Wednesday, April 30, 2008

There Are No Second Chances

We been discussing the implications of the following passage from Romans 11 on the two streams of redemptive history:
"I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved..."
Let us return to our musings.

The sequence of events prophesied in this passage is unmistakable:
(1) first, a hardening of Israel,
(2) then the harvest of the full number of the Gentiles,
(3) followed by the redemption of the entire nation of Israel.

In other words, Paul is saying that in redemption history God will shift his gracious attention from the Jews to the Gentiles for a period of time, during which every Gentile who will be saved will get saved, and then he will turn back his gracious attention to the Jews and save virtually the entire population of them alive at that time. I interpret this as describing a break in the succession of Daniel's 70 weeks (between 69 and 70), which Jesus called the time of the Gentiles. When that age has run its course, then redemptive history will resume with week 70 and the unfinished work God has with the Jews and Jerusalem.

What should be crystal clear from this passage is that there is a finite number of Gentiles who will be saved (don't get excited, that has nothing at all to do with Calvinism vs. Arminianism). God knows who they are, and exactly how many of them there are. When all of them that will be saved are saved (a good definition for full number or completeness), God's redemptive work with the Gentiles is finished.

During the Age of the Gentiles, that gracious work was carried out by the outpoured Spirit of God and the church. When that age ends, it stands to reason (as well as in prophecy) that those agencies will have some change in status. Since the full number of Gentiles will have come in, there remains no point in either being turned lose in this world any longer, so both will cease being in the way of the Devil's plots. The Spirit will turn the focus of God's redemptive work to redeeming all of Israel; the church will be caught away to Christ in the heavenlies.

If you are fans of Hal Lindsey's or Tim LaHaye's, or remember the cheesy Thief in the Night movie series from the seventies, the scenario I pictured here may seem a bit strange, but the notion that Daniel's 70th week has anything at all to do with Gentiles getting saved is just biblically wrong! For Gentiles, today is the day of salvation, and once the full number has been saved, it's over. There may be do-overs in the realm of children's games, but when it comes to salvation for Gentiles, it's now or never and there are no second chances.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Temple Is the Issue

According to my understanding of end-times, there are two streams of redemptive history flowing toward a common end. In saying this, let me be clear, there is only one way to be saved, and only one name given under heaven by which men must be saved. Whether Jew or Gentile, apart from Christ, there is no hope-- not yesterday, not today, not forever. Yet, God is dealing with each of these groups distinctively in time. How? Read this, and we'll talk...

When the Jews rejected their own Messiah, Paul tells us that God shifted his redemptive focus from them to the Gentiles. Granted, there have been quite a number of Jews who have put faith in Jesus Christ through the ages since he was rejected by the bulk of them, but by and large they are hardened to even the consideration of him. The banner over them as a people has been
Ichabod: the glory has departed. Does that mean that God has washed his hands of them? No, there are seven years of redemptive work yet to finish with them, and God ever true to his word, will not forget them nor stop short of his promise to them.

So when will the clutch be depressed and the stick shifted from Gentile gear to 70th week gear, and when will Jesus return for his bride? According to the scriptures,
no one knows, and no one could ever know! Wait a minute, aren't there dependable signs that clearly mark this out? Not really, and that's why his return will always remain unexpected. We can gather that we are closer to that event, but Christians have thought the end was at the door since Jesus ascended to heaven, and yet the bridegroom delayed.

The one thing that does seem to be significant is the Temple. At the start of the 70 weeks, in the
issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, the Temple was paramount. Jesus said he would rebuild the Temple in three days, meaning the Temple of his body (which has become the Gentile church). Shortly thereafter, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. It seems sensible to me, that in shifting the redemptive focus from the Gentiles back to the Jews, the Temple in Jerusalem would be the central issue again.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Train Kept A-rollin'...

One Rail
As the old man huddled over the scroll something sparked his interest. It had been 67 years since he had left his beloved city as a youth. He had not left for fortune and fame, but in captivity and uncertainty, thrown out of Jerusalem by God himself, not likely to ever return. Regardless, he made up his mind to stay faithful, and God had been gracious through it all. Now, huddled over that scroll, nearing the final stretch of his days, his melancholy could not be masked. How he ached for the Jews and Jerusalem: God's chosen people, God's chosen city, would both be abandoned forever? From the barren ground of such longing, unexpectedly, a shoot of hope sprang forth from the words of Jeremiah: 70 years, not eternity, had been assigned for the desolations of Zion. Daniel began to pray for the Jews and Jerusalem.

In answer to Daniel's confessions and supplications for the future of the Jews and Jerusalem, the angel Gabriel was dispatched with God's response to Daniel's pleas. In typical God-like fashion, the answer went beyond what Daniel thought or asked. In a nutshell, God said to Daniel, "I'm not done with the Jews or Jerusalem, just yet. In fact, it will take 490 years for me to complete my work with and in them."

For all of us, studiously looking back at what was given to Daniel for clues to the end-times, we can never lose sight of the most salient feature of this vision: it's not that there are 70 weeks, but the fact that they were decreed for the Jews and Jerusalem. If one does not understand this point, I see no way for him or her to have a biblically coherent eschatology.

Rail Two
An old man walks across a rocky landscape alone. Though he's not paying attention to where he walks, he navigates perfectly, lost in thought in God's presence. He remembered all that had transpired since his days as a youth traveling with Jesus. So much had happened since then: the gospel had spilled out of Palestine and was now well on its way to the four corners of the earth, drawing in every kindred, tribe and tongue as it went. All the old gang had died and were buried, martyrs for the cause, and John, himself, the last eyewitness of Christ, walked these isolated crags in exile. I wonder, did he have a Truman moment as he walked, wondering how it would end?

A trumpet blast ended his pondering, heralding the appearance of the First and Last, who arrived, ripely, with some answers. In the prologue of the Apocalypse, we are told those answers were not just to satisfy John's curiosity, but also yours and mine (if in fact you are Christ's servant). The salient, but oft overlooked, feature of this prophecy is its stated purpose of telling what soon must take place. In fact, it is reiterated at least twice (Revelation 1:3 and 22:10) that its coming is near. No one could argue, at least not without doing injustice to the text, that the Revelation covers a lengthy period of time that actually extends into eternity, and yet the initiation of the period was to be near 95 AD.

The Train
What we have in the figures of Daniel and John are two handpicked messengers of God who were both given a vision, at a critical time of transition, of what would happen from their time to the end of time for the people on their heart. Daniel's concerns were about the Jews, so God's revelation to him was specifically about the Jews. John's concerns were for the church (which encompassed every tongue, kindred and tribe) so God's revelation dealt both with the Gentile church age and the last 7 years of Daniel.

From Daniel's time to the end of time, God would work specifically with the Jews for a total of 490 years to bring them to redemption. The only proviso not readily apparent is that 483 of those years would pass in succession, but the last seven would be split off and follow much later than the rest at the very end of time. From John's time to the end of time, God would work through a series of periods which would culminate in the removal of the Gentile church and the final seven years of Daniel, and then the millennium and eternity.

What these two figures represent, is the parallel tracks of a train. They are tied together, but are absolutely distinctive. To cross the rails is to invite disaster and turn one's eschatology into a train wreck. The train of God's presaged history will keep on a-rolling, but not all night long, and hopefully not over any of us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Told You So

What is the most important prophecy in the scriptures? For as many students of the Word as there are, there will be that many answers to such a question. Although Genesis 3:15 or Isaiah 53 would have to be considered in such measure, imho, something a bit obscure, and yet eminently practical may actually take the bill: Amos 3:7.

What this passage leads me to believe is that if events have significance to God's plan of redemption, those events will be foretold by prophets. Where such a supposition finds practical application is in understanding redemption history during the church age. For instance, events like the disintegration of the Pax Romana, the pandemic of Bubonic plague in the 1340's, or the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust are events that, no doubt, affected redemption history, and therefore, should be anticipated to be foretold by biblical prophecy.

If the last biblical prophetic revelation, the Apocalypse, was actually inspired in 95 CE (as is generally supposed), where in the Bible are these earth shattering events that have befallen mankind since then? I believe there are biblical answers to that question, and more, and will be visiting (off and on) the subject of eschatology for the next little while. I actually believe I have some insight on the subject you may find a blessing, but even if you end up not agreeing with that assessment-- when it's all said and done, and we meet those inspired saints of prior years in the air, they will be able to shamelessly trump our shock and mystery at what we've had to go through until then, with that age old gem of the smug, "I told you so!"

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Should Have Gone Fishing

Today was tax day. As a former accountant, I'm not bothered much by the final push to get them done and mailed in on time. We used to hop big time at this time in the CPA firm I worked for years and years ago (it was about as exciting as the profession got). I'm never in a rush to do my own returns. Just about every year I owe Uncle Sam money, and I can't bear giving it to that wastrel before there is absolutely no avoiding it any longer.

Now, I know I shouldn't rue paying my taxes-- "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's..." God instituted government among people for good reasons, and believers should embrace them and be dutiful citizens (with some exceptions, of course). But I can't help but think, as I'm cutting this check for Big Brother, that if I had any faith at all, I would have gone fishing!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Just Do It!

Distractions are some of our greatest enemies. They do not confront us with malice frontally, their blows, if they land at all, are only glancing. They don’t have to be dangerous or even lethal-- a butterfly on the windshield wiper can be just as distracting to our drive as a bee in the car. Like the old saw which says that a man may be the head of the family, but the wife is the neck, so distractions seek to turn our attention from where we were going.

The Bible warns us about distractions. Most of them are not intrinsically evil, some of them are. A family will be a distraction, it's unavoidable, and not evil in the least (quite the opposite in fact). An unrelenting drive for "success" and status is distracting from our point in being here, and is evil at the core. Either can stop ministry in its tracks.

Multiple choice exams, in order to add a degree of difficulty, often instruct their takers to choose, not the answer, but the best answer. A response can be wrong, not because it isn't true, but because it isn't full. When tolerances are high, quality control is a cinch: when we're looking for the best, we have to be more discerning. How much of what we teach and practice in the church settles for the ballpark, and misses being in the game? The church at Ephesus certainly has some lessons to teach us in this regard.

Even the litany of discussions about the church, seems somewhat distracting to me. So many are writing and reading about what has already been said. Mention something to a brother or sister today and you're likely to hear, "have you read so and so's book/article/blog about ..." So much information, so many concerns, too many choices, urgencies everywhere, the flesh in the midst of it all, excuses overflowing, maybe it's time to just do it!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Symphony of Worship

Why do we worship? Is God some kind of timid soul, lacking self-esteem, and needing the boost of our adulation? Or is he a megalomaniac, who so loves the sound of his own name, he mandates it's pronouncement from our quivering lips as we genuflect? No, worship is not about ego or servility, it's about reality. The reality of God; to deny it is to be a fool, to accede to it is the foundation of faith, to revel in it is worship.

Mmmmmm (hum that as a musical tone). Not bad, true in essence, but kind of sparse, huh? What happens when it's no longer alone, but matched by a bunch of other tones? Add timbre, dynamics, rhythm, counterpoint and the sum becomes more than the parts. God seeks those who will worship in spirit and truth, pure tones, but never seeks to have them or hold them in isolation. From the diversity in the conglomeration the necessary elements emerge which turn the hum of a tuning fork into music.

Some music is vapid, [e.g., rap; disco; heavy metal; 80's pop; everything in the 90's, except for Dave Matthews; virtually everything coming out of Nashville at anytime; much of the insipid noise foisted as contemporary Christian music (sorry, I couldn't resist ;-))] but the music of the soul, struck from a knowledge of God is heavenly, and therefore homey to God. It's not just about him, but of him, in harmony with him. It agrees with reality.

In the presence of such airs, the curtain is pulled back and that reality shines forth in plain view. Like Jesus on the mount, nothing hinders God from revealing who he is and doing what he does. The glow of that truth radiates its own resonance that synchronizes each tone into an opus of glory. Though each note of belief and response rises out of the isolation of an individual heart, the common focus of the many is orchestrated by it's object, transforming a joyful noise into a symphony of worship.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Audience of Worship

Who is the intended audience of the "worship" segments of congregational meetings?

If the answer is the visitor or newcomer, those segments are designed (like everything else in such churches) to appeal to the next one in the door. That one must be prospected, projected and then specifically, strategically prepared for. It's a marketing thing, often a niche marketing thing. Is it a worship thing?

If the answer is the folk sitting in the congregation, those segments are designed, often reactionally, to maintain those returning through the door. The wants and wishes (sometimes expressed in grumbling) of those will guide, forestall or derail any attempt to change the status quo. It is a placating thing, but is it a worship thing?

If the answer (regardless of the considerations above) is people, the goal of those fronting those segments will be thrilling or at least satisfying their ticket-paying audience. The likelihood is that those leaders will be inordinately attended to (the astral effect) by both the audience and the church "promoters" who enlist them. It's only human nature, and the result is rock concerts and stage shows.

An innocent misstep a sincere worship leader can make is tugboating, but playing David to the congregation's Saul is not a NT paradigm. The folk in the seats are not faithless fakes who have no God inside and so have to be pushed from without, but are a living temple, a habitation of the Holy Ghost. The worship team doesn't have to "take them into the throne room," they're already there! The issue is their recognition and acknowledgement of God followed by an appropriate response, not getting them there.

With all of this in mind, who is the audience of worship? Well, it's none other than God himself, and God and no one else. When someone says, "worship was great!" he or she is utterly deluded if they had the worship team's performance in mind, but keenly insightful if they had the congregation's participation and God's presence in view. When worship is truly worship, the church acts as orchestra, the Spirit as the maestro, and God is the audience.