How Soon Was Jesus Supposed to Come Back?

Although I haven’t taken an official poll, it seems most professors, skeptics, media, and those who comment on the Bible would say the disciples of Jesus expected him to come back within their lifetimes. This is often used as another reason not to take the message of Jesus all that seriously, but that is a sweeping judgment that lacks perspective. In fact, when it comes to the return of Jesus according to the Bible, Christians and skeptics alike may be guilty of missing key details.

For instance, many pastors and evangelical Christians today, (of which I qualify as both) maintain that Jesus can come back at any moment. We commonly speak and write in ways that give the distinct impression Jesus could return any moment in our lifetimes. In that respect, we aren’t much different than those early Christians.

It makes one wonder what people might conclude if, in the distant future, someone were to find the writings of Christians from today. Would they pick up a worn copy of “Left Behind” and conclude we believed Jesus would return in the next few years and that Kirk Cameron was our prophet? Couldn’t they also use that as evidence that since Christ did not return, he must not be real? Of course, ask almost any of those Christians or pastors of today and their views are not so simplistic. I have often said Jesus is coming soon, but I am not so certain he is coming in my lifetime.

Perhaps, we Christians should speak and write more carefully using more perspective in the first place? Probably, but that’s not going to happen. There’s never going to be a shortage of writers or speakers making exciting claims, no matter whether they are Christians, secularists, or global warming/climate change alarmist/deniers.

Besides, it’s more fun to talk about Jesus coming in the next few minutes. Come on.

Anyway, as it turns out and despite the fact this is often ignored for the sake of arguing, the writers of the New Testament DID write with perspective. Shockingly, they never Continue reading

Now This is What It’s All About

The body of Christ is often known more for its conflicts than its cooperation.  At least, that seems to be the perception of the world, or maybe it’s just an excuse? (Sometimes I do wonder.)  At any rate, I’ve been a pastor for nearly 16 years, a Christian since I was a kid, and what people are seeing in Joplin, Missouri has actually been the norm in my experience. For example, from our small, rural community -which is a good 3 hour drive from the tornado devastation- a team of 66 workers made up largely from the Christian Church, the Baptist Church, and the local hospital staff, spent a full day cleaning tornado debris with Samaritan’s Purse.  Different churches with differences over a few doctrines, working together because of Christ.  It happens more than you think, and there is probably less hesitation than you imagine.  In fact, churches often jump at a chance to work together on such projects.  I think there is something about enjoying unity and working together where names, titles, and buildings play no part whatsoever.

It’s just the way it’s supposed to be.  The way it WILL be eventually.

Like the Bible says in I Corinthians 13:2… “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing… there are more pressing matters than being able to figure out all the mysteries, or having all the knowledge, or accomplishing great feats of faith.  With God, none of that matters if there isn’t real, lived-out, love.

It’s no accident that when telling 3 parables having to do with the end of the world and a coming judgment, Jesus final story was about love.  In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus describes the nations being divided before Him on judgment day, and the reason for the division was that one side had given water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, and had met the needs of those who were destitute and devastated.  The other group had not. Continue reading

Tornadoes in Joplin, and a Loving God

I have friends in Joplin, Missouri, but I’m one of the lucky ones. My friends survived. Two of them lost their home. Another was at his church on Sunday night, and the church was close to the path of the EF5 twister which ravaged a city of 50,000, but it missed them by a few blocks.  Unfortunately, one friend of mine did lose her grandfather in the storm, and some friends of friends were killed as well.  One died while heroically trying to save someone else.  Stories and memories that will live on with us.

Facebook helped many of us keep tabs on each other and when cell phones occasionally worked, we contacted each other that way, too. It’s not my first experience with feeling close to an EF5. I received my last tetanus shot on the sidewalk in Greensburg, Kansas courtesy of a friendly lady from the Red Cross. I believe Greensburg was the last EF5 to hit before this year although I might be wrong. I’ve read that generally those monsters develop and touch down about once every four years. With four EF5 tornadoes this year alone, we’re definitely above the average. The crazy weather combined with all the other disasters and unrest around the world has people talking about Bible Prophecy, but sometimes the questions are more personal.

Why would God allow a high school senior returning from a graduation ceremony to get sucked out of the sunroof of his SUV where he was riding with his father? Why didn’t God miraculously keep him from being hurt like God kept others safe? Why didn’t God at least let the family find him after it happened?  It took days to discover his body in a pond.  Another 15-month old was found at a morgue.  Many other bodies took weeks to identify and families had to wait those weeks to officially discover a loved one’s fate.  Quite often, the happy miraculous ending we would hope for, didn’t happen.
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We’re All Going To Die and I’m Having Tea

Issues, issues everywhere and not a drop to drink!  Ok, not exactly true, I’m guzzling sugar free iced tea right now… But where to start?  Hell or the imminent second coming of Christ?  Let’s start with hell!

These days the idea of hell seems a non-starter with most.  In fact, as a society we are in the midst of concluding that the idea of a God who sends people to hell is simply dangerous. Unfortunately, the “Church” has not always helped.  Instead of actually following the teachings or example of Christ (Christians right?), the “Church” has sometimes burned people at the stake.  It’s a past that contributes to a dangerous image, one that is often exploited today by those who oppose Christianity.  That’s to be expected of course.  It’s just a fact of life that when some of those who claim to follow Jesus do such horrible and anti-Jesus things, Christianity itself gets associated with evil.

It has come to the point in our culture, that make no mistake, basic Christian beliefs are being looked upon with suspicion.  No longer are heinous acts of the Dark Ages being blamed on a corrupt church or power-hungry leaders, now it’s the Bible itself, the traditional religion itself.  Maybe it’s imbedded in our belief system?  Seems silly to most Christians who regularly give to help the poor, or work in the soup kitchens and slums of the world.  But nevertheless, despite our actions we are being painted as something more sinister, even by those who call themselves believers.  As Rob Bell said in his book “Love Wins” :

“Inquisitions, persecutions, trials, book burnings, blacklisting – when religious people become violent, it is because they have been shaped by their God, who is violent.” (For you Kindle users, that’s at 88% through the book, chapter 7)
 
Don’t miss the logical conclusion of such reasoning.  Continue reading

Osama Bin Laden is Dead: Hooray?

Today in America, or on my Facebook at least, Christians are torn. The natural reaction for a human being when a mortal enemy is destroyed is celebration. A sense of victory. Relief.  But should we join in the celebration?   The western world may rejoice in the death of Osama Bin Laden, but we are not of this world.  Should believers in Jesus feel guilty for feeling good about the death of someone?  It is difficult not to “feel” something.  But what should I do with those feelings?

Questions like these are part of being a Christian.  Following Christ is not a matter of eating, drinking, wearing certain kinds of clothing, repeating particular phrases at church, voting a particular way, or any of those outward, surface things.  I have my own opinions on what food is worth eating, what drinks are worth drinking,  and what kinds of clothes look good.  I have favorite phrases I use, and I have plenty of opinions on political things.

But that’s not what following Christ is about.  The Bible says when it comes to following Jesus, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” -Galatians 5:6

It’s faith in Jesus, trust in Jesus, expressing itself in our lives through putting God ahead of ourselves, and putting others ahead of ourselves.  See, that’s the Biblical definition of love, and the example of love when Jesus made Himself nothing, took the form of a servant and obeyed the Father by dying on a cross for the sins of everyone else.  Everyone.  Even Osama’s if he would only have taken hold of that forgiveness.

So for a believer and follower of Jesus, because we are to love God by putting Him first, and because He lives in us through the Spirit that He gave us, we should honor God with our reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden.  Therefore we should be thoughtful with how we conduct ourselves and careful to guard our hearts.  God did say:

‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. -Ezekiel 33:11

And in another place:

Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him. -Proverbs 24:17-18

I think it is worth noticing that the above verse instructed us to conduct ourselves humbly so that God would continue to pour out His wrath on our enemies.  In fact, desiring wrath on mortal enemies is found in several places in the Bible where it is not condemned by God.

In Revelation 6:10, martyrs asked God how long before he “avenged” their deaths. In Revelation 18:20 it says to rejoice when Babylon the Great is destroyed for she killed God’s people.  And regardless of what someone interprets “Babylon the Great” to be, the end result is destruction that involves people.

In the Psalms, David often appealed for his enemies to be destroyed or put to shame by God.  He would write things like“Rise up, O LORD, confront them, bring them down; rescue me from the wicked by your sword.” -Psalm 17:13  

In that Psalm, as in Revelation, and other places in the Bible, it was God who received the praise for His justice in destroying the wicked.  It seems that God accepts that praise, even though as He said in Ezekiel, he takes no pleasure Himself in the death of the wicked.  He would rather that they repent.

Thus, it follows that Proverbs would warn us not to gloat over the death of our enemies because God does not destroy the wicked to feed our desire for power and pride.  God brings justice, but at the same time, He sacrificed His Son for the likes of Osama Bin Laden as well. Anyone can be forgiven if they turn to God as we all know. And a sobering reminder for us is found in Luke 13:1-5. If not for Jesus, we all face judgment.

      Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

      Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”-Luke 13:1-5

In many ways, the death of Osama Bin Laden is merely the natural result of his own actions.  Jesus said that those who choose to live by the sword, will die by the sword.  But I believe that Osama’s death at the hands of his enemies was also an act of justice by a Holy God, avenging the death of thousands of people.  I praise the Lord for His justice and His judgment on our enemies.  But it is also a sobering reminder which makes me grateful for the grace of God through Christ which is available for all, that all might be forgiven and receive eternal life, if they will call upon the name of the Lord.

An Eternity of Torment?

Franklin Graham said it recently during an interview with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, “There IS a hell”  Graham said as he tried to explain how he came to believe in Jesus in answer to O’Donnell’s question on whether or not Graham had given up everything to follow Jesus.  In his round-about answer, Graham warned that people would go to a literal hell if they rejected God.   The idea of hell and/or eternal punishment is a traditional  doctrine of Christianity, one that has fallen out of favor in today’s culture.  In fact, the very thought of it, is an obstacle to many in considering the Christian faith.  For them, hell makes the whole story a bit too unreasonable.  Is it? 

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Knowing Jesus Rose from the Dead

This claim is the center-piece of Christianity. As all four Biblical narratives about Jesus life and death attest, Jesus died from severe torture and crucifixion at the hands of the Romans and the blessings of the leadership in Israel. On a purely human level, Jesus’ teaching was obviously threatening the power and status of those in the theocratic leadership of Israel, and Rome was wary of anyone causing disruptions. It created a perfect storm which resulted in Jesus’ execution. On a spiritual level, Jesus life and death fulfilled over 108 distinct prophesies and became the culmination of the Old Testament religious covenant to the Israelites and the world. The New Testament Scriptures indicate that perfect storm was actually God-orchestrated, for the purpose of providing forgiveness and grace to the human race.

It’s powerful stuff, and the deeper you get into it, the more powerful it becomes. Jesus was the culmination of the Jewish sacrificial system for sins because He was the ultimate sacrifice, taking away sins once for all according to the book of Hebrews. (It’s why John the Baptist once announced Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” -Lambs were often used as sacrifices)

Taking away sins once for all, meant a person no longer had to feel separated from God by sin, and provided a way for anyone to approach God, without a priest to intercede. It’s one reason three of the four Gospel accounts record the curtain of the temple being torn in two by an earthquake at the time of Jesus’ death. The curtain of the temple is what separated “the Most Holy Place” -where the presence of God was- from the outside world. The meaning being that humanity no longer had to be separated from God because of Christ.

And that only begins to scratch the surface how in Jesus, or through Jesus, so much of the Old Testament religious teaching is fulfilled, or reaches the highest order of magnitude. But none of it matters, if Jesus never got out of the grave. Continue reading