Subscribe: The Sound of Thunder
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade B rated
Language: English
christ  church  daniel  discourse  end  faith  god  jesus  matthew  olivet discourse  olivet  people  spirit  things  worship 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: The Sound of Thunder

Thunder Sounds

The sounding board of Pastor Stephen L. Winters for Biblical Theology and things that concern him as a preacher of God's Word and a shepherd of God's people. What is shared here is Informed directly or by implication from the scriptures and hopefully req

Updated: 2018-03-07T14:54:27.246-05:00


The Olivet Discourse: Great Tribulation


The synoptic versions of the Olivet Discourse vary widely in the section dealing with the Great Tribulation. There are commonalities in elements of the narrative, but the phrasing is variant and details differ. All, however, picture a very difficult time which has a start and a finish, and which will challenge the Jews alive at that time even while the entire earth experiences tremendous stress. All three accounts segue into the return of Christ at the end of said tribulation.

Matthew and Mark both describe, almost verbatim, distress (Koine: thlipsis--pressure, and the internal stress that results) unique in that it was never equaled before nor will it be equaled after. So, the envisioned tribulation will surpass Noah’s flood according to this description, and that wiped out just about everything and everyone. Anything globally significant before WWII and the Holocaust, as well as those occurrences themselves, will also be surpassed on the same basis. The siege of Jerusalem in 66-70 CE isn't even in the ballpark by such a description--not in terms of severity, or scope, let alone in fulfilling cited prophecy.

Though Luke describes the circumstance by a different word (ananke), it's meaning (distress caused by external conditions) is roughly equivalent. Luke and Matthew do agree on describing that distress as great (megale). Although many events experienced in history up to the present could be described as great, nothing matches the depth and breadth of some of the events described in the Apocalypse. It seems to me that Jesus was referring to that unique level of things when he described the coming tribulation.

For the sake of the elect, the days of this tribulation are curtailed, which may explain the day variation of Daniel 12:11-12. Who might these elect be? Generally, the word signifies the chosen of God, and from the context, it can be assumed that the reference here includes Jews in Judea and Jerusalem looking for the Messiah. If others were meant to be encompassed by the term, we're certainly not told that in this discourse. Regardless, it's comforting to know that God has an agenda concerning time which has the aim of ending time without ending the elect.

Those aching to see the Messiah return, especially in the midst of such severe stress, could be susceptible to counterfeits. However, when Christ returns he won’t be slipping into town quietly, in a fashion that could be missed--not even by those not anticipating his return. Anything less than a cosmic, earth shaking event can't be the Messiah's return. Thankfully, it will not possible for the elect to be duped, which I suspect will owe much to the ministry of the Two Witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11:1-13.

The Olivet Discourse: The Secret Rapture


Some look at the description of Christ's return within the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:26-31; Mark 13:21-27) and jump to the conclusion that the secret (i.e. pre-tribulational) Rapture of the church is an unscriptural teaching. The sudden catching away of the church prior to the Tribulation and the ascendancy of the Antichrist seems to fly in the face of the text, which plainly states that the return of Christ and the rescue of his saints occurs at he end of the Tribulation. I don't blame folks for holding this position, in fact, I thought this way myself in my early days as a Christian. What changed my mind was a "Eureka!" moment while poring over Revelation 12 (see this). When I understood the imagery in that passage, it was as if I'd been given a key that unlocked everything else the Bible said about eschatology. Suddenly, just about everything fell into place, including the Olivet Discourse. As it did, I no longer disdained the Secret Rapture teaching, but found myself, to my surprise, accepting it and thereafter promoting it.The mechanics of Jesus' return as detailed in the Olivet Discourse are the same regardless of which approach to the Rapture one takes. Astronomical wonders and some uniquely associative heavenly sign immediately precede the visible return of Christ through the clouds. The series of events will be absolutely unmistakable and inescapable, like lightning illumining the whole sky. As he comes through the clouds, he will gather his saints together from the four winds (all over earth) and from one end of heaven to the other.Pre-tribbers and mid-tribbers assume at least some saints were already in heaven (i.e., raptured, not just the dead in Christ) when Jesus finally arrives on earth. The text explicitly states that he gathers his saints from from all over the heavens so that is certainly a valid perspective. How those on the earth are gathered is not intimated, it is only said that they are gathered in the lot. I see nothing in the text which implies that those on the earth are quickly whisked up into the air just to experience a meteoric descent back to earth immediately afterwards with Jesus.Post-tribbers have to assume that very thing, the sequence as follows: Christ appears in the heavens, gathers the saints from heaven and earth in the air (necessitated by 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) and then immediately returns to earth with them in tow.Among other issues with that scenario, it does not jive with Revelation 19:19-20:5. That text clearly states that there are saints who did not take the mark of the Beast and that are raptured (raised from the dead, that is) in isolation from the rest of the dead. The passages that deal directly with the faithful dead being raised or raptured (1 Corinthians 15:50-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) clearly state that all the faithful dead rise together. Therefore, there must be a period when people die in faith but are not subject to the Rapture. The only way the math works out is for those unmarked, Tribulation saints to die after the Rapture has occurred.If those Tribulation saints must die during the Tribulation but after the Rapture, the post-tribulation perspective is untenable. The mid-tribulation perspective is not knocked out, not at least by the passage mentioned above. It does have issues with what follows in the Olivet Discourse, however (namely, Matthew 24:36-44; Mark 13:32-33; Luke 21:34-36). It seems the escape of the Rapture, at least for the broadest measure of the Church, must happen suddenly in the midst of ordinary life, and hence pre-tribulationally, according to the scriptures.  I must admit my approach to the Rapture in the Olivet Discourse is not a slam dunk. The language Jesus used in these passages is ambivalent enough for anyone so determined to justify in their own mind seeing these passages in another light. I do believe my approach to the Revelation and Daniel is more than solid and that everything else fits together within my interpretative schema, whereas nothing d[...]

Pregnant Refugees in the Olivet Discourse


A common feature of all three accounts of the Olivet Discourse is the announcement of woe upon the pregnant and nursing (Matthew 24:19, Mark 13:17, Luke 21:23). It is placed in about the same place in the unfolding story in Matthew and Mark but in a slightly different place in Luke. It wouldn't appear to be a different detail, so can it be used to "align" all three accounts? I think that it could, but if it is, it removes any possibility at all that the Lucan account was referring to events foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

If the woe is the same woe in all three accounts, then Matthew and Mark's reference to the gospel being preached to all nations is a detail skipped over by Luke. The surrounding of Jerusalem and its desolation mentioned by Luke is just a different way of saying "the abomination of desolation" used by Matthew and Mark. Even though the Lucan description of this section would fit the events of 66-70 CE, the phrase "all that is written will be fulfilled" doesn't fit at all with 70 CE. Considering that at our late date all that is written still hasn't been fulfilled makes that especially so!

The only way to keep the preterist hope alive, therefore, is to see the woe on the pregnant and nursing as referring to two distinct occurrences of such a plight. Otherwise, the language of the end which dictates the interpretation of Matthew and Mark, would carry for Luke's account as well. The dual fulfillment of things like the "Abomination of Desolation" (seemingly fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes, yet used by Christ to refer to something yet undone) perhaps allows for such an approach, but I think it strains credulity to apply it to the pregnant refugees.

So in the end, I must dismiss it, and with it, the preterist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse.

Applying Christ's Citation of Daniel's Abomination


“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)..."  Matthew 24:15 ESV

What should the savvy reader have understood was to occur in time as a result of Christ's citation of Daniel in the Olivet Discourse? Daniel did prophesy (9:26) the destruction of Jerusalem, as did Christ, which led to the Olivet Discourse in the first place. So there's that. However, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Abomination of Desolation are two different things which happen at different times, vastly separated as it has turned out. So, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans should have been expected, but not equated with the Abomination of Desolation, and especially so since it was not followed rather quickly by the end.

The repatriation of Jerusalem and Judea by Jews scattered after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora should have been expected at some point (especially for those reading after 135 CE). That those Jews will make a treaty with the Antichrist for seven years should also have been anticipated, as well as the rebuilding of the Temple. Perhaps that rebuilding will occur before the treaty, but if it does not, it will certainly be accomplished by the midpoint of the treaty. That temple will be desecrated by the Antichrist by standing up the Abomination of Desolation (Revelation 13:14-15) three and half years into the treaty, at which point, the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea will flee.

Furthermore, since the focus of this part of the Olivet Discourse is Jerusalem and the Jews living its environs, and since Daniel was cited, the inference has to be that these prophesied events fall within Daniel's 70 Weeks. The prophecy of the 70 Weeks is about God’s redemptive work with the Jews (note 9:24), not at all about his efforts to redeem Gentiles (see Romans 11:25-29). Hence, the lack of any reference to redeemed Gentiles in this part of the discourse makes perfect sense and validates the assumption. Redeemed Gentiles are not in the mix, not addressed, and if anything, can only be presumed to be part of the elect gathered from the ends of heaven.

These are the things the reader should understand from Christ's citation of Daniel's abomination. If the reader understands these things, and remembers that the Abomination is within the end which comes after the completion of the Great Commission (as per Matthew 24:14) the whole of the Olivet Discourse becomes much clearer.

The Olivet Discourse: Abomination of Desolation Part II


Primarily, there are two things occurring in regard to the Abomination of Daniel referenced by Christ in the Olivet Discourse: suppression and replacement. The normal activities in the Temple have to be stopped, and other ones, unclean ones, have to take their place. Antiochus models that, but doesn't fulfill it, the Romans did one but not the other. What does fit the bill, for both Daniel and the Olivet Discourse, is described in Revelation 13:14-15, even though its location is merely implied by Revelation 13:5-6 (see Daniel 9:27) rather than specified.Since Jesus did command the reader of Daniel's prophecy to understand, particularly as it relates to the end Jesus is prophesying, the Abomination of Desolation at the end of the age spoken of by Daniel was clearly meant to be understood. Oh, it may take some consideration, some thought (which is the burden of the Koine "noeito" which is translated "understand"), but it was certainly meant to be understood. I think that principle of perspicuity holds for all end-time prophesy. Without a doubt, such prophecy becomes clearer the closer we get to its fulfillment (Daniel 12:9-10).The elephant in the room in all this unpacking is that the Abomination of Desolation presumes a place that can be abominably desolated. I think I have well established that the destruction of that location in 70 CE was not part of its ultimate desolation as envisioned by Daniel and Jesus and which still awaits. That can only mean that at sometime, the holy place must be rebuilt according to biblical standards and prepared for the offering of holy sacrifices once again. Make no mistake about it, the Temple will be rebuilt, it must be in order to fulfill that spoken by the prophet and by the Lord Jesus Christ himself.At some point after the Temple is in place, the Abomination will be stood up, and those in Judea at that time are told to hit the pike; however, they are not directed to a location in the Olivet Discourse, or in Revelation 12, or anywhere in Daniel. Though Petra is often offered as a possibility by commentators, that is sheer speculation without so much as a shred of definitive biblical proof. At best, we can say that the refugees will probably run into the desert more than a Sabbath Day’s journey (~ ¾ of a mile) to a place where God will take care of them for 1260 days (3 ½ years). What is certain is that they are in hiding after their flight and are not to let anything (like purported sightings of the Messiah, even if evidenced by great miracles) draw them out.That these refugees are believing Jews is easy enough to deduce: they are in Judea; they are sabbath keepers; they are actively looking for the Messiah. Furthermore, they must be those that would be mindful of the words of Jesus or this section of the discourse, which counsels them, would be fruitless. God's word never goes out void, so it seems to me, that some of those Jews, maybe a lot of those Jews, maybe even all of those Jews would be Messianic. It is easy enough to put together the pieces and see that the Abomination of Desolation will occur after Jews have rebuilt the Temple, and that many of them have turned to Jesus as Messiah.[...]

The Olivet Discourse: Abomination of Desolation Part I


There is a difference between the Synoptic accounts of the Olivet Discourse concerning the sign of desolation. Matthew and Mark are similar in specifically citing Daniel’s Abomination of Desolation, whereas Luke merely mentions a desolation which comes on the heels of armies surrounding Jerusalem. By the hermeneutic cited elsewhere, the Lucan description cannot be taken to undercut the specification made in Matthew and Mark. So, whereas the Lucan description could be made to serve a preterist interpretation, Matthew, Mark and the actual passage referenced from Daniel strictly forbid it, so it cannot be valid.

Jesus understood Daniel's prophesy as being unfulfilled in his day. Though he would have been well-familiar with Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabees, he treated Daniel’s words as not yet having been fulfilled. Therefore, the abomination Daniel was speaking about was not accomplished (at least with any finality) by Antiochus placing an idol of Zeus in the Temple and sacrificing a pig on the Jewish altar. It certainly seems to be a picture of things to come, but it wasn’t the intended, ultimate fulfillment.

Furthermore, Daniel specifically says that the abomination comes midway through a covenantal arrangement with, presumably, the pompous little horn. There was no such instrument with Antiochus Epiphanes, nor was there any with the Romans in the 60's. So Daniel was not referring to Antiochus when prophesying this, and Jesus did not envision Titus (Emperor Vespasian/General Titus) when citing it. What Daniel spoke of is not an incursion and destruction (as in the case of the Romans), but a cessation of proper sacrifice and a substitution of detestable (unclean) things.

“Wing” (Hebrew: kanaph=wing, covering), as is translated in some English versions, in this part of Daniel is nonsensical, though wing is often a perfectly good translation when this word is used. Its range of meaning extends from edge or corner to covering, and it is the latter that makes sense in this context. Besides, for “wing” to be intended, translators (e.g. NIV following the LXX and Theodotion) must add the phrase “of the Temple” which is not in the Hebrew at all—not even a hint! The Abomination does cover or overspread the Temple, figuratively, which makes perfect sense in light of Revelation 13:15.

Jesus said that the abomination will stand in the holy space. In Rome’s destruction (really, obliteration) of Jerusalem nothing stood--literally, the Romans threw everything down and stood up nothing. That kind of destruction was actually prophesied by Daniel (9:26) as having already occurred when the Abomination takes place, really, as something parenthetical to the cutting off of the Messiah. So Rome's destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE is prophesied by Daniel, just not as part of the Abomination of Desolation.

The Dispensational Quality of the Olivet Discourse


There is, in my view, an unmistakable dispensational quality in what the scriptures say about the last days (see this, this, and this). Gentiles are on one schedule for redemption, Jews are on another. Don't take that to mean that I see a way to God other than Jesus Christ, I do not! Everyone who is ultimately saved will be so because he or she recognized Jesus as the Son of God, who died for our sins and rose from the dead, and therefore put all his or her hope in him.God merely has one agenda for bringing that salvation in Christ to the Gentiles, and another for bringing that same salvation to the Jews.In the Olivet Discourse, this reality can be seen in what Jesus prophesied concerning the Abomination of Desolation (Matthew 24:15-31; Mark 13:14-27; Luke 21:20-28). Notice how the context changes at the introduction of that sign in Matthew (it is more subtle in Mark and Luke but still discernible). Earlier in the discourse the emphasis was on the nations (Gentiles), but once the subject of the Abomination is broached, the emphasis shifts to the Jews. That dichotomy, it seems to me, is clear enough to be obvious and yet its import can be easily missed.Notice, specifically, how instructions given to those who see the Abomination are given to those in Judea and to sabbath observers. The Jewishness of such a designation can scarcely be overlooked. Furthermore, for the sake of the the elect, tribulation is curtailed and rescue is accomplished, but it's marked by the sign of the Son of Man which causes the tribes (phulai) of earth to mourn. That distinction highlights the Jewishness of the sufferers as opposed to the "Gentileness" of the mourners.If we consider the original context for this sign (Daniel 9:24-27), it becomes very clear that the Abomination of Desolation (and thus the Tribulation signified by it) is part of the redemptive plan God has for the Jews. It has nothing to offer Gentiles but mourning because of their unbelief. As for all those Gentiles who believed the gospel preached to them: they are not addressed, not mentioned, therefore, the inference is that they're not even around until gathered from one end of heaven to the other when Christ returns!The Tribulation, redemptively, is for the Jews and Jerusalem, and brings nothing but wrath and the portent of judgment to the Gentiles. Believing Gentiles will be off the scene at that time and not return until after the Tribulation.[...]

The Olivet Discourse: The End


The synoptic accounts introduce the actual ending sign in the Olivet Discourse differently from one another. Matthew gives us a detail that Mark and Luke do not mention. Mark and Luke merely mention enduring to the end to be saved (as does Matthew just before its unique statement), whereas Matthew further states that the Great Commission will be completed, "and then the end will come." A break that can only be inferred in Mark and Luke is thereby clearly delineated in Matthew.

So, let's review the schema of the Olivet Discourse as I've interpreted it.

The Discourse is Jesus' answer to the question, "What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” In the early segments of his answer, Jesus reveals two general signs which lead up to the end:
1) Birth pangs of false Christs, wars, famines, earthquakes, persecutions, falling away, false prophets and lawlessness occurring throughout the age. Like birth pangs they will increase in frequency and intensity through the age. My interpretation of the seals of the Revelation being historical fits in quite well with this description--once a seal has been broken, it's effects continue throughout the age; and
2) The Gospel being preached to the entirety of the world. This effort began at the Day of Pentecost and has moved forward throughout the age (note my interpretation of the First Seal). Regardless of whether progress is assessed by every ethnic group being reached or by every habitable place having a witness, the sign that we are not at the end yet is the continuing effort to complete the Great Commission. Once it has been accomplished, the end is here!
The break between the signs leading up the end and the end itself is communicated by the phrase: "then [tote, again] the end will come." The end, in this case, is not a hard stop like a period in punctuation, but is more like a period in history. The end is actually a finite span over which the very last things will occur. What the breaks tells us is that final period will not begin until the Gospel has been preached everywhere.

What occurs during that final period which is the end? Daniel's 70th Week is what is indicated by the reference to Daniel's Abomination. Therefore, what is actually outlined in the Olivet Discourse is a Labor Period followed by a Delivery Period which culminates in the Return of Christ. The Labor Period is long and drawn out, and has been going for almost 2000 years. The Delivery Period has not begun yet (since the Great Commission has not been accomplished yet), but once it does it will last only seven years, and finish with Christ in Jerusalem ruling and reigning here on earth.

The Olivet Discourse: Persecution and Its Effects


The three accounts of the Olivet Discourse seem to have different takes on the persecution that is mentioned as a sign by Jesus (Matthew, Mark and Luke). After using birth pangs to metaphorically describe the progression of signs, Matthew's account has Jesus saying that "then" (Koine: tote) persecution will occur. Whereas Mark's account does not describe the persecution in terms of sequence in relation to the rest of the action, Luke's account has the persecution occurring before (pro) the birth pang signs. Is persecution, and all that is associated with it, to occur before or after the birth pangs?The force of the "then" in Matthew's account is "at that time," rather than "afterwards"; therefore, Matthew is locating the beginning of persecution at the time of the things that had been mentioned before. Mark seems to be addressing the persecution as if it was occurring within the stream of events mentioned previously (false Christs, wars, earthquakes, famines, etc). Luke places the persecution as occuring before (at least) the terrors and the signs in the heavens (v. 11). So, there isn't really any difference, after all.We are told that believers will be handed over (betrayed would be the implication from Mark 13:12 and Luke 21:16) to be afflicted (persecuted, as in NIV, is not as precise), and killed. Luke specifically (v.12) places this as occurring very early in the scheme of things, and in doing so, certainly emphasizes early Jewish opposition to Christianity (note: synagogues). However, that cannot be the exclusive scope of the persecution since kings and governors (plural) are also mentioned in the same phrase. Mark and Matthew are less specific, implying that persecution will be the case near the end or even throughout the period in question.We are also told that believers will be hated (Matthew 24:9). The word refers to moral choice, i.e., picking one above others, and is the same word used to convey the same thought in Luke 14:26. The notion is that the world will like everything better that it likes Christians. This will be the case globally, in all nations. It serves as an interesting counterpoint to the gospel being preached in all nations (v 14).Packed into the reference to “all nations” is a broad sense of elapsing time; for how long does it take to be hated in each and every one of the cultural/linguistic groups (Koine: "panton ton ethnon")? One has to become known to each and every one in order to be detested in each and every one. Therefore, to see this discourse merely in terms of Rome in the first century is a mistake. When this was written, there were boundaries and there were barbarians--it was known and understood that Rome did not include all of them. At that time (tote, again) many will fall (into a snare), which implies not so much apostasy as it does deceit, which is reinforced by the mention of false prophets. Associated with this fall is their betrayal (handing over) and detesting of one another. So, false prophets will arise and cause many believers to stray resulting in internecine detestation and betrayal. Anything in any age which foments hatred toward brothers or sisters in Christ is false absolutely, it's source will always prove to be devilish rather than from God. Listening to it will turn the persecuted into persecutors!Through the multiplication of lawlessness or a lack of restraint (wickedness is not a good translation), love will be made cold. The voice of the verb is passive, and so refers to action that is being done unto the subject or is arising from the action of another. Therefore, the chilling believers referenced are not volitionally active, their love does not grow cold by choice, but chills as an effect of being exposed to the multiplication of lawlessness. The wear and tear of exposure to lawlessness is insidious and l[...]

The Olivet Discourse: When Is the Answer?


I have stated that the question which Jesus was actually responding to in the Olivet Discourse was: "What would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age?" The entire address is taken up with his response to that and the question about the destruction of Temple was entirely ignored. That may seem hard to swallow, but as I will demonstrate, it does produce a coherent, consistent interpretation of the whole discourse. Regardless, however one may interpret this passage, to be on the mark, that interpretation must end up with Jesus back here in a new age--anything else misses the point.Although it seems out of place in the setting, Jesus was not speaking only to those who were with him, but also to all of us who would come later in time and hear his answer through the transmission of its witnesses. This is revealed by the breadth of his answer. John was the only one of that bunch that lived more than another 50 years (at least according to tradition), and the scope of Jesus' answer is actually much longer than that when it’s carefully examined. In fact, it is so broad that we are encompassed within its detail today, and in a very real sense, those that were hearing him were stand-ins for all of us.Jesus described that scope (v. 4-8) as encompassing wars, famines, earthquakes and false Messiahs (all in the plural). However, Jesus stated that such, even in the plural, would not be a reason for any eschatological alarms to be sounded. The end was not yet, even after a multiplication of such things. In his account, Luke adds pestilence, terrors and signs in the heavens to the mix, all in the plural as well. We have been seeing these things throughout history, and are still seeing those things today, yet they still should not be alarming because they're not the telling sign of the end of the age.Furthermore, the occurrences of these signs are represented as akin to the progression of labor, but just the beginning of it (v. 8). Labor starts slowly and builds in a cyclical pattern of increasing intensity, and culminates in a grand conclusion. The process can be quite lengthy, a few hours if one is lucky, over a day if not. A proper reading of these signs must incorporate a lengthy process (i.e, labor) of repetitively building events (wars, famines, earthquakes, false messiahs) that themselves take a lengthy time to develop, and that's just the start. Clearly, Jesus envisioned a very a long time in his answer.He also spoke of false prophets arising and leading many astray (v. 11). History has seen its share of those, although it seems to me, the most significant (e.g., Muhammed, Joseph Smith and Charles Taze Russell) arose long after the Temple was destroyed. If the termination of the prophesy is the end of the age and Jesus' return, these false prophets, as well as historical false messiahs, such as Bar Kochba, Menachem Schneerson, and even Sun Myung Moon would have been in view by Jesus as he spoke about such, such a long time ago.In these issues alone, I have already demonstrated the difficulty of compressing all of these signs into the short span of time before 70 CE, but let us remember that the terminus of the prophetic answer was the end of age and Jesus' return. This is certainly reinforced by Jesus tying the fulfillment of the Great Commission (v.14) to his answer. Even now, we're only just reaching the point where this sign is even remotely fulfilled and the end will not come before it is accomplished. Preterism, it seems clear to me, is a non-starter in interpreting Matthew 24.Jesus also referenced the desolation mentioned by Daniel (v. 15) as a sign. At the time Jesus spoke this, Antiochus and the Maccabees were a well-known and understood aspect of history, and yet Jesus spoke of Daniel's desolation as happening in the future. As Jesus[...]

The Olivet Discourse: What Was the Question?


The Olivet Discourse appears in all three Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) but all three accounts are slightly different from one another. As a result, hermeneutical issues become paramount in harmonizing the differences and developing a consistent, noncontradictory interpretation of any of the three. Doctrinal presuppositions are key: two of which, supersessionism (the belief that the church has replaced Israel as God’s people and the holders of promise) and preterism (the belief that biblical prophecy has already been fulfilled), ensure that one will never make heads nor tails out of this or any other eschatological prophesy in the Bible. Those that hold both or either viewpoint can never take the word for what it says, and therefore are clueless when comes to understanding those things which will come to pass in the very last days.I hold to neither doctrine and think I can help you make sense of this.So what accounts for the differences in the accounts? Well, even though the subject of the discourse is prophetic, its recording is historical. In other words, this was not written down under prophetic inspiration by Jesus, but was inspired to be written down as a testimonial narrative by those who heard him (or by those that heard from those that heard him). As in the case of any event witnessed by different people, the individuals involved will be subjectively attentive to and impressed by different details and aspects of what objectively took place. These differences do not reflect error, contradiction or unreliability, but merely the individual perspective of the witnesses involved. God uses the individual’s experience, memory and communication skills to disperse reliable truth.When parallel passages differ in level of detail reported, the one which reports finer detail is correct in that detail. The more general passage is not wrong, it just didn’t visit that detail to the same depth or at all. This is particularly seen in the disciples’ question to Jesus (Matt 24:3; Mark 13:4; Luke 21:7). Mark and Luke are about the same, whereas Matthew is very different. Matthew captures the gist of the question as put forth in Mark and Luke, but adds the significant detail, “and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” That detail is what makes sense of Jesus answer in all three reports, especially, given the history that has since unfolded.As to the passage itself, we find Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem at the Temple, taking in the sights, so to speak. Jesus prophesies that total destruction is coming to what they are looking at. When they are in private later at their site on the Mount of Olives, the disciples (at least, Peter, James, John and Andrew according to Mark 13:3) dare ask him a two-fold question: When? And what will be the sign of his coming and the end of the age? Mark and Luke’s account only capture the “when” and, in effect, skip the question about his coming and the end of the age.His "coming" (parousias) is really the way of speaking of his arrival, of his being present here--not in an ethereal sense (as in, "lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”) but in a substantial one ("...while they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst"). Since he is standing with them at the time he is speaking these things, the implication is that they knew he would leave and then return to end the age, hence the link (kai) between his coming and the end of the age. My assumption is that they assumed that the destruction of Jerusalem would result in a new Messianic age.So Jesus, basically, brushes off the question about the destruction of the Temple (it wasn’t important to the big question) and concentrates on the second question (which, really, was t[...]

Falling Into Objectifying the Image of God


Human beings were made in the image of God. God takes that circumstance rather personally, so a trespass against that image is seen as an affront against him. So much so, in fact, that when a human being is treated as an object, or dismissively, rather than as the image of God, God marks the offender for eventual judgment. Even for those under the blood of Jesus, there are repercussions.

In light of this is, let me share three areas where I think we are particularly susceptible to falling into the sin of objectifying other human beings.

Lust, in effect, looks at another human as nothing more than the means of achieving one's own sexual pleasure. Apart from the very serious consequences of sexual sin to which lust might lead, treating a human as less than the image of God for the sake of personal gratification is the underlying, and by far, the more immediate danger. Unfortunately, we live in a lust-indulgent world and so must be discerning in guarding our hearts, and particularly so in regard to how we see other people.

If left to boil too long, anger has a way of transforming one we're angry with into a mere source of irritation (rather than a full-orbed person). As in the case for a pebble in one's shoe, it makes perfect sense to remove a source of irritation. We need to be careful, however, because anger imposes its own logic which rationalizes whatever retribution it drives one toward, regardless of how out of harmony it might be with the ways of God.

Envy has a way of seeing the envied as unworthy obstacles the envious would like to displace in the quest for self-satisfaction. Those seen as undeserving obstacles are also seen to lack virtues like perseverance, grace, creativity, etc. and so are perceived as getting a piece of the pie more fitting for the envious. So envy assaults God not once, but twice. It fails to see God's image in the envied, and it calls into question his wisdom in governance.

We cannot afford to allow lust, anger, and envy to shade our perceptions or color our treatment of other people. To do so brings us perilously close to that which Jesus condemns. If the one we count on to forgive us condemns us instead, where can deliverance be found? Before we act in thought or deed in regard to another human being we need to take a breath, especially when one of these three areas are involved, lest we fail to see the image of God and fall into sin.

Objectifying the Image of God


'And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image."'               Genesis 9:5-6    ESVThis is not an article on capital punishment, but on the reason God gives for its initiation in the days immediately after The Flood. God established a causal link between retribution and the nature of the victim when he offered the reason for its enactment. Spilling the blood of man (killing) was answerable to God without exception (animals included) because each and every human was made in God's image. Man, in what could appear to be a self-referencing inconsistency, would be the agency through which the retribution was taken.It seems clear to me that the Image of God in which every human being is made is what makes every person valuable to God. The concept is introduced at the very beginning of the Bible as it talks about the very beginning of the human race. It refers to mankind being "cut out" to resemble God. Since God is not corporeal, neither are the salient features of the image of God in mankind.People resemble God, not in their physical makeup, but in their metaphysical makeup--we resemble his personhood.Whenever we look at another person, God is there behind the veil. Behind the physical, somewhat apart from the behavioral, what makes God the person he is, is in that human being. The person you're looking at, that you pass on the street, that you share a bed with is a picture of God. Like a painting found in a yard sale, varnished and painted over, but interesting to a discerning eye, which upon being stripped of varnish and tarnish by a learned hand reveals a lost masterpiece, so is every single human being you will ever come in contact with.Given the depravity of man, it is important to note that even after the Fall of Man, and after the Flood, there remained a sufficient likeness of God in mankind for God to exact the most significant punishment for the most significant act against that which still retained his image. Clearly, from God's perspective, it is of the utmost importance how we deal with that which in made in his image, even though that image is tarnished. Jesus took things so far in this regard as to make our mere thoughts or attitudes in regard to other human beings matters of God's retributive justice.From our perspective it is easy, even convenient, to look at another person as a problem, or as an obstacle, or as a threat, or even as a possession. The Bishop James speaks of our ability to bless God and to curse his image. It's a contradiction that ought not to be so, especially amongst those who believe. Friends, we have got to start seeing people as God sees them, otherwise there will be repercussions that we will have rather avoided when they're visited upon us.What I am really talking about here is the sin of objectification. Objectifying a human being is treating a person as if he or she was merely an object rather than the image of God. That object can be tangible or intangible, but when a person devolves into a label in our estimation, we have committed the sin of objectification. Thus reduced, almost anything becomes excusable in our minds in regard to them. It may be common among the human race to do so, but assault upon the image of God is not something God ever takes lightly.[...]

A Radical Invitation


Has the first word of the biblical salvation message has been lost through disuse? Given the climate and message of today's evangelical church, one has to wonder. Jesus preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The Apostles preached, "Repent!" Even when just counseling the woman caught in adultery Jesus said, "Go and sin no more." Let me ask you, is that the kind of thing you preach?

Where is the "REPENT!" in today's preaching? It just isn't part of the evangelical fabric that's in fashion these days. Have we become so afraid that people will not respond to that nasty little word that we have abandoned it and now depend on manipulation and marketing instead? When we rely on such measly human efforts that utilize enticement and stroke the flesh, what sacrifice is any respondent prepared to make?

The discipleship crisis the American church is in today starts with the message that initially enlists today's supposed disciples. Folks that enter thinking they don't have to turn, won't turn after they enter. I'm not a fan of fire and brimstone preaching--faith, not fear, is the only motivation that sustains a life of following Jesus--but to become a Christian a person must embrace their own death and trust Christ to raise them to a new (and better) life. People today, though all-modern-and-educated, must  still hear and respond to the call to repent and follow Jesus, as any disciple in any former age did.

Christianity is about a radical change in direction, a night and day difference in one's life. The result of a new birth cannot be the same old, same old, for birth means leaving an old way of life for a new one, 
or it's not birth at allFor those would who style themselves as radical and innovative preachers in this day and age, the message that actually matches that characterization starts with the word REPENT! Now that's a radical invitation that stands a shot at producing new life.

Sugar-coating the Bread of Life


Sugar coating: originally a process in the food industry whereby sugar or syrup was applied in some fashion to the surface of a food product, making the product sweeter and thereby more delectable. Often used in conjunction with food that was less tasty or desirable in order to increase its consumption; e.g., the breakfast cereal industry, or as in a song in Mary Poppins. Why would the salvation wrought by Christ need to be sugar-coated? In itself, of itself, it already promises knowing our Creator personally, living forever without disease, decay or death, and being free from doing stupid things we will rue but do regardless (among other things). Could there be a sweeter deal? Salvation is an absolute dream come true, but being a disciple of Christ comes at a cost even though it is truly free. Salvation entails acknowledging that we don't run the show and us bowing to the leadership of Jesus. In this day where willfulness is celebrated and self is elevated, the temptation is to assume that most of the people we're trying to coax into the Kingdom of God won't buy into such a deal. So, repentance is soft-pedaled, sin and judgment is back-pedaled, and continuing on in life with Jesus merely added on is floor-pedaled. Can such a vitamin supplement approach to the gospel actually cleanse the conscience here and now or ready the soul for a welcome in the age to come?It's not those who call Jesus, "Lord" who are saved but those who actually do as he says. Buying into the gospel means selling everything else we had before the gospel came into our lives (at minimum, in attitude). Families may ostracize or desert us. Riches may have to be abandoned. Sexual pleasures will not be guaranteed to us. Just because we had a dream doesn't mean that God will buy into it or help us to achieve it. It's the price of Jesus being Lord.A gospel that doesn't stop us in our tracks is not going to get us on the right track.I like toast with breakfast. As a kid, I particularly like cinnamon toast. When mom made it, most of the sugary coating was shaken off back into the bowl. When I got my hands on it, I usually found a way to load those tasty slabs of cinnamon goodness with more sugary sweetness. If mom ever saw what I was doing she would never have stood for it, but then she cared about my health and wanted me to enjoy having teeth for the rest of my life.  Making adjustments to the gospel makes what is adjusted no gospel at all. If we truly care for those we try to win with the gospel and want them to be whole throughout all eternity, we need to stick to the truth that sets sinners free. Coming to grips with who and what Jesus is and following him exclusively is food and drink indeed. If we want to feed the folk we preach to something that can nourish them eternally, we need to stop sugar-coating the Bread of Life.[...]

Who's the Boss?


The central core of Christian faith is it's understanding of Jesus, in particular, its understanding of his authority. Jesus is recorded asking people, "Do you believe I can do this?" Believers, like the centurion, recognized his authority, whereas unbelievers disdainfully asked him, "By what authority do you do this?" That range of opinion represents a nice metric for which to measure the concept of effective faith. So what does it take for faith to be effective? I have explored the moment it comes into existence over the last couple of blog offerings. With this article I approach it from a different tack and offer the following postulates, which I believe characterize true faith and which I believe faith must exhibit in order to be effective. In other words, they limn out what is means to believe in Jesus in a way that counts.1) Effective faith perceives Jesus as the Lord (i.e. the ultimate authority in one's life)2) Effective faith sees all authority in heaven and earth as given to Jesus3) Effective faith recognizes that the name of Jesus represents the highest authority4) Effective faith accepts Jesus' word as enduring in it's authority.Whether we are talking about salvation or about miracles, faith that produces the desired end is faith that fully embraces the authority of Christ.By the authority of Christ granted to them to use, the apostles healed the sick and cast out demons. When they were shaky about that authority, they couldn't cast out a demon and were rebuked for a lack of faith. By that authority Peter walked upon the water. When Peter became fuzzy about it he sank into the waves. Apprehending the authority of Christ is the difference between praying hopefully and commanding forcefully.I wish clarity regarding this was my constant experience, but alas, it isn't. There are moments when the authority of Christ is so clear to me, and at those moments, awesome things happen. Then there are those moments when it's only theory in my head, which I assent to readily, but it's not singular or instant. I have to think about it before its crystal clear. The difference between one and the other is command and request, knowing and hoping.I wish faith wasn't so elusive. Would any of us even break through to effective faith if it wasn't for the Spirit's inspiration? In regard to salvation the answer is any easy "no!" In regard to the miraculous, it's little more complex. By God's design, however, the task of believing in either regard is ours, and that is what makes faith so slippery. God has no doubts about who's in charge. When we're certain as well, our experience erupts into a faith moment. Could you do with more faith moments where you're crystal clear instantly about the authority of Christ? I know I sure could. Trees would be flying! But while they remain anchored to the soil, the only real question that matters is, "Who's the boss?"[...]

The Faith Moment: Charismata


How does one have the faith to do miracles? There aren't any mountains or mulberry trees flying by, so one would think that kind of faith is extremely rare. Nigh unto impossible to muster, one might think, but miracles do happen and much more frequently than would be expected given the apparent lack of that quantum-like quantity Jesus called a "mustard seed". So the faith to do miracles does arise, and broadly enough to make it worth asking ourselves how we might engage in it.

It seems to me, the moment when the faith to do miraculous feats arises is similar to that which leads to salvation. Although not strictly necessary (remember the Centurion), for the most part, I think it also requires the assistance of God to distill. Also like that moment, the final disposition of the aimed at goal must come through us, not God. There is nothing irresistible about the grace that stirs true faith into being.

Now there is a charismatic gift of faith through which faith is inspired in an individual for the benefit of the body. That occurs for a specific purpose at a particular time--it is not ongoing, which is the intrinsic nature of a manifestation (phanerosis) of the Spirit. Like anything else the Spirit inspires, it is quenchable. We are not puppets in the hand of God, after all, that would insult the one in whose image we are made.

I once had a Bible college professor, Bill Crew I think it was, who posited that a gift of faith came with along with any other manifestation of the Spirit. His idea was that the faith to act came along with the ability to act under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I don't think that is so (it's too speculative without the backing of scripture), but I do think that the stirring of the Spirit that alerts us to the moving of the Spirit is itself a grace-filled invitation to believe. It's that tap on the shoulder we need to get out beyond ourselves and get on the same page with God.

When the breath of God is exhaled across the face of the inner man a moment arises--a moment which awakens faith and calls us to possibilities of moving as the hand of God bringing the miraculous.

The Faith Moment: Salvation


How does faith congeal in the soul to become substance?  I do not believe that God secretly presses a button he's concealed within us, which when pressed, makes us people of persevering faith. As I understand it, that is precisely what Calvinism proposes. The problem with that is that if God did do that kind of thing for any person, he'd do it for all people. Scriptures are clear that is not the way things turn out, so Calvinism cannot be consistent with the self-revelation of God in them (and Universalism must be seen to bite the dust as well).  God has made mankind with the capacity for faith, of that there can be little doubt, for people everywhere trust in things they cannot see. I think this general capacity is what separates mankind from angels, particularly in regard to redeemability. Mankind was made in innocence, really ignorance, and therefore was made for faith. Faith exists in that gap produced by unseens and unknowns, but Angels were made for knowledge and sight.  When angels rebelled they did so in knowledge and sight and are irredeemable as a result (see Hebrews 6:4a for the concept as it applies to mankind). If Romans 12:3 applies broadly to all humanity (as I've always taken it to mean) rather than just the church (as Calvinists in particular take it), then God has in fact dealt each person at least some measure of faith. Of course, true faith, faith that actually has an effect, requires that it be placed in the right object, namely, God and God alone. That means that God has to "show up" for faith to spark into life.Really, God "showing up" is that enabling help without which no one could truly believe, but I also know that God, no matter what help he gives, isn't going to believe for us. Otherwise, all of his commands to us to believe would be nonsensical. In order to effectively trust in Christ, only a minimal amount and clarity of faith (i.e. less than mustard seed quantities) is required. That may not seem like much of a threshold, yet it remains a mountain to most people most of the time. We are called to faith, it is the very currency of heaven. On their own, humans can only answer that call with something less than true faith in the actual God. When the Holy Spirit brings our focus on the person and authority of Christ into clarity, the moment is ripe for salvivic faith to be born. It is not guaranteed, as is attested by Israel's example and the fact that not everyone comes to faith since Jesus was lifted up on the cross.Nonetheless, thank God that the Holy Spirit is sent to bring us to that moment when everything comes together and Jesus is seen as supreme--the faith moment.[...]

Stirred not Shaken


What would it take for you to act upon an impression that you thought might be the Holy Spirit? If absolute certainty is your threshold, you will never move upon any inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Even if your condition to act is merely that you have to apply thoughtful consideration before acting (that seems wise, right?), anything that is of an urgent nature, i.e. that requires an immediate response, will never be done either. We can easily undermine our experience of things spiritual and miraculous in the name of caution and prudence. Things of the Spirit (pneumatikos) are anything but certain. According to Christ, it takes faith to cast out demons, heal the sick, and move mountains. In the realm of things the Spirit inspires, there is a gap between what is and what could be that only faith can fill. If we are not willing to strike out in faith on the basis of an inspiration, call it a holy hunch, we will never experience the kinds of supernatural things that are mentioned throughout the New Testament.Substituting our judgment for the Holy Spirit's is not prudence or wisdom, nor is it faithful--what it is, is a surefire way to quench the Holy Spirit and live a life without the miraculous.It is a misapprehension to think that a lightning bolt from heaven would strike (or something nigh unto it) if you were meant to heal the sick, or speak a prophetic word, or exercise power against an unclean spirit. Not many, if any, of us are ever going to experience anything like that! Jesus didn't experience that, Peter didn't experience that, and Paul didn't experience that. Elijah learned the hard way not to expect to. We need sensitivity to the intimate voice of God within us to catch the stirring of the Spirit.When God's whisper falls on our "ear", we have to act in faith or we'll miss the opportunity to do a greater work. If that happens, something Jesus went to the cross and ascended into heaven to make possible ends up being missed entirely. We are not meant to live satisfied with the Cessationist's paltry gospel, which is little more than an academic exercise in criticism, history and philosophy that devolves into endless debates over the meanings of words. What we are called to be is powerful witnesses of Christ to the world after that the Holy Spirit comes upon us. The Holy Spirit has a way of making himself heard to the hearing ear. To those that have one, much more will be given. To those who turn a deaf ear to God the Spirit, what could have been theirs is lost, like a fruitful field of grain that went unharvested. We're partnered with God, someone we can absolutely trust. When that hunch that might be the Holy Spirit stirs within, we must take faith in hand and act or we'll lose the opportunity.James Bond, despite his iconic instruction concerning his taste in spirits, would be dead wrong in the realm of the Spirit: it's always better to be stirred, not shaken.[...]

I Was in the Spirit


John uses the expression, "I was in the Spirit" twice in the Apocalypse. Once at 1:10, and once at 4:2. That he was referring to the same state of experience both times could hardly be argued against. What that state was we are about to explore, though it is not explicitly developed in the text. The sort of thing it results in, on the other hand, was explicitly demonstrated throughout the Revelation.

In both instances, the phrases are exactly the same in Koine. On their face, they refer to a locus in or among the Spirit. In the way that one can be "in the wind" or even "in the sun", the Apostle John was in the Spirit. What he is communicating by this was that he was experiencing a pointed (and I would say virtually tangible) consciousness of the divine presence.

This was not John's common or moment-to-moment experience of the Spirit. There are clear enough references to the inception of the experience in both occurrences. In the first usage, this something special happened to occur one Sunday on Patmos. In the second usage, the condition was initiated immediately upon hearing the voice beckoning him to heaven. In both cases, it seems clear that the experience as recorded represented a change from what was going on before.

The word used [ginomai] to describe the existence of John's state packs within it the idea of "becoming" rather than simply being. In other words, John emerged into this state (really, was born into it) at the moment in reference. It is not described in trance-like terms, though the word "ecstasy" is often bandied about while commenting on it. It is ridiculous to do so in my mind, for John betrays no rapture, no enthusiasm, no exhilaration nor any euphoria in conjunction with this experience. Really, there is nothing but matter-of-fact reportage associated with it.

More than anything else the state of being in the Spirit, at least from the accounts of John's being so, is about awareness of the very presence of God--not theoretically, not by faith, but in actuality. If we can generalize from John's experience to any of our's (and I think we can), being in the Spirit is like having a light go on in the dark which suddenly reveals things one would otherwise be unaware of. Those things could be revelations regarding heaven or earth or about the activity of God in a moment past, present or future.

If there is anything precedential or paradigmatic about John's experience, I think it can be said in regard to its application to us, that coming to be in the Spirit (really, acting on charismatic distinctives) is about coming to an acute awareness of God's immediate presence and what he is up to. As a result of that awareness prophecy, or healings, or works of power, or miracles are then manifested in this world. Those manifestations do not break into existence because someone exercised enough faith to produce them, but because someone had come to be in the Holy Spirit.

Why Leave A Church?


We live in a mobile society. Folks are shifting from one place to another constantly. I wouldn't think, given such a circumstance, that it would be unexpected that folk would be shifting churches in the shuffle. That's fine, it goes with the territory, but folk are also leaving churches they otherwise would not have to, and it raises the question is, "Is OK to leave one's church?"People leave their churches for all sorts of reasons and in all kinds of conditions. Some leave churches wandering out of a fog bewildered, some surf the edge of the blast wave after a big blow-up, some leave at the end of the left foot of fellowship, and some lose motivation or faith and fall off more than they depart. Some leave because they find another place more attractive, and some just want something new. Everyone that leaves has their reasons, I'm sure. Although I doubt that many are legitimately motivated when they choose to leave a church, I do think that leaving a church can be the right thing to do.If that church doesn't uphold the Scripture as the infallible rule of faith and conduct;If that church embraces universalism;If that church becomes libertine or antinomian; If that church adopts legalism...You get the point. There are practical and doctrinal issues that are so fundamental and non-negotiable, that if a line is crossed there, then we must cross ourselves off the roll. Even if this is the case, I don't think one should leave such a church without a fight. Not that one should seek to win an argument or engage in a turf war, but that one should contend for the faith and for the souls in that body. Don't let them wander off to hell without an effort to save their souls! However, if they won't hear, and won't stand on sound doctrine, then one must leave!At times, a bone of contention arises between folk that, given the nature of the personalities involved, cannot be resolved. If continuing on together in mission is impossible, separating unto mission is acceptable.  It is still unfortunate in the grand scheme, but as long as it is done on reasonable terms and doesn't result in an unending grudge it may be the preferable course of action. We can disagree without being disagreeable, even if it means one going one way and the other going another.At times, folk are being appointed in the body according to the wishes of the Spirit of God, and leaving one congregation and going to another is precisely what God wants! It's easy to discern this if one is moved to a distant place; it's not so easy if this change takes place in the same town. Regardless, each of us is a gift to the body and we must understand that God gets to place us where he wishes. Actually, I wonder how much dissatisfaction people feel in church is actually just the dissonance in their souls caused by not discerning where God wants them. There are acceptable, justifiable, and quite spiritual reasons to leave one church and go to another. And then there are reasons which are neither expedient nor justifiable.It is not justifiable to leave a church for selfish reasons. Church is about Jesus being Lord, not about the churchgoer getting what he or she wants. Christians are not customers, the church is not a business and spiritual ministrations are not consumer goods. To treat this God ordained endeavor as if any of that were true is an insult to grace. Leaving a church for greener pastures is unacceptable for clergy or laity.It is not expedient for those who have been appropria[...]

Why Go to Church?


Why should believers go to church? There are a lot of excuses one could give for blowing it off:Church folk are nothing but hypocritesTheir idea of worship is not my ideaAll they do is ask for moneyIt's too irrelevant, too loud, too impersonal, too ________...I am not genuinely needed, wanted and won't be missedI've got better things to doWhen else can I shop or do my household chores?There are some reasons, which traditionally have been offered, as to why we should go:to maintain social cohesionbecause of necessary, clerically performed rituals within the context of structured liturgiesto derive a benefit from what is offered therebecause it's the "right" thing to do.I submit that none of the suggested excuses for not going, nor most of the traditional reasons cited for doing so are valid. They are mere rationalizations without any spiritual merit.The scriptures tell us that together we are the body of Christ, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. So...We gather as the church because we are connected with unseen bonds. We gather as the church because we acknowledge the truth of how God sees us (as one in Christ). We gather as the church because we need the gifts of others and we need to be the vector of gifts for others.We gather as the church because the Bible tells us to do so.If someone is so disillusioned with church that he or she doesn't want to go anymore, that one should do some serious soul searching. Has he or she been going for the right reasons in the first place? Has that one given his or herself fully to being a benefit to the church rather than deriving a benefit from it? Does that person believe that God changed his mind about this whole issue?If someone is not motivated enough, or too occupied or distracted with discretionary things to go to church, he or she needs to change. Church exists because God selflessly loved us enough to do something about our lostness. Christ has called us to himself and to each other for all eternity. If we're not grasping that and are capable of treating church like we treat the choice of which grocer to use, we don't understand Jesus--not his plans for us, not what he calls us to, and not what he's making us to be.Maybe we don't truly believe in Jesus at all! I am a pastor committed to church, but I have also been a lay person going to church reluctantly. I know what it's like to go to church hoping for inspiration only to find frustration. I know what it's like having a bad week and wanting to hibernate, or what it's like to have an option that seems better to the flesh. I even know what it's like to feel as if you've disappeared into the background of an impersonal institution and that it's of no use anyway.I also know that the trying of our faith brings forth a peaceable fruit. In life on this side of eternity nothing is perfect. Church is not, church people are not, and pastors are anything but. Despite all that brokenness, perseverance in church going is God's will for us. When we faithfully commit to it, despite the drama and flaws, we become a blessing to others and blessing comes back to us.Wait a minute... blessing in the midst of brokenness... on second thought, that sounds exactly like what something that's of Christ should look like on this side of eternity.[...]

Worship As Fellowship


"...I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it. And I will wait on your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.   Psalm 52:8-9  NASBPsalm 52 is a study in contrasts. It begins looking at the evil person (as summarized in v. 7) and ends looking at the faithful, godly one. The boasts of the two are contrasted, as is their desire, their faith, and the reaction they get from God. A remarkable feature of the godly one is that he gets to hang out in the presence of God with other godly ones and worship. Worship as fellowship, imagine that! Worship is fellowship with GodThe faithful one is cast as a green olive tree in the house of God. That would seem a rather passive symbol, but there's much to recommend it. It is green, which means it is full of vitality. It is a tree, so its place is its place of abiding--trees don't come and go--it dwells in God's presence. It is an olive tree which means its fruitfulness provides oil which produces both sustenance and light.An olive tree planted in the Temple grounds is in the happy situation of dwelling in the light of God. There it flourishes as a result of hanging out in the presence of God. It has abundant life flowing within and productive life blossoming and ripening without. It is alive as live can be, resting in the lovingkindness of God, but is there any action?  Yes, there is--praising. "I will give you thanks" (as in the NASB above) would probably be bettered rendered as "I will praise you" (as in the NIV). The Hebrew word underlying the English translation comes from a root which means "casting" or "throwing" and which came to be used figuratively of the act of praising. In worship we cast our thanks, we cast our wonder, and we cast our submission to or upon God.  When the faithful one is fellowshipping with God, planted like a tree in his presence, that one showers God with love and gratitude. Not a surprising response, given the wonder of who God is, it could hardly be helped. To fellowship with God is to break out in praise. Maybe we could jump to the conclusion and say by extension: to truly worship is to fellowship with God.Worship is fellowship with God's people That green tree planted in the temple of God is not alone. Others are present as well, godly people looking to God. Praise can be done alone, but is not something reserved for solitude. As for the individual, so too for the group: faithful people in the presence of God can hardly keep from breaking forth in praise. To truly worship in congress is to fellowship with God and man. I think our fellowship with one another is missing something without genuine worship being part of our shared experience. Not all of our fellowship has to be centered around worship, but it is a dynamic that is healthy for us as individuals and as a body. Together, we are the temple of God. Worship is our fellowship.[...]

Worship as a Response to God


Like all things truly spiritual, worship doesn't have its source in the innate goodness or wisdom of the human being. Would mankind even have a notion to worship, let alone worship along the lines God desired, without some impetus from God? I don't think so. True worship, as I see it, is something that results from the Spirit's input into the sons and daughters of Adam's race."Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; and Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs in the sight of the people. So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped."   Exodus 4:29-31 NASBWorship is inspired by hearing God's word. Faith is inspired along the same lines: it makes sense that worship would be part of the package. When the Holy Spirit attends the Word of God, so that the human can hear it with perception, understanding dawns on that person and response to God's word becomes possible. Faith is the primary, necessary and effective response, worship is the consequential one.It is not the mere fact or existence of God's word which elicits a response, but the content. A later prophet would seem to rely on the same factor. When the Holy Spirit attends the Word of God which reveals that God has plans for people, plans to prosper them and not harm them, people touched by the message respond. Among other possibilities, they worship.Followers of Jesus have such words from God. Since they are, by definition, spiritual people capable of spiritual appraisals, Christians would be expected to be people who exude worship in response to such promises. Christians unmoved to worship, Christians unresponsive worshipfully to God's goodness, or Christians unbowed before the mighty and merciful God would seem a contradiction in terms. Christians who don't worship might not be Christians at all.Worship finds inspiration in the acts of God as well. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are perhaps the most notable among the acts of God, but they are not the only ones that inspire worship. Past acts other than those, and present acts serve to inspire worship too. Any act of God that communicates that God is with us, that God is for us, and that he has seen our misery and is concerned for us inspire those that believe to bow down in worship.When one hears God's words of concern and promise and sees God's acts of deliverance and blessing, and believes, worship in response to God is practically automatic. So, listen to the words of God and see his acts of wonder and let a reaction rise within you and spill out as worship.[...]

Worship as an Expression of Faith


Worship is about homage. It is the respect or regard paid to that which has power over one's life. Not everyone would acknowledge belief in the supernatural, but I think everyone worships something. Everyone give props to that which they see as having the power to affect their lives for good. If one truly believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, worshipping him is just part of that package. "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."         John 4:24  NASB Worship is really an expression of faith. At its heart, it is a reach, a stretch, wherein a person of conviction dares to seek and see God as he is. God is breath (spirit) and so he is beyond the physicality of this world and all that's in it. His essence is the essence of the soul, of personhood--self-awareness, consciousness, purposefulness. Therefore, that seeking which is worship must engage those same qualities within the seeker. That which is spirit must be worshipped in spirit.Worship cannot be circumscribed by the merely physical nor the superficial. Historically, Christian worship has fallen short in both regards. Arrangements of "furniture," postures of bodies, and recitations and intonations done virtually without thought have very little to do with worship. The contemporary fixation with worship as entertainment or a perfunctory preliminary is no better, maybe even worse. The very essence of our spiritual being must be engaged in seeking and revering God, or all we've done is gone through some empty motions.The very essence of who we are as persons must bow before the very presence of the person of God in order to worship.Worship is, literally, "kissing towards" the object of reverence, which by use referred to bowing or prostration before the worshipped; that is, doing obeisance or acknowledging superiority. So, at its heart, worship is about surrender. If we have not come to a point of surrender to God, deep in our souls, we have not worshipped. Worship, such as this, is not a duty that can be done from a distance, it can only be accomplished "up close and personal." Worship must be sincere.There's no place for illusion in worship. Often the reference to truth in John 4:24 is misinterpreted to refer to fact and logic (i.e., knowledge), as if true worship engages both emotion and intellect. Certainly, heart and mind are part of what makes a human essentially human, but the reference to truth in this case has more to do with integrity than it does to knowledge. Possessing a theologically accomplished mind doesn't qualify one as a worshipper to any degree whatsoever, whereas honestly bowing down does.Though our publications and practices would seem to suggest it, it has not been left up to us to fashion what worship of God could or should be. Oh, people can do that sort of thing, but they shouldn't expect the result would be considered worship by God. Jesus has told us, clearly, what God is looking for in worship, and what worship of God must be. Worship is an expression of faith, it must come from the essence of what we are as people, it must express surrender to God's authority over us, and it must be unfeigned.If what you call worship isn't accomplishing this, it's not worship.[...]