Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What's A Guy Gotta Do?

Jesus was asked one day, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" His answer, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

I am Arminian in theology, not because I feel any particular bond or loyalty to James Arminius, but because I believe the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is not accomplished without, and is predicated upon, the the conscious choice of the saved. It's not that God isn't involved nor even providing the impetus toward salvation, but that belief in Christ is a response made by, not for, the saved. It's a question of personal faith, and, given the wooing of the Holy Spirit, it is possible for everyone.

Believing in Jesus is, in fact, the work that God requires of us. As Mark Knopfler might say, "that ain't workin'!" But that is the way we do it! Faith is not the product of sweat and toil, nor the fruit of planning and vision. It's a response to a circumstance, a reaction to a stimulus. The word of the Lord (stimulus) came to Abraham, faith was his response, righteousness his reward. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day for our justification (circumstance), faith is the reaction of the saved, eternal life is the repercussion. Where's the work in all this?

The answer is that it is excluded. The work was done by God, we only respond to it. It is by grace that we are saved, through faith, not of works so that no one can boast. Jesus was being tongue in cheek when he answered that question that way that day. It must have struck a perplexing note in his hearers--"what kind of work is that?" they might have asked themselves. That's just it, it isn't one, and that is what the Lord wanted to highlight.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Abortion's Reluctant Champion?

Here's a remarkably well done analysis of Sen. Obama's response to the abortion question Rick Warren posed last week during the Civil Forum. Generally, I wouldn't put something this partisan on my blog, but it is wonderfully expansive and can be applied more generally to the arguments anyone uses to excuse abortion out of one side of the mouth while they despair over it out the other. Enjoy reading, and saying, "that's what I'm talkin' 'bout," (that's more fun than amen when dealing with political subjects!). Then come back and tell me if it's possible to be a reluctant champion of abortion.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How Do You Mend A Broken Part?

The Todd Bentley affair has brought into sharp relief one reality church folk never seem to be able to remember: every minister who has ever lived, or ever will, is just an ordinary human being, like anyone else. They have strengths, they have weaknesses, they sin. Whatever gift they pass along is no more their fault than the waters of the Mississippi are attributable to the towns she meanders through. As gravity, not determined will, dictates her muddy course, so to the Spirit of God, not the merit of a man, decides who is gifted and how.

The thud of the mighty falling awakens us from reverie. Startled, we're aghast and thirsty for blood. They may not have actually been giants, but looking up to them, our perspective made them seem so. Their failure calls into question all we so readily received at their hands and shakes our very foundations. We've been had, we reason, and we want our dignity returned along with a pound of flesh from the guilty. In no time flat, we mob together at the Place de la Concorde, shouting, "off with his head!"

It would be nice if we never had occasion to get this right in the future (we will), but I fear we're already over the threshold of getting it wrong in the present. We seem unable to learn from the Bible or the past, and so we repeat the same missteps over and over and over and over again. Every time we do, the church looks more like a petty social club than the body of Christ--the only army in the world that kills its wounded rather than dressing their injuries, and especially so if they're officers.

What should we do? Look to the word: 1 Timothy 5:19-21; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20; and 1 Corinthians 5:9-12 give us plenty of instructions about how to deal with this kind of thing. Matthew 18:15-17 is also helpful, but is trumped by the Timothean passage when dealing with an accusation against an elder. I think the process can be summed up this way: confrontation, admonition, contrition/excommunication, restoration. In the case of an elder (church leader) transparency is commanded and necessary.

What should be jarring about this process is that disqualification is not one of the steps. That is not a biblical concept in either the Old or the New Testament. Samson didn't cease being a judge of Israel, even as he milled grain before the derisive glares of his pagan enemies. David didn't boot Saul out of office before his time, despite God rejecting Saul's kingship. Saul was qualified by God when he became king and he remained the Lord's anointed until he died. David's only recess in service occurred as a result of rebellion, not justice. Peter never stopped being an apostle in Jesus' mind, though he denied the Lord in the time of trial. In fact, one of the things I best love about the biographies in the scriptures is that we are shown the godly, warts and all--the good, the bad and the ugly!

Their stories tell us that God's servants are his servants, even when they prove themselves all too human.

Arbitrarily removing God's servant from service is a fleshly concept from the world, not even hinted at in the NT. The gifts and callings of God are without repentance. Though one must meet certain qualifications to embark in ministry, once the mooring line has been released, that ship has sailed. There is no indication whatsoever that a failing minister has to requalify (read: go through a lengthy process leading to restoration) in order to serve. Imho, these automatic ministerial decapitations are completely unscriptural--more akin to the ravenous French mob drooling in front of the guillotine than the body of Christ. God forbid!

So what would a biblical process of correcting elders look like? When an accusation against an elder is substantiated by witnesses, that elder is to be confronted by the witnesses and a fellow elder. If the charges are admitted and the accused wants to repent, confess and go on with ministry, he should be publicly, and I would add specifically, rebuked before his church. The accused elder should then publicly acknowledge his guilt fully and honestly before his congregation, and humbly announce what actions are being taken to turn from the sin. His ministry should then continue, but with transparency concerning the issues of the fall.

Hiding things under the carpet until the dust settles, or having experts beat that carpet clean in their secluded workshops is not what the Bible commands. Neither are arbitrary suspension periods, or restoration processes--these are human inventions not scriptural mandates. They have not served the body well, imo, and only serve to cover a wound rather than healing it. Healing and deliverance occur in the light: it's the truth that sets us free.

If a minister will not repent or accept correction, or is not willing to be transparent about the process, he or she should be publicly excommunicated, even if in absentia. There are, as well, certain legal transgressions that will make it impossible for a minister to ever lead corporately again. Regardless, our aim and hope should always be restorative, for there are way too many wasted gifts and way too much avoidable damage done in the body of Christ, not due to the sin of the minister, but the way that sin is dealt with.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist V

When the sixth angel empties his vial of wrath upon the Euphrates River near the end of the last seven years, it will set in motion the events we call Armageddon. The river will dry up allowing the armies of the east to cross over it unhindered. Where will they be heading? Northern Israel is my guess. Honestly, I am not certain that this is the invasion Ezekiel speaks of, but that is my working hypothesis. In that case, the nations that would be involved would include Russia, her Caucasus underlings and her former central Asian republics, Iran, Libya, and Sudan. I don't think it necessary to envision China or India, or even much of the rest of the world as participating. It is possible, but it is not clearly indicated by scripture.

According to Daniel, the Antichrist will find the initial news of these armies stirring alarming. He immediately puts the spin machine into gear and gets out in front of this action. Whatever freelance or rebellious quality these movements may have had at first will be transformed by spiritual deception into a patriotic effort supporting the mission of the Antichrist. Israel, as in the time of Hitler, will be made the fall guy, but I think the key to turning the situation around for the Antichrist may be convincing the world that an alien invasion targeted at Jerusalem is afoot. It's not like mankind isn't being primed for that even now!

Of course, it won't be aliens invading, it'll be Jesus Christ and his church returning! On a rise, somewhere in the Jezreel Valley near Megiddo, the armies flying the banner of the Antichrist will be utterly destroyed. So complete will be their annihilation, it will take the Israelis seven months just to bury the dead. The Antichrist and False Prophet will be caught alive, however, and thrown immediately into the Lake of Fire which burns forever. The Devil will be shackled and thrown into the Abyss, and Jesus and those who have believed in him will begin to rule for a thousand years. Though the Devil has tried to accomplish the Antichrist scheme for so long, when he finally succeeds, he'll falter rather quickly and end up going out with a whimper rather than a bang.

Index to the Entire Series

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist IV

Will the Antichrist usher in and reap the benefits of an era of peace, security and unity unknown previously upon the face of planet earth? Although such a case could be made using some passages of the scripture, that's not quite the whole picture the Bible paints. Though the Antichrist may be a mesmerizing messianic figure to the world, ultimately, it's his use of the big stick that gets things done. The question the world asks that elicits its acquiescence is not about his program for peace nor his prowess in the supernatural, but his ruthlessness in war.

Because of the head wound passage (and this one), it is often supposed that the Antichrist suffers an assassination attempt and recovers in a seemingly miraculous way--a pseudo-resurrection of sorts. That interpretation is wrong because it mixes metaphors and thereby misses the point. The heads of the beast, its horns and its crowns refer not to the physical person of the Antichrist, but to the nations or kingdoms that make up the beast empire. A wound to one of the heads of the beast, therefore, is not a physical wound to the Antichrist's person, but the loss of political control over one of the kingdoms in his empire. 

My reading of Daniel and Ezekiel tells me that the wound will be a rebellion of the King of the South (Egypt). It is put down with such a ruthless, callous, cunning, and overwhelming display of willfulness and power that whatever independent spirit might have remained in the Gentile world at that time evaporates in a flash. "Who is able to wage war with him?" they'll ask themselves acquiescently. The Antichrist will then be poised to expand his hegemony from the Middle East to the world, though he'll need a friend to do so.

Jay Leno learned a valuable lesson shortly after taking the reigns of the Tonight Show. When one is in the limelight, it can be very helpful to have a sidekick (a foil that makes the big dog look good). He hadn't planned for that when he took over for Johnny Carson, and Branford Marsalis wasn't willing to play that gig. Kevin Eubanks was, hence his rise into the spotlight.

The False Prophet will play a similar role for the Antichrist. He provides a sense of spiritual legitimacy, backed up by signs and wonders, for the Antichrist's claims of divinity. He's the foil that makes the Antichrist look good and the lieutenant that advances and executes the spiritual component of the Antichrist's agenda. He will be the Roman Catholic Pope alive at that time, and his doom will be as inevitable as is that of the Antichrist he serves.

Index to the Entire Series

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist III

Since the Antichrist's kingdom is typified by the King of the North (the Seleucid Kingdom) and his empire is bounded by the area controlled by both Alexander and the Romans, we can make some fairly certain statements about what will and what will not be part of the ten horns. The European Common Market is out, almost entirely: no England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany... you get the picture. The ten horns will be in the Levant, the Balkans and Africa.

The specificity of a revived Kingdom of the North ensures that Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon will be included. Jordan and Saudi Arabia (Ammon, Moab and Edom) are specifically excluded, whereas Egypt, Libya and the Sudan (Cush) are specifically included. That leaves three others which would have to come from the Balkans (Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, or Albania).

Israel is not one of the ten, it merely signs a covenant with their leader, who happens to be the Antichrist. Daniel's prophecy has to be taken as situating the time of this covenant with the ultimate abominator (as opposed to the type of the abominator) as falling after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. Jesus mentioned the abomination in question as yet to come, not as fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes, and the events of 70 AD do not even remotely resemble what Daniel prophesied. 

We have not considered the potential of Palestine being one of the ten nor the producer of the Antichrist, because Palestine is not a biblically legitimate entity. Even though the area had a large Gentile population in the days of Antiochus, and though there are efforts afoot to incorporate an Arab state in the Beautiful Land today, Canaan is Israel's, given once and for all time to her by God. Israel is is being restored to her land in these last days and Jerusalem to her people. 

The Antichrist will worship a god unknown in Daniel's day. That is the implication of the descriptive phrases used by Daniel-- not the god of his fathers, not the one desired of women, a militaristic god unknown to his fathers, a foreign god. Whenever something is described prophetically that will only exist in the far future, it tends be a bit weird, hence the cryptic language.

Let me ask you, "what new god has arisen since the days of Daniel, that is totally outside the bounds of previously existing pagan pantheons and is militaristic: a god of fortresses (literally, strongholds) who assists its followers in overcoming the mightiest of citadels?" In my mind, this is a perfect description of the jihadist god, Allah of Islam. The Antichrist will be a Muslim, which makes sense considering his locale and his international ambitions. Nominal, however, only because he ends up repudiating all gods, except for himself.

Index to the Entire Series

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist II

In Daniel 8, as I see it, the main character is the prophetic figure called the "little horn." This person is Greek, his kingdom in Asia arising out of Alexander's (the shaggy goat) conquest of the Medo/Persian empire (the ram). We are told his expansion is toward the the south (Israel) and east (Iraq). Technically, the figure presages Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid ruler of Syria (whose domains included large portions of Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq) in the time of the Maccabees; however, he in turn is used as a type of the Antichrist in Daniel 11:21-35. Seamlessly, Antiochus' description morphs into the Antichrist's at verse 36, which in turn is carried through to the end of Daniel 12. So, in understanding the rise and fall of the Antichrist, it is the type of the King of the North that is most descriptive of domain and action.

However, his kingdom is Roman too, as can be determined from Daniel 7. There, the little horn is seen arising from ten others in the fourth kingdom (the third was Greek, see above, the fourth was Roman). The Revelation says that those ten kings arise in the day of the Antichrist for the sole purpose of turning power over to him; however, it also says that the ten horned beast was not in existence at the time of John. It once was and would be again, but it wasn't in 95 AD when John was exiled on Patmos by the Roman empire and he received the Revelation! What this tells me is that the domain of the Antichrist is located physically in the area controlled by both Alexander and the Romans (the Seleucid Kingdom fits that bill very well), and located in time after the Roman empire.

We also learn from Daniel 7:8 that his rise to power comes at the expense of three of the ten kingdoms making up his empire. Antiochus Epiphanes arose in what is today Turkey (Antakya/Samandag), but was then known as Syria (Antioch/Seleucia). John locates the throne of Satan, the sponsor and inspiration of the Antichrist, in Pergamum (now Bergama, Turkey). Given these facts, and considering that the Kingdom of the North is the revived kingdom of the Antichrist, my opinion is that Turkey will be the nation of origin for the Antichrist. If history is the key to the future, that would make Syria and Iraq the prime candidates for the other two ripped out horns.

I'll talk about the rest of the horns, and the rest of the rest with my next post.

Index to the Entire Series

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist I

I've given the subject of eschatology a rest for a while, but I'd like to wake that puppy from its slumber and stir things up a bit. Let us start by looking at the career of the Antichrist. With this post I'll set out the narrative, with the next few I'll connect it to the key bits of information the Bible gives us about this figure. I can't name names or give dates and times (no one can at this moment, honestly), but what we can understand biblically, I will attempt to communicate clearly.

The Antichrist will be a willful, even maniacally manipulative, ruthless, nominal Muslim, probably from Turkey. It is possible that he will originate in the Balkans, or Syria, or Lebanon, or Iraq, but my money's on the Turkish Republic. His first move to power will likely occur in his country of origin, and may put into question his legitimacy to rule. What separates him from other contenders (or pretenders) is his bold grab of two other nations, one Syria, the other either Iraq or Lebanon.

He will be ceded imperial power by an alliance of ten nations, which include the ones he personally reigns over plus seven more (Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, and three of Greece, Macedonia, Albania, and Bulgaria). Some of the ten are identified quite clearly in scripture, some are the fruit of my conjecture; regardless, all are roughly bounded by that area that was ruled by both Alexander and the Romans in the Levant, the Balkans and Africa. Specifically, we are told this empire represents a resurrection of a empire that was dead in the Apostle John's day, but would revive in the end times. That rules out Rome (western Europe) out of hand (so much for Common Market interpretations!), but tracks well with an Alexandrian/Seleucid interpretation.

At some point, I think after the ten nations have ceded imperial power to the beast, he will sign a 7 year pact with Israel. It seems to me, the treaty will give Israel control over the Temple mount and the right to rebuild said structure. Whether or not this is the reason that the King of the South (Egypt) rebels, I am not sure, but Egypt most certainly does rebel. The Antichrist reacts so forcefully and utterly to this challenge that the rest of the world loses all desire to withstand him. 3 1/2 years into the treaty period, perhaps just prior to the Temple's dedication, the beast declares himself god above all that is called God, and requires everyone in the world to acknowledge his divinity by taking a mark on the right hand or forehead.

This mark will not be coercive, despite the fact that no one can buy, sell or trade without it. The combination of the Antichrist's forceful will, the deceptive signs and wonders done at his bidding, and a strong delusional influence sent by God upon the Gentiles of that day will result in a ready capitulation by the masses. They will gladly take the mark, and it will seem the good and right thing to do, they would feel indignation toward any who would not. The mark, however, spells their doom.

Not so with the Jews. Under the ministry of Enoch and Elijah, and the 144,000 in the first 3 1/2 years of the pact, the Jews will embrace Christ en masse and resist the mark. Many of them will be imprisoned and end up beheaded for doing so, but Christ will raise them up when he returns. Near the end of the 7 year compact, the armies of the nations will be mustered together in northern Israel to do battle against the expected invasion of Christ and his army of saints. My guess is that this will be spun as an alien invasion, but that is sheer speculation on my part.

Christ will come bursting through the skies, with his saints in tow (that's us, yeehaw!) and usher in a new age of peace and prosperity. The Antichrist and his chief lieutenant, the False Prophet, will immediately be thrown into the Lake of Fire, the Devil will be chained in darkness for 1000 years. To all of which I say, Maranatha!

Index to the Entire Series