Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Rapture

Lately I've seen a lot of on-line talk about "The Rapture" and if and when it will happen.  I've seen a lot of joking around about it.  A lot of name calling and intellectual pride about it.  And, I've seen some people genuinely trying to see the other side but not getting anywhere because Twitter and Facebook are horrible places to have such deep discussions.  I am not a theologian but I want to give this a try.  Hopefully, I can help.

Let me start by identifying my bias and background.  I grew up believing in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. I read some of the Left Behind books, I watched TV shows that offered clues as to when the Rapture would be, I sang "I Wished We'd All Been Ready" as a solo in church and I loved the Rapture Warning bumper stickers.

Then I one day in my early twenties (a.k.a. not long ago) I was sitting around a table of guys who were chatting about the end times.  At that moment my world got rocked a bit.  My pastor started to explain how he didn't believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.  I was floored.  Did I need to switch churches?  What was his problem?  Hadn't he read Left Behind?  He talked and explained and I listened along with everyone else but was far from convinced.  But as I read more and more of the Bible I started to see his point.  Then I read brilliant theologians who agreed that there would not be a Rapture.

I now no longer believe in the Rapture like it is explained in popular Christian culture.  Below are some reasons why:

It's a New Idea
What I mean by young, is historically young.  Francisco Ribera, a Catholic priest, in 1590 was the first to write anything regarding what we call "The Rapture".  In fact, it wasn't until 1827 when John Nelson Darby, a Brethren,  popularized the idea amongst some Protestants.  Then the idea really took off when William Eugene Blackstone wrote "Jesus is Coming" the 1878 equivalent to "Left Behind".  The Cold War then further popularized the idea of "The Rapture" amongst American Protestants.  There are many denominations that reject the idea altogether and America is really the only nation in which the idea is taken seriously.  And for at least 1,500 years the saints didn't even consider it.  And for only 200 years at most has it been a popular idea.

The idea of "The Rapture" seems to be very popular because it involves us not suffering like those who are left behind will.  America loves this idea, but much of the Christians in the world cannot accept it because they are already suffering immensely.  If God wants to remove us from Earth before the great suffering begins, then why are the Christians in Iraq being massacred?

Jesus said we will suffer and suffer like He did (note when He speaks of the world He means the way the world works not necessarily planet Earth):

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.'  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also."  John 15:18-20

Paul said:

"In fact, everyone who want so live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."  2 Timothy 4:12

Left Behind?
You don't want to be left behind?  Are you sure?  Look at the source of the idea of "Man and wife asleep in bed, she hears a noise and turns her head he's gone." as referenced in the song "I Wish We'd All Been Ready".

"'It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed... I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.'

'Where, Lord?' they asked.

He replied, 'Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."  Luke 17:30-37

The ones taken will be dead and the vultures will eat them.  The one's left behind are the righteous ones in Jesus' story and the taken ones are punished for their evil.  I want to be left behind in this story.

Caught Up in the Clouds
"For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever."  1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

Now surely this proves "The Rapture".  Well, I think no.  Below is a link to a video by one of the finest and most respected New Testament scholars in the world N. T. Wright explaining this passage.  Please watch the short video.  He explains things very clearly.
N. T. Wright video about this passage

I don't believe in "The Rapture" as it is described in popular Christian culture because it promotes escapism.  I think the idea of getting the heck out of here is a damaging one to Christendom.  Here is another blog of mine from 2012 that explains this point further.

Bottom line, I don't think "The Rapture" will happen in the way that popular Christian culture, books and movies describes it.  But I didn't come to that thinking right away, it took a lot of thought and a lot of digging to come by it.  If you believe in "The Rapture" I don't think any less of you.  In fact, I hope you're right because I don't want Christians to suffer the way I believe they/we will in the last days.  If you don't believe in "The Rapture" quit being so jerkish on-line.  Snarky Facebook posts will never be the building blocks of The Kingdom.  We can disagree on a lot of things and will disagree on a lot of things until we get to ask Jesus face to face what the answers are.  But we must agree on the Gospel and my friends on both sides of "The Rapture" debate do agree on that and the Gospel will bring us together.  So, disagree if you must, but do it with understanding, compassion and grace today.


Monday, October 20, 2014

To Live and to Die

The book of Philippians is full of what Pastor Matt Chandler calls "coffee cup verses".  These are verses that you find on coffee cups, key chains, T-shirts, etc in the Christian bookstore.  In chapter one I want to focus on one of the great "coffee cup verses" in Philippians chapter 1.

"For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."  Philippians 1:21

Let me give you a little more context before I write more about this verse.

"For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body."  Philippians 1:21-24

After reading these verses I was left asking these questions: "Can I say to live is Christ in all circumstance?  Can I say to die is gain in all circumstances?"

To Live is Christ
Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi when he was is a cold, dark, nasty prison without a timetable for release.  One can easy see why Paul could say, "to die is gain."  "To live is Christ" was a much bigger claim for him.  So, why did he say "to live is Christ"?  He said it because living meant more fruitful labor.  See, Paul knew that while he was alive he was still part of God's mission on earth.  He knew that his living was necessary for the Church.

Have you been in a place where it was easier to say "to die is gain" than "to live is Christ"?  Depression, death of a loved one, cancer, loneliness... the list can go on and on; when we are affected by things like this we are prone to want to depart from our bodies to be with Jesus.  But we don't get to go home unless we are called home (this is not me saying that suicide=damnation.  Suicide is wrong because we aren't meant to decide when we die, but it is not an automatically damnable sin).  So, until God calls you home, He calls you to serve Him on earth.  Even in the lowest of times we are to say "to live is Christ".  Even when life seems to be at its worst "to live is Christ".  We must say "to live is Christ" in all circumstances.

To Die is Gain
My life on earth is pretty darn good.  I have a job I love, I am married to the love of my life, I have great friends... I have many good reasons to live and I thank God for all of it all.  That being said, I must be able to say that right now "to die is gain".  I must believe that being in the direct presence of Christ is better than anything life can offer me.  Does this mean I don't value my life?  Absolutely not!  This means that while I love my life now, I anxiously look forward to living with my God in Heaven.

Are you in a place where when you think about Heaven you can't see how it could be better than what you have now?  I mean, your family, your job, your friends, your stuff, etc is all exactly what you'd hoped them to be.  I have felt like this, but I was wrong.  Through better understanding who God is I've become more anxious to be with Him.  Christians should never get to the place where we love what we have now on earth more than God's promise to dwell with us in Heaven.  Paul says, "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far."  We must believe that being with Christ is better by far than anything else.  We must say "to die is gain" in all circumstances.

"For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."  Can you say that in all circumstances?  Can we live because we know that we live in the middle of God's mission on earth?  Can we not fear death because we know that what lies beyond death is better by far?  To live and to die are both good for the Christian.  This is a great promise.  Don't be afraid to die for Christ and don't be afraid to live for Christ today.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Powerful Prayer

Over the next few months I will be reading through and blogging through the book of Philippians.  My small group and I have just started a video series by Matt Chandler and I am already enjoying it.  We are watching the videos and studying the book on our own.  I hope you enjoy Philippians as much as I anticipate enjoying it.

Philippians opens in a beautiful greeting from Paul to his friends in Philippi.  I encourage you to read Philippians 1:1-11 because that is what I read this week and it is awesome.

In the opening to this letter we can easily see that Paul has a deep affection for the Philippians.  Paul writes things like:

"I thank my God every time I remember you." Philippians 1:3

"... I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."  Philippians 1:4-6

"God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus."  Philippians 1:8

This letter is written from Paul who is filled with love and admiration for the people of the church at Philippi.

As I thought about Paul's affection for them I was reminded of my affection for some of the groups of believers I'm around and, on a lesser scale than Paul, have some leadership in.  I thought about the youth group, Pulse Student Ministries, that I help lead and of course my church, Grace Baptist, in which I am humbled to serve as an elder.  You may have a group of people in mind as well that you love and want the best for.

Now, with that group of people in mind, let's pray Paul's prayer.  I'll leave a blank and ask you, as you pray, to fill the blank with the group of people you are thinking about.  Paul's prayer is found in Philippians 1:9-11

"And this is my prayer: that _______'s love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that ________ may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ... to the glory and praise of God."  Philippians 1:9-11

It is so good to pray Scripture.  This is my prayer for Grace and for Pulse.  Please pray for the group you're thinking of with these words today.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

College of My Brightest Days?

Today was declared Outfly by my alma mater Wartburg College.  Outfly is a day without classes that is secretly chosen by the student body president and the college president.  No one knows the day when it will be, but students know that it is coming (kind of like the second coming only not near as awesome).  On the morning of Outfly a group of students dressed in underwear (or now underwear worn over sweats) runs around the college banging on doors and proclaiming "OUTFLY!  OUTFLY!"

Outfly morning is a fun, loud tradition.  You excitedly wake up before the sun and run to the victory bell so the president can officially declare Outfly.  When you show up to the bell, folks are dressed up, there's a band there and people are shouting like a day off of school in the middle of the week is the most amazing thing ever... even though they are paying the school to go to the classes that are joyfully cancelled.

Below is a photo of my from one of my four Outfly's.  I'm the guy in the sweatshirt on someone's shoulders by a guy dressed as Waldo.

During all the madness we sing the college loyalty song.  

"College of our brightest days, unto thee we chant our praise" is one of the lines in the song.

Outfly was a blast and I hope all the Wartburgers appreciated their day off, because alumni don't get one.  But as I searched for the above photo from an Outfly from my college days I realized that it isn't the "College of my brightest day."  Don't get me wrong, I loved college.  I had great roommates who are still my good friends.  I traveled the world.  Lived in close quarters to people my own age who had seemingly unlimited free time.  I ate at a buffet two or three times a day.  I got to learn from good professors. I was introduced to radio work.  I mean, college was great but I'm glad those four years weren't my brightest days.

Since college I have done so much.  I've gotten a job I love.  I've gotten married to my best friend.  I'm still friends with many of my college buddies and now are there for their weddings and births of their children.  As I scrolled through my photos I realized that today is the good 'ole days.

Sometimes we get so worked up reminiscing that we forget how great our lives are now.  Other times we get so busy planning for the great future we want to have that we forget to enjoy the great present we have now.  What I want to say is this.  Thank God for your past glories, but don't live in what the Boss called "Glory Days".  Trust God with your future, but don't put all your mental energy there.  Live in the present.  As the cheesy line says, "Yesterday is history, tomorrow's a mystery, today is a gift that's why it's called the present."  

Psalm 118:24 "Today is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!"  Thank God for your past, trust Him with your future and rejoice and be glad in the present today.