Saturday, March 29, 2014

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).

Monday, March 24, 2014

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 taught at Emmanuel Enid 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.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Increasing Divorce Rate Among Southern Baptists

In 2010 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution entitled On the Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce. The resolution states "that conservative Protestants in the United States of America are divorcing at the same rate, if not at higher rates, than the general population." The resolution further states "the acceleration in rates of divorce in Southern Baptist churches has not come through a shift in theological conviction about scriptural teaching on divorce but rather through cultural accommodation."

Sometimes I am perplexed by the logic of Southern Baptist assemblies. Rather than boycotting Disney World at our business meetings, we might want to consider a corporate course or two in logic. How can the divorce rate in every state in the union be declining while at the same time the Southern Baptist divorce rate is accelerating, but we Southern Baptists are said to be "accommodating culture"? Read again the precise words of the divorce resolution:
"The acceleration in rates of divorce in Southern Baptist churches has not come through a shift in theological conviction about scriptural teaching on divorce but rather through cultural accommodation."
Think. If we Southern Baptists were accommodating culture, we'd see fewer divorces in our churches. Unfortunately, the divorce rate is accelerating among Southern Baptist churches.

I believe I know the reason. Contrary to the illogical conclusion of the 2010 resolution on divorce, the reason the divorce rate is accelerating within the Southern Baptist Convention is precisely because of a "shift in theological conviction."

The leaders of our Southern Baptist Convention have been strongly promoting a doctrinal error called The Eternal Subordination of the Son. The devastating effects of this doctrine on marriages are far-reaching. Few Southern Baptists even know what this doctrine is, but when you go to a church led by a Southern Baptist pastor who promotes it, the emphasis of the teaching will be on "the authority of the husband" and "the subordination of the woman to her husband" (just like Jesus is allegedly eternally subordinate to the Father). When the emphasis in any Christian environment (home, church, marriage, etc...) is on authority, a breach in relationship is ripe.

Here's why.

When Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator, the radial effects of their sin included an innate desire to dominate and control one another by exerting their control over the other person. The curse causes captives of sin to concentrate on establishing an air of authority and forcing another's complete submission to that authority. Southern Baptist leaders seem to think that what the Bible calls "the curse" is supposed to be the norm. They think this because they have wrongly come to the conclusion that since Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Father, then women should be subordinate to the male in every relationship. Not so. When the first man (Adam) sought to rule over the first woman (Eve), Adam was manifesting the curse, not obeying a command (Genesis 3:16).

Jesus came to reverse the curse. Redemption causes curse-filled people to become grace-filled people. Those who seek to rule over others by exerting authority, when they come to see what Jesus says about life, will turn loose of trying to control other people and will only seek to love and serve, NEVER exerting any alleged authority. Jesus said that "the Gentiles lord over others" and "exert authority," but "it shall not be this way among you" (Matthew 20:24-26).

Southern Baptist Convention leaders are wrongly pushing for men to lord their authority over their wives, and calling on wives to submit to the authority of their husbands because of a belief in and promotion of "the eternal subordination of the Son." I've written about this doctrinal problem among Southern Baptists for years, but I recently came across a brilliant article by Dr. Keith Johnson (Ph.D. Duke), the director of theological development for Campus Crusade for Christ.  Johnson's article is called Trinitarian Agency and the Eternal Subordination of the Son: An Augustinian Perspective.

Dr. Johnson's article is long, but in my opinion, it gives a definitive refutation for any claim that the woman is to be subordinate to the man in a marital relationship because the Son is subordinate to the Father. Dr. Johnson's summarizes the critical error of those who hold to the eternal subordination of Jesus to the Father (Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, Danny Akin, Bruce Ware, etc....) when he writes:
Bruce Ware claims that “inherent authority” and “inherent submission” constitute the Father/Son relationship; however, this misreads Augustine. “Authority” and “submission” are not “personal properties” for Augustine. To the contrary, “eternal generation” is what constitutes the Son as Son. Augustine is unequivocal on this point. Ware... rejects eternal generation as the distinguishing property of the Son. In Ware’s theology (eternal subordination), “submission” effectively replaces “eternal generation” as the distinguishing property of the Son. Augustine is then read through the lens of this alternative understanding of personal properties.
Someone recently called me "the Barney Fife of pastors." I think he meant it as an insult, but I laughed and received it as a compliment. Everybody can relate to Barney. Mr. Fife knew how to say it simple and make himself understood. Let me put my Barney Fife hat on for a moment and simplify and summarize for Southern Baptist men and women what Dr. Johnson is saying in his article:

(1). Nobody in marriage has any inherent "authority." Christ has all authority, and He sends His Spirit to live within us, dispenses spiritual gifts for us, and provides loving watch care over us so that we might learn how to love and serve each other.

(2). Submission in a marital relationship is "putting others needs before my own." The submission and subordination of Jesus Christ to the Father was never about 'greater authority' because Christ had "all authority." Christ put the Father's plans first, submitting Himself to the cross in obedience to the plan of redemption (i.e. "If it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, Thy will be done"). Jesus Christ also submitted to us (the church) when He sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and died in our place. Submission is never about 'greater authority,' but rather, it is always about putting the plans, desires, and needs of others first. In marriage, both the husband and the wife are to be mutually submissive to one another (see Ephesians 5:21). Sometimes what is in the best interest of your partner is to say no! In every decision, your partner's best interest comes first. Don't give up on your marriage until you have sweat blood looking out for your partner.

(3). When we stop trying to control our spouse, and we learn what it means to love and accept him or her the same way Jesus Christ accepts us, then we begin to build a marriage on grace and love instead of domination and control. When that happens, the curse is reversed.

We Southern Baptists do a great many things very well. We do missions well. We perform acts of mercy well. But we are sorry at building marriages. I suggest, for the sake of Christian marriages in our churches, it is time for Southern Baptist people to call out and correct those who advocate the doctrinal error of eternal subordination.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Relationships in Heaven Are Enhanced, Not Diminished

During the resurrection, in that age where the earth is recreated and the curse is reversed by Christ, (i.e. when “the meek will inherit the earth”), recipients of eternal life will enjoy relationships with those we have spent a great deal time with during our earthly lives. These relationships will be enhanced in eternity, not diminished.

It is difficult for us to imagine eternal delight in relationships that are currently dysfunctional in this life. How does God remove emotional pain in heaven, particularly when it seems heaven is not a place of forgetfulness or unrecognition? We can’t be sure of the process, yet it is certain that Jesus “wipes away every tear" (Rev. 21:4), and somehow brings ultimate and final healing to fractured people and broken relationships. The beauty of heaven includes the redeemed finding their relationships eternally enjoyable.

But an even more difficult question is this one: What about married people who have really good relationships here on earth? What about spouses, for instance, who consider one another their "best friend"? How can a marital relationship be enhanced if there is no marriage in heaven nor any sexual expression of love  (Matthew 22:30)? For followers of Jesus, sexuality is the ultimate expression of covenantal intimacy, a belief contrary to the world's view of sex.  It is difficult for many Christian couples to see how a great marital relationship can be enhanced in heaven when the sexual intimacy in their lives is no more.

The brilliant C.S. Lewis addresses this very subject in his book Miracles. For those widows and widowers who have remarried in this life, for the husband and wife who consider each other their "best friend," and for other followers of Jesus who simply have questions about the absence of sexual intimacy in heaven, read carefully the words of C.S. Lewis below and remember that you and I have yet to experience the joys that await us in the resurrection, so it is difficult to imagine resurrection life in the earth's New Creation state.
“The letter and spirit of scripture, and all of Christianity, forbid us to suppose that life in the New Creation will be a sexual life; and this reduces our imagination to the withering alternative either of bodies which are hardly recognizable as human bodies at all or else of a perpetual fast.
As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer “No,” he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason that lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it.
We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it. Hence where fullness awaits us we anticipate fasting. In denying that sexual life, as we now understand it, makes any part of the final beatitude, it is not of course necessary to suppose that the distinction of sexes will disappear. What is no longer needed for biological purposes may be expected to survive fore splendour. Sexuality is the instrument both of virginity and of conjugal virtue; neither men nor women will be asked to throw away weapons they have used victoriously. It is the beaten and the fugitives who throw away their swords. The conquerors sheathe theirs and retain them.”
C. S. Lewis, “Miracles,” The Best of C. S. Lewis (Christianity Today Edition; Washington, D. C.: Christianity Today, 1969), pp. 357–58.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sexual Sins and the Gritty Realism of John Donne's Holy Sonnet 14

The only thing worse than a man captivated by vice and ignorant of its price is a Christian man pretending his struggle is ending without gracious intervention. To force purity through promise is to create both legalists and liars. Caution should be exercised lest a faulty perception be held by the promisor. To vow chastity and purity, even as a Christian, underestimates one's enemy and overestimates one's abilities. I am leading a group of about 25 men every Tuesday morning through a book entitled Surfing for God.  I highly recommend the book for anyone who struggles with Internet porn and other types of sexual vice. In chapter seven, author Michael Cusick gives an anecdote about John Donne (pronounced "Dunn"). Donne was the pastor of St. Paul's in London, England in the early 1600's. He struggled with various sexual vices, both in thought life and behavior. When King James sought to appoint Donne as pastor of St. Paul's, the appointment was refused several times. Nobody knows for sure why, but it could be the same reason many young men refuse a call to the mission field. Donne finally accepted King James' appointment, but he soon realized that his struggles did not end because of his new position. If anything, they intensified.  Reflecting on his own personal battle in pursuing freedom from sexual sins, Donne wrote Holy Sonnet 14. Contrary to many modern Christian leaders who seem to pretend the battle disappears when Christ becomes one's Savior and Lord, Donne's Sonnet 14 contains gritty, hopeful realism:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 
Take note of the powerful last phrase:

"Except you enthrall me, (I) never shall be free, nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."

The Bible teaches us that "it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance." Rather than reject the purveyor of porn, rather than cast aside the sexually immoral, rather than shun the man or woman who is addicted to sexual sin, maybe we ought to move toward them in grace and show them the goodness of Christ. I am convinced that until everything about Jesus so enthralls and captivates the heart of a sinner, there will never be true freedom from vice. Thank you John Donne, for saying it so much better than I.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A Boast that Turned to Toast: Billy Dixon, The Shot of the Century, and the Humiliation of White Eagle

The picture to the left is T. Boone Picken's palatial Mesa Vista Ranch in Roberts County, Texas. Picken's 68,000 acre oasis is in the northeast portion of the Texas Panhandle. If one didn't know better, it could be mistaken for a mirage. The terrain around the Mesa Vista Ranch is not nearly as plush as the ranch land itself. Water is abundant on Mesa Vista Ranch because Mr. Pickens is pumping the aquifer to create a lush and fertile fortress, anticipating one day the ability to sell his water for profit. Pickens loves to skeet shoot on his ranch, as evidenced by this 2008 60 Minutes profile  (fast forward to the 10:30 minute mark).  I grew up just a few miles southwest of Mesa Vista Ranch in the 13,000 person community of Borger, Texas.  During the 1800's the Texas Panhandle teemed with Cheyenne,  Kiowa and Comanche Indians as well as a handful of white buffalo hunters who killed the buffalo for their hides. This blog post is about an incredible true story which occurred near T. Boone Pickens Mesa Vista Ranch, an event I reflect on when I'm tempted to make categorical statements about the future.

Less than nine miles west of Picken's private airport, across the Canadian River basin, is an old  buffalo hunter trading outpost (est. 1845) called Adobe Walls.  The above Google Earth snapshot photo identifies Adobe Walls with the red dot to the far left, nine miles away from the blue dot (far right) identifying Picken's private airport. On Sunday morning, June 28, 1874, buffalo hunter Billy Dixon took aim with his  .50 caliber Sharps buffalo rifle and fired a shot toward a group of 20 Indian chief and warriors sitting on horseback at the top of a ridge nearly a mile away. Dixon's rifle shot knocked a fierce Comanche warrior  named To-hah-kah off his horse. There are disputed accounts as to whether To-han-kah was wounded or killed, but there is no disagreement that Billy Dixon's  amazing shot, called the Shot of the Century, effectively ended the Second Battle of Adobe Walls. Though Dixon's shot ended the battle, it was the beginning of the last Indian war on the southern Plains, called the Buffalo War (1874-1875)  or the Red River War of 1874-1875.

What fascinates me most about Billy Dixon's well documented shot, is the effect it had upon the Indians. The 1874 Battle of Adobe Walls ended because of Dixon's shot. Why? The United States army would later call the group of 700-1200 fierce Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Comanche warriors and chiefs who attacked the 28 men and one woman hunkered down at Adobe Walls "the greatest light cavalry in the history of the world."  Why did one shot from a buffalo rifle end their aggressive attack on Adobe Walls? How could 700 to 1200 Indian warriors on horseback, armed with guns themselves, give up and flee because of Dixon's one shot? Those are questions that can only be answered when you know what the 20 Indians on top of that bluff were discussing that Sunday morning when To-han-kah went down. When you allow yourself to hear the disconcerting sound of the shot, to visualize Ton-han-kah falling of his horse mortally wounded, and to feel the eerie emotions within the Indians as they turned their horses quickly and ran away from Adobe Walls, you'll understand why they fled Adobe Walls. One of the Indians on that ridge, the Comanche warrior and last Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, is the reason we can place ourselves in their shoes. Year's later he recounted what happened.

The Brutality of the Buffalo War

The Indians on that bluff the Sunday morning of June 28,  1874, were seated on their horses a mile away from Adobe Walls, and were all listening to a respected Comanche Medicine Man named Quenatosavit ("White Eagle"). Medicine Men were the spiritual leaders of the Native Americans. They were powerful, revered, and led the Indian warriors into battle. No Indian would fight the white man without the blessing of the Medicine Man. In 1874 White Eagle was the most respected Medicine Man throughout the southern Plains. James Haworth, US Indian Agent to the Comanches and Kiowas, wrote a humorous report in the spring of 1874 based on the laudatory comments given him by Comanche warriors concerning White Eagle.
"White Eagle can accomplish wonders. Horse Back says he can furnish the Comanche with an inexhaustible supply of cartridges, suited for any gun, from his stomach. Certainly a very valuable man to have around in time of war. He can also raise the dead, having recently done so."
White Eagle had encouraged the Indians before the Battle of Adobe Walls by saying "the white man's
bullets cannot harm us." He had led the Indians in several smaller attacks against  buffalo hunters during the spring, stoking Indian rage against the white man for causing the buffalo to disappear from the Plains. One such attack a few days before Adobe Walls took the lives of Dave Dudley and Tommy Wallace. The two buffalo hunters had been scalped and horribly mutilated. When their fellow hunters discovered their bodies, they found them pinned to the ground by wooden stakes driven through their torsos. Dave and Tommy had been castrated and their ears had been cut off. Their heads were propped up so they could watch themselves die. The Plains Indians meant to rid themselves of the white buffalo hunters. White Eagle, had them "the Great Spirit in the Sky" would give them victory against the large number of buffalo hunters housed at Adobe Walls "while they slept in their bed rolls."
The Indians attacked Adobe Walls early on Saturday morning, June 27, 1874. Contrary to what White Eagle had declared, the buffalo hunters were not "asleep in their bedrolls," and the battle ended in a draw, not a victory. Providentially, the hunters had been awakened by a fellow hunter playing a practical joke on them, and Billy Dixon just happened to look to the horizon at the exact moment the 700 to 1200 southern Plainsmen Indian warriors were descending from the mesas to the east for their surprise attack. The 28 men and 1 woman who were at Adobe Walls put up a brave fight throughout the day, losing four in their ranks, with many others being wounded. The buffalo hunters held on and eventually repelled the Indian attack. Saturday night at Adobe Walls was spent anticipating the next day's attack from the Indians.

Needless to say, the Indians were a little confused. White Eagle had promised them a stunning victory. Though the Plainsmen Indians were not yet ready to quit the battle, they needed answers. The chiefs and the leading warriors of the Kiowa, Comanche and Cheyenne decided to gather on the bluff overlooking Adobe Walls early Sunday morning to plan their next attack on Adobe Walls. Among this group of twenty warriors and chiefs was Quanah Parker and the warrior Ton-han-kah.

The Indians began questioning White Eagle. Are there bad omens? Does the white man have magic too?  All the Cheyenne and Kiowa braves were mad at White Eagle. Even the Comanche warriors were questioning their leader's prophecies. Quanah Parker said to White Eagle: "Whats matter with your medicine? You got pole cat medicine?" A pole cat was the old name for a skunk, an animal considered to be a bad omen by the Plains Indians.

The reputation of the great Comanche Medicine Man White Eagle was on the line that early Sunday morning, June 28, 1874 as the Indians talked among themselves on the ridge. White Eagle responded to his critics with an admission that the white man had "strong medicine too," but he began a lengthy discourse on the white man's peril, his voice rising higher and growing louder as he inspired his men for  the day of battle. At one point in his speech, White Eagle raised his medicine stick and confidently shouted "The white man below has no more magic! Today, the victory is ours!"

A Boast that Turned to Toast

At that precise moment the Indians here a sound like the buzz of a hornet and then "THWACK"

Ton-han-kah is shot. He slumps.

A full three seconds later, the Indians here "BOOM." Ton-han-kah falls off his horse.

The Indians turn toward Adobe Walls and see a puff of smoke rising. Billy Dixon (pictured right) has just made the most incredulous rifle shot of all time. The bullet arrives long before the sound. The Indians' horses are spooked. The Indians themselves are astonished. They turn their horses away from Adobe Walls and run. Quanah Parker remembers thinking that the white man must now be in possession of some magic weapon.

In reality, the weapon was a long range marksman who pulled the trigger and shot Ton-han-kah at precisely the right moment. The confident predictions of White Eagle were seen as foolish by his people, and the Indians left Adobe Walls because Dixon's shot convinced them that they had bad medicine and the white men had good medicine. To this day, the Long Range Vintage Rifle Open Championship, otherwise known as the Billy Dixon Long Range Rifle World Championship, is held in Great Britain in honor of Billy Dixon's shot of the century.

After the incident at Adobe Walls the Comanche Medicine Man White Eagle had his name changed to Isa-tai by his Comanche tribe. There is some disagreement over how to translate Isa-tai into English. Some scholars say it means "coyote vagina." Other scholars say it means "wolf sh_t." Regardless, White Eagle was never again respected by his Comanche tribe. He was humiliated at Adobe Walls and fell into disgrace as the spiritual leader of the Comanche Indians because his bold predictions failed to come to pass.

White Eagle is a great object lesson for any person who claims to know what tomorrow brings. When tempted to confidently declare what the future holds, take note: It only takes a moment for one who soars in the sky as a white eagle to fall to earth like wolf dung. 

Monday, March 03, 2014

What Putin Wants, Putin Takes

In 2005 Bob Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots National Football League team, went with a delegation of other Americans to visit Vladimir Putin in Russia.  When the Russian President began admiring Kraft’s Super Bowl ring, the owner of the Patriots took it off to give Putin a closer look.

Without saying a word, the President of Russia placed the ring in his pocket and then promptly walked out of the room.  Horrified, the owner of the New England Patriots wanted desperately to get his ring back, but he also didn't wish to create an international incident. Long story short, the New England Patriot's front office determined there was nothing that could be done and eventually issued a press release that the ring had been "given" to Putin as a gift. Only gullible people believe the cover story since had Bob Kraft wished to bestow a gift upon Putin, he would have had another ring made, not given him his own. This true story reveals the personal character of Vladimir Putin.

Steven Covey says, "Public behavior is merely private character writ at large."  As Russian troops effectively govern Crimea today and Russian tanks sit ready to invade Ukraine, it is worth noting that what Putin wants, Putin takes. However, this time, it's not a ring, it's a country or two. Putin is building an empire. At some point, somebody somewhere will need to stand up to the Russian bully.

Unfortunately, it takes a leader with principles and the moral fortitude and willpower to stand up to a dictatorial bully. The greatest generation of Americans had such leaders, but our generation has created a culture more interested in movie stars and their Oscar selfies than military strategy and international crises. The United States should be very deliberate before standing up to an international bully. It's a matter that must involve both Congress and the President, but history teaches us that until somebody with principles and courage stands up and says "no" when one ring is stolen, the bully winds up taking everybody's rings.

Crimea is the first national ring taken. Who's going to say "Stop!" to Putin and actually mean it?

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Bill Gothard: His Umbrella of Protection Teaching Provides an Umbrage for Perverted Behavior

I have been the Teaching Pastor for three churches over the past thirty years. In each church there were people who left because they didn't like my views on authority. More precisely, followers of Bill Gothard made vocal objections to my view that the major problem with American evangelicalism is an infatuation with spiritual authority. Many of them left. They couldn't stomach my belief that the Bible teaches Christ alone has spiritual authority over His people, and every believer in His kingdom is a priest unto God. Nobody else has "spiritual authority" over anybody else. Christ, in shepherding His people, dispenses spiritual gifts to enable us to serve one another, never to rule over one another.

Most people don't know that my family has had years of experience with Bill Gothard. I grew up attending his seminars. My uncle served on his national staff. My father was a personal friend with Gothard. When my pastor father stopped attending the seminars and began pulling his church away from Gothard's teachings in the 1980's, Bill Gothard contacted him personally about my father's "wrong stand on things." I never cared for Gothard's teachings, even as a teenager. I'm not sure if it was personal intuition or just the way I'm bent intellectually, but I felt even in my youth that any man who finds character traits in the mating habits of animals or whether  a  person's excrement floats or sinks is more fit for the city's loony bin than a church lectern.

But Gothard's most bizarre and harmful teaching of all, in my opinion, is his "umbrella of protection" or "umbrella of authority." Gothard teaches that:
"By honoring and submitting to all authorities in your life, you will receive the privileges of their protection, direction, and accountability. If you resist their instructions and move out from their jurisdictional care, you forfeit your place under their protection and face life’s challenges and temptations on your own.”
Gothard goes even further and says that by not submitting to those in authority you are in rebellion, which according to Gothard  "is as the sin of witchcraft” (I Samuel 15:23).  But here's the kicker: Gothard claims that resistance to the authorities in your life will bring God’s judgment upon you. 
I would propose to you that any Christian who constantly vocalizes his "authority" over you and demands your submission to him for "your umbrella of protection," is actually a man who casts a large shadow in terms of his own perverted and immoral behavior. In other words, he who is most concerned that another person "obey" and "submit" to his authority is actually showing indicators of personal moral failure.
Jesus said that the Gentiles give people 'positions of power and authority,' titles of honor and respect, and demand that people obey them. Then Jesus says something quite stunning - "It shall not be this way among My disciples" (Matthew 20:26). The conclusion one can make from this direct statement of Jesus is that any profession Christian who demands submission to his authority is actually acting contrary to the nature of a true follower of Jesus Christ and is actually casting an umbrage (shadow or covering) for his own perverted behavior.
Bill Gothard bears this out. Bill Gothard is in trouble for multiple alleged immoral sexual encounters with young women. The Christian Post is reporting on Gothard's multiple problem and his removal from ministry. I had the privilege a few months ago of having lunch with one of the founders of Recovering Grace, the website that has published told the stories of nearly three dozen women that Gothard spiritually, emotionally and sometimes sexually abused. The man who started Recovering Grace has a very compelling story himself. More importantly, the website he operates, with the help of countless volunteers, is an example of how Christians should tackle problems in the kingdom. Recovering Grace displays respect, emotional balance and a knack for penetrating clarity as the website systematically does what church leaders in the 1970's and 1980's and 1990's refused to do.
How ironic. Those Gothard sought to keep in the shadow of his umbrella of authority are the very ones who have come out into the sunlight to expose his perversity. 
God must have a sense of humor. 
We know God has a character of justice for the unrepentant sinner. God's character of mercy and grace is for the broken. God seems to have snapped Gothard's umbrella of protection shut to actually bring about the brokenness of this man named Gothard. If and when Gothard repents of his actions against these young ladies, we will give him the mercy and grace all broken sinners need. Until then, those abused by him should keep advocating in the sunlight his permanent removal from Christian ministry, and if and when appropriate, criminal prosecution.