Monday, January 16, 2017

Week Four

If you like good stories, you'll love this week. It might even be a good week to set aside a little extra time, grab a comfortable chair, and knock out a few days at once to really get into the flow. This is also a good chance to notice how the Bible tells the embarrassing parts of people's stories alongside the moments they were proud of.

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Week Three

This week we wrap up the Gospel of John, then head back to the beginning with Genesis. In Mark, Jesus mentioned three guys: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mark 12). They are collectively called The Patriarchs, and the stories of their families make up the rest of the book of Genesis.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Week Two

Back to the beginning. 

The primary purpose of Genesis chapter one is to magnify the glory of God. As you read these first chapters, focus on how big a God we must be serving if He's able to accomplish the things being described--and how much He must love us to put up with all the foolishness that follows those majestic first verses.
And later in the week, don't miss the echoes of Genesis chapter one found in the first chapter of John.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Week One:
This week we'll be reading the entire book of Mark. Feel free to add your (reasonable, polite, family-safe) comments and questions. (Ignore the date at the top. That's just when I created this discussion page.)

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Last-Minute Christmas Gifts--or Good Reads for the New Year.

Not sure how it's happened, but I've managed to put out three books in the last three years, and four total. Each taps into a different component of faith, and each can be helpful for a Christian's faith development.

First Time Through. The most recent book. If you've tried and failed to read the Bible through, are ready to try for the first time, or if you're looking to get the most out of this read-through, this could be the book. A guide, a schedule, even a journal in the paperback version, this book could help take your Bible reading to a whole new level in 2017.

Faith: In Your Own Handwriting. God's not looking to make photocopied followers. Each of is designed to be a unique masterpiece. This book is designed to introduce the faith and help you write your faith in your own handwriting.

Transform(180). Six months worth of daily readings designed to challenge and grow your faith. (Only available in ebook.)

Evolving: My Journey to Reconcile Science and Faith. Pretty much what the title says, but be forewarned. I ruffle a few feathers with my conclusions, and it gets pretty technical from time to time. (I was studying engineering before I went into ministry.) (Also only available in ebook.)


Saturday, November 5, 2016

What Jesus’ First Coming Should Teach Us about His Second

This is an excerpt from Faith: In Your Own Handwriting.

As the name implies, we are waiting for Jesus’ Second Coming. Well, did you ever notice that when Jesus came the first time, no one was expecting Him, even though a) every Jew was hoping for Messiah to come soon, and b) they knew the Old Testament and its prophecies even better than we do? (It wouldn’t be uncommon for a rabbi to have the whole Old Testament memorized, and almost all would have memorized the first five books.)

Which should lead to a simple question: Why were they so surprised?

In trying to answer that question, I realized that Jesus’ First Coming fulfilled four different types of prophecies.

The first were Clear Prophecies. Micah 5:2 is one of these. It says the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. The scholars of Jesus’ day got this one right.[1] They expected the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem.

It gets more complicated from there, because the next type are Hidden Prophecies. Psalm 22 is an amazing example. If you read the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion, then read Psalm 22, you will see that it describes the event in amazing detail. And it was written 500 or so years ahead of time.

But here’s the thing. Up until Jesus quoted the first line of it from the cross, no one knew it was about Him. And there were lots of hidden prophecies, verses that talked about Jesus’ First Coming without giving clear evidence in advance to help readers understand that they were prophetic.

Then we come to the Picture Prophecies, stories like Genesis 22 where Abraham is called to sacrifice his own son. (God stops him at the last second.) No Christian can read that story without seeing that it pictures God sending His own Son to die for us. And when God stops Abraham, and we remember that Abraham had already said, "God will provide a lamb,” we can’t help but be reminded that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”[2]

It’s an amazing prophetic image, but once again, there are no clues in this or any other of these Old Testament pictures that let readers know ahead of time that they were prophecies.

And if you thought those were challenging, we’ll now look at Dual-Fulfillment Prophecies. These are predictions in the Old Testament that had already been fulfilled before Jesus came, and were then “re-fulfilled” in a deeper way by Jesus.

A great example of this is Isaiah 7. “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.[3] Super prediction about the Virgin Birth.

But here’s the thing. The prophecy in Isaiah 7 had already been fulfilled once, not in the sense of a literal virgin giving birth, but in the sense of a young maiden going through the normal process, as you can see if you read all of Isaiah 7:10-16.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.[4]

The prophecy specifically mentions the land of two kings[5] being laid waste, and the nation of Assyria invading instead (verse 17). All of this took place well before Jesus. Matter of fact, it happened within the time frame Isaiah mentions, the time necessary for a young woman to conceive, give birth to, and begin raising a child.

Matthew reapplied this prophecy and clearly taught that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. But let’s say there was a scholar living prior to Jesus’ birth who compiled a list of all the prophecies found in the Old Testament. After finishing the list, he then split the list into prophecies that had already been fulfilled and those that had yet to be fulfilled. On which list would he have put this prophecy?

Yep, on the “fulfilled” list. And there is basically no way to tell from the prophecy itself that it was also talking about Jesus and Mary.

There are many, many more prophecies that fit into the “less-clear” categories. Jesus even spent much of His time after the Resurrection showing to His followers all the passages from the Old Testament they didn’t know were about Him.[6]

Which leaves us with four types of prophecy and a huge question. If Jesus’ Second Coming is like His first, how can we be confident that we have identified all the Clear Prophecies, Hidden Prophecies, Picture Prophecies, and Dual-Fulfillment Prophecies necessary to get everything right?

That question should lead us back to a closer examination of what Jesus actually said about His return, and the primary purpose of prophecy.


What Jesus Said about His Second Coming

Jesus had risen from the dead, and His disciples had lots of questions. Just before He went back to the Father, they asked one of their most pressing: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” [7]

Are you going to restore the Kingdom now, and if not, when? In other words, teach us about the end times.

Jesus’ response is telling. We’ll look at it in two sections. First, the direct answer: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.[8]

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like they asked when He was coming back, and He politely said, “It’s none of your business.”

And if you think that was pointed, look at the second part of His answer:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”[9]

So, to put the whole thing together, the disciples asked Jesus to tell them the details about the end times. Jesus replied, “That’s none of your business. Instead of worrying about that, get to work telling people about me, which, by the way, is your business.”

Which fits very neatly into why God gives us prophecy in the Bible to begin with (and it’s probably not what you think).


The Purpose of Prophecy

A lot of people seem to think that God put prophecy in the Bible to tell us the future. But He didn’t. See, God’s just not that into giving people facts. If He was we might know how tall Jesus was, whether He was left or right handed, and which Tuesday in June Jesus is returning. But we don’t.

Obviously, God has other purposes in mind than giving us information so we can pass some sort of Bible trivia test.

So what is God looking for when He speaks?

Well, in the verses we just looked at, He wants us to spread the good news about Jesus. (The word Gospel, by the way, means “good news.”) The Old Testament prophetic book of Micah talks about how God isn’t that crazy about sacrifices, then says:

What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.[10]

And in the New Testament book of James, we’re told:

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.[11]

Throughout the Bible, God’s desire is to draw us closer to Himself in relationship, and to change our attitudes and actions. This is especially true in the prophetic books (everything from Isaiah to the last book in the Old Testament, Malachi). God’s desire is to get people to live into His will. That is the primary purpose of prophecy.

The Book of Jonah is an excellent example. Jonah, the racist prophet,[12] is sent to Nineveh. There he preaches to a people whom he doesn’t like, gleefully telling them that God is going to annihilate them. He’s obviously predicting the future. But the thing is, even though it annoys Jonah, the people of Nineveh accept his teaching, reform their behavior, and turn to God. Because God’s goal for Jonah’s prophecy wasn’t the destruction of Nineveh, but rather the restoration of these people to Himself, God doesn’t destroy Nineveh,[13] much to Jonah’s disappointment.

Prophecy had two components: foretelling, predicting the future, and “forth-telling”, instructing the listeners to change their ways. And the foretelling was always just a tool for the forth-telling. So, when Jesus and the rest of the New Testament tell us that Jesus is coming, the point isn’t to get us to draw up charts and hold End-time conferences. 

The point is for us to get busy doing the things He told us to do, like telling others about Jesus, and living out God’s principles of love, mercy, and justice.



[1] Matthew 2:3-6
[2] John 1:29
[3] Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)
[4] Isaiah 7:14-16 (NIV)
[5] The Kingdom of Aram and the Northern Kingdom of Israel
[6] Luke 24:25-27
[7] Acts 1:6 (NIV)
[8] Acts 1:7 (NIV)
[9] Acts 1:8 (NIV)
[10] Micah 6:8 (NIV)
[11] James 1:27 (NLT)
[12] Seriously. Not a prophet to promote racism, but rather a racist who God used pretty much against his will.
[13] Yet. Their revival isn’t permanent, and they do eventually face a judgment of literally Biblical proportions.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Control

Is God in control or not?

That’s really the question.

Every time I read someone’s explanation of why I must choose between two immensely flawed candidates, there is an underlying assumption. If we vote wrong, God loses. God cannot possibly overcome the wrong person being elected to the White House.

New justices will be nominated to the Supreme Court, important laws about religious liberty may be passed. This is a crucial time in our nation’s history.*

Therefore, I must compromise. I must support a person who stands against almost everything I stand for.

Well, I think God is bigger than one election. I think His principles and standards are eternal, and not to be ignored in the name of pragmatism or expediency. My job is not to make sure the government of the United States moves in a certain direction. My calling is to help people see Jesus and move toward Him. And I don’t see how I can attract people to God while denying His nature.

Come January 2017, another new individual will be sworn in as temporary President of the United States. But the same God will still be on the throne of the universe, and His Kingdom will stand.

It seems to me that denying that reality when I step into the voting booth is just me proclaiming loudly that I don’t really believe God is in control.



* When was the last time we weren't being told "this election is crucial?"