June 1, 2022

Idolatry in the American Church

“My little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (I John 5:21).

 

Christians in America are overrun with idols. And we are clueless. Partly because the church in America condones it, even promotes it. But more so because the god of this world has made the American dream so attractive, so comfortable, so convenient that we refuse to turn our back on it. We ignore the teachings of Jesus to count the cost of following Him. We like the little phrase, “What would Jesus do?”, but we don’t even scratch the surface in committing to look at His life and follow in His footsteps.

Aaron made a golden calf for the Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai (Ex 32). When it was unveiled he told them “this is your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” That golden calf did not represent some idol god form Egypt, it represented God Yahweh. The Israelites did not replace God with an idol, they crafted God into a god of their own liking. Idolatry usually happens in this manner; we manipulate and massage the one true God into an image that we like. Our faith in God is so intermingled and adulterated with the American dream that we don’t even know that we are worshiping a golden calf. The bride of Christ has one foot in the kingdom of God and one foot mired in the culture of this world.  

The American church has not crafted a golden calf, as such, but we have amalgamated our view of God with the idols of security, wealth, convenience, the good life, stylishness, success, and power. And we are not the least bit convicted or repentant, in fact we are proud. This is what I hear from the lips of my sincere Christian friends: “God has blessed America, and we should enjoy those blessings. I think God wants me to enjoy nice things, like my Corvette. Don’t tell me you would rather live in a third world country.”

American Christians do not look to the one true God for their security, they trust in their 401K, and in the greatest economy and military complex the world has ever known. When it comes to wealth, we build bigger houses, we buy RVs, boats, timeshares, and nice cars. Jesus said to the rich young man to sell his possessions and give to the poor. But we conveniently write that off as hyperbole, not really something to take seriously. We worship the god of convenience – fast food, maid service, lawn service, laundry service. Why? Not so that we can spend more time with God, or with important relationships, or humanitarian causes, but so that we can earn more money and not be bothered with the mundane. How about worshiping the good life? Does anyone want to give up fine dining, cruises, overseas vacations, and other forms of revelry and indulgence? It is amazing to consider stylishness as an idol. We Christians are obsessed with working out at the gym to look good (not just to be healthy), wearing stylish clothes, and generally impressing others with our lifestyle. We Christians pursue success and power like every other American. We want to be highly respected, we want others to know our position, and we want our opinion to dominate.

Jesus never owned a house, a boat, a timeshare, a Ferrari, or even a car. He walked and He kneeled for his exercise. He never wore stylish clothes to impress others. He never had a retirement account, or even a savings account. He did not have a refrigerator, a pantry, or McDonalds. He never owned gold, silver, or collectibles – His treasure was truly in heaven. He never owned a gun or a sword. He never complained about Roman rule. And He never indulged in revelry or worldly pleasures for his own satisfaction, that we know of, but he did celebrate with others – their joy, their wedding, their healing, their repentance.

The New Testament makes it clear that Christians should expect to suffer as Jesus did, to count the cost and take up their cross, as Jesus did. The scriptures speak much about the lure of wealth, and repeatedly tells us to divest our possessions and give to the poor, the needy, the downtrodden, the broken-hearted. Jesus asked his followers to forsake family, and even business ventures to follow after Him and to do His calling.

But that all gets ignored when we worship a God crafted more like the American dream than the words of Jesus.

Why is this important? Because we as Christians will find our greatest joy not in the allure of this world, but in a close, intimate, committed relationship with God. He wants us to follow Him, and Him alone, so that our love, joy, peace, and hope are found in Him.

Unfortunately, there will be many who will hear God tell them on that day, “depart from me, I never knew you” (Mt 7:23).  Might that be because they worshiped and trusted a god of their own making, the American dream, not the one true God, and Him alone.

 

The Seven Bowl Judgments

The seven bowl judgments of Revelation have historically been considered to be the final outpouring of God’s wrath and judgment. First there are the seven seals of Revelation (ch 6 and 8), then there are the seven trumpet judgments (Rev 9-11), and then wham, bam, God lets go with his heavy artillery, in rapid fire (Rev 16). I was always taught that the seven trumpet judgments and the seven bowl judgments would be meted out on mankind during the Great Tribulation, after all the saints were raptured. That may be what you believe. Furthermore, I was told that the bowl judgments were after the trumpet judgments, at the very end of the Tribulation, leading up to the second coming of Christ.

But that is not the way it is going to happen. The bowl judgments are the same judgments as the trumpet judgments, just repeated from God’s perspective rather than man’s own doing. (That has become a theological debate­-- whether the two sets of judgments are concurrent, or whether they are successive.) Furthermore, the series of seven trumpet-bowl judgments are not during a seven-year Great Tribulation period. Rather they have been unfolding before our very eyes, in current events. Interpreters can speculate all they want what each judgment is foretelling, but when history interprets prophecy, then it becomes very clear.

If you were to lay out, side by side, the seven trumpet judgments and the seven bowl judgments you discover that they are not just similar, but they mirror each other quite obviously. The first judgments in each series are upon the land, the sea, and the rivers and streams. The first judgment is World War I, when vast tracts of land were burned, aircraft were used in warfare for the first time, and chemical warfare was deployed, causing painful, ugly sores. The second judgment is World War II, a war in which over 70 million soldiers were killed. Much of that war was fought on the Pacific front, and as many as one-third of all ships in the war were destroyed. It was also the first deployment of the atomic bomb. The third judgment is Chernobyl, the largest nuclear meltdown in history. The very word Chernobyl means wormwood. Radiation rained down upon eastern Europe killing people and polluting the rivers and streams. The fourth judgment is climate change. The sun and moon are blocked in one vision and in the other vision the sun scorches and sears with intense heat. Yes, go ahead and bellyache and disagree all you want. What I find interesting is that conservative Christians try to deny both prophecy and science when it comes to climate change, while the liberals believe science and are trying to do all they can to turn back the effects and causes of climate change. The fifth judgment is the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, the dark black cloud from burning 600 oil wells, and the killing of fifty thousand Iraqi soldiers on the “highway of death”, many so burned and maimed they could only wish that they could die.

You probably ask the question, why would God prophesy two sets of judgments that are the same? The reason is rather strategic, actually. The seven trumpets are actually warnings, more so than judgments. And they are events that mankind brings upon himself, serving to warn us of God’s impending judgment. They are like shots across the bow of a ship. The bowl judgments are a repetition of the same events, but from God’s perspective. The events are a sequence of His judgment meted out on mankind for their evil, lawlessness, rebellion, and refusal to repent. Both sets of judgment crescendo into the sixth judgment, the battle of Armageddon, and then the seventh and final judgment, God’s divine outpouring of massive natural calamities, world-wide,

The reason to present the series of events from man’s perspective, and then God’s perspective is to demonstrate that this final descent of mankind into judgment is not just by his own doing, happenstance or fate, but also brought about by God’s design and purpose. Both mankind and God have a part in these judgments. The final judgments are yet another playing out of the balance between man’s free-will and God’s sovereignty.  That is a huge theological conundrum to try to resolve, but I have a very simple way to explain it: “It’s not a me thing, it’s not a He thing, it’s a we thing.”

You may need to reconstruct your end times theology if you are going to believe the truth about these two sets of seven judgments. They are not in a seven-year Great Tribulation period. They are spread out over a period greater than 100 years. And if five of the judgments have already been fulfilled, then it is the sixth judgment that is next on the horizon, the build up to the battle of Armageddon, the event prophesied in the sixth trumpet judgment and the sixth bowl judgment. Then there is the matter of the second coming of Jesus, when he gathers up the saints. That happens in Revelation 16:15, between the sixth and seventh judgment. Or you might recall Paul’s teaching, “at the last trumpet”.

We as Christians will not escape these judgments. They are not for someone else who is stuck on earth during the Tribulation. No, we are in the midst of them. And turmoil, tribulation, violence, and persecution are likely to ramp up as we approach the very end of the age. Are you ready? Are you prepared? Is your faith and trust in Jesus deep enough that you will stand strong until the end?

 

March 8, 2022

History Interprets Prophecy

When it comes to interpreting last days prophecy you could describe it one word. Confusion. Or maybe two words. Massive confusion. Everyone has their opinion, their theory, most all of it built upon presumption and conjecture. But God did not give to us the prophecies of Revelation to merely predict and foretell, and certainly not to confuse. He tells mankind what He is going to do so that when it happens, we can know, without a doubt, that His providence has brought it to pass. Amos, the shepherd-prophet from Tekoa, wrote this, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets.” 

Most prophecy, down through the ages, is not able to be understood until the event happens. History is the best interpreter of prophecy. When current events match up with what God has prophesied, then the wise and the faithful can know that God is definitely fulfilling His purpose and plan. 

Joseph had a dream of his brother’s sheaves bowing down to him. It wasn’t clear what it meant until the time it was fulfilled. His brothers and his father denied that the dream could have any truth to it, and Joseph himself must have doubted it as he spent time in an Egyptian prison. 

Daniel’s dream of four beasts (Dan. 7), each representing a different nation, could only be partially interpreted. Yes, they represented nations, but exactly what nations was not made clear until history unfolded. And there is a fifth beast, “another beast”, represented by one horn rising up in the midst of ten horns and overthrowing three of them. That nation will be interpreted by the fulfillment, just like the previous four. And that interpretation has recently been fulfilled in history. Do we see it? 

The prophecies of the birth and ministry of Jesus were the same. They were not able to be interpreted predictively, but when history interpreted those prophecies then the wise should have been able to recognize their long-awaited Messiah. As it was, only some shepherds, some Magi from the east, Anna, and Simeon recognized the fulfillment of prophecy. Later on, the Pharisees insisted that Jesus was an imposter, not the Christ, saying, “Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family, and from Bethlehem?” (Jn 7:42). They could have gone to the county courthouse to confirm the birthplace and genealogy of Jesus, like Matthew and Luke did, but they preferred to stick with their presumptions about the Messianic prophecies. Jesus later wept over Jerusalem, as he approached the city, saying, “They will not leave one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Lk 19:44). Another time Jesus said to the crowd, “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” (Lk 12:56). 

Now, what about those prophecies of Revelation, the ones about the end of the age and the second coming of Jesus. The accurate interpretation of those prophecies, once again, will come from history. It is not the privilege of interpreters to become a “prophet” and predict the meaning of God’s prophecies. Prophecy is God speaking, and when it is fulfilled, it will be interpreted by history, proving His purpose, plan and providence. But will the wise and faithful see the fulfillment of Revelation in current events, or will they miss it, or deny it, holding on to their cherished conjectures and presumptions? That question is very, very relevant. Why? Because Revelation is happening, now. Five of the seven trumpet warnings have already occurred, in just the last 100 years. When trumpet #6 is unleashed, then the tumultuous events of the end of the age will unfold. We must be prepared, alert, and ready to stand strong. History is interpreting God’ prophecies and it is not what most Christians, especially in America, are expecting. And the resulting dismay and disillusionment may cause many to fall away. 

“However, when the Son of Man comes, 

will He find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8)

 

Ears That Do Not Hear

The hearing specialist came out to call the next patient, “Stephen”. I looked around the waiting room, but there was no one else but me. So, I asked her, do you mean “David”? She said “yes, that’s who I just said.”

She was helping me decide about getting hearing aids. We looked over the results of the first hearing test. My left ear dropped off so badly in the high frequencies that they insisted I get an MRI on my inner ear canal to rule out a physiological cause. But one test result really stood out. One of the tests had been word recognition. With my left ear I scored only 52%. I got 13 right and 12 wrong. The other ear was 80%. The funny thing is this. I remembered doing that word recognition test. I didn’t miss a single word, I thought. Certainly, I don’t need hearing aids.

My dear, wonderful wife, Carol, is the one who insisted that I get my hearing checked. So, I did, just to prove to her that I could hear just fine, thank you. She also insisted I get my vision checked. I went to the optometrist to see if I needed glasses, something a bit more prescriptive than the reading glasses I had been buying from the Dollar Store. After the vision test the optometrist started looking into my eyeballs with some special scope. He told me that glasses would do me no good, because I had cataracts that were clouding my vision so much.

I had recognized that one eye was getting more and more blurry, or cloudy, so I wasn’t surprised. When I went to see the Ophthalmologist to discuss cataract surgery she looked into my eyeballs as well. Her comment was simple, “I don’t know how you can even see.”

The morning after surgery to remove the cataract in my right eye is a vivid memory. I got up like usual and went to the sink to wash my face and wake up. I was startled and stepped back from the mirror, hardly recognizing the guy looking back at me. He had spots, scars, wrinkles and whiskers, a face I had not seen in years, I reckon. After a few days I began to realize that the left eye, the one that was my good eye, was now very cloudy. What I thought was a good eye was almost as bad as my bad eye. The doctor said, “I told you so. I have reserved another surgery date for you.”

I am amazed at how bad my hearing and my eyesight was and I did not even have a clue. It reminds me of statements in Scripture. “They have eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear” (Jer 5:21). After telling a parable Jesus often challenged his listeners, saying, “He who has ears let him hear” (Mt 11:15). And at the close of each of the assessments of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus said the same, “He who has ears let him hear”.

The Jews of OT times were dull and blind to the truth of the prophets. Hard hearts, molded by the cultures around them, defiantly insisting that God should conform to their lifestyle. The Jews of NT times were dull and blind to the teaching of Jesus about the New Kingdom. They thought they had God all figured out. You can’t change a mind that is smarter than God. And the church, full of believers, is pictured by the Lord of the Church as being dull and blind to its condition. A happy, going concern, but off the mark.  All of these, having ears and eyes, are totally unaware that they do not hear the voice of God. Clueless. Just like me, with my ears and my eyes.

I wanted to understand this phenomenon. Why do so many people have ears but do not hear God, eyes but not see Him. Even those who seem to be otherwise spiritually inclined. The answer could be summed up in one word. Bias. We tend to hear God (or not hear Him), interpret His truth, and incorporate it into our life, based on the bias of our heart. The bias to accept the lifestyle of the world about us. The bias to accept long-standing theological beliefs that rule out any other understanding. The bias to be carefree and easygoing about surrendering all to the amazing love of God. In the parable of the four soils, there is one who hears the word of God, receives it, and bears fruit. That person is “noble and good” (Mt 13:13-23).