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W

e brought in the 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.  Christmas Tree?Jesus' Birthday?

 

As is alwaysImg349.jpg 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 but don't you also wonder like I do 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 & 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 & insecurity.  We just need to be honest and genuine with Him.

 

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 fancy word for believing that most if not all of the prophesies found in the Scripture had been fulfilled by A.D. 70.  So oh dopy me chimed in and said, “I believe some of that stuff”.  Can you say stupid, stupid, stupid?

 

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 & honing his views on said subject for the better part of a quarter of a century.  To start with you have no chance but the odds are reduced to below zero when you are as ill prepared as I was especially when you sense that an ambush has been cleverly prearranged.

 

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.  Christmas Trees (doc)

 

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”?  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 this?” and “how in the world can that be so?”  After your 4th knockdown you rise to your feet again hoping for one last opportunity to save face 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 be of little to no consequence.  I can’t believe those words are actually coming from my nimble little fingertips.  Demonstrating the love that has been so freely given to us by our Creator should be our utmost goal.  Sure it’s fun to feel that we are right.  There’s some power in that but don’t you think it just acts like petrol on the fire of our foolish pride?  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.

 

The second lesson was the hardest.  As Peter writes in his first epistle “…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 such speed and precision through a spirit of humility?  Not really.

 

My counterpart surely was ready and eager but was he able to challenge me while maintaining a gracious spirit?  I surely didn’t feel grace flowing from his left jabs but who knows - that’s up to God to deal with.  I was so badly beaten that I don’t even have a complete recall of the massacre.  So often we as Christians are so interested in being morally accurate that we forget to accompany our rightness with gentleness.  As I’ve begun to objectively analyze the “religious right” label I realize that we relish the “us vs. them” dichotomy that is nowhere lionized or extolled in Jesus’ teaching. 

 

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 comradery at least in part because of 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 heretics who had the audacity to question the holy grail of Left Behindology.  I could feel him scratch a clear notch into his belt of Scriptural correctness.  

 

But I didn’t do him any favors.  Even though I am now more than ever convinced of the preterist position with which I attempted to bestow, I am saddened because this fellow didn’t get the benefit of how God may have graced him with new and challenging information.  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. 

 

Much of the impetus for creating this 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.  I came out of a rather severe 10-12 year spiritual slump/fog about a 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. 

 

One 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 involved 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.

 

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. 

 

At this point you 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 of Christ’s death & 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. 

 

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 it says, "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 2006!)

 

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.  Paul further wrote that “…the form of this world is passing away.”

 

Today most of us live as though it was never finished and unknowingly our eschatology affects every facet of life.  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 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.)

 

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 devout dispensationalists say things like, “Why polish brass on a sinking ship” or “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?

 

How can we be salt and light to a world in desperate need if we don’t give a darn about the moral conditions that we all live in?  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 & Jews from the region & 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 that things will only worsen. 

 

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 fiction?  So many treat this series like a God-ordained 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 & comforting!  This liked to scare my wife half out of her wits. 

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...

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 year 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 CTOTRTA series on the “Audio” page of this site.  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 a more accurate depiction of 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 but it must begin with us.  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. 

________________

 

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