my own. Basically, my idea is to lead a church towards seeing themselves as a missionary outpost in the community rather than a program for their members, and in order to do that I feel that I should be working in the community some rather than spending 50-70 hours per week on “church” things.

Later I was talking with a friend who is really passionate for God but has been very inward-church focused. They told me that God has been completely changing their long-term vision and they're not even sure that they'll be working in a church in the future, but instead they're hoping to be a “community pastor”.

Add onto that, we’re heading towards a series on evangelism, and there have been at least 5 people in the past week who have been very vocal about a new/renewed desire to share the gospel in our local community.

Tell me that’s not all God at work!!