How our Beliefs About the End-times can Actually Shake our Faith-

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths– Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV 

Theology is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as:

The study of the nature of God and religious belief.

I am an unapologetic fan of theology. I have spent the better part of my life studying God and attempting to understand Him better. I firmly believe most of the problems and struggles of this life would evaporate if people simply understood who God is and applied His principles and wisdom to all of life. 

That being said. 

There are times in life when tightly held theological beliefs can actually get in the way of seeing what God is up to in the world. Christians can become so rigidly fixated on a single theological perspective they actually miss what God says or does not say in His word. Such was the situation with many first-century Jews. Their rigid belief the Messiah would be a military leader after the pattern of King David caused them to disregard the suffering servant right in front of them (Isaiah 42:1-2, Isaiah 53:4-6, Acts 4:11, 1st Peter 2:4-7). 

I am convinced some twenty-first century Christians are falling into the same trap with the second coming of Jesus first-century Jews did with first coming of Jesus. Too many Christians on all ends of the eschatological (end time) spectrum have embraced such a rigid perspective of what the return of Jesus will look like that they are rapidly losing faith in the goodness of God because events are not shaking out exactly the way they thought they would. 

Most American Christians fall into one of two categories when it comes to eschatological beliefs. Premillennialism and amillennialism. Premillennialists believe Jesus will return visibly to the earth after a period of evil and unrest known as the tribulation. There are two popular variations on this view:

The premillennial pretribulation rapture of the church-  

This is the most popular American position on end time events. Those who hold to this view believe Christians (those who have repented of their sins and trusted Jesus as savior) will one day be taken from the earth all at once and go straight into the presence of God (1st Thessalonians 4;13-18). This event known as the rapture signals the beginning of a seven-year period of evil and chaos called the tribulation (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Revelation 2:10). The tribulation will be followed by a thousand-year (millennial) reign of Christ on the earth. 

Post or mid-tribulation rapture of the church- 

This is a variation on the first view. Those who believe this version of end time events agree with almost everything their pre-tribulation premillennialist counterparts believe except they believe the rapture will take place after or at some point during the great tribulation. The pre-tribulation rapture theory means that the return of Jesus will be an entirely separate event from the rapture while the post-tribulation theory assumes these two events will take place at more or less the same time.   

Post or mid-rapture Christians believe the church will suffer but grow before the return of Jesus. Pre-tribulation rapture Christians believe Christians who are saved prior to the rapture will be spared the intense suffering that will take place during the tribulation. This view holds fast to the idea there will be a huge spiritual revival that takes place during the tribulation and most of those who become Christians during the tribulation will be martyred for their faith   

 Amillennialism 

Amillennialists do not believe in a tribulation or a rapture per se.  Instead they believe that Christians are called to live in such a way that their actions bring about righteousness and justice on the earth. As people become more righteous and justice becomes more pervasive the reign of Christ will manifest itself over time. Amillennialists do not believe in a literal thousand-year reign of Christ rather, they believe the earthly reign of Christ will be strictly figurative. 

It’s just a fact that adherents to each end-time perspective feel equally strongly their interpretation of Scripture is correct and the interpretation best supported by Scripture.  However, in my experience all end-time views can lead to practical theological and/or spiritual problems of one kind or another. Premillennial, pre-tribulation Christians tend to become troubled at the idea there will come a time when the church will universally suffer extreme persecution. This is despite the fact Christians have suffered persecution since the beginning and there are a myriad of Bible verses promising Christians will experience suffering and persecution (John 16:23, Matthew 13:21, Matthew 24, Acts 14:21-22, 1st Peter 1:6, James 1:2, 1st Thessalonians 3:1-4). The post-tribulation rapture theory tends to lead to anxiety and an emphasis on making physical preparations for the tribulation (prepping) rather than on reaching the lost for Jesus or being spiritually ready for the return of Jesus. Amillennialism trusts sinful humans to do things only God’s spirit can do, such as bring about righteousness and justice.  

Our world is getting weirder and scarier everyday it is critical we focus on what we do know.   We know Jesus IS coming back and it appears He will return after a period of moral decline, persecution and apostasy (2nd Timothy 3:1-5, Matthew 24, 2nd Peter 3:3). It is critical we be spiritually and morally prepared for and enthusiastically await the return of Jesus even in the face of ongoing evil and unrest (1stCorinthians 1:7, Hebrews 9:27-28). It is every bit as critical we not allow our own rigid ideas of what the end should look like to shake our faith in the goodness of God. 

What is a Theology of Suffering and why do we Need one?

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them- 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3 NIV

 There are three fundamental truths Christians must embrace in order to be holy, healthy and honest:

 Life is hard.

God is good even when life is hard.

When life is hard it doesn’t feel like God is good.

 Most Christians readily agree with truths one and three. However, many Christians (including myself), struggle to fully embrace truth two. This is backed up by an increasing number of Christians who have “deconstructed” their faith in an emotional moment and then turned their backs on God because life got hard or other Christians disappointed them.

 There are some who walk away from Christianity who are spiritual snowflakes. These folks truly believe an unkind comment on social media is a brutal form of persecution.  Deep down in their heart-of-hearts they think God is lucky to have them on His team and they are too special to suffer. When life gets just a little bit tougher than they are comfortable with they melt under the heat of adversity, get miffed at God and stop being Christians. Spiritual snowflakes are easy to spot:they tend to carry their snow-flakiness into other areas of their lives including relationships. They’re quick to take offense and get their feelings hurt. They readily abandon anything that challenges them in any way.

 Then,

 There are individuals who turn their backs on God after experiencing legitimately horrific situations. They lost a child or had a loved-one murdered or lived through horrible abuse or a genocidal massacre. The folks in this category all came up against a situation they couldn’t find a reasonable answer for and they simply determined they could not live the Christian life without that answer. So, they turned away from God either in anger or unbelief.

 The two groups are vastly different in nearly every way and one group is far more worthy of  compassion than the other. However, both groups share a common problem that has become endemic in Christianity.  

 They lack a theology of suffering.  

 Theology is not just for bookworm-y types of Christians. Theology is the most practical thing in the world. It is one-hundred-percent necessary to survive this life with our faith intact. Theology explains life and how God uses the stuff of life to accomplish His purposes in our lives.  Every believer in Jesus must have a solid theological grid to view life through; if they don’t they will never be able to effectively explain to themselves and others why they are experiencing the things they are experiencing.  

  One reason Christians lack theology in this area is because life is easier now than it has ever been before in human history.

 Think about it:

 Thanks to the miracle of central heat and air no one is ever too hot or too cold, unless, of course, they are freely participating in an activity that demands they be too hot or too cold. Just a hundred-years ago, most people spent the majority of their lives in a state of perpetual discomfort. Today, it is unheard of for people in the Western world to experience hunger unless they are attempting to lose weight. Even just a hundred years ago famine was still a reality even for much of the “developed” world. Illnesses that once wiped-out large portions of the human population have been controlled or eradicated with drugs, surgery and public health programs. It wasn’t that long ago when it was simply accepted fact that most mothers would not see all their children live to adulthood.

 This progress is undeniably awesome. However, improved living conditions have raised our expectations for happiness to a level that cannot always be met. Truth-be-told most of us (including me) feel entitled to be comfortable, healthy, happy and entertained all of the time. We tend to get a bit cranky with God when life is anything less than perfectly pleasant.

 A couple of theological facts:

 First, we live in a fallen world that is not fully redeemed (Romans 8:19-22). This simply means that no matter how good humans get at making the world a comfortable place to live we will never be completely free of adversity and tragedy (John 16:33). Secondly, Christians probably experience more difficulty and hardship than non-Christians. This is because God is relentlessly working to conform us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29, 2nd Corinthians 3:18).  This is no easy task and apparently it requires some hardship to get the job done (James 1:2, 1st Peter 1:6-7, Revelation 2:9-10).  Furthermore, we have an enemy who is personally invested in seeing our faith in God crumble (1st Peter 1:8, Job 1:6-8, 1st Thessalonians 2:18). On top of all of that life is full of tests (Luke 4:1, 2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Thessalonians 2:4, Hebrews 11:17, James 1:12). God does not test us so He can find out where we are at. He already knows everything there is to know about us. However, God sometimes allows us to be tested so we will know where we’re at so we can make changes that lead to growth.

 Finally,

 In order to develop a theology that takes us through the tough stuff of life we must change HOW we view the Christian life: Someday we will dwell in heaven. When we get there there will be no more tears, sickness, longing, pain or evil (Revelation 21:1-7). Life will be perfect and we will be perfect. We aren’t there yet. At this point in the story we are soldiers in a war living an in-between (Philippians 2:25, 2nd Timothy 2:3-4, Philemon 1:1-2) where we are fighting for the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings (Ephesians 6:10-20) and our own growth. Wars are messy and painful.  In order to survive the war we must treat God as our source of safety and run to Him in times of trouble, suffering and difficulty instead of away from Him (Proverbs 18:10, 1st Peter 5:7). 

 

How to get the Revival our World Desperately Needs-

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land~ 2nd Chronicles 7:14 NIV

 Our sin sick world is long overdue for a revival.

  All one has to do is turn on a television set, attend a high school dance, or read the comments section of an on-line political article and it becomes abundantly clear very quickly that we could use some intense supernatural intervention in our world.

 Like now.

 The online dictionary definition of revival is:

An improvement in the condition or strength of something.

An instance of something becoming popular, active, or important again

 Contrary to 20th century thinking authentic Christian revival is more than a just a series of lively church gatherings. Genuine revival always moves far beyond the four-walls of the church and has a positive and prolonged spiritual impact on the culture surrounding the church.  In an authentic revival the church grows and thrives and communities are permanently changed, both morally and economically. No serious Christian would argue against the need for the Church to affect the culture once again.  

 I do not pretend to know everything there is about everything. It’s just too exhausting. However, there is one thing I do know for absolute certain. The lack of revival is not due to a lack of need. Arguably, every country in our world is a flaming-hot-mess. I could go on all day about all the social, spiritual and moral problems plaguing different countries, including our own, at this point in history.  In spite of all that the church has not witnessed a genuine revival: one that has affected the culture as well as the church in more than a century. It could be argued that the fact our culture has not experienced genuine revival in my lifetime is sign of God’s disapproval of our choices both inside and outside the church (Exodus 9:12, Proverbs 28:14, Jeremiah 5:3). Robust spiritual health is always an indication of God’s blessing.

 Without revival the entire Western world will spiral into moral darkness and eventually self-destruct.  Sadly, there are some very valid spiritual reasons Christian churches are not experiencing revival in North America and Europe. First and foremost:  

 Christians aren’t asking for it-

 True revival comes when the majority of God’s people ask for it over and over again (Daniel 9:4-17, 2nd Chronicles 7:14). Regrettably, about twenty-five years ago corporate prayer ceased to be a thing in most churches (Matthew 18:19-20). Most large churches do not have a prayer group and the prayer groups that do exist tend to be very poorly attended. For whatever reason God moves when people pray. If we want to see real and lasting change in our families, churches, politics and culture we need to start praying for revival like it’s the most critical thing in the entire world. Because it is.  

 Christians are praying for the wrong things-

 Okay. I totally get it’s not my job to judge other people’s prayers. I also get it makes me something of a jerk that I do sometimes judge other people’s prayers (sorry). That being said, I don’t get why when we gather together corporately we are praying for things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of eternity (the health of our pets, good weather, our own prosperity, etc..). There is nothing wrong or sinful about praying for personal needs (even trivial needs). However, those types of prayers should never be the sum total of all our prayers, and we should pray about more critical needs anytime we pray together in groups.

 Christians don’t think they need to repent-

 In the Bible revival always began when one or two people who didn’t really look like they needed to repent, repented (Daniel 9:19, 2nd Chronicles 6:21, 2nd Kings 22, 2nd Chronicles 32:26). There are few (no) people in this world (including Christians) who can honestly say that they are without sin in some area (gossip, judgment, hardness of heart, jealousy, greed, sexual immorality, hatred, discord, selfish ambition, etc.…). It is time for Christians everywhere to do some serious soul-searching to find out what it is God is calling them to let go of.

 We are looking for it in the wrong places-

  Most Christians believe deep in their hearts revival is only for unsaved heathens. As a result, the church is waiting for the world to repent rather than taking the lead and showing them the way.  Sadly, too many in the church have bought into the idiotic notion that once a person is saved (has a relationship with Jesus) that no further repentance is required or that personal spiritual revival is never necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.  We all need revival in our lives all the time. In the past revival and repentance has always started with believers and then moved to the unsaved (Hebrews 12:5-7, 2nd Chronicles 7:14, Deuteronomy 8:5.

The Bible promises (2nd Chronicles 7:14) that when we (God’s people) ask for revival and mean it God will respond and give us what we ask for. Maybe we haven’t gotten it because we don’t want it bad enough.

I don’t know. I’m just spit-balling here.

Is all sin Exactly the same from God’s Perspective?


There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community~ Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV

Every, so often, while teaching I will comment that a particular sin or behavior is especially bad or harmful from God’s perspective. Oftentimes, someone will approach me afterward and ask me if I really believe some sins are worse than others. The question is typically framed in the following way:

 “Don’t you believe all sin is the same as all other sin?”

 My answer is a bit ambivalent: 

 “Yes and no” 

 I say “yes’ because I sincerely believe that all sin is sin (and sin is objectively terrible and harmful) and in one sense no sin is anymore sinful than any other. This is because any sin, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant will keep a person out of heaven if they refuse to repent of their sin and put their faith Jesus (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:32, 2nd Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:1-3).

 Period.

 That said, I do not believe that “all sin is exactly the same”.  Nor do I believe that the view that “all sin is the same” can be backed up biblically (1stJohn 5:17, Matthew 12:31, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, Galatians 5:21). Furthermore, this idea actually leads to more sin rather than less, and therefore ought to be examined more closely.

 Before you write me off as a wild-eyed heretic, hear me out.

  The notion that “all sin is the same” is not one that the church has historically held. I suspect this belief developed because our generation cares a lot about feelings. The belief that all sin is the same out does keep certain sinners from feeling that their sins (and they) are being singled out as worse than other sins (and other sinners).

However.

Telling people that murdering someone, or practicing idolatry, or being greedy, or abusing a child, or oppressing a widow is exactly the same on a sin scale as telling someone their hair looks nice when it doesn’t, is not nearly as kind as it appears to be on the surface. This is because it causes both the saved and the unsaved to feel more safe and comfortable with the whole notion of sin.

 The average person tends to think (at least subconsciously) that if telling a small lie is exactly the same on a as cheating on one’s spouse then cheating on one’s spouse must not be so bad. In a perfect world, one not populated by idiots and sinners people would come to the opposite conclusion and we would all be terrified to tell lies AND commit adultery.

Because humans are idiots and sinners and because the human heart is capable of an insane level of self-deception when it comes to this subject there are four things we have to understand about sin:

 All sin is harmful and wrong (and not just because it sends people to hell)-

 Please understand, I am NOT saying that “little” sins are acceptable or even safe or that God is okay with any sin. He is not. All sin is dangerous, because sin is insidiously progressive and hideously deceptive. Even the smallest sins (if not repented of quickly) lead us to become more comfortable with sinning. This leads to a hardening of the heart which inevitably leads to more sin which eventually leads to a rejection of the truth (Romans 2:8).

 Not all sin has the same consequences-

 Looking at porn is worse than watching a movie with swear words in it because looking at porn twists one’s view of sexuality and other people and will inevitably lead to more sin. Telling a lie about someone’s appearance is wrong (and it will make you more comfortable with lying) but it does not cause the same ripple effects that sexual sin does. In 1stCorinthians 5:11 the Apostle Paul tells believers that some sins are so serious and infectious that Christians should refuse to eat with other Christians who practice those sins. Paul does not say that about every sin, partly because if he did we would all eat alone and partly (mostly) because not all sin has the same consequences for the sinner or for the people around the sinner.

  The Bible clearly states that “Christians” who habitually commit certain sins aren’t going to heaven-

 Seriously. It does (1st Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5). Depending on your theology (Calvinist or Armenian) you can view this in one of two ways. Either genuinely saved people do not commit those sins (Calvinist theology) or committing those sins causes you to lose your salvation (Armenian theology). Either way it should make us think long and hard about what kind of sin we allow ourselves to get caught up in (Hebrews 12:1).

 Sin can separate us from God forever but it doesn’t have to. God does not want anyone to pay the penalty for their own sin.  That is why Jesus died for sinners like you and me (Romans 5:6, 1st Corinthians 15:3, 1st Thessalonians 5:10, Hebrews 9:15). All you have to do is trust Him to save you and turn away from your sin (Mark 1:15)

 It really is that simple.

Finding Authentic Freedom-

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly~ Psalm 84:11

 Content warning ahead:

 Our family drove to the Oregon coast this past weekend to connect with my four siblings for the first time since our Mother died eight-years-ago. The reunion was a blessing in every sense. However, it was also chaotic (in a good, loud, big-family kind of way) and a marathon of frenzied activity from start to finish.

 I left the beach emotionally gratified and seriously sleep deprived.

 The emotional hullabaloo and lack of sleep combined with too much time to think on the drive home left me feeling a bit navel-gaze-y. Evidently, one possible side effect of too much reflection is an overly emotional blog post. That little disclaimer out of the way, I do believe that I may have hit on some spiritual truth in the midst of at least some of my musings.

 For that reason I pray you’ll give it a read.

 As we passed through a really ugly part of Eastern Oregon it occurred to me that Christians seldom talk about the fall of mankind anymore. We should because our world and everything in it was dramatically distorted in the blink of an eye and not just spiritually. The fall altered how we relate to God, one another and even the natural world. Relationships that were once carefree and easy to navigate suddenly became complex and even adversarial.

 One of the results of living in a fallen world is that even the best stuff in life often has a distinctly sad edge to it.

 Reunions are happy but the separations that instigated the reunions never are. Parenthood is one of the most joyful events a person experience in this life; it is also one of the most difficult and befuddling. Roses have thorns; every profit has a loss built into it. Human innovation typically has at least one unintended and profoundly unpleasant consequence- and cake makes us fat.  

 This reality plays out in the spiritual realm as well.

 Spiritual growth and the blessings that go with it can only be achieved through an oftentimes-painful surrendering of our very selves. Forgiving others brings freedom but at the cost of forfeiting the basic right most of us feel we should have: the right to seek revenge on the jerks that hurt us. The fall even affected our feelings about right and wrong and our perception of reality. Wrong typically feels right and is usually the path of least resistance. Right is always the harder road to traverse.

 Even the grace of God has a sad side to it. Grace, that thing we rejoice in, venerate and write songs about is only necessary because of sin, sin ruined literally everything and sin breaks the heart of God.

 Gloomy, I know.

Grace is necessary because human beings blew it and were powerless to stop blowing it for even a single minute. God is relentlessly generous, so when it became appallingly obvious that there was no way any of us could be good on our own God stepped in. He sent His son to die for us and gave us the grace we needed.

 This realization was almost too much to bear. I was done in.

 Mostly because I have come to believe that our generation has a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of grace and our lack of understanding is keeping us from becoming the people God has ordained us to be. We tend to view grace as nothing more than a massive bucket of forgiveness we can dip into anytime we have a sin that needs forgiving. We treat forgiveness like a magic concoction we apply to sin to make it acceptable, rather than an essential concession to our sinfulness.

 Thankfully, grace is much more than just a big bucket of forgiveness.

 Grace is power that frees us from the oppression of sin. The grace of God does more than simply forgive our transgressions. The grace of God gives us the power to overcome the sin nature that plagues us all (Titus 2:10-12). When we make the choice to live a holy life (Colossians 3:5-14, 1st Thessalonians 4:3-8, 2nd Peter 1:3-11) God dispenses the grace we need when we need it. That grace empowers us embrace the behaviors we need to embrace and let go of the behaviors we need to let go of so that we can be like Jesus.