Dec 22, 2007

Thoughts of a Restored Mind

We brought in the 2006 New Year with wonderful friends that we’ve had for a lifetime – well a half-life anyway. After catching up with some that we hadn’t seen in a while, we gathered together as a group to reflect upon the past year. As we went around the room, those that offered their thoughts spoke in fairly affirmative terms as to how they saw God working in their lives. No doubt this was a time of enrichment and thankfulness because it was abundantly clear that God had given us so much.

As is always the case, there were a few silent souls, with one usually being me. This rare moment I anteed up a few words and thankfully didn't cave in emotionally as I am prone to do whenever expressing issues of the heart. The skeptic in me wonders what’s really going on in the deepest recesses of those quiet ones like me - but I also wonder about the ones who seem to always be able to put a triumphant spiritual spin on even the most challenging moral and/or spiritual dilemmas?

We seem to learn at a very early age how to fool even the closest of friends when in fact most of us occasionally experience those sleepless nights filled with thoughts of inadequacy and doubt and feelings of hurt and fear. In an inaudible whisper we think aloud, “Does God really love me? Is He still there?" Unfortunately uttering those kinds of questions in a group setting make folks very uncomfortable. Certainly we need to dwell on the “good things” but I have learned that God can indeed handle those questions of uncertainty and insecurity. We just need to be honest and genuine with Him.

Mike Tyson vs. Mr. Bean
The group disassembled and as the evening began to wear down I heard a fellow say that he was reading a book on preterism, which is a theological term for believing that most if not all of the prophesies found in the Scripture had been fulfilled by A.D. 70 culiminating Jerusalem's destruction. So oh dopy me chimed in and said, “I think I believe some of that stuff”. Can you say stupid, stupid, stupid? (I was such a neophyte in the world of eschatology and at that point easily driven and tossed by the wind)

Well, you’d have thought I just detonated a dirty bomb in New York City! There are a few certainties in life and one of them is never to question the validity of the pretribulation rapture in hearing distance of a hard core rapturologist whose been studying and honing his views on said subject for the better part of a quarter of a century. To begin with you have no chance (if you are still confused), but the odds are reduced to below zero when you are as ill prepared as I was, especially when you sense that you may be stepping into what appears to be a prearranged ambush of sorts. It most likely was unintentional but it felt quite calculated and purposeful.

It’s like getting into an impromptu street fight with Mike Tyson when he was in the prime of his boxing rampage, directly after you come off a 26-mile mid-summer jaunt through the bowels of the vulture-laden heat-scorched Grand Canyon. First of all, you are thoroughly outmatched because he’s 238 pounds of raw violence, and second, he knows how to take you out with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker. Once he lands the first blow to your glass-like chin you find yourself prostrate on the ground wondering if your undergarments are hospital-worthy.

As you begin to hear the ref count down from 10, your dignity kicks in and somewhere between 7 and 5 you pull yourself back up by the ropes to a semi-vertical position. And before you are nearly seaworthy, wham!―you take a severe body shot to the solerplexus with something like, “how can you possibly believe that. Who saw Jesus return”? And just when you think it can’t get any worse and you can’t look any more foolish you get hit with a non-stop combination of “what about _______" while machine-gunning 10 neatly packaged verses absolutely "prooving his point? Then with a smirk-filled accusasatory tone he conjectures, "How in the world can you believe what in fact nobody saw?” After your 4th knockdown you rise to your feet again hoping for one last opportunity to preverse even the slightest modicum of dignity but now he really smells blood. He begins to wind up his hammer of an arm like a windmill and he begins to grin at you like, “are you totally out of your mind?”. Then he methodically proceeds to pummel you into oblivion like a Johnny Damon bobblehead doll in the clenches of an angry die-hard Red Sox fanatic when he hears on ESPN that J.D. has defected to the dark side. You may not be down for the count yet but you’re done. Just pack up your thoughts and get out of there before the carnage worsens - because at that point all you can hope for is that you “make like a tree and leaf” before you get your ear bitten off by Iron Mike.

When I arrived home and began to recount this eschatological debate nightmare, I really felt as though I’d been battered and beaten - metaphorically for sure but tagged nonetheless. Whoever thought up that old “sticks and stones” garbage ought to be held down and severely licked by my little black dog, Fenway, who has a tongue longer than Kiss rocker, Gene Simmons!

Life is a great teacher and at this point I want to share with you two life lessons that I learned from this rather vexing experience.

The first is that “winning” should never be the ultimate priority. Truth is vitally essential but in the context of argumentation should be void of arrogance and condescension. I can’t believe those words are actually coming from my nimble little fingertips becasue I have been on the other side of that equation far too many times. However, demonstrating the love that has been so freely given to us by our Creator should be our utmost goal. That may sound too syrupy to some but if love and respect is removed from the discussion, there's close to a 100% guarantee that even words of truth will fall upon deaf ears. And isn't gentle persuasion a worthy goal, especially if we are convinced that we are correcting doctrinal error? Sure it’s fun to feel that we are right and there's a sense of exhileration when we believe that we are disseminating the truth we have captured from Scripture, but the "need" to win must be bridled by humility (Phil 2:3-8). There’s certainly some power in believing we are correctly dividing the Word of God, but it's like dousing petrol on the fire of our foolish pride when we don't do it with the love of Christ in full view?

When you think about it, from the time you are old enough to utter your first words like, Tinkertoy or prestidigitation, being right is the name of the game. Hey, listen, there’s nothing inherently wrong with espousing truth (may it never be!) but there’s a way to do it while allowing those that might be in discord with us to feel like they haven’t been taken behind the woodshed. So lesson number one is debate with dignity - edify, don’t tear down. This of course is far easier written than accomplished but it certainly should remain a steadfast goal. It does not mean that one must retreat from beliefs held dear but it's more a matter of attitude. I probably violate this principle far too often but it is something with which I strive for especially in the light of ever growing convictions.

The second lesson was the hardest. As Peter wrote in his first epistle (AD 64) “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” Was I prepared? Was I able to wield the sword of the Spirit with the speed and precision that was worthy of my ambassadorship? Not really. I had the "spirit of humility" down pretty well but not because I was overbounding with the fruit of the spirit - it had much more to do with my puny spiritual state.

My counterpart surely was ready and eager with Scriptural ammunition but was he able to challenge me while maintaining a gracious spirit? I can't judge the heart of a man but I surely didn’t feel grace flowing from his left jabs. But who knows - I've certainly had my less than gracious moments and I know he was simply quite aggressively espousing the convictions of his heart!

I was so badly beaten that I don’t even have a complete recall of the massacre. So often we as Christians are so obsessed with being Biblically accurate that we forget to accompany our rightness with gentleness. As I’ve begun to objectively analyze the “religious right” label (which I proudly counted myself a part), I realized that we relish the “us vs. them” dichotomy that is nowhere lionized or extolled in Jesus’ teaching. Hating the "islamofascists" seems to be a consistent battle-cry. But how 's Jesus' SOTM supposed to play out in this context? Love our enemies? Pray for those who persecute us? Where is the "kill them before they kill us" found in Scripture? But I digress...

The reality is that we are all accountable for our responses and that night mine were ineffectual – they were defensive, indecisive and they lacked clarity. There's no doubt that my heart was void of the spirit of camaraderie that should accompany any debate with a fellow believer, and it was at least in part due to my lack of preparedness both Scripturally and emotionally.

It was more than apparent to me that my jouster left that night feeling quite victorious and that’s o.k. – I think in his mind he’d defeated another one of those heretic "private interpretion" types who have the audacity to question the holy grail of Left Behindology. In my mind's eye I could see him scratching a notch into his belt of Scriptural correctness - one more Hymenaen heretic bites the dust!

But the reality is that I didn’t do him any favors. Even though I am now more than ever convinced of the preterist position which at the time I only vaguely understood, I am saddened because I didn't afford this Christ-follower the opportunity of hearing the challenge of a refreshingly Biblically rich perspective. For as Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy in chapter 2 verse 15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. So too we should we be able to handle the sword with this kind of confidence.

Adversity is the Mother of Change
Much of the impetus for creating my website came from that New Year’s Eve experience. My sincere desire is to honestly and humbly share the hope that Christ has given me - knowing that God's faithfulness to His first century followers has been severely challenged by the LaHayeque model of eschatology. I have found that many do not stop to consider the immience statements in Scripture relative the lives of those that received such. If God was not faithful to fulfill his clearly stated imminent promises (soon, shortly, at hand, in a little while) to His committed persecuted first century disciples, then what gives us the confidence that He will be faithful to us 50 centuries removed from those promises. Isn't faithfulness predicated upon timely execution?

I came out of a rather severe 12-15 year spiritual slump/fog about 2 and a half year ago. As I look back, there were three tangible events that catapulted me over the wall of apathy and indifference and ultimately helped soften my heart to the Lord.

The first involved God’s miraculous work in the lives of my sister-in-law and brother-in-law that could not be explained by any amount of skepticism that I could muster up. That truly was a timely heartening touch from Heaven.

The next was engulfed in an escapade in the study of Job. I read, listened to on my mp3 player, and studied the book of Job countless times in a span of just a few weeks. It was extremely difficult to come to grips with some of the deeper messages in Job but nonetheless quite enlightening. I learned that outside a personal vibrant relationship with our creator life doesn’t exist in any meaningful way.

Eschatologically Induced Depression
Well, that brings me to the third event that still has me scratching my ever more balding head. I had been studying eschatology (you wouldn’t know it by the outcome of the above New Year’s party episode) and finally came to the conclusion that the Late Great Planet Earth/Left Behind/Ryrie/Scofield doom and gloom theology did not square with Scripture. I had little to replace it with but recognizing faulty paradigms frees us to take the steps necessary to begin to rebuild. Although many factors contributed to my new eschatological conclusions, I must say that realizing that although the Bible was written FOR, it was clearly not written directly TO us. Reading the Scripture with "audience relevance" has been a breath of fresh air.

At this point you may ask, “Why in the world would a change in eschatological position have anything to do with spiritual depression”? The answer is simply complex. Shaken but not stirred. Less filling but taste great. Sorry for the digression. The futurist worldview is so negative in terms not properly assimilating the latent and continued effects of Christ’s death and resurrection in that it in a sense denies the significant impact that it should have on all of creation. God’s redemption should permeate the whole earth! His salt and His light should flavor every facet of society. And one must by presupposition only have cause to deny our Savior's impact throughout history.

They (sorry for the us vs. them theme that I abhor, but I must use it in this context) say that Satan truly is “Alive and Well on Planet Earth” (a Hal Lindsey paperback written in the early 70’s soon after “The Late Great Planet Earth” burst onto the scene. But does Satan truly have dominion over the earth? Is the war still raging? Sure there are countless skirmishes but wasn’t Christ declared the winner when He arose from the tomb? And wasn't it the end for Beelzebub's run on evildoing when he was crushed into tiny unrecognizable pieces and the temple in Jerusalem was annihilated along with the bondage & curse of the law which was embodied in entire sacrificial system? For in Romans 16:20 Paul wrote, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you." (Let use not miss the critical word "soon" found in the above text and not violate key principals of hermeneutics understanding that Paul wrote this letter to the Romans in approx AD 58, not to Americans in 2007!)

Paul further wrote, Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ said, “It is finished”. Then on the 3rd day he arose from the grave forever conquering sin and ultimately spiritual death. Peter proclaimed, “The end of all things is near” and 40 years after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven, the temple and the entire sacrificial system was utterly destroyed.

Today most of us live as though it was never finished and unwittingly not recognizing that our eschatology affects every facet of life. It clearly is not a foundational issue but it does flavor the way we interpret Scripture. Unlike the gentlemen at the New Year’s party, most of us say we have no clear position on the “End Times” and we are frightened and perplexed by the imagery of John’s Revelation. I humbly submit that most everyone has a catastrophic view of the “end” with a battle of all battles waged in the the valley of Megiddo. This view, I submit, has potentially dangerous fallout. Let me share two somewhat recent examples and how I think it not only damages our credibility to a world that is in desperate need of Christ, but also renders our witness less effectual.

In a February 2005 article entitled, “Are We Doomed? Insanity Now Mainstream -There Is No Tomorrow”, Bill Moyers writes, “Remember James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first Secretary of the Interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever-engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony, he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." (Read the whole article – it’s quite illuminating and informative to see how others outside the evangelical beltway perceive us and our science fiction-like end of the world theology.) [7/24/09: It has come to my attention that this quote was falsely attributed to James Watt. However, it was consistent with his policies according to Moyer who wrote in an apology to Watt, "You and I differ strongly about your record as Secretary of Interior. I found your policies abysmally at odds with what I understand as a Christian to be our obligation to be stewards of the earth. I found it baffling, when in our conversation of today, you were unaware of how some fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible influence political attitudes toward the environment."]

I’m certainly no fan of Bill Moyers but he makes a valid and quite disturbing point. To cap off this whole line of what I believe to be misguided and ill-conceived exegeses, I have heard many alude to a statement of a famous presmillennialist, “Why polish brass on a sinking ship” - in other words, “why waste valuable time attempting to stem the tide of abortion on demand when there are souls to be won.” I’m sorry but that grates at the core of my spirit and it raises the hackles on the back on my neck! How insensitive! Did Christ not come to redeem all of life? Just yesterday I heard someone say, "Don't bother recycling because this place is shortly going up in a flaming inferno anyway!"

How can we be salt and light to a world in desperate need if we don’t give a darn about the today's moral climate? Oh sure we preach the “good news” to “them” as if the only thing that matters is getting them to sign their confession of Christ on the dotted line. Do we give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked and feed the starving? To a point, but even that seems quite conditional. We want to meet our quota of the great commission by preaching the gospel to everyone on the planet so that we can usher in the 2nd coming of Christ. Do we really care about the environment? Do we want to break down racial barriers? Do we want to change our world? Do we want to build buildings to last more than 30 years? Do we believe there are grace- atoning solutions in the Middle East? Palestinian Christians are being persecuted and are fleeing the Occupied territories by the droves? The more militant Muslims have a blood-thirsty desire of eliminating all Christians and Jews from the region and ultimately the face of the earth.

Are there any solutions or is God unwilling or incapable of changing even the hardest of hearts? We are told that enmity has existed for thousands of years and that's not going to ever change. Is it true that all hope of peace is preordained for failure? I'm saddened to say that my guess is that most would say yes, because they believe that the bible clearly states that short of Jesus' 2nd return, things will only worsen. (2Tim 3:1-13) But do we not realize that Paul was writing to Timothy referring to the same "last days" that Peter and the author of Hebrews said was occurring at that time almost 2,000 years ago? That's why Peter warned, "The end of all things is near", why Paul wrote, "The time is short...for the form of this world is passing away", and why John seconded Paul's motion with, "The world is passing away" and began the Revlation with, "Things which must soon take place." There was a clear quite unmistakeable consensus among the NT writers that can only be trivialized and washed away by our paradigms.

And it seems that we are more fixated on “Anti-Christ is coming’ then “Christ is coming”. We are told, “What’s the use”, referencing our impotent efforts to change a doomed world. It’s plainly written in the footnotes of our Ryrie and Scofield Bibles and Tim Lahaye spells it out ever so clearly - and I thought the Left Behind series was fictional? So many treat this series like a God-inspired extension of Scripture?

The mantra goes on...You see the evil one is coming and all our efforts to make a difference will be for naught, so just save as many as you can before by the skin of our teeth we get taken out of this God-forsaken existence. I’ve been hearing much of the same since the early 70’s. My goodness, when the 1973 oil crisis broke out over our support for Israel in the Yom Kippur war, my roommates and I considered quitting school and doing whatever you do “in the last days”.

Then in the 1982, when my wife was pregnant with our first child, we were warned by a friend, “"For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!'” How sensitive and comforting. :) I realize that it wasn't intentional but this liked to scare my wife half out of her wits. Not one of the top things you tell a pregnant mother!

Then Edgar Whisenant bounded onto the scene with his 4.5 million copies of “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988. I remember it vividly. He was boldly predicting the time when all Christians would exit the earth in flight. It was supposed to happen between September 11-13, 1988. On the 12th my wife and I were tooling around the Gulf of Mexico on a cruise ship to nowhere during one of the fiercest hurricanes of all time. (that’s another story I’d like to forget). Well HE never returned and It would appear that Whisenant finally gave up after numerous date revisions. Today no Whisenant website exists, and he and his 88 Reasons have now entered the lore of false prophecies of the 20th century. And the beat goes on...

Robertson Strikes Again, and Again and...
The 2nd area of heartburn comes from a situation involving a candidate I backed for president some 18 years ago. In the first few days of January this 2006 a CNN article read, “Television evangelist Pat Robertson suggested Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which Robertson opposed.” Robertson was quoted as saying, “He was dividing God's land, and I would say, 'Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course… God says, This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone.'”

Is this what it’s come to? Wishing or at least expecting that world leaders should die because they are trying to facilitate peace! If you want to know more about the incredible impact of Christian Zionism just listen to the Christian Zionism on the Road to Armageddon series on the “Audio” page of my website. And if you think that Israel’s becoming a nation in 1948 was divinely fulfilled prophecy then you have no clue how those in the futurist movement have been “helping” God get this done since the late 1800s. In my view, self-fulfilled prophecy seems to be a more accurate depiction of the Israel's nation status.

You see, it does matter how you view eschatology. It makes a difference in more ways than you can ever imagine. I personally think that the premillennial dispensational rapture theories have done a great deal to damage the church’s influence in the world and I’d like to see that changed. I know it will eventually but it must begin with us now. My exhortation is that when we read His word that we do so with the following thought in mind. The Scripture was written for us but it was not written to us. Certainly we understand that, "Every Scripture is God-breathed (inspired) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness" - but we also must be clear that it was written to specific people for specific purposes.

Well, one thing's for sure. The next time I am engaged in a discussion regarding the “hope that is within me” I will attempt to “divide the word of God correctly” with humility and meekness. I may fail miserably but I pray that a glimmer of grace might leap from my heart to theirs. And let's always remember that “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Sometimes it’s pretty noisy out there.