"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Bloomberg Effect and Christ's Resurrection

The New York Times interviewed former New York City mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg this week about his increasing efforts to spread gun control laws throughout the United States. The interview was remarkable on several fronts, but what struck me most was how it ended. Bloomberg, 72 years old and facing his own mortality, became quite candid regarding heaven and the after life. Here's how reporter Jeremy Peters recounts the interview with Bloomberg and the billionaire's thoughts on meeting God at the time of his death:
"Mr. Bloomberg was introspective as he spoke, and seemed both restless and wistful. When he sat down for the interview, it was a few days before his 50th college reunion. His mortality has started dawning on him, at 72. And he admitted he was a bit taken aback by how many of his former classmates had been appearing in the “in memoriam” pages of his school newsletter.
But if he senses that he may not have as much time left as he would like, he has little doubt about what would await him at a Judgment Day. Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation, he said with a grin: 'I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.'"
 Bloomberg may be in the top 1/10 of 1% when it comes to income, but he's definitely within a larger percentage of people who believe heaven is earned by one's good deeds in this life. We evangelicals who focus so much on the death of Jesus Christ as 'payment for sins' aren't giving any answers to the questions people like Mr. Bloomberg are asking.

The Bloomberg Effect' happens when a great deal of good is done by people in this life, causing them to think, "For heaven's sake, I've done so much good in this life, there's no way God would keep me out of heaven." As Bloomberg says, "It's not even close!" I am reminded of Shakespeare's "Thou protest too much."

It would seem to me if God represents perfect goodness (and His name God is short for 'GOOD'), then perfect goodness becomes the standard.  I only know one Man who was perfectly good. It is the life of this Man, His death and particularly His resurrection that gives us the answer to the question: "How much is good enough for God?"

A fellow named Paul from Tarsus was a pretty good guy. He was at the top of his class, a Pharisee of the Pharisees (that's like saying, 'the elite of the elite'), a person 'zealous for good works' (i.e. "the Law'), and considered by the people in his day a very, very good man according to the cultural standards of the Jews. Yet, Paul came to discover that what makes a person acceptable to God is the righteousness of another. Paul came to the place in his life where He trusted the life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus alone was the Perfect Man. Jesus lived the life all of us should have lived, He died the death all of us deserve to die, and He rose from the grave with this promise: Trust me and I'll freely give you the blessings of my righteousness (God's favor) and I'll freely take from you the consequences of your sins (God's judgment).

Here's how Paul puts it:
"My faith is in Jesus Christ and I no longer trust any good works of my own derived from my obedience to the Law, for I have a righteousness which is found through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I have this through knowing Him and the power of His resurrection..."  (Philippians 3:9,10).
As we focus on the resurrection this season, it would do us all well to remember that the death of Jesus Christ is not what makes Easter remarkable. It's His resurrection. Everyone dies. Jesus is the first-fruits of all who will be raised to life. If death is the 'wages of sin' (and it is), then life is the effect of resurrection (and it is). To trust in the resurrected Jesus means that God grants you the full effects of Jesus' perfect obedience throughout His life. Only perfect and complete obedience to God brings perfect and complete favor from God. Jesus fulfilled it; we faith it.

I've done some good things in this life. There is, however, no need to recount them near my death. I have a peace which passes all understanding because I know that God's unconditional grace to me, His everlasting favor for me, and His immeasurable mercy toward me are all based on the perfect goodness and righteousness of His Son, whom He gave for me. The perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, and all the favor of God because of it, becomes mine through my faith in Jesus life, death and particularly, His resurrection!

That's the meaning of Easter.

The Radical Mending of a Relationship Ending

The root word for relationship is 'relate' which means "to narrate."  Pause and think about that for a moment.

I can almost guarantee you that you have never considered the basis for any relationship to be narration or "story." Yet every relationship you have is built on narrative; your story and another person's story. I'll go even further down this road. The measure of your love for another person is seen by your interest in their story. Disconnected people are self-absorbed people. Connected people are more interested in another person's story than they are their own.

Rob Bell says, "It’s easy to take off your clothes and have sex. People do it all the time. But opening up your soul to someone (i.e. narrating your story), letting them into your spirit, thoughts, fears, future, hopes, dreams… that is being naked.” Rob Bell is right, but I propose that in our culture of selfies, self absorption, and self-adulation there is a greater shortage of people who accept another person's narrative without demanding acceptance of their own.

The number one reason relationships fall apart is due to disagreement over narratives. There arises a refusal to accept another person's story. To put it simply: Relationships fracture because the 'relate' in relationship is rejected.

When you learn the importance of narrative in relationship, you can then implement certain practices that communicate love to those relating to you. Let me explain.

Recently, a woman in our church narrated to me her offense. Ten years ago her son was being released from federal prison. Near the time of his release,  she handed to me a letter from her son requesting that I help him by recommending to him a church similar to Emmanuel in the metropolitan city where he would be living. She told me, "You never responded to my son. He never heard back from you." I asked if she brought the letter to my office, and she said, "No, I handed it to you as you greeted people before the service, and I saw you slip it into your Bible." I could tell she was deeply hurt.

I had no recollection of ever receiving the letter. As any pastor knows, things handed to you prior to a worship service have a way of being misplaced or accidentally thrown away. It's my usual custom to respond immediately to specific requests for information, knowing that a delay in response risks me forgetting to respond. However, that's my narrative, not hers. Her story was one of hurt. How do you mend hurts that arise in relationship?

(1). Listen with compassion to the narrator.

When someone is narrating a story (i.e. putting the  'relate' in relationship), the worst thing you can do is interrupt, correct, defend, or shut down. Why is that the 'worst' thing you can do? Because you are saying to the person, "I don't care about your story!" Or, to be more blunt, "I don't want  relate-ion-ship with you."

(2). Affirm and accept the feelings of the narrator.

Phrases like, "I hear you," or "If I were in your shoes, I would feel the same way," or "Thank you for telling me how much you are hurting. I know that wasn't easy" are ways you communicate love. When we affirm and accept the feelings of the narrator, we are loving a person the way Jesus loves us. God doesn't love us when we 'feel' right. He loves us because we feel.

(3). Own your part in the narrative and seek forgiveness.

Take ownership of what the narrator says you have done. In  my case, I said, "I have wronged both you and your son. I ask you to forgive me." When someone is telling their story, there is no need to defend yourself or articulate your story.  What another person thinks becomes their reality. In this woman's mind, I did not function well as a pastor. That's her reality. That's truth as she sees it. I own her story because my life is never defined by another person's truth or reality. This is important. I find that those who are insecure in who God has made them in Christ find it difficult to apologize and seek forgiveness. Performance oriented people can never acknowledge failure. People who know their true identity and that all the blessings, approval and favor of God are independent of personal performance can freely acknowledge personal failure.

(4). Feel free to express what you feel within and gently resist the crossing  of internal boundaries.

There is a very subtle difference between healthy relationships and unhealthy ones. In healthy relationships nobody presumes to know what the other person thinks or feels. In dysfunctional or unhealthy relationships, people assume they know the feelings within others, frequently assign motives for the actions of others, and intentionally cross the internal boundaries of others.

It is appropriate in healthy relationships to communicate what you are actually thinking and feeling, and gently resist allowing another person to cross internal boundaries by speaking for you because they don't know what is going inside you. I said to the woman offended, "I normally am diligent in responding to requests, and my non-response to you and your son was not intentional. However, the pain I've caused you both by my actions is very real."

The woman expressed her forgiveness of me, and the next Sunday she came with her husband and greeted me with a big smile. Relationship had been restored because her 'relating' (narrative) was accepted.  I think this story illustrates how the word 'relate' in relationship is so powerful.

Though I've given you an illustration from a relationship that is not as close as a marital, familial or intimate friendship relationship, the same principles would apply to those forms of relationship as well. In fact, implementing these principles might very well save a very important relationship teetering on the verge of collapse.

Frozen and Let It Go: The Gospel for Little Feet

"Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps."
Hans Christian Andersen's request for the music to be played at his funeral.  
(Source: Bryant, Mark: Private Lives, 2001, p.12).
Frozen is a world wide sensation. Disney released the 102 minute computer animated musical last Thanksgiving (2013). The movie is now the top-grossing animated film of all time, exceeding one billion dollars at the box office. The film's mega-popular theme song Let It Go is an instant classic. The film's version of the song, sung by Idina Menzel, won an Academy Award.  Disney's official single release of Let It Go, sung by Demi Lovato, has been played nearly 150 million times on YouTube, and is America's ubiquitous song for 2014. The song's popularity has led to sparring between fans of the two artists who sing it and to the creation of some hilarious on-line parodies from people who've had enough of Let It Go. There are nine other songs from the movie's award winning official sound track, making a total of ten original songs from Frozen now being sung by kids all over the world. A quarter of a century from now,  our grandkids will be singing songs from Frozen, just like we still sing songs from Disney's renaissance period twenty-five years ago. No way around it; Frozen is here to stay. To me, that's a good thing.
In this day of Christian themed movies, I propose that Disney's Frozen is the most gospel oriented movie of them all. Few Americans realize that the  movie is based on Hans Christian Andersen's short story The Snow Queen. In fact, the movie Frozen was originally titled The Snow Queen, and even retains the original title in foreign countries. Hans Christian Andersen's purpose in writing The Snow Queen, published during the week of Christmas in the year 1844, is seen in the poetry at the beginning of his story, where Andersen describes the reason for warmth in this world:  

'Where roses deck the flowery vale,
There, Infant Jesus, we thee hail!'

The Snow Queen is a story that represents the truth of Jesus Christ and His transformative power to change lives, giving warmth to cold hearts. There is a darkness to Andersen's Snow Queen, yet the theme is one of redemptive hope. The heroine of the story is a girl who must rescue a neighbor boy from the Snow Queen's curse. He's been caught by the Queen's spell, held captive in her palace, and cursed with a cold heart. As the heroine approaches the Snow Queen's palace to rescue her friend, she cites the Lord's Prayer, allowing her entrance into the place of evil. Ultimately, the heroine's love for her friend, a love seen through her selfless sacrifice, breaks the spell of his cold heart. Warmth floods into him. The love of another awakens love within.
In Andersen's story, there remains the possibility that the Snow Queen will reappear with all her powers in tact, so the boy and girl must return home, but they leave the palace grounds knowing that if the curse of winter ever surrounds them, the effect of winter will never be in them. They have experienced love. Author Hans Christian Andersen knew the true meaning of Christmas is seen in the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ in coming to die for others, a message when properly apprehended drives selfishness from the coldest heart. Andersen wrote The Snow Queen to present the gospel in a creative fashion, similar to the manner C.S. Lewis would later use when writing his colorful fantasies.  The second (and last) poem in Andersen's The Snow Queen refers to the power of overcoming a cold, dark world through apprehending the good news of Christ's first advent. Even when the world around us is captured by the Snow Queen, the light of God's love within us remains bright. Anderson writes:

Roses bloom and cease to be,
But we shall the Christ-child see.”

Hans Christian Andersen closes The Snow Queen with the heroine and her neighbor friend returning home under the realization that they have changed. They are filled with love, having themselves been transformed by love. Though they delight to see it is now summertime when they return home, they are no longer afraid of the coming winter and the curse of coldness. They "Let Go" of their fears, having experienced the power and warmth of  sacrificial love, and they are now ready to love others in the same manner they have been loved. Andersen's The Snow Queen closes with the grandmother reading the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount:
"Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
The meaning of Andersen's Snow Queen is clear. There is power in sacrificial love. No greater love exists than Christ's love in laying His life down for the world. The evidence that we belong to Him is our selfless love of others, loving people as He loves us. Jesus Christ came to earth to set us free from the curse of a cold heart. The Snow Queen hopes to curse our hearts with perpetual coldness, but sacrificial love breaks that curse. C.S. Lewis would later base his White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on Anderson's Snow Queen.

When you see the movie Frozen, it will be evident that the movie's script writers have taken a few liberties with Andersen's original fairy tale. Here are just a few examples:
  1. The movie Frozen shows the Queen's heart melting rather than the boy's heart melting as in Andersen's The Snow Queen.
  2. The movie Frozen makes the heroine and the Queen sisters, but the two have no relation in Andersen's The Snow Queen.
  3. The movie Frozen turns the heroine into a princess in love with a prince, but she is just a poor girl with a heart of love for a neighbor boy in Andersen's The Snow Queen.
  4. The movie Frozen redeems the Snow Queen while Andersen's fairy tale ends with the Snow Queen remaining in a perpetual state of cold (i.e. 'the epitome of evil'). 

Even with these differences, Frozen succeeds in presenting the good news of Jesus Christ, maybe even better than Andersen's original story. Frozen is true to its source and remains a story of redemption. Pastor Samuel Shuldheisz points out that just as Anna (the heroine in Frozen) places her frozen body between her sister (the Snow Queen, with a cold heart) and the one who would harm her (the Prince), so too:
"Christ placed his dying body - full of the curse of our sin - between us and the grave. An act of true love for he is Love incarnate. Self-giving, self-sacrificing love. He placed all others before himself. And then He was placed into our tomb, dead and buried. But He (like Anna) didn't stay there. He arose. He is risen. Summer is near. The curse is gone. Sin's frozen gloom over us is melted. Death's cold, icy grip on us is shattered by the warmth of resurrected light. The love we lack is given to us by another, by Christ's perfect act of true love on the cross. Love and Sacrifice."
Anna's sacrificial love melted the heart of her sister. That's the Christian message. A few Christians have alleged the movie makes a veiled attempt at promoting gay-rights.  Others argue that Disney's portrayal is too far removed from Andersen's Snow Queen to find any gospel in it. I'm in neither of those camps. I believe Frozen may be the best Christian themed film since The Chronicles of Narnia. Frozen presents the power of love to transform cold, lifeless hearts.

Of course I understand that the script writers, song composers, and directors of Disney's Frozen were not fully aware of the gospel theme in Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. Yet, the very fact the movie stays true to Anderson's theme of redemption means the film represents the message of the gospel. For Jesus said to His disciples:

"A new command I give you; that you love one another, even as I have loved you" (John 13:34), and
"By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love on for another" (John 13:35).

Hans Christian Andersen wanted the music at his funeral "to keep time with little steps" because most of the people who would "walk after" him would be little children. Parents, next time you hear your kids sing the music from the film Frozen, take the opportunity to explain to them who Jesus Christ is and what He has done. The only way to  'Let Go' of fear, greed, and what others think of you is to be so filled with the love of God in Christ that you can't help but live your life loving others in the same manner God loves you!

It's that kind of love that melts the Frozen heart. 

The Truth that Frees: 'Heaven and Earth' Has Passed

Andy Stanley, in his excellent new book Deep and Wide, writes "People who go to church are not on a truth quest. They are interested in what works." By "what works" Andy means "what makes people happy,' or "what makes life work better.'

 I agree. People want what works. Yet, in my opinion, what actually works--what actually brings people real happiness and a fully functioning life worth living--is 'truth!' Jesus said to His followers, "You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

Imagine! An addict wishes to be free from addiction - 'know the truth.' A worrier wishes to be free from paralyzing anxiety - 'know the truth.' A divorcee wishes to be free from feelings of rejection and abandonment - 'know the truth.' A man or woman who has failed morally wishes to be free from guilt - 'know the truth.'

The reason churches often seem lifeless is because we go down wrong roads in our quest for happiness and functional living. It isn't performance that works. It isn't tithing that works. It isn't promises to be better that works. It isn't moral behavior and religious character that works. It isn't personal discipline that works. It's truth. People need truth and simply don't know it. Worse, Christian leaders called to guide people into truth are often ignorant of it themselves. We become 'the blind leading the blind' (Matthew 15:14).

For example, when Jesus said,  "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35), Jesus was not predicting the destruction of 'the earth' on which we live or the disappearance of 'the starry heavens' above our heads. Likewise, when Jesus said, "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Matthew 5:18), Jesus was not prophesying the end of the earth. Many Christians miss the powerful and freeing truth behind Christ's words about "heaven and earth" because they assume this phrase in the Bible refers to the global sphere that orbits the sun (the earth) and the atmospheric heavens above. Not even close.

Jesus uses the phrase "heaven and earth" to describe God's covenant with Israel (the Old Covenant). With this definition of 'heaven and earth' in mind (and in a moment I'll prove it), a summary of what Jesus was saying in Matthew 24:35 and Matthew 5:18 would be:
"The Old Covenant ('heaven and earth') will be fulfilled by Me and then it (i.e. 'heaven and earth') will disappear, but My words will abide forever."
That's exactly what Jesus did in His first advent. He came to fulfill the Law, and then He 'abolished' it. He came in order to institute a New Covenant (the 'new heaven and the 'new earth'). He caused the old "heaven and earth" to pass away. The covenant with Israel is now gone. It has actually disappeared (Hebrews 8:13). The New Covenant is here.

Nobody argues that we no longer bring animals for sacrifice, celebrate the festivals, or follow the dietary restrictions found in the Old Testament. But many miss the most powerful impact of Christ causing 'heaven and earth' to disappear. Any sinner from any nation can now fully and personally experience God's blessings via faith in Christ.

Under the New Covenant in which we live, God no longer says, "Obedience to my Law brings you blessings" as He did in the former covenant with Israel. Now He says, "Faith in my Son, regardless of your nationality or ethnicity, brings you all My eternal blessings. I will credit to you the perfect righteousness of My Son in exchange for your faith  and trust in Him."

Jesus perfect obedience to the Law merited complete and personal blessings from the Father. Yet, God graciously promises all those same blessings to those who embrace His Son.  Jesus fulfilled it; we faith it.

This truth changes the game of life. But before I show you how the game changes, let me prove the phrase "heaven and earth" refers to God's covenant with Israel and "a new heaven and a new earth" refers to the New Covenant He has in Christ.

'Heaven and Earth' and the Choosing of Israel

When God describes how He chose Israel 'among all the nations of the earth" He says, ""I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, 'You are My people.'" (Isaiah 51:16 NAS). God calls choosing Israel as His people 'establishing the heavens' and 'founding the earth." Thus the covenant with Israel itself is called by God 'heaven and earth.'

When Moses, Israel's Lawgiver, assembled the covenant people of God (Deuteronomy 31:30), he speaks to Israel and says, "Listen, you heavens, and I will speak. Hear, you earth, the words of my mouth" (Deuteronomy 32:1). Moses spoke to the people of Israel, not the literal heavens and earth.

When Israel broke their covenant with God, the Lord sent judgment to Israel through the Babylonians and said "(the earth) is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly...the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again" (Isaiah 24: 1,3,4,19,20). Israel, again, is called "the earth."

God's choosing of Israel as a favored nation, God giving His Law to Israel for their obedience, and everything else associated with God's covenant with Israel is labeled throughout the Bible as God forming "heaven and earth." It would therefore make sense, that if God was going to end this conditional covenant with Israel and institute a New Covenant with the entire world through faith in His Son, then  God would speak of the destruction and abolishment of this first covenant as the "destruction of heaven and earth." This is exactly what He does.

The writer of Hebrews, anticipating the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the official end of the Old Covenant system of worship uses this precise language. He writes in Hebrews 12:26-28:
"And His voice shook the earth then (the giving of the Law), but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken (the Old Covenant), as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken (the eternal New Covenant) may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken (Christ's eternal kingdom), let us show gratitude."
Likewise, when John anticipated God's judgment against Israel through the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, bringing to an official 'end' the covenantal  system of worship we read about in the Old Testament, he wrote of God dissolving the old 'heaven and earth' (Revelation 21:1) and establishing "a new heaven" and "a new earth" (the New Covenant). In this new agreement between God and the people of the world, God takes a new Bride (people from every nation, not just Jews), forms a new priesthood (every believer, both male and female, not just a tribe of men),  establishes a new nation (all believers in Christ are called God's 'holy nation' in I Peter 2:9), and institutes an eternal and unshakable kingdom!

Daniel, John and the other biblical prophets, including Jesus Himself, wrote mostly about the end of God's covenant with Israel and the establishment of the unshakable kingdom of Christ. You and I have received this kingdom. It is within us. It's advancing all around us. One of these days, every enemy of the eternal kingdom will be made Christ's footstool (Hebrews 10:13).

Jesus Christ will return at the end of this New Covenant age of grace (Acts 1:11). He will raise the dead, both the righteous (those who believe in Him) and the unrighteous (John 5:28). Jesus Christ will then call on the unrighteous to give an account for everything they've done in this life (Romans 2:6). The judgment He dispenses for their sins will be personal, equitable and proportional (Romans 12:19). Those who are 'in Christ' by faith had their sins judged at the cross and will not give an account to God for their sins at the general judgment. Rather, those 'in Christ' are made 'co-heirs' with Christ and inherit a universe where the curse has been finally and fully reversed by the redemption in Christ (i.e. heaven). These end of age things are all true and good, but they are little discussed in the Bible.

Most of the Bible is about God destroying 'heaven and earth' (His covenant with Israel) and establishing a 'new heaven and new earth' (the New Covenant with the world). When we miss the impact of Jesus Christ coming to "fulfill the covenant of Law" and then causing it to "pass away," by misinterpreting the phrase "heaven and earth" we remain in bondage to Law and our performance to it. The only thing that 'works' and brings 'real happiness' is the Truth that Jesus Christ came to set captives free! He came to destroy 'heaven and earth' and to establish the New Covenant, that is 'a new heaven and a new earth' (Revelation 21).

As Charles Spurgeon said:
"Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, of any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacles, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under a new heaven and earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it." (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).

It is an unfortunate occurrence when evangelical church leaders take the principles of the Old Covenant (which have been abolished), slap Christian terms on them, and then try to bind people to full obedience to church laws, promising God's blessings if they obey them and God's curses if they do not. That's not the good news Jesus Christ brings. The truth--the good news--that brings life, happiness and freedom to anyone with confidence and trust in the Person and work of Jesus Christ is as follows:

(1). Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law in my stead, and as a result, I am considered by God to be perfectly righteous "not because I have a righteousness that comes from my obedience to any law, but because I have a righteousness that comes from God and is found by faith in His Son" (Philippians 3:9). The truth is God sees no sin in me.

(2). Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law in my stead, and as a result, all the blessings of God are mine, not because of my obedience to any law, but because "He shall supply all my needs according to His riches," not mine (Philippians 4:19). The idea that God blesses me 'when' I give to the church, or 'when I bless Him,' or 'when I (fill in the blank)' is no more the good news of the gospel than Islam, Buddhism, or any other 'ism' built on man's alleged attempts to appease God. The truth is God needs no gift from me.

(3). Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law in my stead, and as a result, everything in my life that I need will be freely given to me by God. "For if God did not spare giving us His Son, how shall He not freely and graciously give us all things we need?" (Romans 8:32). Sometimes God will allow me to hit rock bottom in order for me to see that He is the Rock. Unlike the Old Covenant where there were conditions on God hearing my prayers (II Chronicles 7:14), petitions for what I need now are always heard by God because the Holy Spirit is always interceding for me during my times of weakness (Romans 8:26).  God never ceases loving me and works all things for my good (Romans 8:28). The truth is God always works good for me.

(4). Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law in my stead, and as I begin to grow deeper in my trust and confidence that Jesus is who He says He is and He does what He says He will do, then I can't help but go out and love people in the same manner He has loved me! This is the Royal Law of Jesus. The words of Jesus, which endure forever, clarify the Royal Law. This is my New Covenant law - "To love other people in the same manner He's loved me" (John 13:35). The truth is God sends His love through me.

The way I live as a New Covenant believer in this world:
(a). I accept people in sin as if they had no sin, for Jesus sees no sin in me.
(b). I freely give what others need, expecting nothing in return, for all I need I have in Jesus and I receive it via simple faith in Him, not by my performance or obedience to Him.
(c). I will love others and do good, for my God and Savior Jesus Christ is all the time loving me and working all things for my good. 
The way I would live if I failed to see Jesus bringing an end to the Old Covenant way of life::
 (a). I would always point out the sin and failure of others in conforming to God's laws (however those laws may be defined), because God always judges my failures of obedience.
(b). I would do for others what I could, but I would expect others to do something good in return, for God's blessings to me are in proportion to my obedience to Him.
(c). Though I would say I loved people unconditionally, I would really only love people based upon their abilities to keep the expectations I have for them, for though God truly loves me, He is only pleased with me when I perform as He expects.
Old Covenant living wears people out. It is lifeless and requires a great deal of guilt and shame for people to continue in it. Jesus came to destroy the Old Covenant way of life.

It is only when we begin to see the truth of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done that we begin to experience true freedom. Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6). Jesus came that we might live life to its fullest (John 10:10). Andy Stanley may be right; nobody is on a quest for truth, for everybody is looking for what works. However, ultimately, the only thing that works is Truth.

To whatever extent you are looking forward to the Second Advent of Jesus as an escape from this life, you have missed the impact and power of Jesus's coming in His First Advent. He came to put an end to the Old Agreement of God's blessings based on a sinner's obedience to Law. He came to destroy "heaven and earth."

And now the good news. "If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has passed away, the new is here!" (II Corinthians 5:17). It's a new way to live. It's a new way to love. It's a new way to enjoy life to its absolute fullest!

Thank God the  'new heaven and new earth' has come. As it is written, "By faith, the just shall live!" (Hebrews 10:38).

Four Blood Moons: It's Called Lunacy for a Reason

Lunacy - Def. "originally referring to temporary insanity attributed to changes of the moon." Cf. Old English "lunatic," literally "moon-sick."

I'm sure John Hagee is a fine Christian and a great pastor. I have enjoyed hearing him preach a few times on television. However, Mr. Hagee's newest book Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change makes a case that the author may be suffering from a form of temporary insanity.  Christians who believe what John Hagee is proposing without thinking for themselves, could find themselves afflicted with the same disease.

Mr. Hagee believes that something terrible, but ultimately triumphant, is about to happen to the nation of Israel due to the four total lunar eclipses  that will occur in the northern hemisphere during 2014 and 2015.  These four eclipses, called by astronomers a tetrad, occur on April 15, 2014, which is Jewish Passover; on October 8, 2014, which is the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles; on April 4, 2015, which is (again) Jewish Passover; and on September 28, 2015 which is (again) the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles.

Contrary to what Hagee would have the reader believe, lunar eclipses aren't that special. There are at least two to five lunar eclipses every year. Likewise, lunar tetrads (total lunar eclipses that occur six months apart, with no partial lunar eclipses in between) also occur frequently. There have been 62 tetrads since Christ. The last one was in 2003 and 2004, and there will be a total of 8 lunar tetrads in this century (2001 to 2100).

Hagee writes that what is rare is that this lunar tetrad is occurring on Jewish holy days. Well, maybe. Since the times of Christ, there have been eight tetrads that have occurred on Jewish Passover and the Festival of Tabernacles. Think about this for a moment though. If the first total lunar eclipse of a tetrad happens to occur on Passover (15 Nissan on the Hebrew calendar), it is guaranteed that the second total lunar eclipse will occur the Festival of Tabernacles (15 Tishri on the Hebrew calendar) because the Hebrew calendar is lunar, and the Festival of Tabernacles is exactly six lunar months after the Festival of Passover.  So it is also guaranteed that the third and fourth lunar eclipses of a tetrad will occur on those same Hebrew festival days the following year.  Again, the lunar tetrad falling on Hebrew holidays is not as rare as Hagee would like you to believe. Here are the eight that have occurred since Christ.

1. AD 162-163
2. AD 795-796
3. AD 842-843
4. AD 860-861
5. AD 1493-1494
6. AD 1949-1950
7. AD 1967-1968
8. AD 2014-2015

Hagee writes that every time a tetrad occurs on Jewish feast days something traumatic  and 'world-changing' happens to Israel. He gives three examples. First, in 1492 Spain expelled the Jews and Christopher Columbus discovered America, giving the Jews a place to go. Second, in 1948 Israel became a nation again. And third, in 1967 Israel won the Six Day War and captured Jerusalem. In a moment I will absolutely destroy Hagee's conclusion about "traumatic things" happening to the Jews and the nation of Israel every time a lunar tetrad occurs on Hebrew holy days. For now, just think about this: Israel wasn't even a nation the first six times a lunar tetrad occurred.

Yet, Hagee concludes that something traumatic, but ultimately triumphant, is going to happen to Israel during 2014 and 2015, an event that 'will change the course of world history.' More to the point, Hagee believes the "rapture" will occur, Israel will go to war in a great battle called Armageddon, and Jesus Christ will return to earth because the prophet Joel said,
"The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD" (Joel 2:31).
Now, while being kind to Mr. Hagee as a brother in Christ, and writing as one who also believes in the full inspiration of Scripture, I would like to show you why the premise of Hagee's book is speculative at best, and pure lunacy at worst.

7 Reasons Why the Premise of John Hagee's Four Blood Moons  Is Potential Lunacy

(1). Anytime Jewish literature describes the fall of a government or nation, apocalyptic language is used. This highly symbolic manner of writing, with language like, “the sun was darkened, the moon would not give her light, and the stars shall fall," is the way the Hebrew prophets described how God would come in judgment upon a nation. The Old Testament refers to the fall of Babylon in 539 BC (Isaiah 13:10-13) in this manner. Likewise, Egypt's collapse in 590 BC (Ezekiel 32:7-8) and Judah's fall in 586 BC (Zephaniah 1:14-16) are described with this stellar apocalyptic language. The sun going dark and the moon turning to blood is biblical symbolic language describing the fall of a nation by the judgment of God, not literal astronomy.

(2). John Hagee falsely calls the lunar tetrad occurring in 2014 and 2015 four blood moons. These four lunar eclipses are not blood moons at all! They are simply full moons that are eclipsed! Hagee wrongly calls them "blood moons" in order to bring Joel 2:31 into play and act as if Jesus is coming as Messiah over Israel after "the moon turns to blood." Astronomers who hear Christians call the next four lunar eclipses "Blood Moons" will rightly think we ignorant of astronomy. Truth be told, we are mostly ignorant of the Bible.

(3). When the prophet Joel wrote "The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD" (Joel 2:31), he was describing the judgment of God upon the nation of Israel for their rejection of His Son. National judgment on any people in rebellion to God is often described as "the dreadful day of the Lord." Joel's prophecy, referred to by Luke in Acts 2:20, was a prediction of the "great day of the Lord" against Israel, the day when God judged the nation by destroying Jerusalem, the Jewish Temple and scattered the people (AD 70). God brought to an end the Old Covenant, formally ushered in the New Covenant (agreement) where people of every nation, race, family and language group find peace with God through faith in the person and work of His Son. Listen to the great Hebrew linguist and Baptist theologian John Gill commentary on Acts 2:20 and Joel's prophecy:
"The sun shall be turned into darkness"... as at the death of Christ, by a total eclipse of it: "and the moon into blood," as at the opening of the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12) "before that great and notable day of the Lord come": when he shall come in power and great glory, as God did a few years after this (AD 70), to take vengeance on the Jews, and destroy their nation, city, and temple; in which there was a display of his greatness, and power, and which was awful and terrible to them, as in Joel it is called "the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (see Gill's note on Matthew 24:29 also).
 (4). Hagee attempts to prove that every time a tetrad occurs on Jewish holy days, something 
happens to the Jews and Israel. That's simply not true for a couple of reasons. First, the Jews were scattered for nineteen centuries and Israel did not exist as a nation. NOTHING happened to the Jews or the nation of Israel during the years of the first six tetrads. Hagee tries to suggest that Spain "expelled the Jews" in 1492 and that was this was a 'traumatic and terrible' event. However, astronomers tell us that the actual tetrad occurred on Passover and Tabernacles in 1493 and 1494, not 1492. The Jews were expelled from Spain a full eighteen months before the first lunar eclipse of 1493/1494 tetrad even began. Second, there are only two tetrads that fall on Jewish holy days during Israel's time as a nation (since 1948). Interestingly, Hagee makes the same dating mistake when he speaks of Israel's "traumatic" war for independence. Israel was declared a nation and went to war in 1948, not during the lunar tetrad of 1949/1950. Hagee's error of misstating the actual date of astronomical tetrads seems intentional. He must misstate the dates of previous tetrads in order to convince readers that his prophecies in Four Blood Moons are reliable. However, fudging facts to prove an argument is not scientific or ethical.

(5). One of my favorite Bible series I at Emmanuel was "Portraits of Christ: The Feasts and the Festivals of Israel." I know enough about Jewish calendaring and the holy days of Old Covenant Israel to know that the priests watched the moon from the mountains of Israel to declare new moons (months), holy days, and other events by blowing the shofars. In other words, the moon was eyeballed by the priests of Israel! Interestingly, the lunar eclipse tetrad of 2014/2015 will not be visible from Israel! We Americans seem to think the world truly revolves around us. Smile. One would think if a special occurrence in the lunar cycle (a tetrad) were important to Israel, they could at least see it!

(6). Hagee's use of the term blood moons for the upcoming lunar eclipse tetrad is utter deception. A tetrad is four successive total lunar eclipses with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six lunar months. Hagee's book is about a tetrad, but he's calling it four blood moons. There are NOT four blood moons occurring in 2014 and 2015. A blood moon can only occur in the fall. The twisting of science to conform to one's alleged presuppositions of Joel 2:13 (the rapture, Armageddon, the return of Christ as Messiah of the nation of Israel, etc...) is pure deceit. Of course, this is done in order to convince people that "the moon turning to blood" before the "day of the Lord" (Jesus' return), and that Jesus return is going to happen in 2014/2015. We've heard these same kinds of predictions on the return of Jesus in times past (88 Reasons Why Jesus Will Return in 1988), and there will be additional false prophecies regarding the "return of Christ" in the future. What's unfortunate is Christians never take the time to think through these silly predictions for themselves.

(7).  The great theologian John Brown once wrote:
"A person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures, knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, and the establishment of the  Christian economy, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and new heavens." (John Brown, vol. 1, p. 170).  
Amen, John Brown. I stand with you in promoting Christ, His mercy and grace, and the incredible blessing of living in a world built on the principles He taught--the Christian economy as you call it.  Love your enemy. Do good to those who abuse you. Be merciful and kind, seek justice for the sake of others, forgive those who have wronged you, and remember the poor, the fatherless, and the widows. What kind of world would we live in if we all took seriously the establishment of the Christian economy in our spheres of influence?

I love the nation of Israel. It is a democracy in the middle of Islamic totalitarianism. However, the only hope for Israel and this world is for individuals in these various nations to become followers of the true and eternal King, to learn to live at peace with all men, and to love others the same way Jesus has loved us. Yet, John Hagee, has declared:
"When all is said and done, the flag of Israel will be flying over the walls of the city of Jerusalem when Messiah comes, and it's going to be forever. And every nation that rises up in judgment against Israel God will punish and punish severely."
Mr. Hagee, our time as followers of Jesus might be better spent telling others about the love of God in Christ, and not blindly supporting the nation of Israel. It seems that the New Covenant Scriptures attributes the judgment of God in terms of our treatment of His beloved Son. Do I trust Him, or do I despise Him? Do I love Him, or do I hate Him? It is far better to make a sinful soul at peace with God through a faith relationship in Jesus Christ than it is to muster support for the nation of Israel. Nations come and go. Kingdoms rise and fall. Christ's Kingdom is the only eternal one. God calls those who love and trust His Son "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His special possession, so that we might declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light" (I Peter 2:9).

We live in a changing world. Something catastrophic may happen to Israel and/or America during 2014/2015, but it's not the result of blood moons or God's judgment. God judges individuals on the basis of whether or not they trust in His Son. The only favored nation now is "the holy nation" of people from every nation, tribe, kindred and tongue who have received Christ as Lord and Savior. Our praises of Jesus to a people living in darkness are never enhanced by the proclamation of false prophecies. My hope is that this little blog might save just one person from the lunacy of Four Blood Moons.