Thursday, March 12, 2009

(Read the previous post before proceeding to this one!)

This is Part 2 from my last blog; "Unlimitied Abundant Life; A Proclamation of Freedom from the End Times Marginalization of the Finished Work of Jesus Christ"

My “word-y” title says so much of my heart and passion as a Christian and a pastor. While we are being offered unlimited abundant life as God’s Kingdom family, we don’t have time to waste on even the most subtle marginalizing of Christ’s finished redemption. “End times” fantasies (a.k.a. dispensational theology) are among the most prevalent and virulent culprits of limiting faith and vision.

This school of thought has fostered a perverse delight that is gift wrapped with the bad news of our world. When terrorists attack, or hurricanes and earthquakes strike, or the economy is sinking, or the “wrong” political party wins an election promoters of this fixation are quick to note how these are “signs of the times”, and “if you think that was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

This cynical vision seizes every season of pain, misery and perceived political “wrongs” on the world scene as an opportunity for proof-texting their prophesies and ramping up the possibility of, “the worst is yet to come”. If you have the stomach for it, randomly tune in to Christian television programming to sample this neurotic fixation, especially right now with the world wide economy suffering as it is. The conspiracy theorists are having a field day, and, I’m sorry to say, they are doing it in the Name of Jesus.

I have stood by and watched this cycle too many times in my 55 years of life and 36 years of being a pastor. It has been successful at derailing far too many people who are otherwise good hearted. I can not respond with silence, nor will I, on the other hand, become only a reactionary, obsessed with fighting error. I will simply and with as much anointed clarity as I know to seize, speak the Word that has been burning in me for the past 25 years.

Through good times and bad, war and peace, the Middle-east not withstanding, Democratic power or Republican bluster, my message is this, “Everything is fulfilled, the Transcendent Supremacy of God’s Kingdom is at your hand! Change your mind! Arrange your life around the Kingdom’s Dominating influence!”

I would rather risk the enormity of Kingdom faith than a lazy slide on the grease of a gravity fed decline. As 17th century English author and poet John Milton said, “By winning words to conquer willing hearts, and make persuasion do the work of fear.”

“…make persuasion do the work of fear…” is a mighty tall order. Fear is an easy work. You’ll get immediate results, especially when a spirit of fear is already in the air. Have you ever been to a “haunted house” in the dark? With absolutely no effort, the suggestion that “something” is about to happen creates the stage and tension. Just add a sudden “boo!” from an unseen corner….viola….results! This is the recipe of most end times formulas.

If you haven’t already noticed, my approach to this subject is not largely based on the categories of doctrinal labels; pre-millennial, post-millennial, a-millennial. I will recommend some excellent books at the conclusion of this blog by some folks who can do a far better job of explaining these designations than I can. My gift as a pastor/teacher/apostle is to feed the sheep with as much wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ as I can. This is my work of “persuasion”. So here’s another shot at some revealed persuasion…

All truth must ultimately find its revealed nature and character in the Face of Jesus Christ. HE is the only reliable translation of the Word, because HE is the Word. This means we must have a Life with HIM before we can have any reliable teaching about Him.

For example, all too often when end times teachers quote Jesus’ Words from Matthew 24:29, 30 they are unwittingly quoting the sheer opposite of what they intend. “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.”

The sun, moon and stars for the Jewish mind-set that Jesus was speaking to at that time representing the family of Israel and its religious roots. When a young lad named Joseph (Genesis 37) related his dream about the sun, moon and the stars bowing to him his family immediately knew he was talking about them. This family is the root system of Israel.

So, in Matthew 24 Jesus is talking about the end of the world for the people of the Old Testament covenant and the beginning of the New Testament world of the rule and reign of Christ in the Heavenlies! He is prophesying the soon coming day of His Kingdom established in Heaven among the cloud of witnesses, which in turn, begins the destiny of an ever increasing Coming of the Kingdom through the New Jerusalem, the Church (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Now, there is no Jew or Gentile, for we are all ONE in Christ! (The Books of Galatians and Ephesians). Indeed now, “he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter…” (Romans 2:28,29) WE are now the truly circumcised, who worship in the Spirit and relish in Christ Jesus with no confidence in mere religious practice (Philippians 3:1-3).

Once I have a full revelation of Who Jesus is and He takes up a living residence in me I am raptured into a heavenly delight of being, once and for all, a member of a new generation and race of people put on this earth for the healing of the nations! There is no plan B. There are no conspiracies that will last for long. Christ Jesus IS reigning and ruling in the Heavens and His Kingdom is hard-wired for a final and ultimate healing domination.

When I am a covenant partner to that, I have a dream and a destiny written in my DNA that is driving my lifestyle and priorities toward that end.

Here is a teaser quote from my soon to be released book, “Radiance; the Transcendent Nature of the Kingdom of God”; “We cannot journey into any significant portion of the Father’s nature until and unless we pass through Jesus. Go through Him and God’s character becomes an open book. Step around Him and hundreds of passages in the Bible look like mysterious spooky eyes leering at you from a dark forest on a scary howling autumn night.

As surely as the ubiquitous (airport) metal detector will find that gun in your pocket, so Jesus’ final sacrifice will detect any and all leftover need in our hearts for that one last blast of God’s wrath on earth.

I have sat through more than a few prophecy meetings with that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was wrong. Scriptures were racing up and down the concourses but I routinely found myself wishing for that transcendent metal detector. It sure looked like too many weapons (one is enough!) had made their way to the gate and I simply let those flights of fancy leave the airport without me.”

We simply must stop all interpretations of Scripture by the measure of news headlines and social studies! Jesus Christ IS the Word made flesh. Don’t understand a passage you are reading? Lay yourself and that passage into a full-on encounter with the Living Christ until He unpacks that truth into the deep end of YOU.

In Luke 9 we are told how Jesus was intent on going to Jerusalem, but also how He wanted to visit some villages in Samaria along the way. He sent messengers ahead who discovered that these villages were not inclined to have Jesus stop in on His way to Jerusalem. James and John, indignant at this news said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them? But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

(On a side note: I love how James and John are talking smack about calling fire down out of heaven when, at this stage of their faith development, they couldn’t light a gas soaked rag with a blow torch!)

Later in Luke 12:49,50 Jesus says, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!” Soak in the very Presence of Christ and catch the spirit of these Words! HIS fire is a saving, healing, delivering, freeing ignition of LOVE to consume a world in pain clearly in contrast to a different kind of spirit that seeks obliteration!

Here’s a powerful teaching moment: the conspiracy theorists and end times aficionados are having a field day in this time of economic and political intrigue. Their “spirit” is loosing the thief whose only goal is to steal, kill and destroy. I say unequivocally that Jesus is the exact opposite of that misery and that He has ONLY come to loose LIFE more abundantly.

These are not just words for simple daily devotion. These Words reveal His overarching dominant character. If He rebukes the slightest notion that fire from heaven to destroy is of a wrong spirit then that must be a final filter for us today! If He achingly proclaims a desire to loose a fire that gives LIFE then that must be a final filter for every other theory we are tempted to believe for the collapse of our world.

Dispensational, end times theology has opened a door of ultimate despair, especially in times of instability and pain. This is completely out of step with the character of the Father as revealed in the Life of Jesus. Half measures to close this door will avail us nothing. Either the door is open or closed and I am taking this time of my life and ministry to risk slamming it completely shut.

Why? Because, sadly, as I write these words, a local community is currently suffering the acting out of hopelessness by teenagers with suicides and threats of violence. I don’t believe for a split second that the Body of Christ gets a free pass on these matters when our message is polluted with judgment, wrath, conspiracy and end times scenarios that serve a wrong spirit! That might sound like I am over reaching, but I don’t believe I am. When our light becomes darkness, how great is that darkness.

I understand dispensational theology because my bachelor’s degree was rooted in it. Though it never truly fed me and it always left me with a sense that something was amiss, I loyally defended it. But by the early 80’s I was desperate for truth.

What I discovered then was that dispensational theology was an anomaly on the historic church view of the end times. It had it roots in the mid 1800’s, which for church history sake, is a newcomer. But, being a newcomer alone wasn’t the issue for me. What pressed me deeply was the fruit of this “tree” and the subtle challenges it presented to the Character of God and the Face of Jesus.

As I have been saying all along here, it presumes that God has a deeply troubling nasty side. The “Great Tribulation” locked God into a 7 year need for extreme judgment by binding Him into partnership with our ability to destroy creation. Additionally, it proposes that creation itself will come off the hinges.

Dispensational theology is also founded on the idea that God has two people groups which He considers “chosen”. The earthly, which is national Israel, can only be redeemed through the processes of the “Great Tribulation”. And the heavenly people, which is the church, who are in a parenthetical dispensation now awaiting the rapture.

This is why a well known teacher from this view once said that when Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4, He did not read beyond verse 2 of that passage because those promises were for the millennium and Jewish believers at that time. Go ahead and read Isaiah 61:2-11 for yourself. Ask yourself which of these promised beauties you would like to leave on the table of unbelief? I’ll pick just one, “and they will repair the ruined cities”, and tell you that it is no wonder the enemy of our soul wants us to believe that this is for another, unreachable time!

Once my heart was raptured (I love using this word correctly) by the revelation that ALL of the promises of God are potentially MINE, I could not be stopped. When I read in I Peter 2:9,10, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellences of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God….”, I have realized that God has ONE new people with ONE new plan for ONE new victory…. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”

There is NO other view of His character than this from which my spiritual roots will draw strength.

Here’s that list of books I recommend for a more a technical and doctrinal discussion:
1. “The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation” by Philip Mauro
2. “Paradise Restored” and “Days of Vengeance” by David Chilton
3. “The Rapture Exposed” by Barbara Rossing
4. “An Eschatology of Victory” by J. Marcellus Kik
5. “Victorious Eschatology” by Harold Eberle and Martin Trench
6. “The Sign of the Kingdom” by George Kouri and Richard Hogue
7. “Reinventing Your Church” by Brian McLaren (special attention to chapter 11 and the challenge to explore a “new eschatology” and why it is so important)
8. “Apocalypse WOW!” by James Finn Garner. Be warned; this book is by an unbeliever. His approach is strictly humorous but profoundly reflective of what the church becomes when we allow the voices of the “left behind” culture to define us all. It’s like looking in the mirror and discovering that you’ve been walking around all day with your zipper down and realizing why people haven’t been taking you seriously.
9. Any Bible Commentary that does not solely privilege dispensational theology like it’s the only way to see scriptures. For instance; New Bible Commentary; 21st Century Edition by InterVarsity Press or “Pulpit Commentary”
10. Use all Scofield Reference Bibles… coffee table decoration and never for an understanding of the “end times”.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Unlimited Abundant Life; A Proclamation of Freedom from End Times Marginalization of the Finished Work of Jesus Christ

Let me start by saying I don’t entirely like my title! It sounds more formal than I am typically comfortable with, however, I simply could not reduce my thoughts to anything more concise.

Here’s what is at stake: the completed redemption of Jesus Christ by His once and for all sacrifice on the cross and His fulfillment of all the Pleasure of the Father in His Resurrection. See why my title is a bit word-y?

I Corinthians 2:1-5 suggests that Paul would walk into a gathering and take a reading-- is there a revelation of Christ crucified in this bunch? Is Jesus Christ crucified their final satisfaction for all wrath and judgment? Or does their God need anger management courses? Is their God as satisfied as Isaiah 53:11 predicted He would be when He looked on His Son's anguish in order to justify the many? Are these people freed by the crucified Christ from any further "need" for wrath? Because if they are, there will be a demonstration of the Spirit and of power and their faith will be in the power of God and not the wisdom of people. This is a place and a people where the Kingdom of God and revival will break out!

We are certainly discovering that to be true out here in Forest, Wisconsin. We are delighting in an atmospheric shift with the fresh air of a satisfied Father who loves to heal and deliver all kinds of messed up humanity.

We are in a covenant with permission granted to just BE in revival because all the price for admission has been paid for by the Crucified Christ. Judgment is satisfied...its time to seize and release the full benefits of Kingdom come….will of God be done….on earth AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.

But, make no mistake about it; this kind of faith and declaration cannot be made without an emancipation from the profound, albeit subterranean marginalizing effect of End Times hyperbole. Here’s why that’s true…

For the sake of simplicity I will need to use the most recognizable “handle” of what I believe has caused a spiritual anemia in the Church, not only today, but for many decades. Currently it is best recognized as “left behind”. While this genre has made for fascinating, high end book sales, it draws its nourishment from the soil of a dispensational theology that unwittingly demands 2 tragic and soul draining belief systems:
1. That God needs a 7 year Great Tribulation to finish His wrath.
2. That the entirety of the bursting benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection are not fully available until a time reserved away from today.

If it were not for these 2 demands, I could remain somewhat detached from a need to address this on this level. I would still see the treasury of God’s Word in a far more enriching manner, but I would hesitate from the possibility of entering yet another doctrinal debate where few win anything.

But those who know me best know that I take Isaiah 53:11 as a history shattering revelation for human kind; “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He (God) will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge (Christ) the Righteous One, My servant, will justify the many as He will bear their iniquities.” The context of this verse makes it clear that the prophet Isaiah was carried by the Holy Spirit to see how Christ was injected with all the evil, sinful nature of humankind and how it contorted and devastated even His physical visage. Any further need for God’s wrath upon humans based on the absolute justice of the Law was once and for all SATISFIED IN CHRIST!

To insert a specific 7 year period of wrath and give it a credibility even remotely close to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy is to diminish Jesus Christ and I refuse to allow that thinking anywhere near my thought life, much less, my spiritual nourishment.

This 7 year period, taught by some as the 70th week of Daniel, is an essential component of the “left behind” mentality. According to this theory, God’s wrath will be so complete that He will need to rapture the church out of harm’s way.
Here are my questions; what if God’s satisfaction is complete? What if the notion of a 7 year Great Tribulation has actually been accomplished in the perfect 7 of Jesus Christ and Him crucified? What if our western, rational, linear thinking has reduced the revelation of scripture to charts and time-lines? What if end times fear based teaching has robbed Jesus of the reward of His suffering?

To suggest that God needs to impose more suffering on humankind in order to complete His “plan” is to imply that Jesus did not complete the work of redemption. I agree with Jesus when He said from the cross, “It is finished”, and I also agree with Jesus when He said, “If I be lifted up (on the cross) I will draw ALL men to myself”.(John 12:32)

Let’s move on to #2 from above; that the “bursting benefits” of Christ are not fully available until another time, far removed from our faith.

Dispensational, “left behind”, end times thinking has dark lines drawn around multiple promises throughout scripture. I don’t have time or space to list the promises in this space, but here’s a rule of thumb to find those promises in the Bible; if it’s outrageously good, culture reforming and nation healing, it is for the millennium and not for now. Here again, I refuse to plant my faith anywhere near this kind of irresponsible, convenient detachment from my accountability to be a man of faith.

Even the Lord’s prayer can not be answered on this side of the millennium according to this theory, “Thy Kingdom come…” is primarily for future reference, at best, because, only when Christ returns, after the 7 years of Great Tribulation, will the Kingdom come.

I will write more again next week. To conclude my thoughts today I want to be quick to note that my Bachelor’s degree program was deeply entrenched in this school of dread. I understand its nuances, its Bible proof-texts and its history. I spent an inordinate of amount of my early years of ministry trying to believe it and defend it. In 1983 I was exhausted by the bankruptcy of the lack of its spiritual dynamic.

When I came to believe that God was ready, willing and able to make good on any promise of His Word, my exhaustion was turned to exhilaration! To believe that I could participate in the healing of the nations drew me out of the malaise of a truncated view of a world about to “end”. Micah 4 was no longer locked away in the millennium…it became a faith dare to be a participant in the exaltation of a glorious church that would attract the nations of the world to come and see our Glorious God!

To all the fans of “left behind” I urge you to read Psalm 37, Proverbs 2:21,22; 10:30 and then look at Matthew 24:36-41. In the light of God’s promises that, “the meek will inherit the earth” and “the righteous will remain and the wicked removed”….how can we any longer read that the coming of the Son of Man will be as it was in the days of Noah without seeing that the wicked were removed and the righteous (Noah) was, “left behind”?

Think about it and come back next week for more, “Unlimited Abundant Life; A Proclamation of Freedom from the “End Times” Marginalization of the Finished Work of Jesus Christ”.